Sunday, March 13, 2011

The New Mass Media and the Shaping of Amazigh Identity by :Amar Almasude

    The role of music
     Why music? It is perhaps the best vehicle to becoming acquainted with humans. It is the expression that is the most pervasive. In songs, human society is portrayed and everyday experiences are reflected. Their themes are usually social issues and historical events, including national and religious feasts and holidays. As children come into the world their skins discover temperature and shapes, their eyes discover light, and their ears discover rhythm, tone, and melody. Such experiences shape the perception of individuals and constitute their world. This phenomenon is what we refer to as the culture of the individual, and it includes various other interconnected elements. As individuals develop as social entities, such environments become more and more complex, but remain integral to one's life.
Thus, music is a fundamental element in human life; it is everywhere we go. It enchants the listener while involving his or her emotions, intellect, and imagination. When the affective domain is explored and sensations are engaged in high and positive experiences, stress and frustration are relieved. In communication, it helps the individual to develop skills in composing and interpreting complex symbols. In society, music is an ideal medium for the development of social skills, such as cooperation and working toward common goals (McCornack, 1984).
As a learning device, songs constitute an opportunity for the exploration of various domains. The most obvious is the venture into the affective domain, which is at the basis of successful learning. Bancroft (1981) contends that besides their benefits for the brain functions, songs provide an enjoyable and relaxed environment for students. They can be used in a variety of educational activities, including listening and comprehension, literary analysis, and the exploration of cultural, linguistic, and communicative content (Claerr & Cargan, 1984). In North Africa, music is the primary medium of entertainment. Music is everywhere: in homes and stores, in the streets, in the public market, and at weddings, feasts, and ceremonies. Loudspeakers are used to make sure the entire town is celebrating. In his description of one of the cities in Northern Morocco, McMurray asserts:
Nador is awash in music. Over every telephone wire dangles the thin, brown-like remains of a music tape. Little kids play soccer in the streets using the same tape bunched up as a ball. The music stalls lining the street to the bus station blare out a cacophony of competing songs.... Sound saturates Nador. (1992, p. 396)
The challenge of print
In 1989, a book, written in Arabic, appeared in Morocco with a title of lamhatun aan thalathatin wa thalathina qarnan min tarikhi el' amazighiyyin [Highlights of thirty-three centuries of the history of Imazighen]. It was written by Mohammed Shafiq, a member of the Royal Moroccan Academy who was, until the appearance of his publication, unknown in the public arena. His book that normally wouldn't be published in Morocco caused a division in public opinion. Implicitly, Shafiq argued that Imazighen had a separate identity from the Arabs. Such a contention was, for a long time, neither a concern of Moroccan scholars nor an issue in the political arena. Morocco, according to the constitution, is an "Arabo-Islamic nation." That was the slogan of the State and the focus of political parties. The popular question in the public arena was that of "we" the Arabs and Moslems against the Jews and the Christians. The struggle of the political parties was primarily based on the distribution of the resources and economic structure of the State.
With his book, Shafiq may be considered the first scholar to break the silence regarding the Amazigh identity.2 Through the texts of several writers, Shafiq narrates the history of Imazighen. He reports about the works of the pre-Islamic writers regarding not only the existence of an Amazigh people, but a civilization that had an important impact on many other civilizations including the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Through the works of archeologists, historians, and linguists, Shafiq explores, in a common language, the origins of Imazighen and their past position among the nations. With several illustrations of Amazigh monuments, architecture, textiles, and jewelry, Shafiq boasts about the great civilization of Imazighen and their contribution in philosophy, sciences, and arts.
Thus, the author summarizes the history of Imazighen and the various foreign invasions to their territory. Shafiq distinguishes between two eras in the history of Imazighen: one prior to Islam and the other after the establishment of Islam in North Africa. He presents Imazighen as a nation with a long civilization and history. Unfortunately, the "other" nations that had economic interest in the region were perpetually invading the Imazighen until the arrival of Islam. Shafiq, presents the Islamic invasion as "fat'h," different from that of the Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, and Byzantines. Although he recognizes the similarity in the method, he considers the Islamic invasion somehow legitimate.

The VCR and the challenge of the missionary
With the availability of VCR's in the region, a group of missionaries from "Frontiers" and "Wycliffe Bible Translators" seized the opportunity to sponsor the translation and the dubbing of Jesus' Film, a feature production narrating the life of "Jesus Christ" according to the Gospel of Luke. In 1991, this first movie ever in Thmazight was released on video in Melilla, a Spanish enclave in Northern Morocco. From Melilla, the video was smuggled to Morocco and had instant popularity.
At first, given that Islam recognizes Jesus as a major prophet with great powers from "God," the movie was perceived as a discourse for an Amazigh identity. Regardless of the efforts of the authorities to ban the movie, the Imazighen thought that their turn had finally come to join Modernity. In a sense, the evangelistic message of the movie was overlooked in the need for representation through media.
Two years later however, the Amazigh attitude towards the movie changed drastically. People came to realize the purpose for which the movie was made and began to write to the distributor of the movie in the Netherlands. The correspondents, who felt cheated, argued that the movie is based on the lies of the Jews and Christians who attempt to cause a division among Muslims. They also challenged the distributor saying that the movies they want to see should be Islamic (based on the "Truth") or at least they have to be "neutral."
Most importantly, the movie had an extraordinary impact on the region, especially in terms of redefining the Amazigh identity in relationship to Islam and their political affiliation. From this event, one may understand not only the importance of Islam in the Amazigh patrimony, but also the role of this event in alerting both the States of North Africa and the Amazigh people in terms of the question of Thmazight.