Sunday, March 13, 2011

The New Mass Media and the Shaping of Amazigh Identity by:Amar Almasude1

Hypermedia projects and Thmazight
   In the 1990s microcomputers became powerful enough to process graphics, sound, and video. When Apple and IBM identified a fertile soil in schools, interfaces were created to make writing computer programming easier for the general public, especially teachers and students with no interest in the technicalities of computer programming and learning computer languages.. Thus, in 1987 Bill Atkinson introduced HyperCard, the first authoring application for Apple (Goodman, 1990). In 1989, IBM released LinkWay. Both authoring applications allow users to develop interactive programs including text, graphics, sound, and links to video players, without computer programming.3
Today, there are several authoring systems on shelves or under construction (including Hyperstudio, Authorware, and Macromedia Director) in addition to web editors, presentation software, graphics/drawing and painting programs, animation and audio/video processors, and so forth. Some of these authoring systems are made for small and personal projects and others are used for the development of major electronic publications. The personal systems are easy to master but have limited capabilities, while the professional authoring systems require systematic learning and practice. These application programs provide users with ways to customize or create their own material. Some educators found in such a technology an opportunity for a flexible and inclusive system for the expansion of the experiences of their students. These application programs provide users with the capability to create, manipulate, and store text, graphics, sound, and image. In an educational setting, as individuals or as a team, students can use these application programs to learn mathematics, science, languages, or make their own programs to express themselves using text, graphics, sound, music, and/or images. From merely using the already made software, today with hypermedia applications, individuals with limited knowledge of microcomputers can compose their own material and distribute it on floppy disks, zip disks, CD-ROM, or publish it on the World Wide Web. Companies such as Geocities (1997) offer free e-mail accounts and several megabytes of space on their servers. Some companies such as (n.d.) offer unlimited space on their servers. This is enough to host a large web site with text, graphics, animation, sound, and video files. Such companies also provide subdirectories to help their clients organize their files, a full set of tools, and technical support. Users do not even need to own a computer. They can use a school, business, or library services to access their e-mail and to develop a web site for free in most of the cases.
Currently, we are working at Francis Marion University on the development of an electronic encyclopedia for the preservation and the implementation of the Thmazight language in the public sphere. This project has the objective of encouraging the indigenous people of North Africa to preserve their language/culture. Visual arts, historical artifacts, and songs are the core of the program, which explores various pervasive symbols and metaphors. By listening to the enchanting music and lyrics of the Imazighen, the user will gain insights of their everyday lives. The project provides users with a selection of songs from North Africa. They are invited to browse through the stacks and explore the songs in Thmazight, English, French, and Spanish. Other stacks will include "Spelling Games," "Learn to Write," and "Understand Thmazight."
The Internet and Thmazight curriculum

    With the availability of computer communication technology in the 1990s and the growth of an important Amazigh student body in the Western hemisphere, the Imazighen seized the opportunity to build worldwide forums. Through Amazigh-net, for instance, an electronic mailing list established in July 1992, the Amazigh cause took an international dimension (Bouzida, 1994). Currently there are also several dozen web sites that are concerned with the question of Amazigh identity and strategies to implement the Thmazight language into the curriculum and mass media.
Prior to the Internet, the Amazigh identity was an internal question, meaning that Imazighen in Morocco for instance did not know about their "brothers" in Algeria, Tunisia, or Mali. The countries of North Africa succeeded in censuring information regarding the Amazigh community. Given that Imazighen were divided and isolated regionally as subgroups (such as Riffians, Shluh, Twareg, and Kabils), each assumed that their problems were local and did not have any significance to others.
Through Amazigh-net, the different groups of Imazighen began to perceive themselves as one community and the question of Thmazight is no longer that of debating the existence of an identity separate from that of the Arabs, as Shafiq argued. Members of different groups log on daily to discuss not only the urgent situation of Thmazight and Imazighen, but also the plans for the implementation of Thmazight in education, technology, and science.
With the Internet, Imazighen from all over the world have established a Virtual Community through which they have access to the various issues regarding their culture/language and identity. While the Amazigh question has been internationalized, a number of influential scholars, researchers, and talented artists have committed themselves to serve the Amazigh cause. Consequently, several projects aiming at teaching and learning Thmazight have been completed in the last four years. These include the creation of several computer fonts pioneered by the American artist Jo Anna Pettit from Marietta, Ohio, and the development of audiovisual and electronic materials for teaching and learning Thmazight. As a result of such a commitment, North African countries found themselves at an impasse. Through various forces, especially the computer communication technology, they were pressured to recognize for the first time in history the existence of Imazighen as a separate cultural entity.
With a long history and an ancient alphabet, Thmazight is becoming one of the most important issues in North Africa, especially in Morocco and Algeria. The latter, after decades of struggle, was pressured to create in 1990 a Department of Amazigh Language and Culture (Departement de Langue et Culture Amazigh) at the University of Tizi-Ouzou (Lounaouci, 1994).4 Moreover, in the summer of 1994, the King of Morocco, Hassan II, felt compelled by various sociopolitical forces to recognize the importance of the Amazigh culture and language in Moroccan identity. In his speech, he announced the necessity of integrating Thmazight in the school curriculum (Ennaji, 1997).