The role of music
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.