Stereotypes Overwhelm The Identity Crisis In Morocco – OpEd


There cannot be a real economic and cultural development without a stable and strong identity. A nation cannot rise if it still struggles inside the dark ocean of the identity crises. This is not a personal opinion, it is a historical fact. Morocco needs to be honest with itself. We – as a nation – need the state to make a clear statement about who we are. The need for a big scientific and historical research, which ends the political interference in this matter for good, is very essential. But first, the state must confess. If there is only one thing more dangerous than having a critical problem, it must be denying it. And vice versa, the first step to solve a problem is to admit it. If Morocco admits to having an identity crisis, it will pave the way for the academic community to treat the issue. 

Morocco has three main contradictory struggling identities, each identity has its branches. Firstly, there is the Amazigh identity. It is well castled by history, language, culture, people and science. Lately, it has started having more political support because of the Western Sahara issue. Secondly, there is the Arab-Islamic identity. It is a complex of the Arabic modern culture with the Maliki-Sunni version of Islam. Mostly, this identity finds itself inside the Islamic habits and traditions. Yet, it can get more support due to the Arab media such as Aljazeera and Bein Sports, some Moroccan political parties like the Justice and Development Party, and the foreign influence of the pan-Arabism supporters. Thirdly, there is the French identity. In the last century, Morocco was called French-Morocco inside the western societies. This identity is mainly represented by language and the pending colonialist dreams of enlightenment. Moreover, its presence inside Morocco has a feudal surface. The French identity is a system to mark Moroccans according to their tier inside the society. Thereby, the French language –as an aspect of the French culture– is the main spoken language between the highest classes of the Moroccan societies. 

The Amazigh identity is larger than Morocco. It is the identity of North Africa. Yet, it is overwhelmed by stereotypes. The biggest stereotype is the intended mix between the Amazigh culture and the Tamazight language. Many Moroccans and North Africans are victims of this stereotype. The Amazigh culture is bigger than just a language. It is an umbrella that covers history, traditions, food, clothes, behaviors, thoughts, religions, interactions with old nations (Romans, Egyptians, Greeks…), archeological discoveries, people, African roots; and yes, language is also a part of this identity. Like any other culture, the Amazigh culture has all the criteria that distinguish a nation from the rest of the world. In other words, a person may not be able to speak Tamazight because of historical political changes, yet, she remains Amazigh. That is to say, losing one criterion of culture (language) doesn’t mean losing the whole identity. This gateway is very critical in terms of saving the Amazigh identity. To solve the Amazigh issue, Imazighen (Moroccans) must start with treating this kind of stereotype. 

The Arab-Islamic identity is historically proved as a foreign culture. It started inside a very far continent (Asia), then moved to other geographical areas due to invasions. This identity –again– is overwhelmed by stereotypes. The most critical one for Moroccans is the mix between Islam and the Arabic culture. Indeed, Islam is a part of the Arabic culture. Almost, no one can deny the claim that Arabs are the people who created this religion (This claim can be a spot of further discussions between scholars.) Yet, today, Islam is bigger than its initial container. Since its emergence, many cultures have adopted Islam as their religion. Accordingly, because Islam is the guest of these strange cultures, it shapes itself to adopt its new environments. In other words, Islam converted from its original Arabic culture into a new culture. That is to say, hybrid versions of Islam become parts of their new cultures (Hybrid doesn’t mean a different message, but a different way to fulfill that message.) Today, there is the Iranian-Islam, an Islam within the Persian identity; The Turkish-Islam, an Islam within the Turkish identity… In Morocco, we have our Amazigh-Islam. It is a hybrid version within the Moroccan context. The Moroccan Amazigh-Islam is different than the original one (The Arabic-Islam) in terms of traditions, yet, the message is the same. To sum up, Morocco can be a Muslim nation without denying its Amazigh identity. Islam and identity are not two contradictory concepts. Even the Islamic message says that Islam is fit to every time and site, and this is another proof of our approach. 

Islam – like Judaism – can be a part of our Amazigh identity, but what about language? As discussed above, language is a very important criterion of culture. Since Moroccans speak Arabic, then Moroccans must be Arabs. Even if this conclusion is incorrect because of what we stated before “losing one criterion of culture (language) doesn’t mean losing the whole identity”, this claim itself is questionable: Do we speak Arabic? This suspicious question leads us to another stereotype. There are four main spoken languages in Morocco: Tamazight, French, Darija and Arabic. The stereotype is considering Darija as an Arabic dialect, which is wrong. Darija (the mother-tongue of the majority of Moroccans) have many linguistic crucial differentiations with Arabic. Only one example will be discussed in this article: Darija and Arabic have two different sentence structures. A sentence in Arabic follows the subsequent pattern: verb + noun + object. Example: أكل أحمد الموزة While the sentence in Darija follows a different pattern: noun + verb + object. Example: حمد كلا لبنانة As you can notice, the given examples provide two different translations of the sentence: Ahmad ate the Banana. There are other differentiations in terms of grammar, vocabulary, phonology (the phonology of Darija is very different than Arabic, in fact, it is similar to Tamazight)… 

Ironically, with all the linguistic shreds of evidence of the differentiations between Darija and Arabic, it is taken for granted that Darija is a dialect of Arabic. The only evidence for this claim is vocabulary. However, this evidence fails to pass the certitude test. Darija borrows its vocabulary from five main sources:

Foreign LanguageEnglishDarija
TamazightAseṛẓemWindowSerjem or Sherjem

The borrowed vocabulary loses its initial linguistic identities once it becomes a part of Darija. In other words, the word (semana) in Spanish is not the same as the word (simana) in Darija. Now, they are two different words with different phonological forms, definitions and grammatical rules. In fact (simana) is a translation of the word (semana). Subsequently, the same rule involves all the borrowed vocabulary from the Arabic context. To sum up, Darija borrows many vocabularies from Arabic as a part of a general trend between languages (Even Persian have a considerable amount of borrowed vocabulary from Arabic, Arabic itself borrows from other languages like Hebrew, and so on so forth.) Yet, this vocabulary “loses its initial linguistic identities once it becomes a part of Darija”. 

Stereotypes are part of this world. They overwhelm the truth to create a misleading reality. The victorious of wars create their stereotypes to becloud their crimes. The ancient invaders created their stereotypes to submit their subjects. Terrorists and fanatics create their stereotypes to influence more followers. Politicians, media, universities, clerks… all the corrupt individuals and institutions generate their stereotypes to keep themselves at the center of the society. It is (then) a way to mislead the people in order to have superiority inside the society. Maybe we cannot stop stereotypes from spreading. It is another sin that humanity cannot avoid. However, it is our duty to provide the people with the suitable facilities to fight back. Everyone should be armed with critical thinking. A person who asks a lot of questions, a person who doesn’t take anything for granted, cannot be manipulated.