Commentary by Raouf Hajji on Gilles Lafuente's study of the Berber Decree

(Review of the study published by Gilles Lafuente in Volume XIV of l'Encyclopédie Berbère, currently available on the internet site

The advantage of the analytical essay about the decree of May 16, 1930 published by Gilles Lafuente in Volume XIV in l'Encyclopédie Berbère is that all the ideas it contains could serve both to support the thesis supported by those favoring the integration and assimilation policy preached by the theorists of the Protectorate as well as a justification of the inverse thesis that allows the development of patriotic thinking that is diametrically opposite. According to which side of the emotional give and take that one finds themselves, there is a tendency to either turn the debate to an appeal to one's passions or to make unsubstantiated claims buttressed by lots of verbiage when one is short of debatable points.

Right from the start, Gilles Lafuente, provides the tone by affirming that the Berber Decree is considered as "the catalysis of Moroccan nationalism" and that it was "in the eyes of the French just a decree amongst the many." While the first assertion is true the second at the very least is debatable. This is especially the case since we know that the decree was the end result of several years of studies and research and that the Protectorate Administration saw as the corner stone of the wall of separation that it wished to establish between the ethnic Arab community and the indigenous people of Berber origin.

The author of the aforementioned article cites the decree of September 11, 1914 promulgated by the Marshal Lyautey in his capacity as the Resident General of France in Morocco to persist in the support of his argument from the very beginning that the French did not attach more importance to the decree of May 16, 1930 than to any other decree and thus could not comprehend why it was at the origin of the outcries by the intelligentsia of the cities. This was despite the fact that the author admitted that the Berber issue was born in this much earlier decree which also recognized the right of Berber tribes to exercise their administrative affairs by virtue of their customary laws that were called in Arabic, "Orf" which means "according to accepted customs."

Moreover, the text of the decree of September 11, 1914 does not even specify the means to ensure the implementation of the customary laws it references and furthermore it doesn't specify the nature nor even stipulate which tribes are to be qualified as "Berber" and which lie outside this qualification. Was this an omission? A non-intentional juridic oversight? Or simply a signed-blank paper giving the Protectorate Administration the ability to substitute itself in place of the silence of the text and act as it pleases in resolving such vulgar and minor issues? It is rather troubling to notice as did Gille Lafuente that, "Very quickly did the military tribunals declare those who submitted to their authority to be Berbers."

It would be instructive to learn if this submission was spontaneous and rendered of their own free will or if it was dictated by the force of arms.

No, we do not believe that the decree of May, 16, 1930 was a decree like so many others. On the contrary, we see in it the avowed expression of a deliberate will to remove three quarters of the country's population from Islamic law and consequently remove the spiritual and temporal authority of the Moroccan Sultan who is the institutional guarantor. If it was a decree like the others, the Protectorate Administration would not have mobilized so much effort for a decade and a half to study the Berber issue from all angles. The decree of May 16, 1930 was the culmination of several decrees and is for some the crowning achievement of a long reflection before reaching the implementation of assimilation of the Berber contingent, while for others, it was the straw that broke the camel's back.

From the earliest years under the protectorate, studies were conducted full speed ahead especially with the creation of a "Committee of Berber Studies." They even began to detect in these people animist superstitions and demonstrations of pagan rites incompatible with Islamic teachings while acknowledging that the people told all who would listen that they were true Muslims. But what is astonishing is that starting from a deduction of a phenomena that was observed subjectively, without remaining subject to caution and with an appreciation that is in contradiction to the Berber's avowed faith, one arrives at a conclusion that their attachment to Islam was not solid and easily overcome.

Some have even gone so far as to envision making them French citizens and converting them into Christianity, seeing as they were "like us descendants from the Aryan race." We will refrain to comment on such sentiments and let the care of the civilized world grasp this monstrosity. Beyond the waves of racism provoked by the feelings of belonging to the Aryan race; feelings whose wish to be part of a superior race shook Europe during two wars, we have only one interest. This is to raise here that the Moroccan intelligentsia were right and had even a duty to express their concerns faced with this dreadful and unforgettable issue.

And yet the Protectorate Administration did not hesitate to engage along this path. As early as 1923, it began to erect Franco-Berber schools in which the Arabic language was banned and any Islamic influence was rigorously pushed aside. Fortunately the total number of registrants barely reached 700 students spread over about twenty schools from 1923 to 1930. So is this evidence of the attachment of young Berbers for the French and secular culture that one would wish to inculcate them in lieu of Arabic language and Islamic teaching? The numbers above are eloquent on their own since they give us an annual output of 100 students spread between twenty schools or 5 students per school. A remarkable performance!

Consequently the decree of May 16, 1930 is not just a decree like all the rest, far from it. For it subscribes to the segregationist logic that adheres to the motto "divide and conquer."

The return to customary law in the Berber territories was only a pretext behind which lay hidden the real intentions of the protectorate authorities. To be convinced it suffices to quote the president of the commission charged with studying the judiciary structure for the tribes with Berber customs, who, to justify the proposal he made in 1930 to give "authority to French military tribunals to crackdown on crimes committed in Berber territories" explained in 1934 that, "...the Resident General in 1930 wished to extend to all indigenous Moroccans the jurisdiction of French tribunals."

So we are thus very far from respecting the Berber "Orf" to which the protectorate power had seemed to be attached to in a distinct manner. We only have as proof the reinforcement of the jurisdiction and revision of the procedural rules in favor of the Djemaas (members of the tribe elected by the tribe) vested with legal proceedings to the detriment of the system of arbitration established by custom that the colonial administration pretended to want to put back in place updated to modern times.

So where is the Berber "orf" when we note that these Djemmas which are no more than an assembly of notables, erected as judicial authorities and cover not only their traditional prerogatives but also take on the jurisdictions of the Pasha and Caid (who represent the Royal Palace) on civil and commercial matters? Moreover if the Caid continues to exercise powers limited to penal cases while depending on the Cherifian High Court for criminal cases where is the Berber "orf" when one sees that the legislature decided to create the Tribunal for Customary Appeal while the Cherifian High Court which judges based on Islamic Sharia is no longer considered as a jurisdiction for appeals? Where are we with respect to customary laws, all the more so, when one sees the legislature gives jurisdiction to the protectorate power to deal with all the crimes committed involving colonists and French soldiers? How did the Resident General Lucian-Saint convince the Sultan to ratify the text of the Berber decree that he presented to him? This is what history will soon reveal but already we entirely share the reservations expressed by Gilles Lafuente which he stated as follows:

"It is very difficult if not impossible to determine what reasoning was invoked by the Resident General to convince his interlocutor. Nonetheless the representative of France bears full responsibility for the decree of May 16, 1930 as it appears evident that the future Mohammed V was not able to grasp at that time all the legal implications of the text,, moral and religious to which he was to affix his seal of approval."

This decree which was signed by the Sultan on May 16, 1930 and promulgated by the Resident General on the 23rd of the same month was the biggest mistake ever committed by the protectorate administration of Morocco. The nationalist quickly made it their battle cry. The seized article 6 of the decree to denounce its violation of the Islamic faith that the Treaty of Fez of 1912 was supposed to protect. Gille Lafuente added,

"The decree, to the great astonishment of the French, was considered to be attack against Islam but also a plot to evangelize Morocco."

To the great astonishment of the French! How delectable! It's as if, all the facts that the author just relayed with admitted objectivity and some commentary that was indispensable to reveal, left any room for astonishment. Unless with the passage of time, prohibiting Berbers to learn Arabic, the language of the Koran, and leading them to reject the Islamic legal system by which they were governed for more than a thousand years and to evangelize under the pretext that they descended from the Aryan race would not by its nature lead to astonishment!

Abderraouf Hajji

Reflections on the Berber Issue
Text of the May 16, 1930 Decree (The Berber Decree)