Discussions at the Literary Club of Salé resumed by the monthly review "Al Maghrib" - third year, October 1934.
We Moroccans know very well our country. We are perfectly aware of our social circumstances and our civilization's achievements, past and present. However we know little about what others say about us abroad where we, for all purposes, are unknown and hardly exist. The opinions about us are unbelievably divided and divergent. We are attributed with the best of qualities and with the most vile. Their view of us is at best fanciful with no relation to reality. Morocco, as we know it, is an island/peninsula bordered by the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and on the third side by the vast expanses of the Sahara. Throughout all phases of our history, we remained a perfect whole isolated from the rest of the world. The only nations with which we were truly integrated were limited to those of northwestern Africa.They essentially led the same lifestyle as ours and hence we collectively have preserved our unity and identity during the varied course of history. Our relations with the Arab Middle East were kept to a strict minimum. We remained insulated from the days of caravans and sailing ships to the era of steamships and rapid communication. But soon thereafter we were won over by newspapers and publications from the Middle East. These enabled us perhaps to be better informed about the slightest details on news from Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Iraq than even the nationals of these very countries. But this drive to renew contact with countries of the Middle East has been one-sided. As much as we deepened our knowledge about them by following their news and placing their problems center stage in all our discussions, they remain ignorant about us. So much so that our circumstances seem too distant to become part of their daily concerns. When they think of us it is only in terms of unjustified and unreliable presumptions. They see us as a people who live on an island full of wizardry, such as conceivable due to romantic visions. This image comes to mind each time they give free reign to their wildest imaginations. And thus their novelist would sometimes describe our island attractively and at other times as a formidable and frightening place.
As for our country's history, it is only a succession of endless tribal feuds in the eyes of our eastern friends. For them, our history is that of tribal people dominated by ties of the clan, far removed from a civilized world. We are seen as not yet having attained the stage of statehood where all are governed by a common spirit of community with each person's rights and obligations delineated. According to this viewpoint, we are not ready to progress from a state of extreme simplicity at the social organizational level to one endowed with more sophisticated foundations with authority united under a central monarchical power rather than in the hands of clan chieftains. But why should I hold such views against our eastern friends with whom we are linked by religion and language? It is we who are to blame for having sat idle on our island making no effort to explain to our Arab brothers the level of civilization progress that we have achieved. While they address us daily with publications about themselves, we are lax and demonstrate no motivation to promote a truer image of ourselves in return. It is as if we consider such efforts to promote and advertise who we are to be no more than chatter that is as useless as it is untimely.
I will not belabor this discussion by delineation of our responsibilities nor speak to ephemeral ideals. I simply wish to illuminate a vision I experienced which has been reinforced throughout the last four years. Even if it means that you may view what I will relate to you as an article of faith, it suffices now for me to share this vision set in an environment like ours where publicity is not believed to be a virtue. Afterwards I would be very curious to know your reaction. Imagine us with wings and we fly to either Egypt, Syria or Iraq, a short journey that is not outside the realm of the possible given today's scientific progress. We sit on a magic boulder which allows us to be invisible and to see everything from space. On our perch we examine the thoughts and feelings of the locals. Imagine next a Moroccan, wearing a hooded vividly colorful djellaba hobbling along the avenue. As he wanders he encounters a young local man dressed in European clothing. Since this is the peak of summer he is wearing the latest seasonal Parisian fashion: white pants, a blue waistcoat and two-tone shoes.
The young man tosses a contemptuous look at our Moroccan for his attire is not a la mode. His traditional garb says he is not influenced by western civilization even though it is of good taste and has some advantages from a well being perspective. But it is not in line with the spirit of these days to conform to European fashion.Our man from the Orient attaches little value to all that is of the Orient. He is thinking that in order to live in modern times, we must discard all our traditional attributes and to integrate into the lifestyle of westerners, the same ones who reject us with contempt. The young man utters a few uncalled-for words at his encounter with the Moroccan, without taking any trouble to learn anything about him. He knows not even if he has less understanding of modern mores and the evolving course of life. Moreover his clothes are not European and he comes from a westernmost land and yet he is not of the 'West'. Thus our young oriental envisions a deep chasm separates him from this boorish looking Moroccan. He continues on his path, hastening his step while gazing down at his attire which attests to the latest craze in fashions from Europe. His self esteem reassured again as he no longer distinguishes much between himself and a westerner.
Next, a more common local begins to notice our Moroccan. A host of images flood his mind. At some instant he sees a sorcerer who can transform lead into gold to enrich himself and assuage his ambitions. In another he sees an ascetic, a chosen servant of Allah. But when he scrutinizes his memory of the recent decade, he then sees the Moroccan as a bloodthirsty rebel, with no fixed residence and a member of a nomadic tribe. And so our young civilized local is transfixed by his images, attracted by greed to a sorcerer, by the search for salvation by a saint and by fear of this rebellious Moroccan. The latter continues his march, speaking in a loud voice unconcerned with the aroused looks nor the thoughts of passersby. He heads to a merchant and addresses him in a pure Moroccan dialect filled with idioms unique to his country. The verbal outpouring was so rapid that only through gestures were they able to understand each other. As for the women he encountered along his way, all were startled. As he passed them, one winked at the others, and suggested her wish to see him perform some witchcraft which the others in her midst brooded about in silence. It is not surprising that man wearing a djellaba, would appear to them as some type of magician, a subject of much discussion throughout the day. And yet our Moroccan is no more than a tourist or pilgrim for whom witchcraft has no more meaning to him than it does to you and I.
Often charlatans from the Middle East con their countrymen by pretending they are Moroccans. For in the minds of the majority of Middle Easterners, Morocco evokes a series of cliches combining the bizarre with the astonishing, the beautiful with the ugly and that all aspects of life in Morocco are dominated by sorcery. Perhaps you find this statement peculiar. Let's pause a moment here. The principle characteristic attributed to a Moroccan by Middle Eastern society at large is one of a master wizard who invokes demons at will and possesses supernatural vision. All spirits from heaven and earth respond to his call. If you frequent these charlatans, you will hear accounts and stories about individuals who are purported to be Moroccan and play important roles in society. These people amass an enormous amount of money practicing their chicanery without resorting to any sorcery. The only gifts they are endowed with lie in the accurate observations they evoke, always with a response at the tip of their tongues and the ability to understand the psychology of their interlocutors. Let us observe one of these self proclaimed Moroccans performing his trade of deception.
One day, a person buys somethings from a shop, giving the vendor gold coins whose value was well above the price he had to pay. Without waiting to receive the difference due to him he continues on his way. Perplexed the merchant follows after him to inquire about the lack of interest he had manifested with regards to the gold coins he used to settle his purchases. The man replied that the merchant could keep the difference as his share of good fortune, and that share was nothing more than a tiny portion of his blessings from Allah. Intrigued, the merchant showed much interest in this strange man and invited him to dine at his home. The charlatan began by declining the offer, only of course to finally to cede to the merchant's insistence. The merchant wanted avidly to learn how his guest had acquired all these gold coins which were accorded such casual value. Our charlatan was very tactful in appearing to resist revealing his secret to further heighten his host's curiosity. And after much insistence from the latter, he informed him that he possessed deep scientific knowledge which combined with witchcraft allowed him to transform iron, copper and other metals into gold. The merchant's face lit up with joy. The Moroccan however appeared to regret letting out his secret and got up to leave immediately. As he was leaving the chamber, the host held him back and implored his guest to stay until he could witness such a feat at his house. A very lengthy discussion ensued between them. Our Moroccan appearing to want to keep his methods secret while his host was adamant about becoming rich through this alleged Moroccan wizard with phenomenal powers. In the end, the Moroccan accedes to the urgent pleas of the master of the house. He directed his host to collect all objects made of iron and copper and to put them in a huge covered pot filled with water to be placed on a fire for three straight days. During the host's absence, the Moroccan lifts the pot cover and sprinkles in a substance with a golden yellow color. After three days he orders that the fire to be extinguished. He waits until the contents are completely cold and opens the cover in the presence of the host. When the merchant saw the golden hue on the surface of the water he believed that the contents of the pot were transformed into gold. Meanwhile his guest looked on with profound sadness and sorrow. The merchant asked him why he was not happy.
"The operation was a complete success." he replied and continued "But......" and remained silent.
Flabbergasted, the merchant asked, " But what?"
The Moroccan replied, "There lacks one item that neither you nor I can make available. For sure the process so far has been a crowning success. But it lacks a special substance that is not found in this country and to procure this substance one must have at least 200 Ottoman gold coins." (This was the equivalent of more than 22,000 Francs.)
"This is a simple matter," interrupted the merchant, "I have this sum and I can put it at your disposition in the interest of this project."
Our Moroccan displayed a big smile. The merchant hastily went to his safe and then handed over the amount in question. The alleged sorcerer then left on a journey to purchase the missing ingredient but not before securing the pot in a locked area and advising the merchant to not uncover it as that would upset the strange process of witchcraft. Days and nights went by with no sign of the Moroccan. It is possible that our merchant retained a bit of hope although eventually he realized that he was the victim of a known scam.
Perhaps you are astonished by this misadventure and think it only a figment of imagination. However if you spend only a few days in the Arab Orient you will be persuaded that this is but a tiny impression of the society's overall view of the ruse and witchcraft linked to Moroccans. And to convince you even more, I inform you of similar encounter between a Moroccan and an Emirate Prince that occurred soon after the end of the great World War. This prince had spent a fabulous sum of gold coins in the hope to make a fortune in like manner.
Now it is almost time to take on another facet of the Orient's impressions of Moroccans. But beforehand, I wish to make an observation and to say that, in my opinion, a Moroccan who is presented with a sorcerer the likes of this charlatan to entice him with shiny gold will not allow himself to be abused. As proof I can only offer the nonexistence of this type of scam account in our society whereas it is commonplace in the core of Oriental community. Their folk always touch on this topic of Moroccan magical abilities with astonishment mixed with blind faith and gullibility. We have so far limited ourselves to false witchcraft and pseudo wizards in order to describe some reactions of an Oriental Arab when he finds himself in the presence of this man with the long djellaba and yellow babouche slippers. This view allows us to grasp the reputation of a Moroccan as he is perceived in the Orient. But now lets move on to the other facet of this query, namely, how does the Oriental perceive Morocco?
Alas! My country, you are unlucky even among nations with which you are bound by a common language, religion and destiny. Their perception of you hurts when one realizes that it has a bearing on their judgement of us all. However the Moroccan intellectual should have a guilty conscience with the realization that he has done nothing to promote a better image of his country, its prestigious history and flourishing civilization. In the minds of the majority of Arabs of the Orient, we are a people who still live in tents and our civilization barely exceeds that of the peasants in their respective countries. We lead lives ignorant of pure beauty. Where are our sumptuous palaces? Where is the magnificent Moroccan artistic architecture? Where are our historians, our scientists? Where are the permanent monuments we inherited from the Almohads, Merinids, Saadians and Alaouites? The Orientals would never dream that such vestiges would exist in the lands of the Omayyads and Abbasids. Don't you see that our country's monuments are wrapped in a burial shroud? Their locations and value lie hidden. A number of our young intellectuals deny them the prestige they embody.
Thus, we not only do nothing to preserve our glorious heritage, but we toss it into a scrap corner. We accord little to our past, nothing to face the future with a renewed sense of hope and the determination of one proud of his civilization's achievements. We are not fully aware of the value of this inheritance to appreciate it as the social and artistic link that ties the civilization during the Middle Ages that flourished on this bank of the Mediterranean with the blooming contemporary civilization on the other. The more we move away from our land, the more its image fades and becomes distorted in the minds of others. As to our artistic life, our brothers in the Orient don't have any notion about it. This aspect of our life is totally unknown to them and to some Moroccans as well. We don't seek to develop our tastes nor to cultivate aesthetic values to give meaning to our sense of what is beautiful. Our relation with artistic life is one of routine and habit, nothing more. All that Egyptians know about our artistic patrimony is summed up by a few fragments of Moroccan music that some amateurs of this beautiful art had the opportunity to hear two years ago at a performance by a Moroccan group at a music festival held in Cairo. Even there it was painful for me to note that the impression left by the Moroccan participants was totally distorted. In no way did it represent the beauty of traditional Moroccan Andalusian music. The performance of this Moroccan group did not rise to the level of Moroccan musical artistry such as has been demonstrated in the advent or our artistic and scientific renaissance.
I am taking the opportunity at the end of today's discussion on bringing to light the impressions of Morocco and Moroccans made by the Arab Orient to emphasize that we have begun to notice an emerging sense of brotherhood from intellectuals of the Middle East. This is due in particular to the patriotic awakening and solidarity that drives all Arab peoples currently. It is also my duty to pay tribute to the Arab press for what it has written (very recently) about Morocco and its progress with respect to its cultural and political awareness. This speaks to its optimism about the future. I express my hope that Moroccans will do all they can to unite with the Arab nation, and with the hope Moroccan society can attain a very high degree of civilization in the near future. I am sure that it will strive for the best for humanity in the noblest sense of this term and, by doing so, the distorted impressions of Morocco by Middle Easterners will vanish.
One last comment before leaving this forum: I have not quoted any references in support of my presentation about the impressions of the Arab Middle East on Morocco and on Moroccans. This is because not a single author amongst the principal intellectuals of the contemporary Arab renaissance had edited anything about our country. Not one Oriental pen was disturbed to compose an article on any of the multiple facettes of our social and artistic life. All that I have evoked in my discussion today is none other than observations I have made and what I have witnessed during my stay in the Middle East. My dear friends, I therefore appeal to your indulgence.