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Ramadan Roundup

Ramadan Mubarak if you’re fasting this month, or even if you’re not! And Shana Tova to our Jewish friends. There are quite a few Ramadan “greeting card” images floating around the internet, including one with a hammer and sickle from an Egyptian Marxist party, but the flickering stars on this one make it my favorite.

I observed the Ramadan fast during my first year in Morocco, to better understand what it was about, though I was surrounded that year by Moroccan atheists who kept begging me, as a foreigner, to buy them wine! I haven’t fasted since, but have enjoyed Ramadan “in my own way” as a time to soak in the tranquility and spiritual feeling that are so obvious at night, as people go to the cafes to congratulate each other on getting through another day, and the pious spend the night in prayer. It is a special time, but I can’t help sympathizing with this irreverent take by Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey, who has clearly been through it.

    People look tired, droopy eyed, unable to concentrate, and unwilling to work. They are suddenly completely incapable of both driving and parking, and their ability to stay civil with each other is reduced by 70%. All they want to do is do nothing. They are always thinking about food, lots and lots of food, they get up in your face and look at you strangely with a mix of envy and contempt if you are eating something good…. When they eat, they eat various dishes of food in the most ravenous of ways, and they just sit afterwards watching TV and slouching on the couch. […] Day one is almost over. Dear God, make it go fast this year. Please.

It seems that like any other religious holiday, like Christmas and Easter, the way people celebrate Ramadan in our stressed-out modern world has lost its transformative power. It doesn’t change us, or if it does, then once it is over we quickly forget. Rather than taking the time to reflect on the mysteries of life and the universe, we go through the motions because we are swept along by society—enjoying some of them, seeing others mainly as an inconvenience to our routine. Maybe we should stop kidding ourselves and drop these rituals, or invent new ones like Burning Man that are better adapted to our times.

— • —

Based on my previous writing about the Moroccan elections, Pajamas Media asked me to write a piece for them analyzing the results. They’ve titled it “The Islamist Tidal Wave Never Hit.”

Those who read my earlier piece “Winners and Losers” will be familiar with the arguments. The significance of last week’s elections was in the record low voter turnout, the fragmentation of the vote among numerous major and minor parties, and of course the disappointing showing by the PJD. The big winners were the Palace and its technocrats like Fouad Ali El Himma, who engineered the elections and then ran in them, winning himself a seat in Parliament. If democracy means that elections determine the strategic shape of a nation, then Morocco will have to wait until constitutional reforms give real power to the elected government. For now we are seeing a cycle of “wash, rinse, repeat,” a series of weak governments under a king who makes the decisions, and this year’s elections have done nothing to change that.

My piece for Pajamas Media marks the first time since I’ve started blogging that I’ve been paid for an article. When they approached me, I had some reservations about doing it. I’ve always felt that Pajamas Media has a right-wing slant, particularly on the Middle East. For example, they host a blog by Michael Ledeen, a man I would describe as a wily lunatic, who is one of the strongest voices anywhere for attacking Iran. But it doesn’t help to write only for those we agree with, so I went along with the experiment. Would my views be coopted? I can report that no pressure was made to influence what I wrote, and my piece went on the site with only cosmetic changes. So I’m happy enough with the experience, and we’ll see if it continues.

— • —

Meanwhile, Forbes Magazine published a list of the world’s richest monarchs, and Morocco’s Mohammed VI showed up in seventh place, with an estimated worth of two billion dollars. I remember mentioning a similar report to one of my Moroccan friends while I was still living there. His response was, “I wish him luck getting to number one, because then he might feel he can give some of it back to the rest of us.” Here is Forbes’ own comment:

    Nicknamed “king of the poor” for efforts to alleviate poverty and improve human rights. Palace’s reported operating budget exceeds $960,000 a day; much of it spent on clothes and car repairs.

Now, there are a few things I want to say. First, I don’t question that the king is a good person who is working hard for the best interests of his country. Nor do I question that he and his team are the most competent, best informed political force in Morocco today. I’m also aware that most Moroccans see the king as the glue that holds the country together, and they don’t want to live through the sort of tragedies that have befallen neighboring, kingless nations like Algeria and Libya. If the king were to run for election (an absurd, even sacriligeous thought in Morocco, since the monarchy is “sacred”) I’m sure he would win a majority in an up-or-down vote. Mohammed VI is popular, professional, and unlike his father, more liked than feared. But I can’t help wondering where all that money came from, whether monopolizing the nation’s economy had anything to do with it, and whether it might be a drain on the nation’s development.

— • —

Finally, I want to thank my friend Bouba for his recent profile of me on his blog. He contacted me by e-mail to ask me how I chose the name “eatbees,” then posted my response. He also linked to some of his favorite content on this blog and other parts of my site. In the spirit of mutual flattery, I want to say that Ghasbouba is also a favorite blog of mine. Bouba writes about Morocco as an Amazigh from the Sahar, which is a perspective I’m eager to learn more about.

A similar thing happened to me a couple of weeks ago when Hisham of Moroccan Mirror, one of my favorite recent discoveries in the Moroccan blogosphere (there seem to be more and more English-language blogs out there!) chose me as one of his five favorite blogs. Thanks for the compliment, and again, the repsect is mutual. Hisham writes about both Moroccan and global politics, as I do here, by providing a lens (or a mirror?) that attempts to show them both from a common perspective.


Comment from Liosliath
Time: September 15, 2007, 13:07

Finally, you post something I can comment on! Not that I couldn’t comment on the others eventually, but they’re usually so intense and well-crafted that I chew on them for at least a couple of days – then I’m ready to comment, and you’ve already moved on! :)

– your Ramadan gif : I saw that one too, but I didn’t use it, because the moon was backwards, ha ha.

– Ramadan as seen by Sandmonkey : I’ve witnessed this behavior, and I think I know the cause. It’s because many Muslims think it’s a ticket into heaven – complete it, and you’re golden. Personally, I don’t think that God gives a crap, it’s not like he’s going to say “Oops, remember Ramadan in 2007? You missed a day. Sorry. Next!” I believe (and this is only my personal opinion) that Ramadan was created solely as a time for improving ourselves mentally, spiritually, and physically. Mohammed knew very well that no one would do it just for that, because most people are a bit lazy by nature – so he used the carrot on the stick method. Those Egyptians that Sandmonkey mentioned might as well quit fasting, because obviously their nafs are completely out of control.

– Burning Man : Once again, a great concept that’s been warped. A lot of people just go out there to ingest/inject/smoke every kind of substance they can, and look at naked chicks. They pretend they’re being “artistic” by bringing a silver painted bicycle and getting lots of “unique” body art.

– Pajamas Media : Congratulations, and good for you! Your knowledge of Moroccan politics is very insightful, and I hope at least some of the readers learned something from your article.

– You and Bouba : It’s really a joy to read contributions from both of you. (ha ha, more flattery coming) I always learn something new. You’re also both “gentleman scholars” which makes your opinions and views very easy to digest – in contrast to, oh, Mr. Lounsbury, who’s brilliant in his own right, but concealed behind a haze of trite invective.

Comment from leblase
Time: September 15, 2007, 13:58

Pajama media seems to be a ghastly medley of caricatural Republican comments, nevertheless they let you write an article that was, I must say, both complete and neutral on the surface and brutal in its assessment: everything was made for and by the king and El Himma.
I do appreciate your usual “quiet-but-take-a-look-behind-the-curtain” approach.
That was a tightrope-walking job.

Comment from Hisham
Time: September 15, 2007, 14:45

Thanks eatbees for your kind words. I’m glad you’ve mentioned the Forbes piece on MVI: $2 billion man! Isn’t that obscene. I can’t help feeling disgusted by the sheer hypocrisy of this regime. As you’ve suggested: there is a strong attachement to the monarchy as an institution but that’s not guaranteed forever, and is surely not a blank check for the King and his people to keep on with their lavish and extravagant lifestyles.
I think that Morocco is entering a critical phase of its history when confrontation is inevitable between contradicting forces on the ground… unless the king (or rather those around him.. those who write his speeches and decide on his weekly schedules) has the strategic intelligence to open up the system and avoid the backlash!
Thanks again, and keep up the good fight!

Comment from eatbees
Time: September 17, 2007, 08:49

@Liosliath — If you really feel like leaving a comment after chewing it over for a few days (and you’re not the first to say that) then I wish you’d come back and do it, because there’s no reason we can’t continue the conversation once the post has moved down in the queue — that’s what the “Recent Comments” sidebar is for!

You’re right that Burning Man was originally supposed to be a new way of accessing the spiritual despite the pressures of the modern world (it was originally a gathering on a beach, among friends) but now it, too, has succumbed to commercialization and the expectations of the crowd. So if I were one of the original organizers and still felt the urge, I would have no choice but to move on into uncharted terrain. My point is that the spiritual is a living experience, so going through the motions for the sake of others is, quite simply, meaningless. I think we agree ;D

Thanks for your kind words about my writing (and Bouba’s) particularly the comparison to Lounsbury since I have rather the same feeling about him. My point here isn’t to show off how clever I am (although there is that!) but to get other people to care and respond.

@leblase — “A ghastly medley of caricatural Republican comments,” exactly! Although David Corn of The Nation seems to be involved too. But if I’d really felt I was walking a tightrope while I was writing the article, I don’t think I would have been able to finish it. I just jumped in and said what I felt, following the same template I did here with Winners and Losers, only adding some background information such as quotes from M6’s throne speech (which turned out to be even more pompous than the impression I got from the Benchemsi article). My Pajamas editor was quite on the level with me, never questioning me on ideological grounds. That leaves me wondering if they’re more open minded than I thought, or just less observant.

@Hisham — “I think that Morocco is entering a critical phase of its history when confrontation is inevitable… unless the king… has the strategic intelligence to open up the system and avoid the backlash!”

I just finished reading Quand le Maroc sera islamiste and it addresses exactly this question. They are quite sceptical as to whether the king and his entourage have the strategic intelligence you describe, so they present a few scenarios of “What would happen if….” Their discussion of Al Adl Wal Ihsane is fascinating and fair. I’ll have more to say about this in my next post, inch’allah.

Meanwhile, Quand le Maroc refers several times to this report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Morocco: From Top-Down Reform to Democratic Transition?” I haven’t read it yet, but it seems to make some highly accurate observations. For example, it pointed out that people were supporting the PJD mainly out of hope for reform rather than because of its Islamist roots, and predicted that people would grow disillusioned as the PJD grew closer to the Palace and became more like the other parties. This month’s elections are the proof!

Comment from Hisham
Time: September 17, 2007, 15:12

Thanks for the unvaluable links. Yes, people favore the Islamists in the same way as they favored the leftists in the 60s and 70s: out of despair and because of the lack of alternatives and also as a contestation against the satus quo (not as an indorsement of the radical ideology).
Yes, there are the ideological die hard supporters, but I don’t thing they constitute (nor will they ever-) the core of the Islamist electorate.

Comment from Bouba
Time: September 17, 2007, 18:04

@eatbees thank you for a great post.

thank you for allowing me the pleasure of posting your words in my blog. this is not flattery if it is Liosliath gets a lots of bags too.

anyway, i totally agree with sandmonkey’s take on Ramadan. i think productivity on Ramadan is very low and in morocco you can notice the fights and the crankiness of people before fotour. in Marrakech people shout “wa sh3al” which means “just light it” in reference to some smokers who get in your face as they need nico.
It is not just a personal choice. it is a social obligation. if you do not fast, la quarantaine. people would not talk to you.
Now this is ONLY in northern costal parts of morocco. in the sahara deserts ( most places I know), it is a whole different thing. i know people who do not fast at all and they are fine. This does not make them less muslim or more. it is just different.
They even do not understand why Northerners ( Ahl Ttell or Shamal) are making a big deal out of it. one of the poet from Laayoune says:

“The Northerners, a low tribe
The reason why they lost success in thinking well
Is: they have summed up the five pillars in “fasting”.
And got done. They already forgot others [pillars]”
(excuse translation)

My point is the social stigma round Ramadan is becoming worse now as morocco moves towards “Urbanization” and what that means is that Moroccan culture in its regional forms is going to be “standardized” in ONE that is originated from Fes and Rabat. You know the size of Ramadan in Fes and Rabat… so i think the sub-cultures of Marrakesh, Sahara, in its Arab and Berber forms have not made it to the top yet. maybe they won’t.
the standardization of language and culture are important tools in the hands of the system to rule structures that forget they were diverse. there are many examples: French parisians, the no-accent values in the US, the Moroccan Fes-Rbati alliances. what Darija do you speak, do you have an accent, do you fast… you are a 3robi, saharaoui, shleh/Berber….
However as long as Ramadan is lost between religion and culture, many people in the south are going to enjoy their “Atay” and say poetry.
This is preparing the grounds for an Islamist re-coloring of our spectrums.

@Liosliath thank you for the zween words. i am not a scholar i should say ana ghir simple sahraoui who likes to have Tea (everyday all year round).
I like your Ramadan posts by the way.
> I vote for this. Totally.

@Sorry for the length this comment.

Comment from eatbees
Time: September 18, 2007, 12:25

@Bouba—Thanks so much for the comments about Ramadan customs in different parts of Morocco. I spent most of my time in Fez and further north (where most of the people are—but it’s a problem, I know, for getting a balanced cultural perspective) so it’s fascinating to realize that people in the Sahara are more “laid back” and maybe don’t fast at all.

Sipping tea all day and recitng poetry sounds like a great way to spend Ramadan! The next time I’m in Morocco for Ramadan, remind me to come see you in the Sahara (if you are there of course) ;D

You say, “It is not just a personal choice. it is a social obligation. if you do not fast, la quarantaine. people would not talk to you.” And you add, “The social stigma round Ramadan is becoming worse now as morocco moves towards ‘Urbanization’.” Have you seen Hisham’s post about this? It is a great story, but scary. I’ve experienced similar things when I was with my Moroccan friends who chose not to fast. The pressure for uniformity around cultural–religious issues in Morocco can be scary. Everyone spying on their neighbor to catch them in a gaffe. Where does this anger come from? The desire to impose the same values on everyone seems very un-Islamic. Anyway, read his story if you haven’t!

One question—I didn’t understand fully when you say, “This is preparing the grounds for an Islamist re-coloring of our spectrums.” Do you mean that the dislocation of the cities, and the pressure for social uniformity that follows, gives fertile ground for the Islamists to move in with their “hard” version of Islam? I know I’ve heard many young Moroccans insist that a lot of the Moroccan traditions like the tombs of saints or the lore of the fqihs or Sufi zawiyas are somehow un-Islamic. Are you getting at something like this?

Comment from Bouba
Time: September 19, 2007, 00:46

@eatbees, you are more than welcome to come over to the great tolerant sahara. But please do it before the new urban-arabo-islamist ideology eats away the culture of tolerance. It is going so fast, I must say. But you are more than welcome anyway.

Thank you for pointing Hisham’s post on Ramadan. Great post, by the way.
I had very similar experiences in Marrakesh, coming from a very tolerant laid back community where people do not make a big deal of what you do for Allah. everyone is going to heaven anyway so why bother. I landed in society where you should do what everyone else does.

1- This is the issue: Allah says in the Quran that everything people do otherwise of for them except for fasting and it is for him and he rewards for it. it sounds like Ramadan should be the most personal thing ever. But apparently it is not.

2- Initially, before Islam came to Arabia, this was one the months ( ash’ur al hurum) where fighting was extremely forbidden ( ref. Husein Marwa)
If in the Islamic philosophy of morals is there to encourage people to bond, heal and be more tolerant, well how many people die everyday in conflicts round the “Islamic world” right now in Ramadan.

3- Now Ramadan provides many things that have absolutely nothing to do with religion. and that is the reason for the stigma or rather this is how I understand it.
As you say it is a “forced choice”, you have to fast because others do it. rest-a-definir who the others are but more importantly who they are not and whether the non-others walk the talk or not.

4-The head of the Olema (3ulama) group in Marrakech in a bar, Madame Plaza, has prayer beads in the table. Friends asks him if he was not afraid the beads would judge him in the hereafter. Oh my god you are right. orders a Flag. He puts beds in glass then pours beer on them and said. “now we in this together”.
Tolerance. But in day time the same person is going to be talking about religion and gives advice to people about what they should do.

5- As for you last question. “the pressure for social uniformity that follows, gives fertile ground for the Islamists to move in with their “hard” version of Islam” is exactly what I mean”. Morocco has always been a land of tolerance. Why? The version of Islam that dominated for centuries was “popular Islam”. That of the poor and the rich. It is also known for its marabouts, soufi masters, brotherhoods, “sects” and many other names. Now we have a lot of people coming to tell us that our Islam is bad and we risk to be non believers. I totally disagree with the wahhabi version of Islam being better. but I disagree more with imposed comparison.
There are some areas in morocco where classical Arabic is a more foreign language and people do not know anything about the Qoran, hadith in their classical Arabic forms. They do everything in Berber. But they are still Muslims. Maybe not for the fundamentalists. If anyone visits Ayt Abdi, Ouarzazet region and Berbers of the high atlas, they will see a different way of doing all the Islamic things. When these people more to cities for any reason, their adjustment package comes with Darija, Arabic, a new version of Islam, tv channels of the middle east… maybe a little dose of fundamentalism mixed with a bit of social mobility… etc
It aches a lot that when people talk about morocco they just mean the triangle Fes, Rabat, Casablanca.

Comment from leblase
Time: September 19, 2007, 06:17

I find your comment on the “people coming to tell us that our Islam is bad and we risk to be non believers” very interesting. Congratulations for being so aware of the scheme: it is exactly what happened in Tchechnia, where the people had been practicing a very tolerant Islam, letting all their social ground to their women.
Then Wahabites came with money for the guns, money for the men, some fighters too. But they brought with them this speech of “you’re not good muslim” and started the whole integrist stuff.
Ensued a fight amongst independantists, that the Russian Services aptly used to divide the people.
Eventually the more tolerant Tchetchen lost to the integrists like Bassaev, themselves heavily imanipulated by the Russian FSB and infiltrated by gangsters.
One can watch the same pattern in Algeria.
In a different way, this is also what happened to Afghanistan although Afghani were not as tolerant as Moroccan, depending of the tribes: Eastern Arabs came and brought their ideology, always using the Koran as their pretext for whatever abuse they inflicted on the culture.
I have no idea how many visits this blog receives but I certainly hope it is important because the quality of what is treated here, and the way it is treated is very fine.
A lesson on the thirst to learn and exchange views that should be -and is not- common to the blogs ;-)
Thank you for that.

Comment from mohamed
Time: September 23, 2007, 05:43

One of the beautiful things about our Ramadan is that it is celebrated all over the world: from Malmö in the North to Johansberg in the South, from Tokyo in the East to San Fransisco in the West. In Baghdad and Islamabad, in Kabul and Istanbul, in Washington and Wellington, in Nablus and Los Angeles, in Cairo and Ontario, in Warsaw and Arkansas, in Mecca and Dakka, in Izmir and Tangier, in Aukland and Portland, in Berlin and Beijing, everywhere you go you’ll find people –no matter how many they are– fasting from dawn to dusk, asking Allah’s forgiveness. They remind the world that it’s Allah Who is the Lord of the World, not America or NATO. Anyone can fast Ramadan. Even Christians join their Muslim neighbours in the fast of Ramadan in some parts of the world just as Muslims share with them Christmas and any other celebrations. They don’t care of those who kill each other in the name of God, be they in the right or in the wrong. They only care about pleasing God, Who, they know, does not want them to starve themselves for the sake of starving, but to educate them, to make them feel hungry and thirsty so that they realize how much God is bountiful towards man by providing him with all kinds of food and drink, which he tends to take for granted, and therefore they should give thanks to the One Who made them and provided them with all means of subsistence. By feeling hungry and thirsty themselves, those who fast would remember that while they are expecting to eat and drink at iftar at dusk, many people just won’t have anything to eat that day or won’t be able to eat every day, and they would realize that water, which is taken for granted in many countries, is a scarce commodity in many others. By fasting, those who fast remember God for hours and days, Him Who always remembers the faithful. And many, many people come to Allah during Ramadan. At no other time of year are mosques more full and lively than in Ramadan. At no other time of year is the Holy Koran more read than in Ramadan. At no other time of year are the poor, the homeless, the orphans remembered and cared for than in Ramadan. In Ramadan mercy and compassion descend upon the Earth. In Ramadan curiosity arises among those who believe in Scientology or those who believe they descended from a monkey, or those who believe the World was made by chance, or those who believe there’s just no God and no life after death.

Read more on my blog.

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