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Schizophrenic Morocco

Larbi left a comment on one of my earlier posts, the one where I urged my friend Doga to defend the Islamists, or perhaps just explain to me what bothers people about them. Larbi’s comment got me thinking, so I decided to translate part of it into English and give it a post of its own.

    “Blad skizo” is an expression often used in Morocco to describe the often contradictory behaviors people have. I can’t explain everything, there are things I don’t understand myself. Last summer I was at the Festival of Casablanca: there were hundreds of thousands of people going to concerts where there was singing and dancing. A great many of these people vote PJD, knowing quite well the PJD is against this type of festival. I can’t explain that. In a firm specializing in high technology that employs some 50 young engineers in Casablanca, the young workers organized a little election to amuse themselves: 90% voted for the PJD! These people are my friends, often with masters’ degrees. I know their way of life has nothing to do with the philosophy of the PJD. They are intelligent enough to insist before signing a blank check that the PJD propose a program, but they don’t do it. When I ask them, “Give me the reasons for voting PJD,” they don’t have any. I can’t explain that, I can’t understand how someone can spend his time in a nightclub in Casa and the next morning say he will vote PJD. There are many things like that I don’t understand, and they are hardly little things without interest. In fact I’d love to understand how someone can reconcile a thing and its opposite.

“The true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time and still function,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald. Maybe that is the answer, Morocco is a nation of geniuses! Of course, some of you will remind me that Morocco doesn’t function. But it’s all a matter of taste. Do you like making plane reservations weeks in advance, and having everything go as planned? Or do you like hopping in a grand taxi at the last minute without knowing where you are going?

Moroccan schizophrenia is enough to drive the Moroccans themselves crazy, but it’s what I love most about the country. A person divided against himself is open to a flash of inspiration, an amour fou or possibly, amazing grace. Despite the jokes about the “Moroccan rendezvous” that may or may not happen, I love the fluidity, the malleability of the Moroccan spirit. The Germans are known for being rigid, not having a sense of humor, not even realizing you’re making a joke. Moroccans are the opposite, they are compulsively social and love nothing better than to tease each other. If they make fun of you, you know they’ve dropped the formalities and you are one of them. I have no problem choosing which society to make myself a part of.

I have set up camp in the schizophrenic country. I wonder if the PJD, being Moroccan, is schizophrenic as well? What’s so strange about going out dancing, then wishing the next day that one lived in a society where the old-fashioned ways were intact? I remember a photo on Larbi’s blog of two old men holding hands. In the traditions of Morocco, old age means growing rich in wisdom, and friendships are something to be savored for a lifetime. Nostalgia for an imaginary “golden age” is a global disease, so it doesn’t surprise me to see it in Morocco as well. At the same time, Larbi’s young Casa friends want to live life to the fullest. The PJD knows who their supporters are. It’s been said they have more internal democracy than the other parties. This is one of their “competitive advantages.” If the Islamists know what’s best for them, they will lock their radicals in the back room and use softer methods, such as example and persuasion, to win people over. They will be less “pure” but more inclusive. I see them evolving in that direction.

One final point. The way Moroccans look at Islam, the accent is on personal responsibility. The Qur’an is clear, but each person must come to it in his own way. Religion cannot be forced. How many times have I heard, “We have mosques and we have bars. You can choose either one.” Or both. Long live schizophrenic Morocco, nation of geniuses!


Comment from Ibn Kafka
Time: December 19, 2006, 06:12

The reality of Moroccan poltiics is indeed complex. I know personnally of situations exactly opposite to the one described by Larbi, i.e. strictly observant people who are adamantly opposed to the islamists and thus to the PJD. Larbi does well to remind people of some unsaviory declarations by either the PJD or Tajdid, its fellow traveller daily. To get a complete picture, he should however also have cited much more lenient declarations by Lahcen Daoudi or Saadeddine Othmani, who are both more moderate than Ramid – who is by the way leading the internal opposition to the current PJD leadership, whom he judges too subservient to the “palais”, and is a leading critic of the concentration of powers in the hand of the King that the current constitution entails, something Daoudi and Othmani are much less vocal about…

So your impression of complexity and contradiction is indeed the one which most closely resembles our political reality…

Comment from Liosliath
Time: December 19, 2006, 10:26

I’m with you on all of that until the “religion is not forced” bit. What about Ramadan and the pressure to observe it? Or is that no longer religion, but culture? Hm…

Comment from Darweesh
Time: December 19, 2006, 13:26

Freedom is a must, On Friday where the population of all parts of Palestine meet in al aqsa mosque despite the difficulties they face, but since the receipt of the Sharon government of Israel preventing worshipers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip to attend to perform Friday prayers, diminishing numbers of worshipers, and in some days to prevent the congregation who are under the age of forty praying in alqsa mosque and forcing them to pray at the entrances to the Old City of Jerusalem.

On the 15th of December, the preacher of Al-Aqsa Mosque warned that, there are cracks in the southern wall of Al-Aqsa Mosque result of the excavations carried out by Israeli authorities under the Aqsa Mosque the building of the Islamic Waqf, despite warning of the danger of these excavations, the Israeli authorities preventing the Islamic Waqf from reconstruction of the southern wall.

Comment from eatbees
Time: December 19, 2006, 16:19

@Ibn Kafka — I’d love to have your take on this (or anyone else who has an opinion): can progressives and Islamists who see the same problems in Morocco (poverty, unemployment, insecurity in health and housing, etc.) and the same causes for those problems (concentration of power in a profiteering regime) find common ground? Aren’t there progressive Islamists? Why can’t the Left make common cause with them to “freeze out” the good old boys who run things now, and get some real changes done in 2007?

@Liosliath — My first year in Morocco I observed the fast, though no one made me feel I was obliged to. I even had rebellious friends who broke the fast privately, and tried to pressure me to buy liquor for them! The next two years I didn’t observe it, but I felt a bit bad about that. I have a friend who is borderline alcoholic but who quits each year for Ramadan—not because of pressure, but because for him, the point of Ramadan is a common sacrifice. It’s the one time of year where the rich go hungry just as the poor do! It is a time of social solidarity and reflection. It might be nice if the taboo were broken and some cafes stayed open, but I’d hate for this to happen only as a capitulation to foreign tastes. Morocco is conservative enough that there is real social pressure to observe Ramadan, but I think if you scratch the surface people will admit that insincere fasting counts for nothing. At bottom it has to be voluntary….

Comment from Wendell
Time: December 19, 2006, 19:44

In my part of Canada, many adults with no use for public school, church or conservative politics insist on subjecting their children to the ministrations of all three. Maybe it’s a fear thing: maybe we’d rather give up our own freedoms to see our neighbours forced to “be good”, than opt for liberalism and the risk of an immoral or insecure society?

Or maybe seeing contradictions in our own thought is just too much work. Anyway, nothing overly Moroccan in this. The players may be local: the phenomenon is global.

Comment from Liosliath
Time: December 19, 2006, 20:51

“no one made me feel I was obliged to” – I didn’t mean pressure towards non- Moroccans, really. I observed the fast for three years running, but no one made me feel like I had to. It was a different story for my husband, of course. Since he was in the States this year, every call we got from Morocco started with, “Are you fasting?” Argh. It’s true that it has to be voluntary, but people act insanely interfering about it.

Comment from Fugstar
Time: January 2, 2007, 21:00

salam and eid mubarak

this is a common expression, of righteous indignation, that intelligent people like to vote with an political islamic vector.

My point is that we should grow up and have a more nuanced understanding of islamic thought. your fellow concert goers might have already got there.

Together you can nurture a qualitatively better society. Isnt it great that religious people havent switched off their brains? that you can access them and they can access you? no need to be schitzoid.

similar situation in other countries. I think many of ;us; like the general vibe of the islamic philosophy, the objectives of it. We arent, to be honest, diverted by less important detail eg. they are going to lock up the women, they will ban music, they hate fun.

i think people are ‘over that’ mental knot.

oh and by the way, i think there are countries, muslim ones that are much more schitzophrenic than your own!

Comment from eatbees
Time: January 3, 2007, 16:52

@Fugstar — Wa alaikum salam, and welcome. I like your comments, especially this:

“I think many of us like the general vibe of the islamic philosophy, the objectives of it. We arent, to be honest, diverted by less important detail….”

I think some countries have a less tense relation between Islam and politics than Morocco—Turkey is an example—and I hope that once the elections happen this year, if the PJD (Islamic party) wins, they will prove to be moderates who want clean government, not people who will “lock up the women” and “ban music” as you say !! I’ll tell you, Moroccans are easygoing people (even when very sincere Muslims) and repression just won’t work in Morocco, I don’t think. Besides, the world has enough extremism on all sides, we don’t need to fan the flames.

Thanks for your hopeful remarks and Happy New Year 2007 !!

Comment from Jill
Time: January 26, 2007, 06:53

This is a little late, but re: Ramadan, it’s not just social pressure but legal pressure. Everyone hears those stories of people going to jail for publically eating during Ramadan, I actually know someone whose father did about six years ago.

A student of mine calls herself an atheist, and has only fasted once for Ramadan in her 18 or so years, to experience it. She said she felt nothing. And yet, despite her public denouncement of Islam, she still has to pretend to fast, sneak around, out of fear of the police and her family.

I too fasted my first year here, and since then have not. My husband, who does fast for personal reasons and not pressure, made me coffee every morning during Ramadan even though he wouldn’t touch it to his own lips. Sadly, most Moroccans I’ve met don’t share his take.

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