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Breaking the Circle

Titus Burkhardt, a Swiss scholar of art and religion, spent a few years in Fez in the 1930s as a young man, studying Islamic doctrine with the spiritual masters of the day. He was expelled by the French because they imagined he was a spy, but he returned a generation later after Moroccan independence. His book Fez, City of Islam, written in 1960, is the fruit of his youthful experience, ripened by the perspective of age.

    Between dawn and nightfall the act of prayer is repeated five times. It regulates and determines the nature of the whole day. […] The regularity of the rites and the fact that their outward form is prescribed down to the smallest detail means that the life of all believers is penetrated by a common spiritual vibration, one which is nourished in space and time by a constantly repeated act of the will. It confers on everyone a particular inward attitude, which shows itself outwardly in various ways, not the least of which is a deep-seated courtesy that is common to rich and poor, cultivated and uncultivated alike.
    This is the form or spiritual style that makes tolerable any misery that may occur in a city such as Fez, and keeps in check all human excesses. If this form should ever be destroyed—and the meretricious propaganda of the modern world, with every technological means at its disposal, has already made serious inroads—all that would be left in the alleyways and streets of the old city would be the misery and ugliness of the masses struggling for their daily bread.

In 1960, the breakdown Burkhardt feared was still in the future, but I think we can agree it has arrived today. From my experience, Fez still shows the signs of its past as the spiritual capital of the Maghreb, but for better or worse, Morocco today is a far more materlalist society than the one Burkhardt knew. As for the “deep-seated courtesy that is comon to rich and poor, cultivated and unculitivated alike,” I offer this recent news story which shocked even me.

    The husband of a princess, the sister of Hassan II, tried to gun down, Tuesday in Casablanca, a policeman in uniform. The latter had simply asked for the papers of his car.
    At the clinic where he was rushed, Tarik Mouhib, a traffic control officer of Casa-Anfa, couldn’t believe what he had lived through that day, Tuesday, September 9, 2008. Tears in his eyes, he touched the place where the bullet had struck him on the left thigh, murmured a few inaudible words, then slipped back into a trance. […]
    Just before the evening prayer, around 6:30 p.m., Tarik, 32, stopped a luxury vehicle that had just ignored a control point along the Casablanca cliff road. “When he asked the driver for the papers of his car, the driver answered, ‘You’re nothing but a dirty flea and you dare to ask for my papers?'” a friend of Tarik Mouhib told us. The policeman insisted, again asking to see the papers of this very odd driver. Exasperated, the driver got out of his vehicle, a black Infinity 4×4, and pulled a handgun from his glove compartment. “You think you’re the only one to have a weapon? I’ve got one too, you little insect.” A few seconds later, a bullet left the gun and lodged high on the policeman’s left thigh. Without losing consciousness, the officer crumpled and writhed in pain. Rapidly, a crowd formed around the scene…. A security cordon was installed around the vehicle. The entire Casablanca police department showed up. Expressions were haggard and grave. […] “It’s a prince. Someone very important. The situation is very delicate,” affirmed, bewteen two radio messges, an aide to the Casablanca police commissioner. When press photographers began to shoot the “VIP driver,” a policeman took the wheel of the 4×4 and with difficulty cleared a path through the crowd to disappear in the Casablanca traffic.
    In the clinic where he was transported, the situation of the young policeman was judged stable. “It’s a fragmentation bullet. We were only able to extract the largest piece. Six small particles are still lodged in his thigh…,” explained a nurse at the scene. In the radiology clinic, the young policeman was in tears. One word kept returning to his lips. “He called me an insect. But I was only doing my job.” […]
    In Rabat, a crisis meeting brought together several officials at the national police headquarters. Were they looking for a way to suppress the affair or conceal the identity of the driver? A mystery. Still, around 9:00 p.m. the same evening, a name circulated insistently. Hassan Yacoubi, husband of one of the sisters of Hassan II, who is an aunt of King Mohammed VI. The man had apparently just left the Anfa golf course in the company of a few friends when the policeman stopped him. Almost at the same moment, around 9:30 p.m., another bit of news greatly upset the family of the young policeman. Hassan Yacoubi had just been admitted to a psychiatric hospital. He was suffering, according to informed sources, from behavioral and psychological problems. A clever trick! […] Perhaps Mr. Yacoubi had a serious mental illness, but then how to explain the fact that he had been allowed to hold a weapons permit since 1995? […]
    “Sadly that’s how our country works,” one of Tarik’s colleagues affirmed before concluding: “We allow ourselves to be insulted by these people who believe they can get away with anything. They spit on us or slap us around. Now they’re even going so far as to shoot at us. They’re right to consider us insects in the end.”


Comment from yunir
Time: September 14, 2008, 20:08

A sad reality. One that can be seen in the global scale as well.

Comment from writing boards
Time: March 14, 2009, 23:26

i found your blog , really nice and good blog to follow things from morocco

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