Staging Moroccan Power

[excerpted from John W. Erwin, Virtuoso Citizens-- a book to be completed during 2012]

i. What politics can be like

Morocco has as its center of gravity the amphitheatre of planes and plateaus which climbs in steps from the Atlantic coast to the arc of mountain ranges which hem it into a semi-circle from the Tintgitane peninsula to the High Atlas in the West… [Morocco] is distinctive for the simplicity and massiveness of its architectural system.

Daniel Rivet, 1999 [i]

Morocco is an old and durable nation, one that constantly has transformed itself in addressing an ever-changing world but also one that has maintained domains of continuity so that, to some degree, it has met transformations on its own terms. … The staging of great performances of culture, in which monarch and population actively participated, was the sharifian monarchy’s most innovative and enduring elaboration. The productions—simultaneously personal, political, and religious events—placed the monarchy at the center of popular experience and consciousness. M. E. Combs-Schilling, 1989 [ii]

The sultan has to exhibit himself to prove the superiority of his baraka [God-given power] over that of his potential rivals … For most of his reign he crisscrosses the government system of fortified roads at the head of a veritable expedition… to renew the original pact between the prince and his subjects. Daniel Rivet, 1999 [iii]

For over twelve hundred years political leaders in the Moroccan amphitheatre have been performing strong but necessarily flexible aspirations to national unity and identity, intricately choreographing negotiations among rival Islamic traditions and other cultural imperatives.

Combs-Schilling has focused on an innovation by the current dynasty when it came to power in the last third of the seventeenth century: “Muslims throughout the world participate in the Great Sacrifice. Each year Muslims on pilgrimage in the Arabian Peninsula and Muslim heads of household throughout the lands take a knife in their hands and slay an animal on behalf of their families. But the ‘Alawi monarchs instituted a new level of sacrifice, a national level, which they personally performed. Morocco’s sharifi [referring to blood descendants of the Prophet Mohammed] caliph became the only head of any major Muslim state to himself slit a ram’s throat on behalf of the political community he leads. It was an audacious act made by a self-assured young dynasty [which] came to power in 1666.” [iv]

Earlier Moroccan dynasties had also played symbols off against each other to ensure that both internal and external conflicts enhanced their mediatory role. As Mohammed Kably observes, “Toward the middle of the twelfth century, the Masmudian state of the Almohads appeared. … Moroccan legitimacy in its beginning phases involves, on the one hand, both a stubborn settled population and a resistant, restless, migratory one and, on the other, an enemy threatening from either overseas or from the coast.” [v] And Kably finds dynamic responsiveness to challenge and change and skill in engaging diverse publics at the beginning of the sixteenth century – some hundred and fifty years before the Alawites took power: “It was a long way from the legitimacy associated with the Almoravid and Almohad phase to the more durable legitimacy that followed. On the one hand, we are dealing with an approach that is frankly dogmatic and, for all practical purposes, is a legitimacy of doctrine, rigid and essentially closed. On the other, we see an approach that is more flexible, leading to a legitimacy that is responsive, polyvalent, and as pragmatic as one could wish.” [vi]

The Moroccan monarchs’ centuries-old strategies of responding to political challenge by adapting venerable symbols and by making frequent trips around their geographically and culturally diverse country was still very much in operation in 1964. Mitchell Chanelis, my colleague in the Stories Exchange Project, tells about seeing King Hassan II – who had accompanied his father Mohammed ben Youssef to dinner with Roosevelt and Churchill in 1943— ride through the streets of Tangier in two strikingly different ways, balancing tradition with modernity at a dangerous early moment in what would be an increasingly troubled reign.

“I had planned to leave Tangier days before, but people I knew said, ‘No, you have to wait, you have to wait: the sultan’s coming.’ There were rumors that there would be an assassination attempt, and everybody was on tenterhooks. So I was in the crowd near the train station when he came along in an open car. He was standing up, without any visible protection. That was extraordinary because if we knew there were rumors that somebody would be trying to kill him, you could be sure that he knew. But he was standing up, riding blithely along the waterfront in an open car with no bodyguards to be seen – though I’m sure there were plenty around.” Telling me in Cambridge, Massachusetts forty years later, Mitch’s eyes were shining with delight at having understood the boldness of it then.

The best was yet to come, though, and he lowered his voice, making me lean forward to listen more carefully. “The next day, there was the calf. I assume it was male: a bull calf. This was probably the most mysterious aspect of it, but profoundly moving too. Again, this was in the context of assassination plots – but it looked like a ceremony that had gone on for hundreds and hundreds of years. Though it was very simple: totally without pomp. And there was the sheer effrontery of him seemingly being without guards, with the people pressing in. They were not kept away, and he rode very slowly through the Medina, the old quarter of Tangier, on a white horse, in simple white robes: a wonderful sort of djellaba, with a hood. And there was an attendant with a large parasol covering him, and in front of the horse—which was being led by someone, an attendant, the pure white calf, with garlands of flowers; two or three garlands of beautiful flowers. The horns of the little being were painted gold. So: the white calf with gold horns, the white horse, the white raiment of His Majesty, and the bearers of the umbrella and the leader of the calf. That was it.”

Mitch smiled as if he were seeing it again, savoring every detail of the composition. “I was very close. He was ten or twelve feet from me. It was a narrow street, not more than twenty or thirty feet wide, which is wide for a street in the Medina. But there were hundreds and hundreds of people. They didn’t call out to him. They were just—joyful at his presence. It was very refined: elegant and subdued, but not somber— an appreciation of each other. I could say mystical union, but that would sound too churchy.  It wasn’t like that:  it was joyful – but restrained – though people didn’t seem to be held back at all. And he was definitely very happy to be there. He wasn’t waving, just riding the horse and holding the reins. He was – there: it was his presence that was doing it all. He was almost laughing. I could see it, the joy of him receiving: and he was giving it back. I’ve never experienced anything like it before or since. It stays with me as an image of what politics can be like.”

Mitch was staring at a slash of lamp-light across a high shelf of books. “No one was working up the crowd. It was very quiet. They stayed themselves, as Moroccans do. It’s a very collective society, but everybody is himself; they don’t get easily carried away. It was dignified; it was intelligent. They weren’t submitting to him: Muslims don’t submit to human beings. That’s why I respect Morocco so much. The people are fiercely individual. It’s very democratic, actually, the way people relate to each other. The sense is that everybody’s equal before God: that’s what I respect.”

The rumor of an assassination attempt which served as dark counterpoint to Mitch’s bright vision would be twice realized during that reign, most spectacularly in an attack on the King and guests at his birthday party in July 1971. And continuing terrorism drove Hassan II to massive repression which imprisoned and killed thousands of Moroccans. But there are signs of significant change today in policies of his son who has ruled as Mohammed VI since 1999. One of these is an investigation of his father’s reign with some resemblance to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Having endorsed the truth commission’s recommendations, Mohammed VI has also established the National Initiative for Human Development, seeking to engage citizens on all levels of society in alleviating the poverty and lack of opportunity which have made some young Moroccans join violent fundamentalist groups.

Along with vigorous recent efforts by non-governmental organizations, these royal initiatives suggest that there may be increasing possibilities today of playing creative variations on artistic-political composition by Sultan Mohammed ben Youssef, Roosevelt’s interlocutor in Casablanca in January 1943 and the grandfather of the present King of Morocco, His Majesty Mohammed VI.

iii. I will not allow any distinction to be made between my subjects

Jean Lacouture pictures the coronation of Mohammed ben Youssef as a weather-enhanced parody of ritual performances by a white-cloaked ruler which have helped keep Morocco together for many centuries: “The eighteenth of November 1927 was a bleak day. Heavy clouds hung over Rabat… A pale young king, feeling the cold, wrapped up in a huge djellaba and perched on a white horse, made his way through the capital… Under parasols turned into giant umbrellas, the new sovereign gave the crowds only a distressed glance. And the functionaries of the Protectorate were delighted at so much fragility.” [vii] This was a manifestation very different from the one by Hassan II that Mitch Chanelis would witness in 1964. But you could also read the contradiction of triumphalist ritual symbolism by both the weather and the young ruler’s apparent state of mind in 1927 as an anticipation of intensely subjective, personal variations upon traditional performance with which Mohammed ben Youssef would save Moroccan Jews from Hitler and lead his nation to independence after the war.

In the Thirties, while European architects in Casablanca were adapting indigenous building practices Mohammed ben Youssef himself worked to reconcile tradition and modernism. As Rom Landau described it, “The young monarch began to found new schools at his own expense, and to encourage others to follow his example. … ‘During their early formative years Moroccan children should receive an Arab, Islamic education that would shape their moral and ethical precepts. Once these were firmly instilled, they should benefit from modern western education, and acquire the knowledge and techniques indispensable for life in a modern community,’ [he wrote]… Always careful not to act until he was convinced that he would have most of his politically conscious people behind him, he kept his ear very closely attuned to the rhythm of their sentiments. He would listen patiently to his ministers, to members of his court and to personal friends, and ponder their views. Yet, when he at last acted, his decision would often prove an unexpected one. It seemed that, thanks to some strange intuitive perceptions, he was able to discern the will of the people with deeper insight than did his counselors who were in closer touch with the masses.” [viii] No wonder this Sultan and a similarly attentive American President had no trouble understanding each other at Dar es Saada.

Mohammed ben Youssef was passionately concerned for the integrity of his nation.  Witnesses describe persistent and inventive efforts that he made to protect all his people from the French Vichy regime’s collaboration with Nazi Germany in its monstrous parody of the Jewish tradition of burnt offerings. In a study first published in 1983 Michel Abitbol stated that to his knowledge no anti-Jewish measure was suppressed or delayed because of the Sultan’s intervention. [ix] But in 1997 Robert Assaraf, founding president of the Centre Internationale de Recherche sur les Juifs du Maroc, offered a more subtle assessment: “Theoretically Sidi Mohammed could block the Jewish statute by refusing to put his seal on it. But he would have started a major crisis with France, which he had no means of handling. ….Faithful to his method, the King chose to bend so as not to break, and to play the guerilla rather than making war. So, having refused for two months, on October 31 1940 he put his seal on the dahir of 29 ramadan 1359 which put the Jewish statute in effect, convinced that his gesture would not cause irremediable damage to his Jewish subjects. Eight weeks of negotiations with Noguès [the French Résident Général] had allowed him to temper the severity of the original text. With a definition of the Jew which invoked religious criteria and not racial, as in France, the Sultan had begun by insisting on an amendment that required respect for Islamic law: while in France a person who had three Jewish grandparents was considered a Jew, or two if he was married to a Jew, in Morocco a Jew was defined as one who practiced the Jewish religion, regardless of race or ancestors. In Morocco, anyone who converted to Islam was no longer considered a Jew.” [x]

And a correspondent for the French information agency, Roger Touraine, had reported that in 1941 Mohammed ben Youssef more than rose to the occasion when Jewish communities ritually invoked his mediatory power by sacrificing bulls in front of the royal palace. “The sultan refused to distinguish between his subjects, all, he said, ‘loyal.’ Angry to see his authority challenged by the French authorities, he decided to show publicly that he disowned the anti-Jewish measures. He waited for the Feast of the Throne to act. On that occasion, the sultan used to offer a great banquet to which were invited the French officials and high-ranking personalities in the native world. For the first time, the sultan invited to the banquet representatives of the Jewish community whom he seated prominently, in the best places, right next to the French officials. The sultan himself presented the Jewish guests. The French officials having shown their astonishment at the Jews’ presence, the sultan said to them, ‘I do not approve at all of the new anti-Semitic laws and I refuse to associate myself with a measure of which I disapprove. I must inform you that as in the past, they remain under my protection, and I will not allow any distinction to be made between my subjects.” [xi] This careful staging of a symbolic common meal for the French more than reciprocated the Jews’ use of Moroccan public space to symbolize their respect for the throne by strategically updating an ancient sacrificial tradition shared by all three Abrahamic world religions.

You could also see the exchange of spectacles by Mohammed ben Youssef and his Jewish subjects as a doubly strategic variant of a ceremonialization of tax payment with which Moroccan Muslims and Jews had for centuries assured their complex interaction. Noting that “symbolic performances generate multiple referents that can be interpreted in a variety of ways,” [xii] Susan Gilson Miller writes: “The ritual of the jizya was not simply a mark of subordination: more than that, it was a public display evoking various registers of feeling that specified the relationship between Muslims and Jews. The handing over of the tax was an occasion to act out the particulars of the contract that bound them together—for Muslims to assert their political and religious preeminence and for Jews to demonstrate their loyalty to the ruling authority and their desire for membership in the wider Moroccan community.” [xiii] And Miller concludes, “By the end of the nineteenth century, the jizya had become a ceremony in which Jewish and Muslim elites in Tangier colluded for the sake of social tranquility, keeping formal appearances intact, while making room for the many changes that were taking place in fact.” [xiv] In 1941, however, neither the Jewish community nor Mohammed ben Youssef were sustaining an illusion of continuity with their reciprocal displays, but bringing up to date the practice of responding in kind to change that Mohammed Kably attributes to the Almohads of the twelfth century, establishing “a legitimacy that is responsive, polyvalent, and as pragmatic as one could wish.”

After a more strict statute was circulated in December 1941, the Jews much less formally and spectacularly asked the Sultan to intervene on their behalf, and he took care not to create further antagonism from Résident Général Noguès, whom Assaraf sees as his erstwhile collaborator in modifying the first statute. Mohammed ben Youssef received the Jews in a clandestine meeting but used the unconventionality of the occasion to symbolize his intimacy with particularly vulnerable subjects. Joseph Berdugo, president of the community of Meknès, stated that he and his colleagues entered the palace hidden in a covered truck: “The meeting took place in an isolated and dark room where Sidi Mohammed, as if to underline the danger of the moment, allowed them not to take off their shoes as protocol demanded: ‘This is not the time for such ceremonies,’ he said to them.” [xv]

The Jews in turn honored the Sultan’s iconoclasm by substituting literary invention for the ritual sacrifice with which they had invited him to reciprocate their loyalty. Assaraf writes: “Lacking miracles, the Jews made up legends out of whole cloth. This, for example: though there was never a question of Moroccan Jews wearing the yellow star, the rumor was spread in the Jewish quarters that they owed this to Sidi Mohammed. One day, it was said, the Resident announced to the sultan his decision that the Moroccan Jews would wear the yellow star, the same as their European brothers. Sidi Mohammed was supposed to have said, ‘Please be so kind as to make twenty or so more.’ ‘For whom?’ ‘For me and my family.’ ”  [xvi]

This is of course grist for the rumor mill that Abitbol challenged in 1983: “As to Sultan Muhammed V, public rumor gave him credit for helping his Jewish subjects by interposing himself between them and the resident’s administration. …This rumor, which over the years and up to the present was to paint the Moroccan sultan as defender and even as savior of his country’s Jews, made its way to the Jewish milieux of the Free Zone. According to a report from the office of the Renseignements Généraux (dated May 29, 1941) ‘they are claiming [in those mileux] on the basis of British-originated information, that the Moroccan sultan has refused to apply French anti-Jewish laws on the grounds that he could not detect any difference in the loyalty of his subjects. They praise the good sense of the sovereign and they openly state that the French government could use some lessons in tolerance from him.’ … Reality was somewhat different… The only gesture recorded by history was the warm welcome which the king gave to Moroccan Jewish delegations who came in May and June of 1942 to discuss with him the serious consequences of the application to the Moroccan kingdom of the Jewish Statute.” [xvii] But the Jews’ anecdote about Mohammed ben Youssef asking for stars of David for the royal family comes close to advertising itself as a response in kind to the symbolic performance of concern for national integrity with which the Sultan responded to their bull sacrifice – according to a French correspondent who would have been unlikely to have had any reason to do anything than draw what he saw, as, during the first round of the Stories Exchange Project, painter Helga Weissová-Hoŝková said she did in the Nazi transport camp Theresienstadt/Terezín [, Holocaust Menu, “The only weapon I have is to go around telling my story”]. Like Helga and her friends during those same terrible years, in Morocco both the Jews and the Sultan clearly found ironic improvisations on official and traditional symbolism to be powerful weapons of the spirit. [xviii]

In any event, on November 11, 1942 – just four days before what was said to have been the day on which deportations were to begin – the Atlantic Allies landed. And according to the Crown Prince who would become Hassan II, at SYMBOL Roosevelt gave Mohammed ben Youssef confidence to develop far more spectacularly his concern for national integrity.

iv. Old/New Atlantic Islam

We are going to do all we can for the population of these parts, to keep them going until they can bring in their own harvests during this coming summer. Also, I had one very delightful party. I gave a dinner party for the Sultan of Morocco (Sidi Mohammed) and his son. We got on extremely well. He is greatly interested in the welfare of his people. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1943 [xix]

According to Consul Kenneth Pendar, at table in Marrakech two evenings after the dinner he gave for Mohammed ben Youssef in Casablanca on 22 January 1943, F.D.R. indicated that he fully reciprocated the interest in America expressed by his prospectively royal guest: “The President told me about his talk with the Sultan and the extraordinary interest he found the Sultan took in America and everything American. We then talked at length about Morocco and the Arab problem. To my amazement and delight, I found that the President had an extraordinary and profound grasp of Arab problems, of the conflict of Koranic law with our type of modern life and its influence on Mohammedans, and of the Arab character with its combination of materialism and highly developed intuition. He even had all the facts of our unique diplomatic position in Morocco at his finger tips, down to the names of the treaties and the dates.” [xx]

Roosevelt mastered factual details because he was alert to differences in style: “I told the President that his letter to the Sultan had caused much excitement among the Arabs, and that they had been flattered to be treated, for once, with the respect that they felt due their sovereignty,” Pendar writes. [xxi] But this was a two-way meander in the Medina, and Roosevelt was quick to respond, showing how sensitive he was to the subtleties – and fluidity – of Moroccan discourse: “The President said that the Sultan’s answer to his letter was not of the quality or tone he would expect from the man he dined with the other night. He seemed much interested in the Moroccan gossip that there were actually two answers to his letter, one written by the Sultan, himself, and the other by his Grand Vizier.”

If the conversation between Roosevelt and Mohammed ben Youssef had gone on after the war, it would most likely have included planning for irrigation-based cooperative development projects that Elliott Roosevelt said his father had discussed with him before meeting the Sultan (“Divert this water for irrigation purposes? It’d make the Imperial Valley in California look like a cabbage patch…The Sahara would bloom for hundreds of miles”). Mohammed ben Youssef had always responded to opportunities for modernizing his old nation, and Lacouture described him taking cues from Roosevelt after they met at a modernist-traditionalist villa for his own tempered political versions of Casablanca’s integration of Middle Eastern and Western architectural strategies: “A modernist and rebellious little court then gathered around the sovereign. The Atlantic Charter had anticipated that the end of the war would also be the end of the colonial regime, and Franklin Roosevelt confirmed that to his guest at Anfa. Plans and preparations were made… A new world was revealed to Sidi Mohammed. So many things that had not been mentioned to him before: ideologies, political strategy, the rights of nations, democracy, the power of the masses: he listened to his ‘brain trust,’ inquired, objected, accepted, got alarmed. He asked his visitors to be patient, trusted in the virtues of ongoing negotiation.” [xxii] Though it is important to recall that such an approach had been native to Morocco for more than a millennium.

v. A culture of citizenship?

If the feudal notables spent on education half the money they waste on feasting, Morocco would turn into a garden blossoming with the achievements of science, and our youth would acquire a culture that would enable it to contribute to the well-being of their fellow citizens. Mohammed ben Youssef [xxiii]

Inasmuch as we are, already, fellow citizens of a world, we do not have to wait for institutional change to exercise our common citizenship: to engage in dialogue with others around the world about the questions great and small that we must solve together, about the many projects in which we can learn from each other, is already to live as fellow citizens. Kwame Anthony Appiah [xxiv]

In an interview published in Le Figaro a week before 9/11, His Majesty Mohammed VI, the present king of Morocco, allied himself with his grandfather in saying that modernization does not contradict tradition but can help root it in the daily life of his people. [xxv] Even more relevant since the March 11, 2004 Madrid attack by Moroccan fundamentalists was the King’s statement of concern on July 30, 2000 that Moroccan immigrants in Europe celebrate the Feast of the Throne: “You celebrate this feast with special splendor because of the deep meaning that you have always given to this event which embodies for you the symbiosis of the three sacred values of the Kingdom: Islam, the monarchy and the nation.” [xxvi] Issa Babana el-Alaoui has made more explicit the King’s targeting of increasingly problematic members of the Moroccan diaspora: “The three sacred values of the Kingdom concern both those who live in the country and those who live abroad, all celebrating, with their King, the national feast. More than that; the new King’s concern to ‘preserve the authentic identity and sacred values’ of Moroccans extends too to the ‘Subjects of His Majesty’ working in the countries of the European Union, especially those of the second and third generation.” [xxvii]

But given the criticism which greeted the young Mohammed VI’s deft symbolic use of non-Muslim modernist religious architecture to counter the architecture-driven September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, it would seem crucial that his generous gesture be supplemented by equally skilled updatings of the theatrical variations upon ancient religious and political symbolism with which his grandfather showed his concern for all his subjects. As Jean-Pierre Tuquoi reported, “Some Moroccan ulemas publicly criticized, in October, the presence of members of the government, including the Prime Minister, in an ecumenical ceremony which brought together in the Cathedral of Rabat, in mid-September, representatives of the three monotheist religions. For a Muslim to go to a church or synagogue is ‘a most grievous sin’ the ulemas declared. The group of theologians also judged that Moroccan participation in the alliance against terrorism led by the United States ‘is not permitted’ and would constitute an ‘apostasy.’ ”  [xxviii]

As we have seen, Mohammed VI has many powerful models for containing such opposition in order to advance his own far more constructive projects: not only his grandfather’s theatrical challenges to the totalitarian fundamentalism of his own dangerous day, but also, looking much farther back, the stagings of Moroccan monarchy analyzed by Combs-Schilling, and the responsive, polyvalent, and pragmatic definitions of legitimacy that Kably finds operative in Morocco since the twelfth century.

Not to speak of Muslim traditions of exchanging and discussing stories.

vi. Fluidity of dialogue between the Atlantic and the Atlas

In The Thousand and One Nights, Shahrayar officially admits that a man should use words instead of violence to settle his disputes. Scheherazade commands words, not armies, to transform her situation, and this adds yet another dimension to the tales as a modern civilizing myth. … She teaches that there is a need to confront the different other, and to insist on the acknowledgment and respect of boundaries if dialogue is to be achieved. To learn to enjoy the fluidity of dialogue is to savor situations where the outcome of battle is not rigidly fixed, where winners and losers are not predetermined. Fatema Mernissi, 2001 [xxix]

Hear Prof. Mernissi of Mohammed V University in Rabat: “I went to Temara Beach, between Rabat and Casablanca on the Atlantic Coast…I prayed and meditated, though I did so in the ocean… Modern Muslim women have gained access to the ocean. They have pulverized the harem frontier and gained access to public spaces… To meditate in a harem, sitting inside four walls, is completely different from meditating while standing in the Atlantic waves. In the ocean, I feel connected to the cosmos.” [xxx] Mernissi surfs and soars online as well: “With access to state-paid education, computers, and the Internet, Muslim women have gained wings.” But she learned from her grandmother in landlocked Fez to embody the virtual explorations offered by advanced technology: “ ‘To travel is the best way to learn and empower yourself,’ said Yasmina, my grandmother, who was illiterate and lived in a harem, a traditional household with locked gates that women were not supposed to open. ‘You must focus on the strangers you meet and try to understand them. The more you understand a stranger and the greater is your knowledge of yourself, the more power you will have.’ ” [xxxi]

Not that it is only women who have learned from grandmothers, as the Romani poet Janko Horvath told us in the first round of the Stories Exchange Project —on several occasions in several places: one night in Terezín, on a bright day in President Havel’s old living room in Prague, and during an evening session at the Czech Embassy in London in 2000 when we brought Roma and Czechs there to perform stories and discuss the controversy about asylum-seekers in the U.K. “Even though my grandmother had many children,” Janko said, somehow managing to smile warmly as he spoke, “she went to help the peasants in the fields during the haymaking, and she helped during harvest, and in Bilovec she earned the nickname of ‘the gypsy lawyer.’ Even though she could neither read nor write, I learned a lot from my grandmother – and I hold her up as an example to my four sons.” [xxxii]

But Mernissi had started her own stories exchange project in Morocco with a friend at the university two decades before we began working in the Czech Republic: “We rediscovered the power of our mothers’ storytelling while listening to our students, who in the 1970s came mostly from the shantytowns of Casablanca and Rabat—areas not equipped with either electricity or television… Encouraging my sociology students to gather oral tales from the remote Atlas mountains and the Sahara desert… created new occasions for Kemal and myself to collaborate—i.e., constantly contradict each other.” [xxxiii] This sounds like Mitchell Chanelis with Charles Malik, Eleanor Roosevelt’s colleague at the U.N., both in class in Beirut and while organizing a conference on the reunification of Cyprus – or with me, building and re-building the Stories Exchange Project from one more or less urgent contradiction to another, counterpointing our endless debates with travels here and there.

In 2000 Mitch and I coincided on Mernissi’s Atlantic threshold and talked with many Moroccans—Arabs, Berbers, and Jews – about how the project might work in the shantytowns of Casablanca and Rabat and the Atlas villages. And now after several more Atlantic and Mediterranean crossings, further conversations in the capital in 2003 and 2005 and since Mitch’s permanent move to Rabat the following year, we’ve become all the more interested in trying to apply in Morocco what Mernissi too has learned from roaming the planet: “The secret to gaining enlightenment, I soon discovered was to increase one’s listening capacity. Where to start? Well, by shedding your arrogance, at least trying to, and by respecting the other. Respecting a Westerner is a heroic achievement for a Muslim, a tour de force, because Western culture is so aggressively present in our daily life that we have the impression we already know it thoroughly. But in fact as my vulnerability when facing the Western journalists made me realize, we Muslims know very little about Westerners as human beings, as bundles of contradictory hopes and yearning, unfulfilled dreams. If we could see Westerners as vulnerable, we could feel closer to them.” [xxxiv]

Mernissi reads Islam’s traditional respect for difference as a precedent for using the Internet to expand rural as well as urban literacy – what we’re beginning to do in partnership with the Women’s Arab Literacy Program at the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies, the Moroccan-American program of the English Department at the Ben M’sik campus of Hassan II University, and Robbie McCauley, the Boston-based OBIE-Award-winning African-American playwright and performance artist:  “One of the most quoted verses of the Koran, and one that I particularly love, reads ‘And we made you into different nations and tribes, so that you may know about each other’ (Sura 49:12). The Arabic word ‘to know’ in this verse, ‘arafa, comes from ‘Arif, meaning a leader chosen by his group because he has accumulated knowledge by asking many questions about things he did not know.… To understand this Muslim emphasis on learning from differences, one has to remember that Islam originated in the desert (present-day Saudi-Arabia) and that Mecca’s prosperity as a center of trade in the first years of the Muslim calendar was due to travelers constantly crossing through on roads linking Africa with Asia and Europe. … This religion spread from Arabia to Indonesia through trade routes, via travelers talking to one another and learning from one another’s cultures …. I think it explains why citizens in my part of the world are so interested in the Internet and digital technology, despite widespread illiteracy.” [xxxv]

[i] My translation of Daniel Rivet, Le Maroc de Lyautey à Mohammed V: Le Double Visage du Protectorat (Paris: Denoël, 1999), 92: “Le Maroc a pour centre de gravité l’amphithéâtre de plaines et plateaux qui monte en gradins de la côte atlantique à l’arc de chaînes montagneuses qui l’ourle en demi-cercle de la peninsula tintgitane au Haut Atlas occidental… Elle se caractérise par la simplicité et la massivité de son dispositif architectural.”

[ii] In the Shadow of the Sultan: Culture, Power and Politics in Morocco, ed. Rahma Bourqia and Susan Gilson Miller (Cambridge, Massachusetts: distributed for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies of Harvard University by the Harvard University Press, 1999), 177-78.

[iii] Le Maroc de Lyautey à Mohammed V, 90: “Le sultan doit se montrer pour faire la preuve de la supériorité de sa baraka sur celle de ses rivaux  potentials, ces shurfa ombrageux et querelleurs issus d’autres branches que l’alaouite… La plus grande partie de son règne, il sillonne en force, à la tête d’une véritable expédition, les routes fortifiées du Makhzen pour … renouer le pacte originel entre le prince et ses sujets.”

[iv] M. E. Combs-Schilling, Sacred Performances, Islam, Sexuality and Sacrifice (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 222-23, 227.

[v] In the Shadow of the Sultan, 19-20 and 22.

[vi] Ibid., 25.

[vii] “Mohammed V: Un trône et trois Républiques,” Cinq Hommes et la France (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1961),183: “Le 18 novembre 1927 fut un jour maussade. De lourds nuages pesaient sur Rabat. …Un jeune roi pâle,  frileusement emmitouflé dans une immense djellaba et juché sur un cheval blanc, traversa la capitale… Sous les parasols mués en parapluies géants, le nouveau souverain n’offrait aux regards de la foule qu’un regard désolé. Et les fonctionnaires du Protectorat s’enchantaient de tant de fragilité.” As Lacouture has noted, when Mohammed V was born in 1910, just two years before the French Protectorate was established, the traveling show of Moroccan power had to find its way through violent manifestations of  civil war: “To pave the way of the sovereign from one to another of his capitals, from Fez to Meknès or from Marrakech to Rabat, Sharifian harkas and mehallas had to fire on insurgent tribes”; Cinq Hommes et la France, 181-82: “Pour frayer la route du souverain de l’une à l’autre de ses capitals, de Fès à Meknès ou de Marrakech à Rabat, harkas et mehallas chérifiennes doivent faire le coup de feu contre les tribus en ebullition.” (Daniel Rivet vividly defined these two aspects of Moroccan monarchs’ expeditions: “The harka is the other side of the mahalla, its dark face. It is the moving column, a punitive expedition which raids bad subjects. … the mahalla is an ambulatory spectacle opening a way through throngs of spectators gathered along the Sultan’s route. For the mahalla is also a celebration in which the sultan and simple people commune in the exhibition of the attributes of Muslim temporal power and in an exchange of rituals of sovereignty”; Le Maroc de Lyautey à Mohammed V, 90-91:“La h’arka est l’envers de la mahalla, sa face sombre. C’est la colonne en mouvement, qui vire à l’expédition punitive pour razzier les mauvais sujets. … La mahalla est un spectacle ambulant s’ouvrant la route à travers la cohue de spectateurs accourus le long de son passage. Car la mahalla est aussi une célébration où le sultan et les gens simples communient dans l’exhibition des attributs musulmans de la puissance temporelle et l’échange des rituels de la souveraineté.”)

[viii] Rom Landau, Mohammed V, King of Morocco (Rabat: Morocco Publishers, 1957), 25-28.


[ix] Michel Abitbol, The Jews of North Africa during the Second World War, transl. Catherin Tihanyi Zentelis (Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1989), 79.

[x] My translation of Robert Assaraf, Mohammed V et Les Juifs de Maroc à l’époque de Vichy (Paris: Plon, 1997), 128-29: “En théorie, Sidi Mohammed pouvait bloquer le projet de statut des juifs en refusant d’y apposer son sceau. Mais il aurait ouvert une crise majeure avec la France, qu’il n’avait pas les moyens de gérer… Fidèle à sa méthode, le roi choisira donc de plier, pour ne pas romper, et de pratiquer la guérilla, de préférence à la guerre. Le 31 Octobre 1940, après deux mois de résistance, il appose donc son sceau sur le dahir du 29 ramadan 1359 portant allocation au Maroc du statut des juifs, avec la conviction que son geste ne créerait pas de dommage irrémédiables à ses sujets juifs, huit semaines de négociations avec Noguès lui ayant permis d’attenuer la sévérité du texte original. Avec une définition du juif qui renvoie à des critères religieux, et non raciaux comme en métropole, le sultan avait commencé par imposer un amendement qu’exigeait le respect de la loi islamique: alors qu’en France est considéré comme juif celui qui a trois grands-parents de race juive, ou deux s’il a lui-même un conjoint juif, au Maroc, le juif est défini comme celui qui professe la religion juive, sans considération de race ni d’ascendants. Au Maroc, qui se convertirait à l’Islam ne serait plus considéré come juif.”

[xi] Ibid., 133: “Le sultan s’était refusé de faire la difference entre ses sujets, tous, disait-il, ‘loyaux.’ Vexé de voir son autorité bafouée par les autorités françaises, il décide de montrer publiquement qu’il désavouait les mesures contre les juifs. Il attend la fête du Trône pour le faire. A l’occasion de cette fête, le sultan a l’habitude d’offrir un grand banquet auquel assistent les officiels français et les personnalités eminentes du monde indigène. Pour la première fois, le sultan invita au banquet les représentants de la communauté israélite qu’il plaça ostensiblement aux meilleures places, voisins immédiats des officials français. Le sultan avait tenu à presenter lui-même les personnalités israélites présentes. Les officials français ayant montré leur étonnement à la   presence d’Israélites à cette réunion, le sultan leur déclara: ‘Je n’approuve nullement les nouvelles lois antisémites et je refuse de m’associer à une mesure que je désapprouve. Je tiens à vous informer que comme par le passé, les Israélites restent sous ma protection, et refuse qu’aucune distincton soit faite entre mes sujets.’

[xii] Susan Gilson Miller, Dhimma Reconsidered: Jews, Taxes, and Royal Authority in Nineteenth-Century Tangier,” In the Shadow of the Sultan, 119.


[xiii] Ibid., 104-05.

[xiv] Ibid., 120.

[xv] Mohammed V et Les Juifs de Maroc, 161: “La rencontre a lieu dans une salle isolée et obscure où Sidi Mohammed, comme pour mieux souligner la gravité du moment, les dispense de se déchausser, come l’exige pourtant le protocole: ‘L’heure n’est pas à de telles cérémonies,’ leur dit-il. Le souverain assure la délégation que la déclaration de biens ne servira en aucune façon de prélude à une spoliation.”

[xvi] Ibid., 161: “En manque de miracles, les juifs inventent de toutes pièces des légendes. Celle-ci par exemple: alors qu’il n’en a jamais  été question au Maroc, on colporte dans les mellahs qu’on doit à Sidi Mohammed de ne pas porter l’étoile jaune. Un jour, raconte-t-on, le resident annonce au sultan sa dècision de faire porter aux juifs marocains l’étoile jaune, à l’instar de leurs frères européens… ‘Vous veillerez, lui aurait dit Sidi Mohammed, à en faire fabriquer une vingtaine de plus.” ‘Pour qui donc?’ ‘Mais pour moi et pour ma famille.’ ”

[xvii] The Jews of North Africa, 79 and 186-87, note 94.

[xviii] A statement presented two years later to the World Jewish Congress claims that a new Commissar of Jewish Questions was in fact planning to require Jews to wear the star before they were deported to Auschwitz, and declares that the Sultan called several meetings in May, July, and August 1942, each time reiterating his policy in the presence of French and Moroccan officials: “Receiving in his palace a delegation from the Jewish community of Fez on the tenth of August, 1942, His Majesty Sidi Mohammed—may God strengthen and extend his reign—did not hesitate to declare in the presence of the leaders of the government, despite the Vichy regime and the presence in Morocco of the German and Italian armistice commissions, that there would be no distinction made between his Moroccan subjects, Muslim or Jewish, and that in these  tragic hours he was especially watching over his Jewish subjects.” My translation of  Mohammed V et Les Juifs de Maroc, 164-65: “le 10 août 1942, reçevant en son palais de Rabat une délégation de la communauté juive de Fès. Sa Majesté Sidi Mohammed—que Dieu fortifie et prolonge son règne—n’hésita pas à dèclarer en présence des chefs du makhzen, malgré le régime de Vichy et la présence au Maroc des commissions d’armistice allemande et  italienne, qu’il ne saurait y avoir de différence entre ses sujets marocains, musulmans ou juifs, et, qu’en ces heures tragiques il veillait plus particulièrement sur ses sujets juifs.”

[xix] Complete Presidential Press Conferences, vol. 21 # 875 (January 24, 1943), 94.


[xx] Kenneth Pendar, Adventure in Diplomacy (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1945), 150.

[xxi] Ibid., 150-51.

[xxii] Cinq Hommes et la France, 195: “Une petite cour moderniste et frondeuse circonvient alors le souverain. La charte de l’Atlantique a fait prévoir que la fin de la guerre serait aussi celle du régime    colonial, et Franklin Roosevelt l’a confirmé à son hôte d’Anfa. On fait des plans, on se prépare. …Un monde nouveau s’entrouvre aux regards de Sidi Mohammed. Tant de choses qu’on ne lui avait jamais dites… Idéologies, stratégie politique, droits des peuples, démocratie, pouvoir des masses: il écoute son ‘brain-trust’, interroge, se cabre, admet, s’effare. Il incite ses visiteurs à la patience, confiant dans les vertus de la négotiation qui chemine.

[xxiii] Landau, Mohammed V, 25.

[xxiv] The Ethics of Identity (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005), 271.

[xxv] Le Figaro, 4 September 2001.

[xxvi] My translation of the speech as quoted in Issa Babana el-Alaoui, Un Style de gouvernement: Mohammed VI (Paris: Souffles, 2000), 195: “Tu célèbres cette fête (du Trône) avec un éclat particulier en raison de la signification profonde que tu as toujours donnée à cette évènement qui  incarne pour toi la symbiose entre les trois valeurs sacrées du Royaume: l’Islam, la Monarchie et la patrie.”

[xxvii] Ibid.: “Et les trois valeurs sacrées du Royaume concernent … ceux qui vivent  à l’intérieur du pays comme à l’étranger, célébrant tous, avec leur roi, la Fête nationale. Plus loin que ça; le souci du nouveau roi de ‘préserver l’identité authentique et les valeurs sacrées’ des Marocains s’étend aussi aux ‘Sujets de Sa Majesté’ travaillant dans les pays de l’Union européenne en Europe, particulièrement ceux de la deuxième et troisième génération.”

[xxviii] My translation of Tuquoi, Le Dernier Roi: Crépescule d’une dynastie (Paris: Grasset, 2001), 314: “Des oulémas marocains ont publiquement critiqué, en octobre, la présence de membres

du gouvernement, dont celle  du premier ministre, à une cérémonie oecumenique qui avait réuni à cathédrale de Rabat, à la mi-septembre, des représentants des trois religions monotheistes. Pour un musulman se rendre dans une église ou une synagogue est ‘un pèché gravissime,’ ont declaré les oulémas. Le groupe de théologiens a également estimé qu’une participation du Maroc à l’alliance contre le terrorisme menée par les États-Unis ‘n’est pas permise’ et constituerait une ‘apostasie.’ ”

[xxix] Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems (New York: Washington Square Press, 2001), 51- 52.

[xxx] Ibid., 201.


[xxxi] Ibid., 1.

[xxxii], Stories and Responses, The Broken Mirror menu, “To Retain Your Humanity in Any Circumstances.”

[xxxiii] Scheherazade Goes West, 9.

[xxxiv] Ibid., 24

[xxxv] Ibid., 175.




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