Wednesday, June 27, 2018

IN THE SHADE OF HISTORY Chapter Nine

I am sorry I am writing to you in English. Yes, I feel ashamed. I am ashamed because I can afford to say tawmun instead of thawmun, but I can’t afford to say toot instead of tooth.

There’s disorder everywhere: in our neighbourhoods, in our towns, in our bigger cities, in our families, in our schools, in our countries and in the whole world. A newspaper quoted people from a chic district in Marrakesh as saying that they had been fed up with the mules that roamed about the place, entered the splendid villas and filled the streets with their filth. People from Benslimane, a small town near ours, told the same newspaper quite the same thing about animals behaving like “gangs” in their streets. Why? Maybe because it’s very normal, since that happens everywhere –not only in Marrakesh and Benslimane. You’d find that in Cairo, in Manilla, in Islamabad and Haidarabad.

What’s bad is to find a stray mule roaming about a rich man’s palace or in a five-star hotel or in Al Akhawayne University. No problem if a dirty mule entered a mosque, a government school, a football stadium or even a wedding party.

I’m choking. I want to breathe fresh air. I want to read poetry. I want to dream of a better world.

When I say a better world, I don’t mean America. Everybody knows what happened during and after Katrina, and how thousands found themselves in a jail in which no one could tell who was there for parking a car in the wrong place and who was there for killing nine souls. Nor do I mean Great Britain. Everybody knows what happens there at Christmas time, when most divorce cases are declared. Nor do I mean China, of course. Everybody knows that if you happen to be a Chinese of thirty years of age today and you haven’t made a lot of money, you’d curse yourself and burn your nerves and tell people lies. Also I’m choking with the air in my own small town, what if I were in Beijing? When I say a better world, I mean something else.

No, I don't dream of a world without problems. I don't dream of a world without poverty. I don't dream of a world without tears. I only dream of a world without disorder.

Where does one begin to end disorder? Certainly not by simply chasing the unwanted animals out of our cities. Disorder can only be rooted out by upbringing.

In the past, upbringing started in the family. Today upbringing starts on television. In the past, kids would look at their parents and listen as they spoke. Today, everybody looks at the television screen and all silence one another if a handsome actor is speaking or a ravishing songstress is singing. Today the Koran is television. The Bible is television. The Truth is television. Happiness is television. And if you don't look like the people you like on television, then you don't belong to the world of today. That's perhaps why the Taleban banned television.

But television could be wonderful. It could help put the disordered world into order. It could make our world a better world. It could do all that and more if it weren't like the one I know. The television I know could only put the already disordered world into a little more disorder.

How could there be order when a girl could win in just half an hour by naming the maximum of names of songs and singers on television more than a distinguished engineer could earn in sixty days or more? How could there be order when a schoolboy sees with his own eyes and hears with his own ears on television that it would be much better for him to be a long-distance runner than a doctor in his own private hospital in the country's biggest city? How could there be order when illiterate women cooks and amateur teenage singers become TV stars while the country's finest minds are "remembered" only when their death is announced to the press?

No need for the Taleban to ban television in my country. I won't watch it, anyway, until I hear that someone smart TV presenter, all spruced up in the so-much-missed Arabian fashion, would be there to read the news or to present my country's finest writers, thinkers, engineers and uncorrupted politicians.

There’s not only our television that’s so bad. There are so many bad televisions around the world. What’s bad about television, if you ask me, is that spending too much time watching it will kill in the viewer all power of dreaming.

By watching television everyday one might get the feeling that “successful” people are already there – filling the TV screen with their glamour and beatific smiles, and there’s just nothing left for a poor televiewer to dream of.

A poor girl might feel that she’d never become like her (famous, glamorous) idolized actress (who has millions of fans all over the world). What would she do then? I don’t know, but perhaps –and I’m sorry to say it– she might probably try out her bodily treasures. That’s why we have more porn stars than people like Bill Gates or J.K Rawlings. And that often does not go without Cocaine, Marijuana and the like are easy ways to make one feel that he/she has “fulfilled” all his/her dreams. Otherwise, how could one have even the opportunity to dream? Not by watching television, anyway.

In old times, there was no television. But there were schools. People went to school to learn, but also to dream. When you are alone reading a book of history or a book of poetry or a novel, or any kind of book, you find yourself thinking of something as you read. Television won’t leave you that privilege. Only at school one can still hope to find the opportunity to dream at leisure. But when I say school, I don’t mean the schools I know.

As a non-government teacher, I have taught in various schools, including two government schools, and outside school. The majority, if not all, of the students I’ve had had one thing in mind: to finish school and then get a job. It all looks as if they were all programmed in the same way. Education (at school) is meaningless, pointless, useless, tasteless if it doesn’t lead to a job after graduation.

When they meet after graduation, graduates don’t have anything to talk about other than asking one another if they had found a job. In the family, in the neighbourhood, an unemployed person is worth nothing until he finds a job. A sweeper who has a laughable income becomes more important than a person with a PhD who has failed to find a job.

I know university English professors who know nothing about blogs or discussion forums. And yet, in society, they are important, because they have a steady income, some have a car, and a house. They are married and have children. (For those are the signs of success.) Their job? Well, as I said, they teach. They sell English as a grocer would sell vegetables. What about culture? Well, does culture earn you money? If it does, it’s great. Otherwise, why kill yourself by inches?

When these people –I mean these teachers and others like them– have a problem, what do they do? Well, they ask their mothers, who have never been to school. A woman university professor would go to the same marabout her illetrate mother has been used to consulting.

So who’s to blame? I won’t blame anybody. I just dream of a school in which people would be “more” creative. I dream of a school in which both the teacher and the student will have enough time for reading and discussing things. In the schools I know students spend most of the day in the classroom. Their teachers give them an ever-increasing number of books and handouts to read, that they simply –for most of them– won’t read. They just don’t have enough time for reading. They can’t read at home, because they have to eat, to watch TV, to play with friends and to sleep. On the day of the exam, those who haven’t read their books and handouts will copy from those few who have done their homework. The result: graduates who know hardly anything about the World. All they know is that there’s a STATE that MUST find them jobs.

Now, what if there were some more time for reading at school, not at home, I wonder? Why should students spend all their time inside crowded classrooms? What if they were allowed to spend half of the time taking lessons in the classroom and the other half either reading in the library, or even in the courtyard, or discussing among themselves what they read? What if the teachers themselves were allowed – if not forced – to spend some of their time at school reading and learning skills, such as typing a text in Word Format? As simple as that. That’s the school I dream of. A school in which a student could learn much about the World, about life, about problems and about ways of solving one’s problems creatively without relying on the State to do everything for them? I know I’m just dreaming. But unlike many colleagues and ex-classmates, I don’t rely on my government to do everything for me.

Is it so dangerous, though, not to be the fruit of such a dream school? I don’t know. But let’s just see what happens in our homes on the eve of Ramadan. So we are cleaning our homes. I mean we clean what’s inside the house. No problem if the street outside is dirty. The street doesn’t belong to us. The strangers who visit us will judge us only by the inside of our house, and sometimes by the façade. This is what the strangers see. Anyone who doesn’t live with us is a stranger, not only distant family and the neighbours, but even our siblings and offspring who live in other places. So we must care about them all. We must show them that we are clean, that we belong to the world of today, since we have a good television set, a new refrigerator––in sum, all that important, respectable families should have. Those strangers don’t see beyond our appearances. They just see the floors, the walls, the furniture, the crockery, the television etc, etc, etc. They don’t see what’s in our minds and hearts. So we don’t care much about cleansing our hearts and minds. If we smile at our guests, that’s all they expect from us. We hide our problems as best we can until the strangers are gone.

And then, we can shout at one another, we can insult one another, we can invoke all kinds of evil on one another’s head, because we are used to that throughout the year. What’s the difference between Ramadan and the rest of the year? The only difference is that in Ramadan we spend more than usual, because we eat more than usual. But we remain the same people in the house. So someone has to assert his/her authority over the others.

And, in the evening, you know, we “all” gather round the table. We sit at the table while watching TV. And we should be careful while eating, because we laugh a lot. Our TV brings us the best comedians with their latest, and so we have a good laugh. We forget our problems. We feel that we are like the others. Because we see and hear the same thing as the whole country and we laugh at the same thing. And that’s the happiness that Ramadan brings us.

Many, many years ago, a friend told me this story: “I met a European couple, who said to me, ‘When we wanted to come to Morocco as tourists we gave our bathing costume and trunks to our friends back there, because we assumed that we wouldn’t need them once we got into Morocco, which is a Muslim state. But as we arrived in Tangiers we were floored. We saw Moroccans in their bathing trunks at Tangiers beach!’”

Also in Tangiers, when I was a student there, I once got into my school library and found an American woman in her early thirties dressed in a Moroccan jellaba and head-scarf. She was sitting at a table and reading the Holy Koran. Around her were Moroccan female students in t-shirts and tight jeans !

In my country, Morocco, there’s at least a magazine fully published in Moroccan Arabic. And you have Algerian Arabic, Libyan Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, Syrian Arabic, Iraqi Arabic, Yemeni Arabic, and everybody has his own Arabic. If only we all knew the original Arabic in which the Koran was revealed! You needn’t wonder at it, since most of us have never been to school, for only at school can one learn the Arabic which our forefathers learnt at home as their mother-tongue. Now that Arabic is nobody’s mother-tongue anymore. That’s why most of us simply don’t know the Koran. And most of those of us who do read the Koran don’t understand it the way our forefathers did. So the Koran has had little impact on our lives for a long time now. Even now we only know some of it through our centuries-long customs and traditions. And that’s one of the two most salient causes of our decline.

Yet, this tenuous connection with the Koran is far from being the only cause of our decline. The second biggest cause, you know, is the struggle for power. Iraq, and you know what Iraq was like, is now in a mess because people there are still fighting each other for power. It’s the same old greed for authority, the same old love of the throne, the same old craziness for worldly glory. Now we are so many countries because of that craziness. Each country has its own Arabic, its own “caliph”, its own army, its own frontiers.

People in the West began embracing Islam in their thousands after 9/11. America suddenly discovered that one of her children was a full-fledged imam who spoke Arabic better than many Arabs, who knew the Koran and the Hadith by heart–which only some Arabs and Muslims did – , and who was duly authorized to issue fatwas. He was even received by the American President. Other American imams became stars and were invited to speak on American TVs.

It was then discovered that American Muslims showed their fellow brothers and sisters in Islam how to create Islamic websites and how to run Islamic satellite TV channels.

That’s history repeating itself in other ways.

We all in the Muslim world use Western things, such as the radio, the telephone, the television, the car, the presser cooker, tab water, electricity, etc, etc. But didn’t the West use our Oriental things when the Ottoman Empire was in much of Europe? Now one of us here would find the same pleasure in using a mobile, or eating pizza as one of those who knew the Ottomans found in using their clothes or drinking their coffee. In fact, a European of that time would feel important if he wore boots with high knees the same way someone of us would feel now when going out in a Western suit and tie. That’s the old rule that the vanquished ape the victors.

But even now some Westerners are happy to wear Oriental clothes, although the West is still considered to be “higher” than the Orient, including the Muslim world. That’s freedom of choice.

Those people did not only choose to dress à l’orientale, but they also, and more importantly, embraced a faith that is “technically” at least in confrontation with the West. Why so? Simply because they found themselves in this faith. It brought them life in some way. It gave a meaning to their lives. It gave them hope. By embracing this faith –and of course I’m talking about Islam– those people only wanted to be devoted to the good of their country and their society. They know that crimes –ranging from drug use to adultery– are against their faith. In fact, many of those Western Muslims aren’t happy with the way Islam is practised in the Muslim world. They see a lot of un-Islamic things going on in the Muslim world.

Going back to the subject of Western technology, no one argues that aluminium, petrol, electricity and the ball-point pen are four great Western tools that have revolutionized our lives. Thanks for that. But the West too should be grateful to the Arabs for Arabian tools that revolutionized the Western way of life at some point in history. The compass is one of those Arabian things, but not the only one. The West used work by Muslim geographers, historians, travellers, explorers, and so on and so forth, which eventually resulted in their centuries-long occupation of Muslim-populated territories. Wasn’t it the Arabs who introduced the figure 0 into Europe, and then the 0 became an integral part of computer science? Isn’t Computer programming language based on two basic figures: 0 and 1?

I saw beautiful palaces. No, I didn’t see them in a dream. I saw them with my own eyes. I saw them on television. On Jordanian TV. These palaces were designed by Arabian minds and built by Arabian hands in the heart of the desert in today Jordan. One would love to have dinner or iftar in the hall of one of those palaces, which were built thirteen centuries ago. In fact, many people –who have the money– do go there to visit not only the desert palaces but other places as well. The problem is that many of those visitors are not Muslim. Therefore there has been talk recently in Jordan of whether to permit the sale of alcohol to such visitors during the holy month of Ramadan. Those who were for said that what counted after all was tourists’ money, which would benefit the country’s economy. Those who were against argued that the country’s moral values were more important than any money that would come from tourism. This is not peculiar to Jordan, though.

Oil-rich states excepted, most of our Arab countries are poor. Yet, we continue to delude ourselves that we are in the process of developing and that one day we will become new “Tigers”. The problem is that when you look at our economy, you find that –for most countries– it depends on agriculture, which in turn depends on pluviometry, which is increasingly anything but reliable. Around agriculture have grown agro-industries that have failed to ensure food self-sufficiency for us. We still import most of our food. But to do so, we need money, we need foreign currency. So we rely on tourism and money transfer by our expatriates.

That money, however, does not come alone. Both tourists and many expatriates bring with them not only the money, but also social values and attitudes that are considered here as alien. With time those social values and attitudes become normal, and so more and more local people here ape the rich visitors. This in turn brings about so-called extremism.

Many so-called extremists believe they can change the situation through politics. So many of them took part in elections here and there in the hope of forming a government that would fix all the problems. The problem is that the problems are too many to be solved by anybody – all the more so since the approach to these problems is very much the same on either side.

It is always beautiful to see on TV pictures of places like Fez, Cairo, Baghdad and Cordova, with their magic palaces, mosques, schools, souks, streets and houses – all things that remind us of our beautiful past. It’s no less beautiful to see more and more people in the West embracing Islam and learning Arabic – just as millions of Spaniards did when the Arabs were the rulers of Cordova. People are showing their faith in our religion and language while most of us don’t have faith in ourselves. We ape others while some love the most beautiful things in us: faith and culture. While some are striving to learn Arabic to strengthen their links to the Islamic Ummah, many of us still feel great when they speak French, Spanish or English in our own homes and streets, in our own Arab world or go out wearing Western clothes or eat in Western-style restaurants.

People whose forefathers fought each other in Abou Keer, in Trafalgar, in Al Alamein and elsewhere are not coming towards us because they fear us or because we are stronger than them, but because they see in us a beauty which we don’t see in ourselves or to which we choose to turn a blind eye. They are coming towards us with the same valour, with the same sincerity as that with which their forefathers fought for the glory of their nation.


I can understand our love of the Western things. We were colonized by Western powers, and, as Ibn Khaldoun said, the vanquished tend to ape the victors. 

Mohamed Ali LAGOUADER

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