Wednesday, June 27, 2018

IN THE SHADE OF HISTORY Chapter Ten


As a student I found very funny the antagonistic idiomatic expressions: filer à l’anglaise and to make French leave (Brit), both meaning to run off/away. If there’s no smoke without fire, as the proverb goes, then this suggests that in the sight of the French there’s something wrong with the English, and vice versa. For one who has a certain knowledge of European history, it is somewhat easy to understand such antagonism.

The French refer to themselves as the French; that is, they are different from the English, different from Germans, etc. That’s why French history books would laud French victories over the English, over Germans, etc. Idem for the English. The fact is, Germans (the Germanic people) are, in a way, the forefathers of many European peoples, including the French, the English, the Spanish, etc. The French and the Spanish, for example, adopted Latin-based languages. Even English is more Latinized than Germanized. So does this mean that there’s something wrong with the German language? Or it is just a normal process that each people has to distinguish itself from other peoples by its own language, its own culture, etc. ? Does a people knowingly and deliberately change its language and culture to look different from other peoples ? Or is it part of human nature –kind of natural, historical development that occurs spontaneously over time?

How does this change occur, historically speaking? The Germanic people, from whom derived so many other ‘sub-peoples’ in Europe, did not sprout or spring up from the land called Prussia, Germania or Germany. They came from Asia. Other people who, at one time, shared with them that part of Central Asia, moved southwards to populate present-day India, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan… You understand I’m talking of migration. This migration phenomenon has always been caused by famine, war, military expansion… We Arabs and, before us, Berbers came to this part of North Africa, for quite the same reasons, from the Arabian Peninsula. The United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Latin & Central America are all obvious examples of how migration makes peoples what they are. Americans and Australians, for example, don’t speak with the same accent and they have different constitutions, etc., although they originally came from the same places. Many peoples have the same origins and yet you will hear talk of Moroccan culture, American culture, Australian culture, Belgian culture…. Is there anything wrong with that? Shouldn’t an American boast his culture is much more important than Moroccan culture, for example? How can a Moroccan convince an American that, no, it’s Moroccan culture that is more important? I don’t know, honestly. Even before agreeing on what culture means, it goes without saying that many more Moroccan youths would love to live in the U.S.A. than Americans would love to live in Morocco? Statistics speak for themselves. There are tens of thousands of Moroccans who became naturalized American citizens and thousands more of Moroccan immigrants in the US. The total number of legal immigrants in Morocco (according to a 2014 census) is about 96,000 and the number of illegal immigrants is between 20,000 and 40,000 – in a population of 34,000 000. How can one explain this? Why do Moroccans go to America? Do they go for bread and honey or for American culture?

Now we ask, what is culture? I once asked an American student in Morocco: “What’s life for you?” He said: “Sex and food”. What should someone like me, who has never been to America, understand from such a statement? What could this tell me about American culture? Surely, Moroccans don’t go to America only for sex and food. Many Moroccans who have been to America talk about American democracy, American sense of organisation, American sense of initiative and enterprise, American sense of risk-taking… In my home city, Mohammedia, there’s a big MacDonald’s and several pizza huts. 25 miles away, in Casablanca, there’s a (white) American woman, married with a Moroccan man, who writes a famous blog on Moroccan food. I have had among my tutors Americans who spoke Moroccan Arabic fluently. If many Moroccans in the USA went there for money, what Americans (whatever their number) come to Morocco for?   Yes, some of them come for work (in American schools, etc.), but do they all come for money? I don’t know.
What I know is that the thousands of sub-Saharan boat people who make it into Europe, each year, risking their lives, do not do it for European culture. I know that the few thousands of sub-Saharan people (men, women and children) living in my home city for less than 15 years now did not come here for Moroccan culture, and they are not all students who came here to study. I’ve seen some of them beg in the streets. Questions on culture lead us to questions on us, as human beings. What makes (German) PEGIDA demonstrators take to the streets and what makes (German) anti-PEGIDA people take to the streets too? What makes me write in English and French and what makes some English and French people learn Arabic? Why should a Russian be interested in my writings? Aren’t there good Russian writers who write in Russian? Aren’t there good German writers who write in German? Why shouldn’t I write in Arabic? A famous American revert and religious scholar (that I don’t want to name) once said in an interview that an Arab Muslim writer should not write in a foreign language because he can’t help being influenced by the culture of the language he is writing in.

There are apparently two kinds of writers. Some writers are more important than their writings. Sometimes writings are more important than the authors. Some people (readers) are interested in gags, so they’ll buy and read work with lots of gags in it, whoever the author. For similar reasons, other people will prefer suspense, romance, avant-garde, thrillers, historical, juvenile, adventure, spiritual, inspirational… Other people will rather focus on the person of the author; they will look on him/her as a virtual teacher or friend. They want to be inspired by him/her. That’s why literary translation is very important. When someone reads a piece of work in translation or written by a writer from another place, it’s not because he feels that his country’s literature or culture is inferior to others, but simply because he is looking for something with which he can feel at home. I have experienced unemployment, and when I write about unemployment I know what it’s like. But would readers be interested in my writings only if they are unemployed? Recently in Germany 5,000 employees at recruitment agencies lost their jobs because there were so many job opportunities in Germany that everybody else had found work, leaving those (poor) recruitment agencies with little work to do! And yet several Germans continue to visit my blog  regularly. A Russian/German/Moroccan person would be seen buying and listening to a piece of American music, for example, because everybody is doing so. But privately this same person would feel more at home, when left alone, with a piece of music from his own country or region.

Basketball is good, and I would enjoy watching a basketball game. But I would enjoy more a show of Fantasia (or Tbourida). (Go to Youtube to see what it is.) Not because Fantasia is more beautiful than basketball, but it’s something closer to me as a Moroccan. Here come in all sorts of customs and traditions that make us feel at home, as belonging to where we are or where we came from. Maybe I don’t like some aspects of our traditions, but whether I like it or not, these traditions speak to me more than something I’m not accustomed to. I am an Arab, not a Berber; but a Berber wedding (with all that goes into it: the music, the dancing, the food, the clothes, the colours, the décor…) would appeal to me more than a Kurdish wedding, for example. There are not Kurds in my country. But I have always seen Berbers everyday everywhere. At least a third of Morocco’s population is Berber. They have been in this land for thousands of years. We Arabs came here some 1,380 years ago. So Berber things are part of my identity. But this identity thing is a personal thing. If Arab and Berber Moroccans make up an essential part of my identity, this does not mean that I will feel at home with just any Moroccan, Arab or Berber. I love Morocco, I love Moroccan people, but I am not obliged to have Moroccan friends, for example, or to marry a Moroccan woman. In other words, my identity is more of a psychological than social necessity. I need my way of thinking when I have a problem. I need the feeling of belonging somewhere, to something, even when I don’t have a problem. If I don’t feel that I belong where I am, that’s a big problem. That’s when I will need my way of thinking to help me overcome this problem. These identity aspects are all parts of my culture, or rather my general culture that I share with millions of people in my country. But there’s a more specific part of my culture (say, my individual culture) which I share with far less people in my country and with far more elsewhere.

Personally, I eat with my hands and would never be comfortable with a knife and fork. But I would not impose my way of eating on people used to the knife-and-fork way of eating. I have to make this concession. Being a modern person is not necessarily eating in a certain way or dressing according to fashion or speaking this way or that, but rather being able to make mutual concessions when necessary. I accept that, even if my way is the best, others are free to have their own way within a general legal framework accepted by all for the sake of a peaceful society. As long as I can go to mosque, wear a beard or go out in a jellaba, without being threatened or harassed, you are free to go wherever you like and do whatever you like that is not against the Law. The Law does not belong to you or to me. It’s made for us all. If you or I don’t like it, there should be legal ways to change it. This is what I meant by mutual concessions. I eat what I want as I want when I am alone or with people like myself. I wear what I want as I want without provoking or hurting anybody. I speak as best I can without aping anybody or pretending what I am not. This is my culture. My way of life is a conspicuous representation of my culture. If I liked a piece of American music, that would be part of my culture. If I liked a French radio station or magazine, that would be part of my culture. I am a Moroccan and I like a lot of Moroccan things. But I also like a lot of things that are not Moroccan. I like Americans’ sense of duty. I like Germans’ love for reading. I like nineteenth-century French literature. I like pre-1990 Egyptian music. I like Italian suits and shoes. And I am absolutely comfortable with what I like.

If I can afford what I like, that’s great. If not, no problem. I needn’t have a car or even a laptop to be a modern person. I can very well work in cybercafés and travel in a taxi or take a bus. No problem. If other people think I’m not a modern person or that I’ve failed socially or professionally, that’s not a big problem to me. But I can’t be a modern person if I don’t speak French or English. Not because they are the best languages of the world, but because my culture would be very limited without them. I wish I could speak German, Russian, Spanish and Chinese too! To be modern I need to know and understand what’s going on in the world. I need to understand History to see what was possible in past times that is no longer today and what can yet change in the future for the better or for the worst. I need to understand other people’s ways of thinking. I need to learn about other peoples’ traditions and ways of life. I can’t know all that if I spoke only one language. If I know how other people think and behave I will improve my own way of thinking. 
            
Many people from Europe, America, South-East Asia, Russia… visited in the past such nice places as Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Syria. They took pictures of themselves in nice historical monuments, etc. Those nice sites and sights are gone. War destroyed them. Yet, such nice sites can be considered as part of one’s culture –just as music, food, clothes, history, language, religion, customs and traditions, etc… But if all this does not help the people who produced them in the first place, how can they help me ? The Tour Eiffel is nice. But should I go to France just to see it? Should I go to France only to see what French people are like? No, I can do it without leaving my home city. What’s more important to me is to know how French people became what they are, how they think, how they solve their problems, what their dreams and aspirations are... I can know that at school, by reading, through the media. When I know much about that, I push the borders of my culture a bit further. French authors will become my authors, my teachers, and so will American authors, Egyptian journalists, Arab poets… My culture will be as large as my knowledge. This is what I meant by ‘specific culture’ or ‘individual culture’. I will not then make a difference between culture and civilisation. But I will make a difference between my culture as an Arab and Western culture, for example. They are not the same. And that’s very normal. And I will not start comparing which is best. My culture is good as long as it suits me well, as long as I feel comfortable with it. I would not expect a German or anybody else to dress the way I do, or to eat the way I do (even if he were a Muslim)… I would only expect him to understand me –not even to accept me as I am. We are all human beings; we have more or less the same problems and different ways of dealing with those problems. When I write in English or in French I am exposing my way of thinking, my way of solving my problems –based on my own culture, which is neither worse nor better than any other culture.

I am not a philosopher and Muhammad, the main character in my novel THE PHILOSOPHER, is not a philosopher, either. He and I only try as best we can to philosophize life in order to make our problems seem easier to us as a first step towards solving them. In a way, my writings have been kind of self-coaching to me. That worked for me: so far at least, I have managed to keep my dream alive against all odds. I imagine my thoughts can inspire others as well.

I once heard a Syrian migrant say on the BBC : "We didn’t come here because we want to be happy. We only want to be safe."  The migrant was still on a Greek island when he said that. Other Syrian migrants looked really happy when they reached the Budapest railway station, so happy that they started chanting: "Thank you, Hungary! Thank you, Hungary!" They became even more happy when they were welcomed into Germany, so happy that they started chanting: "Mama Merkel! Mama Merkel!" That Syrian migrant interviewed on the Greek island would understandably be happier, too, once he reached Munich in Germany. Would he be safe there? I don't know. But Germany is not Syria, where more than 240,000 people lost their lives in a little more than four years. 'Mama Merkel' did understand such people's need for saftey as much as she understood her country's need for migrant workers to boost (or at least to sustain) its current economic growth.

Like those Syrians, thousands of migrants from war zones have paid thousands of dollars for boat lifts to safety. But thousands of other migrants too have paid thousands of dollars to smugglers although they came from relatively safe countries.

Several years ago I saw heart-breaking TV pictures of a man from Central America sleeping on the floor with his back to the wall, no blanket, no covers. He got his food from a local (Mexican) charity organisation that helped people who tried and failed to make it into the U.S.A. illegally through the Mexican border. Asked about his situation, he explained that he could never go back to his hometown, even if it meant prison or death on American soil. He said he was doing that for the sake of his mother, who needed his help. It is easy to moralize on such situations, and I'm not telling who's wrong and who's right, who is really in need of safety and who is not, who should provide that safety and who should not, who should be kept and who should be turned back. The Hungarian government, which stopped migrants at the borders, using force, had its own logic, and those desperate migrants who clashed with Hungarian frontier soldiers had their own logic, too. I am not entirely neutral on this, but my point here is to see the positive side.

We live in a world of Statistics. The Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was quoted as saying: "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a Statistic." We reckon the numbers of migrants who 'succeeded' in reaching Europe and of those who died on the way. We calculate the profits made by smugglers. We pay less attention to personal tragedies. Once a Moroccan TV reporter went to see candidates to migration from Moroccan Sahara to the (Spanish) Canarian Islands. One  of the persons interviewed, a bare-foot, shabbily-dressed Sub-Saharan woman in her twenties, said she and her companions ate rats because they couldn't afford meat. Several Muslim religious scholars issued fatwas that some people in Syria could eat cats, dogs and donkeys – if they had to. Many women migrants arrived in Europe as single mothers carrying little babies in their arms. You can understand what happened to them.

Imagine people travelling on foot across the desert, where only adventurous tourists would love to go in air-conditioned cars. Imagine them making such trips in the hope of reaching places thousands of miles away from their hometowns and villages. Then, ask them why they're doing this. Ask them where safety is – for  them. Is their safety in the land they left or in the land they dreamt of?

Paradoxically, lack of safety is what makes us humane. Total feeling of safety may drive us apart and make us arrogant. Three siblings with such a high sense of self-sufficiency would probably prefer living each in a small, old apartment than living together in one bigger, more comfortable home. Even within the same home, under the same roof, you would find several siblings each with his own kitchen, and each would most probably borrow money or ask for help, at a time of crisis, from a distant friend or a workmate rather than ask his/her sibling.

It's our awareness of our weaknesses that saves the humane side in us. You see the picture of that Syrian child found dead on a Turkish beach and you say that could happen to my child, or to my little brother. Unfortunately, not everybody feels this way. But there's still a lot to hope from mankind. It's only a matter of education.

Even in this globalized world, many large families still sit at the same dinner table. There's still true brotherhood and true sisterhood. There's still true friendship. There's still genuine solidarity. Those millions of Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey couldn't have survived without generous, genuine help from good souls in Europe, in America and elsewhere. Many people still work hard in bad conditions in foreign countries in order to help family members at home. Many bothers and sisters donate kidneys to their brothers and sisters. Many good-hearted men and women donate blood, money and all sorts of assistance to people they don't know. Those who don't have anything to donate have hearts that feel sorrow for other people's misfortunes. And those who can donate and help others to feel some kind of safety may themselves be in need of some kind of safety. Safety is not always physical or material. It can be emotional as well.

In some places people don't feel safe because they fear floods. In other places people don't feel safe because they fear drought. You may find people who feel very safe in Zimbabwe, in Ghaza, in Armenia, in Brazil's pavellas...., and people who wouldn't feel safe at all in places like Sweden, Japan, Shanghai, Los Angeles or I  don't know where. There are married people who don't feel safe about their marriage, employed people who don't feel safe about their work, healthy people who don't feel safe without proper health insurance, people who don't feel safe because of their colour, race or religion, people who don't feel safe because other people are always judging them by their look, by their cast, by their holidays...

It takes a lot of self-confidence, a high sense of freedom and much sacrifice to be able to defy other people's way of looking at us. Take this example: of the late Egyptian popular poet Ahmad Fouad Negm. On one TV programme the camera followed him as he went up the stairs towards a humble 'apartment' in the midst of a popular, poor neighbourhood in Cairo, Egypt. Egyptians call such dwellings 'assotooh', the roofs. Ahmad Fouad Negm was then in his seventies and he was dressed in a jellaba and he lived with his only daughter, that he loved so much. Personally, I didn't believe my eyes and couldn't understand why such a famous Arab poet, who was a celebrity in the Arab world, could live in such a place. Earlier in his life, he had spent several years in prison (because of his political poems), but he had also spent a lot of time in 5-star hotels. He had worn V.I.P. clothes and travelled in chauffeured cars, etc, etc. And now he was living like any poor Egyptian in the slums of Cairo. "Why?" he was asked. "Because this place is alive!" he explained. "Don't you hear the voices of the neighbours? I tell you what, I once lived in a classy discrict in Paris. Everything was beautiful and glamourous. But it was dead! I didn't feel at home at all. Everything was so calm, nobody spoke to anybody; that was horrific for me. It was like a prison! And here, look! there's life! You feel safe, in the midst of the population..."

You may probably have seen TV pictures of Chinese people traveling on jam-packed trains on the eve of major Chinese hollidays. People who left their villages and hamlets to work in far-away towns and cities are pining for their families, to whom they are bringing money and gifts. Who needs the other? The migrant worker or his family back in the village? Who is in need of safety? Isn't loneliness a form of lack of safety? Isn't feeling of safety worth money and gifts? Almost always, for many years now, I see in my hometown young Sub-Saharan men and women, some with their children, sitting together, walking together or playing football under the eyes of their fellow Sub-Saharans. Man doesn't need only money or power. We need things that we don't even think about.

Many years ago, my younger brother invited me to share Eed Al Adha (The Feast of Sacrifice) with him in the Southern town of Essaouira. I went the day before eed. I arrived at the Casablanca motor coach station late in the afternoon. But I had to wait several hours for the Essaouira coach to leave the station. And  I didn't get bored with waiting. I was delighted to see how people struggled to book their trips to nearly all places across the country. I saw several people carry sheep on their shoulders, others take up the sheep onto the coach roofs... And when our coach left Casablanca City, in the evening, a group of the passengers burst out singing, some in Arabic, some in Berber... They sang and clapped their hands happily. They would have even danced had there been enough space. The coach was running on four (rubber) wheels, at night, but everybody felt so safe that many succumbed to sleep. Everybody put their trust in the coach driver. In a way, we are all that little child that runs into his mother's arms to feel safe. We all need some kind of 'Mama Merkel', a source of compassion close at hand.

I was twenty-two years old when I decided to borrow Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet from my University library to read it at home. I had long heard so much about that story that I was eager to know the first words that Romeo would exchange with Juliet. Because of the aura that had been created in my mind about that "love story", I was proceeding through my reading with so much awe. Yet, I had a radio by my side as I read.

The presenter on Radio Rabat announced the name of the song that would follow. It was Eddar Lli Hnak (The House Yonder) by Abdelouahab Doukali, who was my favourite singer for most of my life. The song disrupted my reading, not only because I liked it (I had heard it before), but also because of these lines:
"Time has passed
Our dreams have changed
And what has become of our neighbours?
All has become past!
All is lost!..."
As the song reached that point I just laid aside the book and turned the volume up until the song was over. Exactly the same thing happened to me two days later. It was the same song –but on another Moroccan radio– , and I was reading the same book, and I just put the book aside and turned the volume up when the song started reminiscing about "our neighbours".

A few weeks later, that "home" was no longer ours. We left that house for good.  We went to another house. So some members of my family moved to that new house while others stayed in another house which we had had before. So I had already had "new" neighbours even before I left the home where I read Romeo and Juliet. But those "old" neighbours remain special up to this day and will always be.

I will always remain the same person I was when I lived amongst those neighbours. My feelings remain the same. My way of thinking remains the same. My personality remains the same. And so does "my home".

Now all those old neighbours have moved elsewhere. Now I often go past that "old" neighbourhoud and don't even take notice of it. My home now is the place where I live. It's here where I eat, where I sleep. But that "home" where I put the book aside is always there, somewhere in my world.

My mother, too, has her own home. It's where she was born. When we were kids my mother would take us to her native countryside, her "home". In fact, that home is mine too somehow. As a kid, I always longed to go there, and I was always enthralled by the "beauty" of that place. My mother still makes the trip at least once a year. Personally, I haven't gone there since 1990. Yet, the images that stuck in my mind of that place have made their way into my novels. The presence of a river in each of my novels is one manifestation of those abiding images. My imagination was more impacted by the captivating view of Oued Telmest (River) in my childhood than by the two streams that line up my hometown of Mohammedia. I will never forget the silver colour of the Oued Telmest water, the kids splashing their faces with water, their mums glancing at the grenade-trees hanging over the banks, the mud huts overlooking the stream. All that is part of my mum's home, which is my home too.

Mogador, too, is part of that home. I still go to Mogador occasionally. On my way to and back from Mogador (commonly known as Essaouira), I just can't miss glancing at where my parents came from. Because that's part of my home! No wonder then that both "The Tailor" and "The Philosopher" are set somewhere around that area. It’s there that I saw a lot of reed by a river (See “The Philosopher”). It’s there that I saw shepherds playing on the utar in the fields and in berrakas (See “The Tailor”).

Now, what about you? You have your own home, maybe your own homes, haven't you? Well, I made a number of trips by bike. I went to all the neighbouring towns and cities: Casablanca, El Gara, Benslimane, Mellila, Bouznika and Rabat. I went there by Mini bike, which only town dwellers normally use. So it was easy for anyone outside of towns and cities to notice that I was a "stranger". I went past kids going to school, women going to neighbours' homes, peasants working in their fields, youths sitting in cafes, others playing football near their homes. They were there miles and miles away from my home, and I wasn't as much surprised as they were seeing me riding my Mini bike through their hamlets and villages. I looked as an intruder, and people made me feel that by their way of looking at me. Kids asked me "where I was from". They asked me how far my hometown of Mohammedia was and where I was going and why I was there. The truth is that they needed not remind me that I didn't belong where they lived, where they had their home. I knew I was away from home, and I always wondered whether I could get back home before nightfall. I always “pined for” home on my way back. A Moroccan proverb goes, "The best place for a horse is its stable." How very true!

On the eve of eed you would find bus stations overcrowded with people wishing to celebrate eed with family. They know that they might be victims of road accidents on their way to or back from "home"; but they too go back "home" after the eed. Their Number One home is the one where they live, where they earn a living or study for a better future, where they have started a family.  The one they visit on the eve of eed is relegated to a second place. They could be away from the Number Two home, but they just can't do without their Number One home.

Expatriates too come during the summer holidays to see family and friends and go back "home" within less than a month, despite horrific road accidents that happen every year. This proves that absence from the "old" home is just out of necessity, but going back home from time to time is no less urgent necessity when one can afford it.

The legendary Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta (1304-1377) went to God only knows how many countries. He lived there for years and years. He got married in several places. But in the end he came back to his native country, Morocco, where he dictated his journey accounts to a Moroccan scribe, to the Moroccan king's delight.

In his writings, such as TAWQ AL HAMAMA (The Collar of the Dove), Ibn Hazam (994-1064) talked about Cordova, Spain, as his "home". He described it in every detail possible. You could feel his heart bleeding as he wrote about what it meant for him to be driven out of his home and live the rest of his life far and far away from the home of his childhood and youth. This would make a present-day Spaniard raise his eyebrows.

Even homeless people do have their "home" in this sense, don't they? Wherever they might go they will always think of a place as "their place", their home.
So it is anything but bizarre to see the family of a dead person try everything they can to return his remains to the place he or they consider(ed) to be his home. The remains of the French explorer of Italian origin Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, who gave the Congolese capital its name, were transferred from Algiers to Brazaville, Congo-Braza, many decades after his death and burial because his family considered Brazaville as his "home".

Some people, like Ibn Hazam in Muslim Spain, are forced from home. They become refugees in other people's homes. These will always dream of returning back home unless they find better living conditions in the land where they have taken refuge.

But other people leave their own home without being forced from it. They migrate to lands where they see their El Dorado. With time the new land becomes their adopted home. Then these immigrants become full citizens of the country that has adopted them. But even with naturalization, many people still find themselves "sitting astride" between two "homes". African Americans perhaps have no other home than the one where they were born and raised. So they have no choice than to be integrated, assimilated into the societies where they live. But those who were born in other countries or into families coming from other countries do have "another home". These people bring in their "old" homes to their new ones. Satellite TV, radio stations, the Internet, Western Union and the like, all these serve as links between the two homes.

For many, those links are not enough. They need stronger links to the home country. They need places where they can meet other people from the home country, where they can hear the music and eat or buy the food of the home country, where they can buy the clothes of the home country, where they can celebrate all that is celebrated back in the home country.  In New York, for example, you have China Town, but also "a town" for the Italians, the Hispanics, the Greeks, the Germans, the Mid-easterns, etc. Everyone has his own little home and N.Y. is home to all.

The question is: do you call any place you live in home? The Queen of Britain may call Buckingham Palace home, but can the President of U.S. call the White House home? What about the settlers and their children who were born and raised under occupation? What about the people who were living in those places before they were deported by the settlers and became refugees in other peoples' lands? What about the children who were born in countries where their parents are considered no more than immigrants?

Many immigrants tend to become "full" (not only naturalized) citizens of the countries where they are. They make their own lives where they are. They give their children the "same" education as the children of the land where they are. They do this because they love this land they found themselves in –not because of a bad experience of deportation, persecution or poverty. Aljazeera TV broadcast a series of programs called, "Asdiqa Al Arab" (Friends of the Arabs), featuring ordinary people from America, China, Europe, etc., who chose to live in this or that Arab country where they found their happiness and decided to stay until the end of their lives.

Mohamed Ali LAGOUADER


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

Saturday, June 23, 2018

IN THE SHADE OF HISTORY Chapter Eight

Even a great emperor would be afraid of losing his throne. More than fear, which may not always be justifiable, there are many undeniable realities. Age is a fact : nobody remains young and strong forever, and there's death at the end of the road. Even at the height of our youth and physical and mental strength there’s sleep, for example, and this sleep is a form of total helplessness.

The world does not work in a mechanical or automatic way. Certainly, a wheat grain will always give a grain of wheat and an egg will always give a hen's chick. That's the rule. But it is not because there was sexual intercourse between a man and a woman that there will inevitably be a child. It is not because it rains that the land will yield fruit and vegetables. It's not because it's the same father and the same mother that the children will have the same size or the same facial features...

A baby could be born in the best birthing clinic or in the best palace in the world, but for him, at birth, it's not like in the womb. That's why he cries! What does this mean? It simply means that man should expect danger before quietude, problems before solutions, boos before applause, suffering before deliverance ... Even if we started thinking about it in the most complex way we would never be able to understand everything. We cannot even understand who built Stonehenge or how or why, yet it is seen on earth and specifically in England. All we know about it is only assumptions. Scientists still do not fully understand  how quantum physics works, yet it is thanks to it that we had the Internet and other applications. Scientists can send humans onto Mars but cannot ward off earthquakes or hurricanes.

We more or less made good use of this land we live on: we have built cities and kingdoms, built splendid civilizations, developed political, economic, social ... systems . We gave free rein to our imagination, with all the inventions we know, the technology, arts, lifestyles, etc. We did all that and more.

People see things in dreams that materialize ten years, twenty years later, and science, which wants to put everything under the microscope, cannot explain this.

We can’t count the deities to whom man has attributed the privilege of having created the world. Logically, there can be no more than a single creator. When we agree on a single creator, we credit him with several religions or cults. When we agree on one cult we differ as to the details, we speak of multiple versions of the same cult that are all attributed to the same God. Despite wars and disasters that have always been caused by these differences, there are still among us followers of this cult or that one, of this version of the cult or that one. At one point in history, a third of the German population was decimated in religious wars. Yet one of the most influential German political parties still carries the attribute "Christian". Similarly, in England, half of whose  history is made up of religious wars, it still being said "God Save the Queen". Even the president of the United States say "God Bless America." Even in many of these countries where people fought for the sake of God the common man is still baptized and marries and is buried according to religious rites. Sould we therefore position ourselves in relation to this reality? Would it not be necessary to choose? Whether we have to choose to change or keep one’s father’s  religion, it's not always easy. Speaking only for myself, there are many Muslims like me for whom I pass for an ungodly for the simple reason that I do not wear a beard and I dress in a manner other than their own. So what do we do? Well, we choose, each according to one’s personal beliefs, and then we assume responsibilty for our choices. Our choices, active or passive, free or coerced, can move us away from each other as they can bring us together where our human intelligence can only bring us together.

We are invited to make use of our intelligence to discern right from wrong. It’s up to us to see this beauty in humans, in birds, in streams, in animals, in the starry sky, in the sea, in poetry, in music, in arts, in our clothes, in our differences: physical, cultural, civilizational and other. It’s up to us to appreciate this chance we’ve been given to feel and sense beauty in all its forms.

Should we be content to be inspired by birds only to make an aircraft and not see the beautiful plumage of these birds or their incredible migration? Should we be content to distinguish colours and shapes and give them names and not  think about where all these colours and shapes came from?

We're all human. We're all fragile. We have the same fears, the same aspirations. We have the same eyes to see the beauty of the world. Hunger is the same for all. Unemployment is the same for all. Death is the same for all. Compassion is the same for all. Life is the same for all.

Our eyes do not always have the same colour. Even eyes with the same colour are not identical. Why ? Well, everyone is a separate being, regardless of his beliefs. Everyone has his/her own fingerprint and his/her own eyeprint, and it's not because he/she is Christian, Muslim or Buddhist. Everyone has his/her own voice, own heart, own brain, own life.

Without a doubt, the world could have been a better place with neither poor nor beggar, no widow nor orphan, no war nor famine. But what would be our merit, we humans, if we did not show our humanity at the moment of earthquakes, droughts, floods, volcanic eruptions, economic crises, etc. ?

Why, in our worst adversity, do we see incredible mutual aid, solidarity, compassion, and, at the same time, we see thieves and robbers? Why, in times of war, do we see those who slaughter the innocent, who rape women, and, at the same time, we see people who take incredible risks to save lives? Why should we not therefore see in these events and in our own personal problems kind of alert, a reminder that we have perhaps forgotten too much that we're just passing on this earth and that it is high time that we prepared for some eternal life after death? It is man who dared to kill humans. A man killed his brother for a matter of jealousy. That same jealousy is still making war and putting on the road millions of refugees. It’s up to us humans to see what is wrong with us. It is not any deity who burns down hundreds of tons of wheat or throw them into the sea in order to raise prices. It is not any deity who imposed to anyone opting for the nuclear or allowed anyone to exploit people. The air is free for everyone. The sun is free for everyone. Life is free for everyone. What to ask more?

We’re all like actors on a stage : a handicapped person on a stage, or a blind person or an orphan or a wretched beggar or a homeless old woman on a stage may be people in good shape and far better off in real life. They may sit at a posh dinner table outside of the theatre and laugh at what they were doing on stage. The play is for them just a good memory. It’s the same with us Earth people. That homeless person you fed on a bad Winter day, that blind person you helped cross the road, that orphaned child you helped with food or clothes, that old man you extricated from under the rubble in the wake of an earthquake, that jobless widow you helped find a job,… all these people might become friends of you if you met after death. It’s like having a good experience while in exile before returing home. You can’t build roads and bridges, but you can help rebuild broken hearts.

So next time you see or hear of a hurricane, an earthquake, a war, a famine, a period of harsh unemployment… next time you see an orphan, a blind or homeless person or an obese person…. then think of how you can make real life better than life on a stage.

For love some people lost their lives. Others went bankrupt. Some became philosophers. Others went mad. Some wrote books. Others versified. Some hated the whole world save the beloved.

From inside the trenches, surrounded by the smell of blood and the fear of an unseen enemy, young soldiers wrote home to say how much they missed the smile of their women (wives and fiancées), how much they longed to go back home and kiss their lips and fondle their breasts.

From the plane taking them far away, some pick up their mobiles and say to that dear person back at home, “Don’t forget, Katy. I love you. See you soon.”
Some stop somewhere to pick and choose a postcard and words to write on the back of the postcard. Others buy flowers or pullovers or whatever they think would make their beloved happy. Others just don’t bother to buy anything. Not because they are mean. But simply because they cannot find anything that would translate what they feel more than a smile from the bottom of the heart or a tear long held back.

For love some get so happy that they start doing what they never did before. Mean people become generous. Proud people become humble.

But not all people love people. Some people love things rather than people. This kind of love brought in the past and still brings today hate and war.

The Prophet Muhammad was offered the opportunity to be the Bill Gates of his time, but he just refused to “seize” that opportunity. He slept on a harsh bed, lived on bread and dates, and once he had to roam the streets at night simply because he felt too hungry to stay at home. And yet his followers managed to build great (ambitious) empires. He could have made for himself a heaven on earth had he so willed, even if it meant waging bloody wars.

The Prophet Muhammad wanted to be with al-Masakeen “the have-nots”, not with the rich. He wanted to be a man of the masses, not of the elite. He wanted to set an example. Once a governor came before Caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab and offered him cakes. Umar said to him: “Do all people in your region eat such good cakes?” How on earth could a close companion of the Prophet Muhammad eat cakes which only the haves could afford?

Mohamed Ali LAGOUADER


IN THE SHADE OF HISTORY Chapter Seven

We hide behind alibis, behind vague concepts of self-esteem, dignity, honour...to reject any kind of compromise. We would prefer living in the worst misery in the world to taking a very small step towards compromise and reconciliation. If that happens to states, to governments, leading them to bloody wars and loss of lives and wealth, how about a poor individual with psychological complexes? How about a poor individual who loves self-victimization and passionate complaining?

Is compromise always possible, though? Of course not. But we can know who loves us and who hates us, who wants peace and who wants war. We can know who we should defy and who we should befriend. We can know that, we can feel that, but our psychological complexes beautify to us defiance to and undervaluing people who show us some kind of interest, some kind of good will, some kind of ‘weakness’. We get the feeling that by only defying such people (such good, well-intentioned people) we can defeat them, we can push them to make all the concessions we want. We assume that we know all about those people we are defying, we can predict their moves, we can know how to react to whatever they do. Our psychological complexes blind us with mad illusions, and when we are disillusioned, when the truth is out, it’s too late... We break down, we lose everything. We lose the love we were after, we lose the peace we craved for, we lose a lot, a lot of our precious time. Regrets, remorse, disappointments. We are left with black holes in the heart, holes that won’t be closed with anything, anytime.

What is more fascinating than that is that black holes in the heart are to be found on the ‘victors’’ side too! You are sitting with others round a coffee table, sipping your coffee in silence and trying your best to quell a sigh. The people you’re sitting with (family or friends) are all chatting and laughing merrily, as though nothing ever happened. But you can’t help remembering those black days when you were poor, needing help all the time. Now you are alright: you don’t need anybody anymore. You have a good income, you’re married, you have a lovely son. You don’t have any real problems. But you have black holes in the heart. Black holes widened by black memories. You remember how you were let down by some of those you’re sitting with; you remember the humiliation you suffered at their hands; you remember how some of them provided you with some of the things you needed in that remote past (food or a few coins from time to time), you remember that they gave you all that grudgingly, you remember they too said hurting words to or about you… You remember all that and you feel your heart about to explode with so much hot sighs, but you’re striving to stifle all those sighs. You don’t want to hurt anybody. In the end, you rise from the coffee table and go somewhere else to forget all those dark memories… But you can’t. Why did they do that to me? Why didn’t they give me that little help that they gave me with a smile, not with frowns or a humiliating look or hurting words?.... Your questions will remain unanswered. You only have to laugh, if you can, each time those memories come back to you. At least, you are ‘the victor’: they are the losers. They were better off than you in the past, now you are much better off than all of them. Maybe they were laughing in front of you only to save their face. You don’t know what’s in their hearts. Maybe they were embarrassed, but didn’t want to show it. Maybe you too made some kind of mistake in the past, in the remote past, that left a black hole in your heart. Maybe you feel ashamed of yourself each time you recall that sin, that gaffe, that bad thing you did to somebody who didn’t harm you. Would you go to that person and say sorry? It’s not that easy. That’s not always safe. In America a man wrote to a woman saying sorry for raping her. He apologized to her for something he did many years before. She replied to his letters until he believed she forgave him. She did not forgive him. She only wanted to set a trap for him. She sent him to prison. You too fear such a bad surprise, but you wish you could apologize and make amends to that person you wronged. The mere fact that you sigh when you remember your sin, the mere fact that you feel embarrassed within yourself –that is a sign that you are a human, that you have a live heart, a healthy soul. So you could find something to blame yourself for when you remember the wrong done to you by family or friends in that remote past. Maybe those persons behaved in that bad manner because you would ask “too much” or “too often”. The Moroccan proverb goes: “katrat ateeni matkhalli had yabgheeni” (The more I say to people “give me” the more I make myself hateful to them.) Suppose your father- or brother-in-law said to you “give me” once a week, or once a month, what would be your reaction? You should consider yourself a hero for the mere fact that you didn’t break with everybody who wronged you in the past. What would you feel if you had no relatives (good or bad), no friends (good or bad), no colleagues, no neighbours, no acquaintances? You could give up all your close friends (and you should if they are tormenting you), you could give up one relative or two, one neighbour or two, but you can’t be a Robinson Crusoe in a city full of people with different aspirations and different disappointments. At least you will have to smile at and exchange a few words with the grocer, the hairdresser, the nurse, the taxi-driver or the postman, if you still have one. If you keep on complaining about everybody around you, can you live alone?

Life has always been full of disappointments and broken dreams. Even within a tiny community, a small hamlet of less than a hundred people in the heart of a forest or a desert, you would find somebody who is jealous of somebody else, somebody who hates somebody else… Each of the young lads in that community would dream to marry the most beautiful girl in the hamlet, but only one man will marry her, and that man may not be the one who loves her or the one whom she loves. You certainly know the story of Cain and Abel. Well, that story repeats itself in various forms. Up to this day, many people live with black holes in their hearts because they failed to marry that particular person  they loved so much or who loved them so much, because they failed to get that particular diploma or degree, because they failed to get that particular job (which could have revolutionized their lives), because their father/mother did not attend their wedding, because they found out (when it was too late) that their partner loved somebody  else and had never loved them, because they want a particular person (an old friend they no longer speak to, or an old neighbour, or a distant family member, or an old colleague…) –they want that particular person to recognize their success, but they’re not so sure.

These feelings that ache many of us date back to old school days or to previous family life. The way we were educated at school, with unending grading, examinations, year after year, would only make us feel jealous of our classmates when they got better marks, when they graduated before us, when they got better jobs… Competition was not only in school, it was –for many of us– at home as well.

Some parents tend to favour this son or this daughter, for one reason or another, and this can only create a sense of competition, a sense of jealousy, a sense of hatred. Injustice in the home, especially for materialistic reasons, does leave very, very black holes in the heart. But what to do? You can’t help turning a blind eye or a deaf ear to that gloomy past. You can’t help giving some kind of importance to those people who were unkind to you: even if you become very successful in your life, you will always wish that those people recognized your success. Even if your father/mother died a long time ago, you would wish he/she attended your wedding or saw your first child…

We, human beings, may be strong in many ways, physically and morally, but for how long? Strong people become old, healthy people become ill. We are sensitive to the heat, to the cold, to hunger, to thirst, to physical love… Our minds can help us manage our strengths and weaknesses, but there are things that our minds can’t fix. Our logic, however genius we are, can’t always help us understand other people’s behaviour towards us –because we assume that people (should) behave in a certain logical way. Well, that is not always the case. It’s not big thinking that drives people crazy, it’s very small, trivial things that defy all logic, all rational thinking. If your younger brother/sister is always robbing your underpants, and, on top of that, always denying that he/she is robbing your underpants, that may drive you mad literally! If your mother knows your salary and yet she’s always asking you to give her more and more, more than you earn, that may drive you mad. Because you are “thinking” with your mind only. In a previous chapter, I talked about a strong psyche. One should develop such a strong psyche as early as possible, because nobody knows what the future holds for us. If you have a strong psyche you may fly into a temper occasionally, but you wouldn’t go mad for the reasons I mentioned above. You would break, for a short or long period of time, with that person who is trying to turn your life into hell – and then you’ll deal with the problem ‘in cold blood’. You will ‘restore order’ in your feelings. Such a strong psyche would be a wonderful tool to ‘manage’ (as a manager would) our feelings, our black holes. If a black hole in our heart costs us an occasional sigh or two, that’s a good thing. The problem is when that black hole turns into an obsession.

As a child you dreamt to become an engineer (or a doctor). You did everything you possibly could at school, but failed to be an engineer (or a doctor). That left a very dark hole in your heart. Now that you are a parent you want your child to become what you failed to be. Now that your child is at school, the only thing you think about is his marks in scientific subjects, his progress throughout the school year, you count the years he still has to go before becoming an engineer (or a doctor). You don’t care about his feelings: the pressure you’re putting on him. You don’t care if he feels he’s only worth the marks (grades) he gets at school, no more than that. You don’t care if you turn him into a learning machine. Suppose he became an engineer (or a doctor), couldn’t he be faced, one day, with social or emotional problems? How would he cope with those problems? Suppose you want him to grow up and marry and beget children for you to see before you die, and then, one day, you discover that your boy, your successful son, is not straight. What would be your reaction? Suppose your son, who grew up deprived of your real love, fell in love with a star that he saw only on TV, and then his love, his impossible love, caused him incurable trauma or even pushed him to suicide. What would be your reaction? Yes, these are extreme examples, but they do happen. For some people a black hole may become an obsession and that obsession may lead to disaster. Would you show your child how to behave in society, how to be a good person, how to respect himself, how to improve his personal talents/capabilities? Would you show him the importance of universal virtues: courage, truthfulness, faithfulness, altruism, hard work, patience… ? Would you tell him about your dream without trying to impose it on him? If you feel he is interested, then help him go on that road. You know some children can’t live with their parents when they grow old. They put them away in infirmaries. Would it be OK for you if your dear, lovely sonny put you in an infirmary and went to live with a beautiful young woman engineer?

Once a Moroccan man called a Moroccan radio station to tell his story: “I was an immigrant in a European until I retired at age 60. While I worked there, I would send money to my wife to build for us a home here in Morocco. We got a daughter. I would come to see them during the Summer break. When I retired and decided to come back to Morocco for good, my wife and daughter closed the door in my face. They said to me: ‘Go away! We don’t know you!’ Now I’m just living with a distant relative. I have nowhere else to live. (He started weeping.) I don’t know what to do. I can’t understand why my wife broke with me in this way. I’m sure it’s her who turned my daughter against me… Can you please help me?”

Imagine the black hole left in that man’s heart. Imagine he didn’t have a strong psyche. Imagine he never, never imagined that this could happen to him. If you can imagine that, you can imagine the importance of our hearts.


Mohamed Ali LAGOUADER