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Home »» Critical Dialogues

Out and About  By Anouar Majid
This is my last column, and fortune has it that it would be posted while I am in Tangier, the scene of my very first article for Wafin, written more than a year ago. At that time, I chose to address the delicate topic of al-ghurba, that all-too-familiar homesickness with ever mutating symptoms that eats at the souls of all those who have left their motherland for better opportunities abroad. Some eventually go back and others end up being exiles for good, but no one escapes from his or her migration unscathed. Our ancestors were right when they said that entering a hammam is not like leaving it. And so we spend the rest of our lives negotiating the dilemma of being in two worlds without being of either.

Enlightened Nationalism By Anouar Majid
The week before last, as I was reading a sobering article about the growing numbers of middle class Americans who cannot afford basic health care, I wondered whether Morocco will ever provide all its citizens with access to good quality hospitals and clinics. Next to food and shelter, nothing attenuates the hardships of life better than a universal health care system. When all three elements are available—even if minimally—people could concentrate on productive, meaningful work and thus add to the collective wealth of their nation. Abandoning one’s own people to fend for themselves when they are beset with major health problems is both inhumane and bad social policy; it disables and disenfranchises millions of otherwise hard-working and talented citizens.

End of Story By Anouar Majid
I have just learned about the death of my favorite Moroccan writer at the age of 63. Endowed with a fierce, subversive spirit, raised in the halls of misery and shame, Mohamed Choukri, author of For Bread Alone (al-khubz al-hafi) and Streetwise (zamanu al-akhta’), among other writings, was one of the most remarkable figures to have graced the world of Arabic literature in the last few decades, at least since the publication of For Bread Alone in English, then in French (translated by Tahar ben Jelloun), and only recently in the original Arabic. It took almost three decades for the Moroccan censors to lift the ban on the book.

Moroccans First By Anouar Majid
Last weekend, Khalid and I met a man of Moroccan descent who has been living in the United States since the early 1960s. His eight children or so are all grown up, but the man looks quite healthy and dynamic. He eats little meat, lots of vegetables, and likes his Heineken. He has spent most of life outside of Morocco and yet he still thinks and acts very Moroccan. It was quite charming to hear familiar expressions from a compatriot who has been away for this long. He has a great sense of humor, dispenses lots of wisdom, and is loyal to Morocco and its king. He hugged and kissed us over and over again, offered food and friendship, made us laugh with his humor and jokes, but when we asked him whether he has plans of going back to visit, his cheerful face suddenly turned grim and sad. “No,” he said, “I don’t feel welcome in my mother’s country anymore. I am a Jew, and Jews don't feel safe in Morocco these days.”

TINGIS Rising: Letter to our Readers By Anouar Majid
Dear Wafiners, I am assuming that you visit Wafin because you are either Moroccan or have an interest in Morocco and its culture. You come here to find out what other fellow Moroccans are thinking, to reconnect with your homeland, to justify your pride in being Moroccan or a friend of Morocco. You want to know that everything is all right with your native country, that your fellow Moroccans are as capable of building good foundations as anyone else, that they can move beyond self-doubt, cynicism, suspicion, mistrust and ignorance to do some good for themselves and their culture. You want to embrace fellow Moroccans without fear.

War and Peace By Anouar Majid
I just read a most interesting article about the future of war and peace and thought this might be a good time to think about this topic. Mary Kaldor, director of the Program on Global Civil Society at the London School of Economics and a major scholar of globalization and warfare, delivered a talk at the Nobel Prize Centennial Symposium in Oslo, only a few months after the atrocious terrorist attacks of 9/11. If people were to listen to what she said, the world could spare itself much trouble in the future.

Working Without a Job By Anouar Majid
We hear a lot about a persistent recession, stubborn unemployment figures, more than 45 million Americans without health insurance, and a growing deficit that make life unpredictable for people who have come to rely on a job as a measure of security. Many people feel as if they were one paycheck away from unemployment and social catastrophe. This produces anxiety, fear, and a cut-throat race to beat other people for the coveted (but impermanent) job. But do things have to be this way? Not really. If governments and social institutions thought rationally about the state of society, we would all be playing now, creatively pursuing our hobbies while being guaranteed a good life.

Doing the Right Thing By Anouar Majid
Last week, I reported of a new book showing that humans are genetically programmed to be nepotistic, that most people always try to look after their families first before considering helping others. Not surprising since offspring carry the genetic code of their parents and thus guarantee their survival. Yet every now and then we come across examples that seem to go against this notion of "human nature." Some humans simply seem to tap deeper into their humanity and rise to a level of selflessness that is rare in our countries. The following is about a remarkable case that made the national news.

In Memoriam By Anouar Majid
On Thursday, September 24 at 7: 00 a.m, the Arab world's most distinguished literary and cultural critic, Edward Said, passed away in his hometown of New York City after more than a decade of battling leukemia. Endowed with great critical and creative talents, Professor Said has had a wide ranging impact on the study of the humanities and the social sciences across the globe and spent his entire life stoically and heroically prodding Arabs and Westerners to see each other in human terms, not through the distorting lenses of prejudice, stereotypes, or violence. He was a Christian-American by birth and American-Muslim by culture, a worldly man who held on tenaciously to fundamental commitments and principles. He embodied the pinnacle of refined culture and the plight of the unsettled, rootless immigrant. H was a man of his time with a legacy that will enlighten generations to come. May he rest in peace.

"Les Pistons" in Our Genes By Anouar Majid
Most Moroccans, like many other people in the so-called “developing nations” or "emerging democracies," aspire to a more transparent and fair society. They want to end corruption and take away the undeserved privileges of families who seem to reproduce themselves in politics and business ad infinitum. We have all watched in horror as the son of so-and-so was appointed to an executive post simply because he was his father’s son. But the democrats’ aspirations keep coming up against something more fundamental in human nature: The drive to look after one’s own. Moroccans, like all humans, have a strong tribal mentality, one that clashes with the bureaucratic demands of a modern economy and new political system. What to do? How to compromise? Alas, a new book on nepotism (favoring family members and relatives) tells us that committed democrats have no chance, partly because they themselves, when it comes down to it, are nepotistic, too.

The Moudawana--PS By Anouar Majid
I think the discussion has reached an impasse and may end up repeating itself or escalating to name calling. has received lots of comments that, more or less, reiterate much of what has been said. We sincerely thank all of those who wrote, whether their comments were published or not. The two camps have made their arguments--some are suspicious of Westernizatrion, while others are more comfortable with their liberal outlooks.

The Moudawana Problem By Anouar Majid
One of the symptoms of the “crisis” of the Moroccan mind is the ambivalence most men have toward women. Most educated men dream of a country that is developed, fair, and just, but many express deep fears when it comes to granting women full rights. Why is that? Women are now challenging men in all the fields that are open to them. Their numbers in education are fast outstripping men’s and they often do better, too. Why not grant them full and equal rights in the Moudawana, Morocco’s family law? Is it because our sisters and mothers' second-class status has been a fact of life for too long? Well, this kind of thinking won't do anymore. A new model should be imagined. For the sake of the country’s future.

Morocco Nouveau By Anouar Majid
Nostalgia for the homeland keeps us attached to the traditions we left behind, but it also seems to discouarge creativity within the national culture. We yearn for the same couscous and tajines, and feel better when we listen to old Moroccan tunes. While such traditions anchor many of us in our new environment and give us a comforting sense of home, they may be a symptom of society that is becoming less creative. How long will Moroccans depend on what a more daring generation of ancestors has given us? Shouldn't today's Moroccans display the same imagination and courage? The time may well have come to invent new traditions for the future.

Death of a Moroccan By Anouar Majid
Long-term Moroccan immigrants are always haunted by the fear of dying alone in a strange land. The longer they live away from their native places, the more they will know about fellow Moroccans whose lives are cut short by an accident or sudden illness. Some pass away in total obscurity, their coffins carried to cemeteries in the dark days of winter on the shoulders of kind strangers. Others die in the company of family and friends, their news sending waves of sorrow to relatives across the ocean. Some are young students who have just started their lives; others are veteran workers who have spent decades dreaming of going back to their childhood towns and villages.

Professor Matar Goes to Morocco By Nabil Matar
Professor Nabil Matar, department head, author and editor of many important books and articles, and one of the world's foremost scholars on relations between Britain and Islam in the early modern period (roughly the 17th century) grew increasingly interested in Morocco as he discovered how extensive was its enagagement with European powers in the period he examines. So he obtained a grant from the American Institute for Maghrib Studies (AIMS) and left to find out about the country whose history is little known in the Middle East. Here he records his first, candid expressions.

The Lessons of Washington By Anouar Majid
Thanks to all the great people I met, my recent trip to Washington, D.C. was even more exciting than the two previous ones. I was once again reminded that the U.S. capital was established by visionaries who were devotees of the great ideas of the Enlightenment, the 18th century belief that human and social development can be reached through the efforts of human reason and the study of world history. America’s founding fathers acknowledged the power of religion, but thought that governments have no business upholding a particular doctrine, and so they separated Church from State in order for people to better live out their faith—whether it be Christianity or Islam. At a time when religious and narrow ideological passions are endangering the world’s political culture, it is moving to visit America’s monumental capital and reflect on today’s human predicament.

Cultural Strategies By Anouar Majid
Without much fanfare, a great event took place in Morocco. The construction of a national library in Rabat has been launched and is expected to be completed in about 3 years. This is heart warming news to scholars, students, and average Moroccans alike, for a nation’s literary and cultural legacies are often preserved in libraries and museums. If configured according to international specifications, Morocco’s precious manuscripts and books could be spared further deterioration and, at the same time, be made available to scholars. Designed by Moroccan architects to house a variety of media and accommodate different needs, the library will greatly enhance Moroccan culture and encourage reading and publishing at a larger scale. I am hoping that the library will be equipped with the latest state-of-the–art technologies to prevent more damage to old, brittle but historically precious paper documents that, according to a friend of mine, are already in bad shape. Establishing a national library is, in a word, a project that couldn’t wait any longer.

Tea and the Atlantic By Anouar Majid
My visit to Washington D.C. was just simply glorious. With the help of Moroccan and American friends (to whom I am eternally grateful), I was able to enjoy myself tremendously and visit some very important places, including the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court. I have much to say about both institutions, but as I gather my thoughts for more on D.C., I thought I’d write something about Atlantic Morocco, a subject I had been thinking about before I left for my trip.

Multicultural D.C. By Anouar Majid
In late December 2000, I visited Washington D.C. and was so impressed by the capital’s evocative architectural narrative that I decided to write my impressions for the campus paper. I have always found the United States to be a fascinating culture, one that is filled with bigger-than-life characters and epic dramas. To get a sense of the ideas and forces that have shaped the United States, one must, of course, read its literature and history; but if one wants to capture the spirit of America in one single city, it’s hard to find a better place than Washington D.C. Because I am visiting this week for the third time, I thought I'd share my initial reaction with you.

Liberal Colonialism By Anouar Majid
Quite a few Western liberals and leftists, not to mention self-proclaimed progressive Maghrebians, treat the Polisario as the underdog in the ongoing dispute over the fate of the Moroccan Sahara. They cite international law and depict Morocco as an illegitimate invader supported by its all-powerful allies, the U.S. and France. They probably assume that taking such a position is consistent with their general leftist or liberal views, much like many white liberals think that by defending blacks and other minorities they are, somehow, magically exonerating themselves from their complicity in the culture of racism. But things do not work out that simply: just as white support for blacks and minorities can be driven by deeply entrenched racist attitudes, those leftists and liberals who attack Morocco in its struggle to reclaim its long-occupied territories are embracing some of the most insidious forms of colonialist ideology and reflecting a thoroughly Eurocentric bias.

Priceless Holidays By Anouar Majid
Many Moroccans are visiting or are preparing to visit Morocco this summer. Whichever airline you choose to travel with—I am not touching this subject again!—remember that the best way to make the most out of your visit is not to follow the old familiar script of doing the dinner circuit and listening to endless family and friends’ laments about the catastrophes befalling them in your absence. Be the nice person you are without surrendering to our deadly guilt trips. Above all, avoid the temptation to be the “cool” guy or gal from America. Keep a low profile and travel around. You will be amply rewarded if you do so and you will help Morocco tremendously in the process. You are Morocco’s ideal and most coveted tourist.

To Your Health By Anouar Majid
The United Nations just released its Human Development Index, ranking Morocco 126 among 175 countries, well below most Arab states. This report, which measures life expectancy, adult literacy, schooling, and income, among other social indicators, comes on the heels of another UN report released in March showing that the country has the worst fresh water quality—except Belgium—of the 122 countries surveyed. And now, the government itself is reporting that the national health system is in a shambles.

Furniture for the People By Anouar Majid
By accident, I stumbled into a most uplifting news article in Jeune Afrique/L'Intelligent about a Moroccan business, a company that is so much a part of our lives that I never suspected it to be Moroccan owned in the first place. I am usually skeptical of big business, but the story sort of made my day, and I want to report its main outline here in English, in case people haven’t had a chance to read it in French.

Light and Darkness By Anouar Majid
As we enter the second half of 2003, a good summer evening might be a good time to pause and look back at the bewildering events of winter and spring. This, to say things mildly, has been a momentous period for Morocco and the world. And when one looks closely at the separate events that mark this period, it is hard to speak with the confidence of PR spinners or the false optimism of politicians. The picture that emerges out of this six-month stretch is cloudy and blurred. Morocco, like much of the world, seems to be at the juncture of yet another major crossroads, one fraught with perils and promises. The crystal ball I peer into—never reliable in politics--exudes light and darkness, as if a mere misstep in the wrong direction could drive Morocco and the world into total chaos.

The Forum By Anouar Majid
It was with a heavy heart that the Wafin Team had to suspend the Forum. As one who peeked in quite often, I realize how valuable it is as a gathering place for Wafiners both in the U.S. and across the world, but the Forum could no longer be kept without delaying, or maybe even undermining, Wafin’s long-term goal of becoming a site/magazine for ideas and more serious cultural debates. The Forum had become a free-for-all, allowing people to change usernames as many times as it suited them, and publish whatever came to their minds, at any hour of the day or night. This is not what Wafin wants to encourage. The Team issued warnings, posted Wafin’s Terms of Use, wrote down the rules, but few paid attention or abided by them. Foul language was used and people began criticizing Wafin for this and that. The whole situation had become a cat-and-mouse chase. It was time to move on.

The Story of K By Anouar Majid
In late 2001, I read an article by one of Wafin’s authors and wrote to thank him for the great work he had done. Soon after that, I was nominated to be Wafin’s Moroccan of the Month, and thus got to know K, the owner of the website. He called me one evening and said that he’d be in my city and state—about a five-hour drive away--the following day. Just like that, with little notice. Sure enough, the following day, I got to meet K, talk about ways to develop a cultural forum, and then he left as fast as he had appeared.

My Hometown and Yours By Anouar Majid
Have you ever taken the time to explore your hometown in Morocco? Most people I know haven’t. Yet every city, town, and region in Morocco has a lot of secrets to offer and could occupy an inquisitive mind for a long time, perhaps even a lifetime or more. When we go back to Morocco on vacation, we often spend our time socializing with family and friends, but rarely do we take out the time to explore the history and culture of our birthplace. If people did, they would feel less stressed about visiting, especially since, under current circumstances, a trip back home is more exhausting than restful.

The Challenge for RAM By Anouar Majid
Dear Wafiners, I am impressed and somewhat taken back by your passionate disagreement with my article. What was supposed to be a fun piece turned out to be one the most contentious issues raised in this column. I chose to talk about RAM not because I wanted to defend the airline against criticism but to highlight a disposition that is common to all critics (myself included) that for criticism of others to be effective it needs to be balanced by some measure of self-criticism.

RAM and MORAM By Anouar Majid
The sun finally came out in northern New England and Anouar woke up thinking about RAM, MORAMS, and civic consciousness. Knowing that he has no travel plans this summer, he already misses RAM and its tajines, and wonders whether people are unduly harsh on the airline and its staff. Perhaps he is merely nostalgic about an airline that used to be his first contact with Morocco. Or he may have grown addicted to acronyms and chose to call us MORAMS. Whatever the case, let’s find out how this summer fever is affecting him.

The Languages of Morocco By Anouar Majid
We are outraged by the events of May 16 and citizens, at all levels, are doing their best to prevent more tragedies and address the underlying causes that led young Moroccans into the grips of a murderous fanaticism. But do economic causes explain everything? People, after all, do not live by bread alone. In this article, Anouar scratches the surface of an issue that is not commonly addressed by the mainstream media.

The Triumph of Casablanca  By Anouar Majid
Between one and two million Moroccans came out on Sunday to give a lesson to the world. They walked—men and women, Muslims and Jews, atheists and Christians, Berbers and Arabs, children and the elderly –to show how national pride and coexistence are experienced in daily life. They carried flags and pictures of the king; they displayed slogans condemning terror; and they chanted Allah Akbar and la ilalha illa allah. It was, in my opinion, the most momentous act of courage Moroccans have displayed in modern history. Just like anti-colonial nationalists and Green March volunteers were willing to give their lives to liberate their country from foreign occupation, those who marched in Casablanca did so to reclaim their rich heritage from the reign of terror. They are our heroes, entitled to the same accolades and wisams. They are torch bearers in a region out of focus and a world without compass.

Hitting Morocco By Anouar Majid
After reading that the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks on innocent civilians in Casablanca were young men barely out of their teens, Anouar wonders whether a whole generation of Moroccans is losing touch with the rich spiritual heritage of Morocco and being more influenced by other Islamic ideologies that have little in common with our country’s history. The terrorists appear as lost souls totally unconnected to the traditions that have made Morocco the exception that it is. Which is why it is more urgent than ever for Morocco to emphasize the qualities that have made it a haven for coexistence.

Going Home By Pamela Nice
Professor, writer, literary critic, stage director, and author of Letters from Cairo, an acclaimed documentary on Egyptian responses to 9/11, Pamela Nice recently met the Moroccan filmmaker Hakim Belabbes in a film festival and decided to review his film, Boujad: A Nest in the Heat (1992, 1999) and interview him for our readers. With a good knowledge of Moroccan literature and culture, Pam uses her impressive experience and talent to enlighten us about the work of this promising Moroccan artist.

Maid in Morocco By Anouar Majid
Young girls from poor backgrounds are often entrusted to middle or upper middle class families to work as maids and servants. They work hard, sleep very little, eat leftovers, and practically have no days off. One would think that our radical intellectuals would be up in arms about this lamentable situation, yet—notwithstanding the growing attention to the problem—everyone seems to downplay this form of child labor. The documentary, Home, or Maids in My Family, by Yto Barrada (2001) sheds light on this complicated and troubling issue.

Suffering Romance By Anouar Majid
One day, a Moroccan man kisses the hand of his 28-year-old fiancée and leaves to finish his studies in South Korea. From there he writes back telling his sweetheart that such hand kissing is haram, and now sounds as if he regrets his romantic gesture. Hurt and bewildered, Fatiha, encouraged by Jessica, her American friend, Arabic student, and filmmaker researching family law in Morocco, leaves Fez in search of a religious explanation. Jessica Woodworth’s newly released documentary, The Virgin Diaries (2002), records the story of that quest.

Gratitude By Anouar Majid
As the world seems to be spinning out of control, Anouar has been awakened to a new reality after he lost control of his own car on a busy highway. This happened about a month ago, but the experience made him wonder about the tragedy of people who seem to be too often blinded by detsructive passions. Here he shares his personal story.

Clashing over Parsley By Anouar Majid
In last week's section of Moroccan Voices, Hicham wrote a moving letter on the most significant event for him in 2002: the Moroccan/Spanish quarrel over the islet of Leila or Toura (called Perejil by Spain). Anouar Majid had written a piece during that occasion, and he is now sharing it to build on Hicham's views. Some things have changed since the summer (particularly on the fishing front), but more needs to be done to restore friendly relations.

A Gringo in Morocco By Jacques Downs
Jacques Downs, distinguished professor and historian, traveled to Morocco and wondered why the country is still relatively unknown to most Americans. Although Jacques had been to many parts of the world and had worked for the State Department, Morocco left a distinct impression on him. This is his brief account.

An Anglophone Moroccan? By Hasna Lebbady
Hasna Lebbady, a professor of English at Mohammed V University in Rabat, reflects on the politics of language in a country increasingly divided between Islamists who insist on the primacy of Arabic and others who think that Morocco is enriched by its linguistic diversity. 9/11 has further polarized the camps.

Regaining Paradise By Anouar Majid
Morocco is going through a turning point in its history, one that requires a concerted effort and increased commitment from all Moroccans. In this article, Anouar Majid takes stock of the hurdles facing the country and proposes a few steps that may be needed to build a better society and reclaim our lost paradise. Not an easy task.

Paradise Lost?  By Anouar Majid
Anouar Majid read several discussions in the Wafin forum about whether it is best to go back to Morocco or live forever in exile, and he remembered the time when he went looking for Hercules and, inadvertently, discovered that Morocco is paradise.

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