Imazighen in the Ghetto


Once upon a time, European colonialism was one of the means through which colonized people got access to modernity. And Amazigh (Berber) North Africa was no exception despite the long history of interaction between this part of the world and Europe. It was through the experience of French colonialism that North of Africa entered massively the history of the twentieth century much different from what it had been before. The currently pitiful condition of the Amazigh people in North Africa and the Diasporas still manifests the dramatic realities of this people encounter with colonial modernity.

Despite all the myths that have been constructed around the French “Berber Policy” in North Africa and which tell us that the colonizer favored Imazighen over their “Arab” compatriots, a first glance at the realities of this policy on the ground during the colonial period and its post-colonial continuity are arguments to the contrary. In fact, this policy never went beyond the exotic aura that dominated French colonial ethnography and officialdom. Every care was taken to ghettoize Imazighen in their local mountainous communities. It was a policy built on the idea that Berbers had a static and anti-modern spirit that would never allow them to go through the cycles of modernization. In Morocco, for example, the so-called “Berber Dahir” of 1930 was meant to further confine this people to their supposedly primitive cultural paradigms.

The Moroccan nationalist movement, arguably a French creation in the first place, was thus provided with a horse of Troy that would allow the Arab elite to dominate the economic and political structures of the post-Independence state decades later. The French policy therefore justified its all-enveloping genocide vis-à-vis Imazighen then. What is more, the French-educated nationalist movement was therefore encouraged to toe the line of the French policy in segregating the Amazigh majority by denying them access to modern education and welfare.

During the post-Independence era, the Moroccan nation-state reinforced the “Berber Policy” which consisted of keeping Imazighen far from the most important means of accessing modernity. Denying this people their right to education, in the first place, and the Arabization of the educational system, in the second place, have been two sides of the same coin: keeping Imazighen in the ghettoes of poverty, illiteracy and, worse, cultural genocide. This should come as no surprise when we bear in mind that it was the same Arabo-Islamic nationalist movement fed on the discourse of the “Berber Policy” that has held the reigns of power in post-1956 Morocco.

With the advent of globalization and its accompanying transnational movements of Imazighen, however, things have begun to change for better or worse. The genocidal powers of the Arab-controlled Morocco have been weakened by the cross-border nature of the Amazigh Liberation Movement (ALM hereafter). Since at least the 1980s, the Amazigh condition has witnessed a rise of a strong Amazigh cultural nationalism seeking to liberate this people from the ideological dungeons of Arab neocolonialism. This cultural discourse has been gathering its forces thanks to the fact that globalization has interestingly allowed Imazighen to have access to better economic, political and social conditions in the diasporas and in Tamazgha (North Africa).

It remains to see how the Amazigh people will outdo the forces of a later episode of a reactionary globalization that has revived the repressive nation-sate in North Africa. Recent barbarian interventions of the regimes in power in Morocco and Algeria are only symptoms of a future that can be best encapsulated by the title of recent Hollywood movie: “There Will Be Blood.” Indeed, there will be blood unless the reactionary regimes in North Africa bring to an end their colonialist hegemony. However, this is a step that the “guardians of the temple” are not likely to take. Whatever happens now or then, there remains one objective fact confirmed by recent events in Southeastern Morocco: Imazighen are not willing to give up before they get out of the ghetto. And this is just the beginning.


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