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Are there Jews in Morocco? This is the first question that documentary maker, Youness Abeddour poses to local Moroccans in his documentary titled “Moroccan Judaism: A Culture in Danger.” The answers to this seemingly simple question, leads Abeddour into a rich discussion about Moroccan Judaism, in which he addresses many topics such as the history of Jews in Morocco, and questions of culture, language and identity.

Abeddour’s documentary is laid out on such way that one can understand how the past relates to the present and how an integral part of the citizenry, Moroccan Jews, came to be a part of the Moroccan landscape. Additionally, Abeddour’s documentary attempts to shed light on a few key terms, such as Zionism, that are often confounded and which often dilute such crucial conversations. Abeddour uses a variety of mediums to explore this topic, such as expert testimonials, documentary clips, and photos and through the intersections of these three means, a dynamic presentation emerges where the viewer is probed to think critically and deeply about the role of this underrepresented community, including their history and their contributions to Moroccan culture.

Of particular value to this discussion is Abeddour’s segment on how “Moroccanness,” is conceptualized as a function religion and language. This adds an interesting dimension in understanding how Moroccan Jews may have to grapple with their own identities as both Moroccan and Jewish, particularly those who speak a language other than Arabic.

Abeddour has done a great service to representing Moroccan Judaism and this documentary is critical for broadening the discussion on a minority population within Morocco. Further, this documentary is ever more important because it gives voice to Moroccan Jews, where such voices are underrepresented, and often neglected or silenced because of the political climate of the Middle East.

While the documentary was very interesting and informative, the length of the documentary was short, thus shortchanging many of the important topics that were presented in this documentary. Therefore, rather than discussing few topics in great length, many topics were addressed briefly. While this meant that the viewer emerged with more general information about this topic, it would have been interesting to see this documentary delve more deeply into specific topics such as Moroccan Jewish identity. Moreover, it would have been interesting to include more personal perspectives on how individual Moroccan Jewish perceive their identity and role in Moroccan culture and how this might relate to their conceptualization of citizenship and belongingness. That said, this documentary was definitely worth watching and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in gaining some preliminary knowledge about Moroccan Jews.

By Maha Hilal

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I have read an article entitled “Why I will Not Vote on November 25?” by Jamal Elabiad. I fundamentally disagree with it, here is why: boycotting the elections is just losing the opportunity that comes to Moroccans in four years to express themselves and decide for their representatives in the Parliament. I do agree, however, that the majority of the parties do not deserve and they are corrupt, etc. but we should give a chance to others whom we relatively “trust.” I think voting is (more than) a duty as Moroccan citizens.

Elabiad believes that “Nothing has been changed as far as the measures Moroccan political parties rely on in order to choose the candidates that will represent them around Morocco.” It will never change if we boycott the elections. Certainly not the whole population will boycott, and many will go to vote. This means that still the government will rely on the votes of those who voted.

Elabiad argues that many candidates use bribes and “false promises” and somehow they manage to win more voices using poor and illiterate subjects. In my opinion, if the literate and intellectual people go to vote, rather than boycotting, they will be more likely to make change. If “Money … is a key factor for a candidate to win the elections in Morocco” then our vote is the key factor to decide if this candidate will win or not.

I have recently read in the newspaper that there is now a box by the parliament where Moroccans can go and post their complaints or suggestions. The claim that “the Ministry of Interior in Morocco is known for its role in rigging election results” would more likely be heard if it’s shared. We should change what we think of as corrupt rather than just complaining that it is corrupt.

I voted and I completed my duty as a citizen who calls for change!

Photo MWN

 

To Read:

http://moroccoworldnews.com/2011/11/why-i-will-not-vote-on-november-25/16047

August, 2011.

          “You can change that, Youness” said Jamal Morelli, my documentary supervisor. The Arab media has shaped people’s minds greatly which has caused confusion concerning who is a Jew and who is a Zionist. The term Jew has become linked with war, guns, killing Palestinians, Israel, Zionism, and a whole list of bloody events. In Morocco, many people sympathize with Palestinians because they are Arabs and Muslims, which automatically puts Israel (or Jews as they see it) in the side of the enemy. The audio-visual has a very large impact on the viewers, for example people would boycott Israel whenever media told them to do so.

         I started working on Moroccan Judaism in 2009, when I first wrote a thesis on The Presence of the Mellah in Morocco for my B.A. It dealt with defining the key terms and the history of Jews in Morocco. Lately, and because the audio-visual is easier to reach and takes only some minutes to show rather than tell, I worked on a documentary film on the Moroccan Jewish Culture and decided to call it Moroccan Judaism: A Culture in Danger.

          In this documentary I interview scholars, researchers, professors, etc. they all contribute in educating the viewers about the presence of Jews in Morocco, their history, culture, language, and life in a Muslim country. The documentary is divided into five main chapters. I start with a vox pop asking people in the streets of Fez whether they know about Jews in Morocco, they reacted differently and I managed to catch their spontaneous reactions with the camera. I follow this with the key terms which are: Judaism, Zionism and the Moroccan Jewish Culture. I believe it is important to start with definitions to help people follow the train of thought. By giving definitions I show that the documentary is not dealing with Zionism, nor Judaism but rather with the culture, the Moroccan Jewish culture as an important aspect of the Moroccan Culture as a whole. 

         “Where did Jews come from?” this is the title of the chapter which introduces us to the early immigrations of Jews to Morocco, followed by the ones who joined from Spain after the Inquisition. The Mellah, which is the Jewish quarter in Morocco, is discussed as an essential component of Judaism in Morocco. Simon Levy elaborates on the meaning of the word and why Fez was home for the first Mellah.

          The chapter that takes the title “Moroccan Citizens” highlights the language that Moroccan Jews speak, and shows some aspects of coexistence between Jews and Muslims in Morocco. The climax of the documentary is the “Exodus” which has caused much misunderstanding among Moroccans even until today. Finally, “Save Moroccan Judaism,” shows some examples of how this culture might be preserved. Museums, restoring and renovating synagogues, and the Geniza project (which is basically dedicated to helping researchers on Moroccan Judaism) are some examples. Music and its importance in bridging cultural gaps, is the ending of the documentary.

         The documentary was premiered at the American Language Center of Fez, I received some useful feedback there. I also projected it at the International Institute for Languages and Cultures (INLAC) in Fez in the presence of American and Moroccan university students, teachers, directors. There was a very useful discussion since the majority didn’t know about this aspect of the Moroccan Culture. 

          Recently a review of my documentary was published on Morocco World News, you can read it here: http://moroccoworldnews.com/2011/08/moroccan-judaism-a-culture-in-danger/ 

          I was pleasantly surprised to read a comment on my Youtube channel from a fellow whose simple English did not keep him from expressing his opinion about this project, he states: “Hello, my name’s Zakaria Faqyr, really I’m improve  that moroccan jews make a lot of things to riche the cultural, science and economic mind of moroccan people ,I’m Muslum but really that works (moroccan jews works) let me thinking more and more about our friendship , sorry! our brothership. thank you so much for your hard working.” [sic.] Reading this I feel that my goal is being accomplished and people are adopting a new perspective to understand Moroccan Judaism and Jews. Therefore my answer to you sir is “I will.”

Moroccan Judaism is a culture in danger. What was once a key part of Moroccan culture and society is now being forgotten and many people in Morocco do not even know that Jews still live among them. There is much confusion and even resentment caused by the massive Jewish immigration to Israel and many people now confuse terms such as Judaism and Zionism. This confusion and lack of information has caused many people to forget or to even look negatively on a people who were once their neighbors and a culture that is even now intricately a part of their own. This film seeks to resolve the confusion and to educate people about this history of a culture which cannot be separated from Moroccan culture as a whole. This is the abstract of the 30 minute documentary film that I have recently produced. Among the interviewees there are: Simon Levy, Vanessa Paloma, Armand Guigui, Maurice Elbaz, Moshe Amar, Mohamed Hatimi, Oren Kosansky, etc.

It was projected and discussed in the following places: Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah Univeristy (Fez), American Language Center (Fez), International Institute for Languages and Cultures (Fez), Amicitia American School (Fez). It will also be shown in different places including:  Maimonid Center (Fez), Al Akhawayne University (Ifrane), The Jewish Museum (Casablanca), in addition to some universities in America.

The old city of Fez dates back more than 1200 years; it has been the symbol of conservatism, traditions and authenticity. Today, it is introduced to the global market which to some extent makes its identity blurred. Aspects of globalization are seen everywhere. In this article, I will begin with defining what globalization is and then discuss its effects on the local culture. This article is concerned primarily with highlighting one of the main facets of globalization in the medina, the increasing phenomenon of Hollywood film sellers.

Globalization according to Thomas Friedman, is the integration of capital, technology, and information across national borders, in a way that is creating a single global market and, to some degree, a global village.[1] Globalization is mostly defined as a “borderless world,” Bryan Turner in his book Globalization East and West (2010) argues however that “the world is only borderless for the privileged few, but for the great majority of humanity it is a tightly bordered and highly regulated world.”[2] This statement is true to some extent, but in the case of pirated Hollywood films, they are easy to get and available to all in the old Medina of Fez. CD sellers are found everywhere, selling the latest films (mostly in French) to the Moroccan customers. Turner quotes Moore saying that “The life of the individual anywhere is affected by events and processes everywhere.” (Moore, 1966: 482). “Globalization” in this framework refers then, to the process by which the “world becomes a single place” (Robertson, 1992), and hence the volume and depth of social interconnectedness are greatly increased. Globalization can also be seen as the compression of social space according to Giddens (1990). His definition of globalization was influenced by the so-called “spatial turn.”[3]One feels that these Hollywood films do not belong to that space; they disturb and intrude on its authenticity. It’s like pieces of the whole world all jump into a place where they do not fit, and the irony is that the seller is a Moroccan. It is this Moroccan who becomes the vehicle for bringing these global products into the streets and shops of the Medina.

Globalization is usually confused with Americanization or Westernization; it is viewed by some as “Westernization in general and Americanization in particular.”[4] In the process of developing this discussion, it is useful to understand the difference between what is globalized and what is Americanized. Turner begins the second chapter of his book with a series of questions “is globalization simply a euphemism for concepts such as Americanization or Westernization? Can there be an “Asian globalization”? Yes, I think globalization is more of an umbrella term. It is confused with Americanization because it is mostly American products such as Coca Cola, jeans and McDonald’s that are spreading all over the globe. Friedman counters this argument stating that “…globalization is in so many ways Americanization: globalization wears Mickey Mouse ears, it drinks Pepsi and Coke, eats Big Macs, does its computing on an IBM laptop with Windows 98. Many societies around the world can’t get enough of it, but others see it as a fundamental threat.”[5]In my point of view, globalization does not necessarily mean Americanization; America just happens to have more influence on the globe at this time. On the other hand, America itself is introduced to global elements such as Asian Restaurants and the famous Sushi bars that are everywhere in the country.

Globalization can have serious effects on the local culture and identity. Hollywood films for example might have a dangerous influence on the morals and behaviors of Moroccan teenagers. Moreover, it has an impact on the space of the Medina; it profanes the sacred space of the Medina. This can be seen in a whole shop of films with lewd images that cover the wall facing the Bouananiya mosque. Turner supports this idea as he writes that “The processes of globalization, including its often negative consequences, have appeared to be inevitable and all-embracing. No society, however small and remote, could escape entanglement with such global cultural, political and economic processes.”[6] Globalization could lead to the transformation of the society changing the practices and shaping the values to fit within the global culture. For Anthony Giddens, globalization “is really about the transformation of space and time.”[7] Obviously the space of the Medina is transformed, the scene of CD shops everywhere would have never been observed a decade ago. Today, however, it has become normalized to look at such profane images on the covers and even buy films from these shops, whereas a decade ago people would have been highly offended by the very same movies. Globalization shapes people’s everyday life, “their mentalities, habits, values, preferences, choices and actions.”[8]

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Interestingly, globalization is not a total erasure of the local culture. The local culture participates in shaping itself in accordance with these foreign products. They would buy a Hollywood film with two or more Moroccan films. Turner argues that:

Globalization does not mean the removal or erasure of local culture. Local cultures under the conditions of globality have become as important as global culture itself. Local culture does not surrender itself unproblematically to forces from outside; rather it absorbs as it valorizes its own distinctiveness. At the turn of the twenty-first century, what is local and what is global are becoming increasingly uncertain. The near-erasure of the distinction between the local and the global as spatial categories has given way to a disjuncture between conceptual and spatial polarities.[9]

To conclude, globalization is no longer understood as either global or local, rather it is an interaction between the global and local simultaneously or “glocal” in Robertson’s terminology.


[1] Thomas L. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, (Random House: New York, 2000).

[2] Bryan Turner, Globalization East and West, (SAGE: London, 2010), p. 3.

[3]Ibid., 8.

[4]Ibid., 19.

[5] Thomas L. Friedman, “Angry, Wired and Deadly,” New York Times, 22 August 1989, A25.

[6] Bryan Turner, Globalization East and West, p.1.

[7]Ibid., 22.

[8]Ibid., 36.

[9] Ibid., 33.

IMG_4232The Medina of Fez is 12 centuries old; it has been the symbol of conservatism,  traditions and authenticity. Today, it is introduced to the global market. Aspects of globalization are everywhere. This creates a certain kind of ambivalence, for example an American tourist walking in the narrow street of the medina would find it peculiar to look at Century 21 followed by “Medina Real Estate” knowing that Century 21 is an American Real Estate agency par excellence. So coming from America to see an American agency in the old medina of Fez could be a shock.  Some aspects of globalization are rather parasites that disturb the authenticity of the oldest Medina of Morocco.

Globalization is the process where the boundaries are broken so that there is interchange with the whole world, via means of communication, tourism, commerce, and migration. However, it could damage a nations’ identity. Globalization leads to the transformation of the society, it changes the practices and shapes the values to fit within the global culture, a culture that is shared and has almost no sense of belonging or specificities.

There are many facets of globalization in the Medina: Western products, Western music, American and European agencies, satellite dishes, air conditioning, cell phones, internet cafes, banks, antennas, to name a few. In this article, I will focus on two clear icons of globalization in the Medina, the cyber cafés and Western Union agencies. The Medina, the supposedly live museum is now all furnished with global icons. Decades before, it would have been so strange to see such signs in the Medina.

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Cyber cafés are very symbolic being located and scattered all over the narrow streets of the Medina. Internet is the means by which one accesses the whole globe, discovers new cultures, learns about new practices, and also listens to foreign and/or Western music. Coming out from the cyber café, one brings out with him/her this culture and introduces it to others, a greeting of “Hi!” and the “cool” culture, for example, a star’s haircut, etc. 

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Western Union and such exchange agencies facilitate drawing out and exchanging money for the tourists from different countries. They have access to their accounts wherever they are, including the Medina. It has become a normal and expected service to find in the Medina, in one’s targeted language and in all foreign currencies.

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Interestingly though, many global icons were re-shaped and re-considered by the Moroccan consumers to fit their basic needs and make of them a somewhat Moroccan product or at least a Moroccan style one. This could be justified by the interaction of the local and the global to give a ‘glocal’ product, even in terms of language.

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Globalization does have an impact on the local culture. The medina of Fez as a local space has become connected with the globe. With globalization, identities could be detached from their local community.

 

* All photos are taken by the author.
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