MOROCCAN FEMINIST DISCOURSES – book Sample
Introduction – MOROCCAN FEMINIST DISCOURSES
This book is both scholarly and personal. It is scholarly because it addresses and assesses the current Moroccan feminist discourses, a topic I have been involved with for almost three decades, and it is personal because it brings along my Berber identity and repositions it within these feminist discourses with the view of adapting them to old/new realities.
The task had its challenges but it was worthwhile at both the scholarly and personal levels. Revisiting the Moroccan feminist discourses in the aftermath of the uprisings in the region that, among other things, brought about the spectacular change in the political status of Berber from an indigenous centuries-long marginalized language to an “official language” had a great impact on me as a scholar and a person.
On the one hand, this dramatic change came with serious challenges to the feminist discourses as it unveils the stark absence of Berber, a women-related language, in these dis- courses. On the other hand this change pushed me to reflect on my own shifts and twists with Berber, my mother tongue. During the entire period I was engaged with feminist issues in Morocco I always felt that something was missing in the historical scope, as well as the nature of knowledge-production that these issues privilege.
Whether secular or Islamic, Moroccan feminist discourses seem to be enmeshed with specific issues that concern educated urban women. The two discourses also seem to be disconnected from the changing realities on the ground.
Part of the problem with the mainstream secular and Islamic feminist discourses is that being deeply impacted by the leftist and Islamist ideologies, respectively, they have developed a tendency to engage in sterile debates that often reflect the deep cleavages between the leftist and the Islamist ideologies.
This perpetual ebb and flow between the two competing discourses led to two damaging results: the sidelining of the bigger question of how to include larger portions of women who are often presented as “illiterate,” “rural,” and “in need of help,” and the subsequent sidelining of the rich heritage, knowledges, and art that these women could bring along to the Moroccan feminist discourses.
It took me a long time to figure out what is it that I wanted to bring in to help remedy this situation . . . I finally realized it was something I have carried within me: that part of my identity that speaks to my mother tongue and the huge legacy it carries and the certainty that it could not be left out in any Moroccan feminist discourse.
The sheer interest in deconstructing puzzling things I was living with and accommodating in my scholarship was a way of reconciling myself with what I do and who I am. This paral- lel between my scholarly concerns and my self-reflexivity is part and parcel of the making of the present book. But first I need to tell the story of the book itself and how it reached its final stage.
I started thinking about this book in the fall of 2006 while a Research Fellow at Harvard Divinity School. The focus of my thoughts then was Berber women’s expressions of the sacred. This topic was mainly instigated by my contribution to the anthology Women Writing Africa. The Northern Region that together with a group of scholars from Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, and the United States were finalizing at that time.1
Most of the texts I contributed to the anthology were about Berber female orality. The fascination with this orality was very much present in me in that fall of 2006. I was intrigued by how much this aspect of Berber women’s expressions allowed interdiscursivity with other performative and agentive expressions of women in North Africa.
I was also impressed by the complexity and depth of Berber women’s oral poetry, rituality and art, and I was intrigued by their absence in what we characterize as “feminist discourse” in Morocco. I strongly felt that these expressions were not only “feminist discourse” but genuine knowledge. I was also fascinated by the history of this knowledge and its link with ancient pre-Islamic female icons like Goddess Tanit and Pagan priestesses who lived in North Africa. I realized how much history Moroccan women had and how little this history was reflected in the Moroccan feminist discourses.
I thought that reflections of this ancient history were part and parcel of every Moroccan environment: they spoke loudly in the various symbols immortalized in Berber women’s carpet-weaving, textile-making, jewelry-designing, henna decorations, and so on, and yet these voices were muted in the feminist discourses.
I came back to Morocco at the end of June 2007. Between then and 2011, events stepped up in the region leading to the eruption of mass uprisings first in Tunisia and shortly after that in Egypt, Libya, and beyond. Street protests took place in Morocco as well, but because various social and political reforms had taken place earlier the pro- tests were less dramatic.
Yet, they led to significant and unexpected reforms, among which was the elevation of Berber to the status of “official language of Morocco” in the 2011 constitution. I started to real- ize how much space Berber was gaining in the public sphere . . . Many of the issues I was grappling with started to clear up . . .
The pieces of a big puzzle I was living with started to fall in place. It was euphoric and eye-opening. I decided to reformulate some of my initial ideas, bring in the new development, and finish the book.
Moroccan Feminist Discourses is a book I have always wanted to write. When I started writing about the Berber language and culture in the late 1970s, and about Moroccan women issues in the mid-1980s, I was attracted to both as two “separate” domains of reflection.
From the early 1990s onward, I gradually began to sense the extraordinary link between the two, not only in theory but also in my own life: I originate from a monolingual Berber rural village and became multilingual through movement to the city and education.2 In this transi- tion, Berber was my mother tongue, Moroccan Arabic a language I acquired within peer groups, Standard Arabic and French languages I learnt at school, and English a language I chose for my graduate studies.
To do well at school I had to accommodate housework and home- work and as child, I used to refrain from using Berber at school and in public lest my friends would make fun of me. I, therefore, experienced the pervasive power of patriarchy and language very early in my life. As this book is both scholarly and personal, I introduce each chapter with a short personal vignette.
The central idea of this book revolves around the challenges that the recent dramatic change in the political fate of Berber (a historically women-related language) from a marginalized to an official language, poses for the existing feminist discourses in Morocco.
Mainly dis- carded as a “non-modern” and “rural” language,3 Berber is entering the sphere of authority in the name of modernity: an unprecedented and unique event in the history of Morocco and North Africa. This fact raises a number of serious questions: Why is Berber women’s agency at the center of the Berber movement’s narrative? What are the sources of authority that this agency had to face? Why is this agency absent in the current feminist discourses?
Why does the spectacular twist in the fate of Berber contrast with the absence of Berber women’s ancestral experiential knowledge (orality, rituality, and art) in the Moroccan feminist discourses? To what extent does this twist reveal the ancestral cultural roots of Moroccan feminist discourses that not only transcend the coming of Islam to Morocco in the eighth century, the harem concept, urbanization, and postcolonial modernity, but does not reject them?
How does this help understand the fundamental antagonistic nature of the “secular vs. Islamic” feminist categories and the impossibility of their cohabitation at the discursive level? What is the future of the Moroccan Islamic feminism in the aftermath of the failure of the Islamist ideology? How does the…
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