I’ve been touring Morocco this summer and I spent quite a pleasant time rediscovering my own country. I thought I would embark into an intellectual as well as physical journey, setting about to enquire into how much change has occurred since I’ve been away. I was interested in the subtlest forms of change, shifts in attitudes, the trends, amongst the youngsters of course and in details of everyday life’s interactions. I’m not pretending to have neither the knowledge nor the ambition of a professional sociologist, but I had a keen desire in keeping up to date with the environment in which I grew up, and with the people I consider most close to me. That’s a feeling I wouldn’t have imagined experiencing: the sheer anxiety of loosing track with home.
Life standards have undeniably improved in Morocco compared to some not very long time ago. Great disparity in the distribution of wealth of course with ridiculously wealthy people, affording levels of luxury and opulence seldom seen in western countries. Centralized power based on the archaic (but not un-sophisticated) system of governance called the Makhzen… etc. etc. Thinks we (Moroccan bloggers and many friends of this blog) have extensively talked about and tried humbly to analyse. Not much really has changed from this view point unsurprisingly. But that’s not what I was interested in probing into anyway.
The interesting thing I detected was a new and interesting way of imagining one’s identity in a country like Morocco, torn between tradition and modernity, the west and the east, the north and the south, Arabhood and Berberhood, staying and leaving, accepting and revolting, obedience and dissent, Arabic and French.
Not once, not twice but numerous times I found myself agreeing with fellow countrymen who refused to be considered neither as traditionalists nor as ultra-liberals. And the question of how to put a name, a label on this ‘middle group’ of Arab/Berber/Muslim/secularists kept haunting me.
“I’m an Agnostic… Muslim” said one of my interlocutors. Agnostic what? How on earth one can on the one hand doubt the existence of a Superior Being and on the other, keep a title of belief? It’s like saying that the Pope is planning for a wedding or that Mr Bush has got a brain. Not that I have a problem with people believing or not believing. That’s none of my business. But I first thought, unless one adheres to the Orwellian principle of Doublethink, reconciling both things was simply unworkable. Unless… unless… Unless one doesn’t consider Islam as a mere system of belief but rather as a cultural matrix. In other words, I can be a Muslim if I choose to keep up to Islam as a culture, a civilization, an identity, regardless of whether I believe in God or not, or whether I’m a practicing Muslim or not. Of course! That is brilliant!
But then I thought: that’s quite a controversial topic in a region of the world where freedom of thought is not common place.
The impression I have today is that Muslims (in the agnostic sense of the term), like European Christians before them, have seen the horrors resulting from religion meddling into politics and into their lives and freedoms, and from religious fanaticism and subsequent violence, and have started a very slow, very patient semi-conscious process of obliterating this slippery way leading inexorably to fascism and totalitarianism. On the other hand, many have also well understood that unless one clings to his or her own culture and identity and avoids self-loathing, individuals and the whole social structure runs the risk of permanent apathy and unproductiveness.