[Published in Postcolonial Text, Vol. I, No. I, 2004]
On 20 August 1953, Moroccan sultan Mohammed V was deposed and exiled by the French. During his absence of over two years, Mohammed’s image remained in Morocco through the many photographs which men kept in their wallets; thus his image, like that of Egypt’s Nasser, continued to maintain a legitimating space of political and spiritual power despite the Protectorate’s ban on such photographs. In his absence, the monarch’s claim to power was also evoked verbally through the references to his role as political and spiritual leader, as Moroccans would refer to Mohammed V as “Commander of the Faithful” (Amir el mou‘minin). However, it was not until after his return to Morocco on 18 November 1955, that Mohammed’s features became familiar to the people since, following independence, his face appeared on coins, bills, and then on official portraiture which was designated as mandatory to hang in public spaces, to include private businesses, cafés, bookstores, hotels, meeting rooms, and classrooms (Ossman, pp. 136-137). Though long in existence before the French Protectorate, portraits of Alawite sultans, have since Moroccan independence come to represent both the reinstatement—and reminder thereof—of Moroccan sovereignty as well as the conterminous articulation of the power of the sultan and the autonomy of Morocco as a nation.
What is most striking about these official portraits is how these images maintain an iconic space for referring to the King outside of language which simultaneously excludes and includes the Moroccan viewer: she is obviously not “in” the landscape of the picture, yet as a Moroccan, as one of the “Faithful”, she is included within the iconic legitimacy of power and hence, empowerment. Thus, like the images themselves, the viewer is frozen, trapped, within the referential scope of authority/authorized, sultan/follower, and then leader/citizen. Although the king’s portraits serve to insinuate Morocco’s presence as a monarchy and major Islamic state power, these photos simultaneously reinforce the polyvalence of national identity in Morocco today which embraces two primary streams of empowerment often understood as contradictory: the dissolution of colonial ties to the West in terms of renegotiating and reinvigorating an Islamic traditionalist state as well as the articulation of interest in European and American cultural politics and practices. Yet, these photos, while engaging the interstitial gesticulations of modernity and tradition, serve to interrogate these valences and their assumed corollaries: the coupling of the modern as a European importation or contagion within Morocco, and the traditional as the autochthonous, original Moroccan core of identity. Inasmuch as these portraits might seem to reaffirm the bifurcation of tradition and modernity within an occidental scope of theorizing the modern moment, I maintain that they subvert Western assumptions of identity by asserting modernity and tradition as inseparable, tractably interdependent, and integral to Moroccan national identity today.
In examining the official portraits of the Moroccan sultans as the nexus between traditional and modern Moroccan identities, we might begin to understand how the structures of modern/traditional, colonial/postcolonial, and outside/inside function on the level of both the “popular” and the “official” in the formation of postcolonial Moroccan national identity today. In order to discuss national identity in Morocco, we must first understand the importance of the visual as a primary discursive basis for insinuating any narrative of nationalism within the country since any singular verbal and written communication inevitably excludes a rather large portion of the population. For instance, there are five major languages spoken in Morocco—three dialects of Berber, derija (dialectical Arabic), and French—and the literacy rates for Arabic and French demonstrate that 37% of the population is literate with women over the age of fifteen occupying a 26% literacy rate (UNESCO, 1990 & British Geological Survey, 1995). Moreover, when late King Hassan II gave a public discourse on the television or radio, it was not uncommon that he spoke in none of the languages spoken in Morocco, but instead offered his speech in Classical Arabic eliding the uneducated sector of his audience. Thus, the visual image, the official portrait of the king, has become the central signifying figure in Moroccan society, along with the national flag, for representing Moroccan nationalism, given that these portraits speak to most all Moroccans regardless of language or literacy.
Although portraits of the sultans have been used for centuries to represent their authority as spiritual and political leaders, such as this painting of Mohammed III from 1788, the French Protectorate of Morocco aggressively used the technology of photography to consolidate its presence both physically and symbolically within Morocco (fig. 1). In many respects, the photographs of the French Protectorate served as a much more pervasive and dominant exertion of power than had the portraits of Moroccan kings prior to colonization (figs. 2-3). Images of French presence in Morocco were not uncommon as a way of affirming French authority and of simulating an “amicable” relationship between the Protectorate and the then King Mohammed V and young Prince Hassan (figs. 4-8). During this period, images of King Mohammed V and Prince Hassan are rare, and when they are found within photographs they are normally posed with the “friendly” French administration and army, in military uniform (although their was no Moroccan military during the Protectorate), or performing a Muslim ritual (figs. 9-13). There is this one portrait taken of Sultan Mohammed V and his son in 1944 immediately after the Liberation of France (fig. 14). It is not surprising, however, that this photo is taken at sea as the king and his son sailed to France to meet De Gaulle. The emphasis of the king being “without” land, as it were, is clear from the open hatch and the anchor imprinted on the carpet beneath his feet.
It is not until the return of the royal family from exile in 1955, that we begin to see images of the king that not only reinstate his physical presence within the country, but which also attempt to reconstruct Moroccan national identity and legacy of the throne (figs. 15-17). Since the independence of Morocco in 1956, these photos have become mandatory in public spaces, including private businesses (figs. 19-20). Over a lifetime of seeing Hassan’s portraits, Moroccans have witnessed his early years in college in France, his return from exile in Madagascar with his father, his stylish long sideburns and cigarettes of the 1970’s, through today with his grown sons, his aging body, and his ever-present gaze toward the people. These photos are central to understanding the power of political imagery in Morocco as well as the way in which the post-colonial condition of Morocco has necessitated a careful balance between invigorating the present with Arabization and nationalism and carefully negotiating the past of the French presence and the traces of this history as manifested by the French language, the architecture of the ville nouvelle (new city), legal codes, and other cultural remnants which still remain long after the dissolution of the Protectorate.
For the purpose of this presentation, I will focus the core of my discussion on the photographic images of King Hassan II, who ruled Morocco from March 3, 1961 until his death July 23, 1999. This analysis seeks to uncover the very dialogic relationship between modernity and tradition within the representations of the sultan as these portraits are tools of nationalism which reimagine and reframe Moroccan history within a contemporary interplay of conterminous inside/outside, Western/Islamic, secular/religious, and global/vernacular. These portraits attempt to secure a unifying discourse of the past within the present, rather than bringing about a complete rupture of the present from the French colonial history. But do these photographs actually function univocally, as images that are meant to include the Moroccan viewer and offer a “modern” image of identity? Or, might these images actually mimic the representations of modernity and tradition which are specific to what Rabinow calls the “French Modern”? Ultimately, there is a framing within Moroccan culture which seeks to separate—and quite consciously so—the “modern” from the “traditional” and the colonial past from the Arabized present; but this is nonetheless quite problematic. Inasmuch as Moroccan “traditionalism” and “modernity” could be considered integral and interdependent nodes which create a renewed Moroccan nationalism, we need to speculate these polyvalent sources which establish modernity and tradition as integral and autochthonous constituents in Moroccan society today and which attempt to conterminously erase the “glory” of colonialism while simultaneously emulating its designs.
Through analyzing the official portraiture, I undertake an examination of the nexus of tradition and modern through which Hassan II attempts to represent himself—and a greater ideal of “Moroccan identity”—in terms of upholding ties to the Islamic, Arab, and Berber history of Morocco while also engaging in the fashion, sports, and cultural activities of the West. These photos, found virtually everywhere in Morocco, serve to consolidate the visual as the focal point for disseminating national identity, authority, and belonging as these photos necessarily spring into being dialogues and discussions of the king in the vernacular tongues of Morocco. Susan Ossman, in her book Picturing Casablanca, writes:
The entanglement of word and image opens new vistas for the illustration of personal traits. When we see a picture of the king throughout the city, his name is echoed and reechoed through their repetition. These visual refractions appear more varied in expression than in naming. Photos show the monarch conducting all of the mundane actions of life: drinking tea, purchasing bread, praying. But he also meets important heads of state, appears on royal steeds, smiles beside his newlywed daughter. He implies multiplicity; he is not pinned to a single name. Images bear witness to important events: he meets Margaret Thatcher, dined with some other head of state. Like biographies, photographs themselves observe, projecting the manifest traits of face or manner. Their determinacy and regularity—the way in which they pose all their subjects in a uniform space and time—seem to diminish the mystery and awe inspired by him (p. 139).
Clearly, Moroccans viewing these pictures are under no grand illusion that the king goes to the local hanut to buy his bread; however, as Ossman points out, these pictures consolidate a dual narrative which frames Moroccan identity as singular and quotidian and yet heteroglossic in their naming and their reenactment through dialogue and storytelling. Moreover, it is the very pervasive geography of these photos coupled with their official and daily scenes which present the king as simultaneously a religious, political, local figure with whom Moroccans can identify and respect and a figure who is untouchable and beyond scrutiny.
The photos of Mohammed V and Hassan II taken prior to 1961, still found in many rural sections of Morocco, show Mohammed V in jelaba and bel∞a, while Hassan is often in Western attire, playing sports in shorts and sneakers or wearing Western suits and casual oxford shirts (fig. 21). The early years of education of the then Prince Hassan II rarely show him in Moroccan clothing, despite the fact that his father is almost always in jelaba. Young Hassan is often pictured sporting a deux-pièce or a military uniform with the occasional photo of him in engaged in military duty (fig. 22). Clearly, these early photos, prior to 1961, bifurcate and mark the stereotypical modern spaces of education, military, and I would argue youthful “freedom” for Prince Hassan II from the scope of tradition as authority, age, and patriarchy for King Mohammed V. It is not until the death of Mohammed V on 26 February 1961 that we can easily find the new King Hassan II in Moroccan dress; yet he does not abandon Western clothing as he prays for his dead father in a suit and tie that very same day (figs. 23-24). From the moment that Hassan II is enthroned we can begin to see contexts for reading a collapse of the traditional Moroccan identity with the Western pretenses of modernity wherein the artifices of this marked Western modernity are interpreted within a specifically Moroccan context of tradition and reintegrated into a dialogic sphere of a new Morocco, or rather a new Moroccan tradition (figs. 25-28). The blurring of Western influences from a Morocco, now independent, consolidates a reading of nationalism as a moment of change, innovation, and of course allegiance to these traditions of both the old and the new (fig. 29).
These official photographs serve as the space through which identity is negotiated: in between articulations of modernity and tradition, the colonial past and the postcolonial present, and in between the assumptions of modernity as a purely Western phenomenon and traditionalism as a necessary bi-product of colonial “encounter”. As Marshall Berman characterizes modernity as a uniquely European phenomenon, we might better understand these photos as representations of an uniquely European encounter with its other whereby understanding a Moroccan modernity hinges upon being able to recognize past from present and ultimately depends upon the view making a concise break of the colonial from the postcolonial. As Berman theorizes of modernity in All That is Solid Melts into Air: “Now the false world is seen as a historical past, a world we have lost (or are in the process of losing), while the true world is in the physical and social world that exists for us here and now (or in the process of coming into being)” (p. 106). Berman’s definition of modernity, aside from consolidating an ethos of consciousness, serves to posit modernity as a concept of “progress”, thereby implying a moral judgement upon those societies which are not modern—namely non-Western cultures. This break characterized by Berman as man’s ability to view the world “as it is” versus an “objectivized”, historical reframing of the past is certainly not unique to European culture and needs to be more closely examined and refashioned so as not to unnecessarily exclude social models which are either constituent or critical of modernity. Certainly, these official portraits of Hassan II serve to critique indirectly Berman’s thesis in that the spectator is never truly in an objectivized position to view her past, her world, her country. She is, to the contrary, a conterminous subject and object of these photographs, as she discovers herself within the frame of the camera eye and within her king’s many symbolic references which are neither real nor illusory, but which remain somewhere in between.
In Rethinking World History, Hodgson redefines modernity in terms of a global context of experiences between cultures—specifically those of European and Islamic societies. Refuting the idea that non-Western cultures entered into the “mainstream” of European culture, Hodgson chronicles how the Afro-Eurasian medieval world was engaged in mechanical, biological, political, and social experimentation in the context of increasingly complex trading patterns, and he gives a plethora of examples to show how Islamic cultures actually contributed to European modernization through the introduction of Chinese and Indian sciences and technologies as well as Chinese and Iranian political systems. Arguing against Eurocentric notions of modernity, Hodgson analyzes the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe as historically having been conceptualized as “progress” which he refutes on the grounds that progress, in this context, is homologous to “better”. Critiquing Max Weber’s distinction between “rational” and “traditional” societies, Hodgson concludes that Weber’s concept of modernity depends upon a break from the “traditional” to “rational” which elides contributions made by other cultures and locates Europe as the sole agent of modernity. Demonstrating that rationality and tradition are not at all antithetical concepts, but instead are integral, interdependent moments which work to reinvent and rearticulate cultural traditions, Hodgson confers that modernity depends upon the “effectiveness of traditions” which serve to channel individual rationality. In questioning the allocation of non-Western cultures as “pre-modern” and Western cultures as “modern”, Hodgson forces us to rethink the West’s predilection towards bifurcating modernity and tradition as two separate or antithetical modes which are indigenous to specific cultures, ultimately laying the groundwork for understanding modernity as integral to tradition.
In engaging this argument of modernity and tradition, it seems to me that to destroy the binary could easily lend to a recrafting of their polarities, or worse, it could impose a superficial annex to history adding onto the ruins of language another vector of “truth”. But, as a friend reminded me recently, one cannot treat history as if it were a house by merely adding on “another wing” to correct an imbalance or amend a spatial inconsistency. So how might we approach the contradictory nature of this discussion of tradition and modernity through a restructuring of sorts that does not pervade the historical consciousness of language or that does not pay homage to what Nietzsche calls the “wirkliche Historie”? As Foucault saliently argues, the traditional devices of history must be “systematically dismantled”, he advocates “effective” history as the force that will unearth traditional history and disrupt its “pretended continuity” by breaking down simplistic configurations of events and finalities and by getting caught amidst the complexities and contradictions of events—in essence, by getting lost: “We want historians to confirm our belief that the present rests upon profound intentions and immutable necessities. But the true historical sense confirms our existence among countless lost events, without a landmark or a point of reference” (pp. 154-155). Here Foucault’s concept of tradition engages both the structure and process of making knowledge as a historically immutable event and, I would argue, lays the groundwork for understanding modernity as the perpetual dismantling and reestablishment of traditions through the creation of syncretic forums based on past and current enunciations and through the disarticulation of identity based on heterogeneous bodies which pervade any static representation of the subject of knowledge.
Thus we are left to confront modernity head on as a dialogic space of maneuvering inside/outside, past/present, and local/global as informed primarily through the past fifteen years of social science theory which has opened up venues for discussing culture not as a structure, but as a process. I take my distinction of modernity, modernization, and modernism from Hisham Sharabi who locates modernity as a “comprehensive structure” that forms a cultural whole, modernization as the process of technological transformation, and modernism as a consciousness of being different from cultures which are not. I use this distinction drawn by Sharabi carefully since I ultimately object to the cultural relativism his reading lends to modernity as, once again, an originally European moment. However, the distinctions Sharabi draws between the structure, process, and consciousness of modernity provides a practical basis for analyzing the paradigm of modernity as both an intercultural and a local space of recognition and dialogue which shifts between an understanding of modernity as a structure informed by modernization as an “infection” of materials, technologies, and practices from outside, and modernism as a self-conscious tactic for reinscribing or restructuring traditions from “inside”. It is this negotiation of inside/outside and center/periphery which provides a rich terrain for examining modernity as a process of persistent “infection”, or rather dialogue of oneself to another, through stories of our families, our neighbors, and then, on a global level, of our cultures and nations. Each story conveys a meaning that situates history and identity as constituent within an ongoing dialogue of culture, of establishing the borders of inside from outside, and of concurrently breaking down previous distinctions and boundaries within the scope of the present tense. Viewed in this way, modernity is the process of reassessing and reframing traditions through the language of power and the power of language, reflecting both how we frame other cultures and how we are likewise framed.
Modernity as dialogue abandons puerile notions of cultural isolation and embraces contiguous definitions of tradition and transformation as integral to both internal reflections and external transmissions of what we perceive to be our utopias and our particular modernities. Perhaps one of the most meticulous critics of this process of cultural dialogue is Ashis Nandy, whose Traditions, Tyranny and Utopias establishes dialogue as integral to cultural understandings of tradition:
A dialogue of cultures—or of utopias, visions and faiths—is a dialogue within each participating culture among its different levels or parts. This second dialogue could be articulate, well-defined, or central to the culture; it could be inarticulate, ill-defined or marginal. Some cultures hide their most profound experiences at their peripheries but all cultures have the capacity to use creatively the intersecting demands of such outer and inner dialogues (p. 17).
Just how we negotiate these dialogues as interpreters of culture depends upon our approach to reading culture, for Nandy verifies how traditional technologies have always existed in both Western and non-Western cultures, but has recently been “rediscovered” by the intellectual as part of an exegesis of modernity. For instance, in pointing to Western medicine which is regarded as “modern”, Nandy contends that Western medicine can likewise be referred to as part of the traditional practices of North America and Western Europe reminding us that “the choice is not between traditional and modern technologies; it is between different traditions of technology, some dominant and some recessive, some endogenous and some exogenous” (pp. 77-94).
At this juncture of modernity—modernization’s traditional technologies and modernism’s consciousness of “progression”—I now attempt to consolidate a reading which I hope will recast modernity not as a radical break between past and present, but as an embrace of the past within the present and of the transnational within the local, creating what Arjun Appadurai labels as “vernacular globalization” (p. 10). Appadurai shrewdly demonstrates that although modernity has been part of the intellectual geography for many scholars and elites during the 1950’s and 1960’s, modernity is relatively new for the poor and working class in countries such as Morocco and Mexico. Although we must keep in mind Appadurai’s claim that modernity is “decisively at large, irregularly self-conscious, and unevenly experienced,” we must also acknowledge that modernity in its formal applications, such as what I am constructing here, is necessarily as uneven as the phenomena which are utilized in any heuristic approach to understanding (pp. 3-13). What can be gained through analyses of modernity, I believe, is to understand specific cultural articulations within very real paradigms of representation, self-definition, and transference of cultural artifacts and imaginings between persons, communities, towns, ethnicities, religions, and nations. In this way, difference can no longer be viewed as intractable, but becomes, instead, a very real and negotiable forum for understanding culture as a polyvalent scene of heterogeneity and contradiction. Likewise, redefining modernity becomes a challenge for academe as many scholars attempt to uproot the discourses of homogeneity which seek to reaffirm and encapsulate identity within distinguishable and marked units so that we can transcend—or even subvert—former occidental delineations of modernity previously understood as organic to the West. Indeed, modernity is a moment that is not necessarily “at large”, lost within a nebulous global context, for modernity as such is conspicuously missing from current local practices of non-western cultural traditions. Instead, modernity is to be found within the vernacular of these cultures which engage identity as a necessarily disrupted space. As such, modernity can no longer be opposed to tradition (or non-western culture) but rather can be understood as a the endless disruptions and rearticulations of traditions taking place in both local and intercultural dialogues.
Many of these represenations, however, recycle the same dichotomies that the images of the French colonizers manifested decades earlier. For if we look at how De Gaulle is framed, always surrounded by the people (fig. 2), overlooking the “land” (fig. 4), with or with the villagers (fig. 6), Hassan II, during his rule, is likewise framed in this very same way. For example, we see Hassan facing the camera for a moment, greeting the people of Morocco, and meeting with world leaders, sporting fashions from various regions of Morocco and the world (figs. 30-32). These photos function in two distinct modes: they serve to nuance the traditional by honoring it and posturing it while also they conterminously echo the colonial “grandeur” of Morocco by “staging” the modern state. Likewise, there is a drive to demonstrate the people, the shaﬁabi, surrounding Hassan II while in many other official portraits there is an almost grotesque display of wealth that most Moroccans could only possibly see through these photographs, as if wealth (the modern) immediately excludes most every single Moroccan. It is in this way that the photos perversely juxtapose what often seems to be a “staged” presence of Moroccans surrounding Hassan II while others demonstrate their removal, their silence and ultimately their insigificance. Just as the many colonial photographs of De Gaulle years earlier show him surrounded by Moroccans in procession and on the streets with the “people” and other images portray him alone overlooking the city, the legitimazation of power in the photographs of Hassan II can be understood as “real” as much as “performed”.
And certainly the styles Hassan II fanfares distinctly play the dichotomies of tradition and modernity, for these images of combat gear, sunglasses, tuxedos, jalaba, and long sideburns are all signifying elements that individually might serve to uphold any reading of a strict allegiance to form and function; but here these signs are intertwined, juxtaposed, and combined so as to lose any particular, reduced meaning (figs. 33-37). Yet, there is a constant underpinning of their being dichotomies as Hassan II is clearly “cross-dressing” for his Moroccan subjects. The ostensible modernity of technology, warfare, and Western fashion are undermined by the “mixing” of other professed signs of tradition—the jalaba, the fez of the Ottoman empire, and the turban of the Saharouia, the people of the disputed southwestern territories who, like the Polisario, are often viewed as marginal in Moroccan society (figs. 38-39). Many of these signs of “tradition” are themselves historically part of cultures which were not always integrated within Morocco and which were later incorporated within Moroccan culture as part of a new syncretism, as part of a continuum of modernity and nationalism. In pursuing the contested territories of the south, King Hassan II instigated La Marche verte in November of 1975, bringing with him tens of thousands of Moroccans who joined in this peaceful claim to land (fig. 40). Here, Hassan intermittently wears clothes of the Saharouia and of the military in asserting the authority of the people and the state (fig. 41). There is no clear rupture between the people, as traditional, and the state, as modern—they coexist, each redefining the other as interdependent constituents that simply cannot be separated (fig. 42). Moreover, La Marche verte came amidst a period when Hassan II had not only sent political dissenters to prison while exiling others, but there Hassan II had used the military to murder many of the Polisario in the disputed territories in southwest Morocco as well as use violence against people in civil unrest. Reading these photos of La Marche verte for anyone slightly familiar with recent Moroccan history, therefore, becomes an act of seeing the Emperor with his “clothes on”. These images could as easily read as propaganda campaigns designed to mediate the image of community, democracy, nation and modernity to those who take in these images.
Yet, so many of the later photos of Hassan II project an image of the loving, diplomatic and “the people’s” king, that the political repression and violent elimination of dissent in earlier years is simply elided by the choreographies of fashion, international relations, and the “modernization” of Morocco by virtue of the king’s ability to cross over. The valences of modernities and traditions become confused with each additional photograph, each open to the critical gaze, deflecting questions such as: Is a smoking jacket and combat gear modern or traditional (figs. 43-44) ? Is education traditional or modern (fig. 45)? Such questions, like many of the theories of modernity and tradition coming out of Europe and the United States in recent years, exclude the possibility that the modern and the traditional moment might actually be more dialogically bound and integral to cultural frameworks such as Morocco than they are in France or the United States, for instance. Indeed, these images beg the question if the notion of the “traditional” is nothing more than a very modern and recent concept.
Showing King Hassan II in traditional Moroccan clothing at his daughter’s wedding, with his two sons in the mosque, or solemnly sipping mint tea, these photos are incorporated into the architecture of Moroccan beauty salons, telephone boutiques, corner stores, and cafés from the old medina to the ville nouvelle to the blad (countryside) (figs. 46-47). King Hassan II easily negotiates the role of political leader as he is often pictured with world leaders from the Queen of England to the Pope (figs. 48-50). Likewise, he handles the religious aspects of his title with as much charisma and maneuvering of the old and the new (figs. 51-52). Not surprisingly, the multifarious representations of King Hassan II in jeans and button-up oxford, in full fishing gear, or clad in gold bracelets and rings conveys an inclusive identity of Morocco within the post-colonial spaces of independence without posing a threat to the religious images of Hassan going to sacrifice a sheep on the Aid El-Kebir or performing his ablutions (figs. 53-54). In fact, the photos which show a more religious side of Hassan are inflected with the new, the modern, fomenting a reinvigorated reading of tradition, since the gold ornaments and silk jelaba worn by the king are strictly prohibited for use by men according to the Qur‘an (fig. 55). And certainly these postures are not unique to the king as many Moroccan men wear gold jewelry, silk shirts, and Western clothing. It shocks no Moroccan to see a man wearing the Nike logo on a t-shirt any more than to see him later wearing a fuqia (long robe with short sleeves) and bel∞a (the Moroccan slippers with the pointed toes). Simply put, the interspersing of Western and Moroccan clothing in the city or amid the rural sectors does not operate on the level of cultural “schizophrenia”, but rather acts as a sort of cultural remapping, restylization, and recreation in which each individual can partake of the gestures with which he or she feels comfortable. Certainly, there are many Moroccans who rarely—if ever—wear Western clothing and there are few Moroccans who wear Western clothing daily who do not have a jelaba stashed away in their wardrobe. However, is this system of recognition and mutual identification between the modern and the traditional enough to deconstruct their binaried oppositions, or might this “play” lay the foundation for deconstructing one’s subordination of the other?
In his writing on ethnicity, Appadurai argues strongly against primordialist theories which he claims are products of theories and implementations of Western modernity:
Modernization theory, especially as it was applied to the new, postcolonial nations by American political scientists, was largely responsible for defining this antimodern symptom of primordialism. In recent efforts to explain ethnic violence, the two explanatory targets of primordialist theory have become subtly fused, so that the primordialism of resistance to modernization and the primordialism of ethnic violence have become loosely identified (p. 140).
Furthering this logic, Appadurai asserts that models of Western modernity infused within postcolonial settings, instead of distancing the primordial, actually exacerbate the primordialisms of group identification. Although I agree with Appadurai’s thesis of the abuses of primordialist theory, I object to his subjugation of the primordial as always anti-modern, rather than as a theory which insinuates itself upon postcoloniality as anti-modern. Moroccan identity is a complex network of languages, ethnicities, and to a lesser extent today religion, which cannot simply be cut up into the primordial and the modern, nor easily divided into the “us” and the “them”. For much like Mexican immigration to the United States whereby close to two thirds of Mexicans have a relative living in the United States, Moroccans are a people who are found living on Moroccan soil as well as in large numbers in Spain, Italy, France, and Canada. To speak of modernity as an element that can be easily isolated or aggregated into a facile system of academic “speak” or bourgeois access, as Appadurai maintains, denies the transmissibility of modernity within everyday language, material, and symbols as created and syncretically adapted from within and from outside Moroccan soil in far reaching corners of the blad to the medina to the Miami pool in Casablanca. Moreover, to speak of modernity as a device which can or ought to do away with group identification, or what Appadurai calls “intimate collectives”, seems to negate the driving force crucial to any modernity—that of its integration within a traditional body of the present which necessarily posits this hybrid identity within a collective which either succeeds or fails in negotiating change and strengthening communities (pp. 139-157). Instead of labeling the failure of the modern as a return to the primordial, we ought to begin to understand the modern as its potential success as well as its potential failure. Given that various paradigms of modernity’s success or failure bring with them vernacular embodiments of difference, we might begin to instigate investigations of failed modernities as loci of newer, vernacular articulations of a modernity that our current readings deny.
As many theorists maintain that culture is a system of simultaneous inclusion and exclusion, these portraits of Hassan serve as iconic references which both include and exclude various identities—as does any representation. Yet, it is through this seemingly contradictory gesture of inclusion/exclusion of modernity and tradition which evidences Moroccan nationalism as a viable and ever-changing narrative of belonging, exile, return, repatriation, and inclusion (fig. 56). The power of Arabization in the media and the schools in the 1960’s and 1970’s forced a greater marginalization of speakers of Berber from the fore, the mid 1990’s evidenced a change in public policy: the Moroccan government mandated obligatory study of one of the three Berber dialects in secondary education in an attempt to include these languages within the topography of Moroccan identity. Similarly, the government of Hassan II changed radically throughout its thirty-eight years as it went from being a rather harsh structure of political assimilation in the 1960’s and 1970’s—imprisonment and execution for those who refused—to being a much more open and, dare I say, a more “democratic” forum for expression and dissent in the 1990’s. For instance, Abdelatif Laâbi, once the enfant terrible of the literary scene and political prisoner for many years, returned to Rabat in 1995 from his long exile France and has now begun a new journal in which he addresses the very same literary, cultural and political issues for which, previously, he was punished. That Hassan II flagrantly violated human and civil rights is hardly a matter of dispute, as are his military activities and years spent on human rights groups’ blacklists. Yet, he clearly attempted to amend some—not all—of his actions in the last years of his rule. Although a utopic inclusion of all groups within the scope of Moroccan nationalism seems unlikely at this point in time, it is evident that Moroccans are entangled within a complex network of contradiction, change, and assimilation of newer traditions—or modernities—within older traditions, recasting centers of power, redefining peripheries, and continuing dialogues between individuals, communities, and nations.
To venture in and out of shops in Morocco is truly a remarkable journey for the eye and the mind as seemingly antipodal narratives converge into moments of commerce, eating, and dialogue. An old woman who sells me henna rummages through a pile of used plastic bags looking for the one that will just accommodate the portion I have bought. Above her is a headshot of the king looking outward, smiling (fig. 57). I go to the telecommunications building to buy some stamps and there is Hassan, dressed in a suit, leaning back in a leather office chair speaking into a creme-colored telephone (fig. 58). And in the cafés Hassan is usually drinking atay bi naﬁnaﬁ (mint tea) clad in a light colored cotton jalaba. Everywhere I go in Morocco I consciously seek out King Hassan’s photo to observe what pose is offered, what clothes are presented. Indeed, I am struck by the changing postures and attire for they articulate an expression of individuality and exclusion as much as they demand a reading of national belonging and inclusion. These photographs also need to be read in terms of themselves as artifacts, as images of power which reenact the past within the present (figs. 59-60). The métissage of the traditional and the modern are clearly active within the collective composition of these portraits, insinuating style as much a moment for reading Moroccan identities as fragmentary as it is a forum for executing individuality (fig. 61). During his 1995 visit to the United States, when asked to comment on his impression of Bill Clinton in comparison to the other seven U.S. presidents he had met in his lifetime, King Hassan responded to press by saying: “First, let me say that no two men are alike. As a wise man once said, style is what defines the man.” Truly, King Hassan’s words echo what I am attempting to demonstrate here. Rather than speak of modernity as a monolithic structure of seamless occidental origin, we ought to turn to readings of modernity in various histories and cultures which are informed, inflected, and vectored by various traditions and which, in turn, have become syncretic, vernacular nodes for forming newer traditions and different styles.
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