Hybridity and the Strategies of Instability

Ahmed Radi, Faculty of Letters, Kaddi Ayyad University, Marrakech, Morocco

This paper is a reading of the cultural geography of Morocco as a hybrid text. It will shift from the national to the transnational, and then to the international. Maps are not static objects, for it is possible to activate them by foregrounding dynamic changes and exchanges, and the mutual influence of the internal and the external. What will emerge is the complexity of the idea of Morocco, since beneath its apparent smooth homogeneity lies a network of fragments and relations which constantly connect and interconnect. Focus will be much more on the intersections, the meeting points and the crossroads than on coherence and unity.

Hybridity in Morocco may be located, first, in its unpredictable climate. Its irregularity destabilises any rational planning and affects the mobility or stability of individuals and groups. In fact, throughout Moroccan history water has played a major role in the establishment and prosperity or displacement and exodus of communities. Nomadsism in relation to water is a cultural practice, but also a metaphor for mobilities which are productive of hybrid entities.

Second, it can be noticed in its geographical position, which may account for major contrasts. On the same day it is possible to see mountains and forests, the desert and the sea. This heterogeneity of nature has produced plural landscapes, and these landscapes have produced various and different localities and habitats with different modes of living and cultures.

The sea has contributed to the establishment of a maritime civilisation open on the outside world and exposed to conquest. Tangier, El Jadida and Essaouira still bear the historical traces of an ancient cultural métissage . To this day, Melllila and Ceuta are still under Spanish occupation, and it is on the coast that a constellation of major towns and cities has shaped a certain urbanity, if not cosmopolitan way of life..

The mountains , by contrast, are much more difficult to have access to. Exchanges, therefore, are scarce. Inhabited essentially by the Amazigh peoples, they were resistant to both colonialism and central authority, the makhzen. It is not a coincidence if the term Amazigh suggests the idea of pride and freedom. It is these places which attract anthropologists and tourists, for they are supposed to be authentic and virgin. Some people, in fact, call them the « profound Morocco », a space uncontaminated by hybridity.

The plain, the flat country, which is ripe for agriculture, is inhabited by Arabs. The term in Moroccan Arabic is hybrid, since it combines both the idea of ethnicity in classical Arabic, Al Arab, and the idea of countryside in Moroccan Arabic, Al Ouroubia.

There is also the desert, which is both a geography on maps and a geography for the imagination, in particular the Western one. Its African character is suggestive of various commercial exchanges in the past between different tribes from different African regions.

It is essential to emphasise that these geographical categories are both abstract and reductive, for there have been various forms of migration, mobility and intermarriages within these spaces and in the spaces between them. An example of this hybrid space is the town of Beni Mellal, which is surrounded by mountains populated by Tamazights, and plains populated by Arabs. However, every Tuesday a huge market is set up where people meet and goods are exchanged. Beni Mellal itself is called a town and its people city dwellers, Ouwlad El Mdina. But, historically, it has been populated by people from both communities, and it is their mixture which has created the town, in addition to that created by strangers, outsiders, Al Berrani, people from various parts of Morocco.

In a move from geography and nature to culture, let us address urban spaces. If cities are crossroads for dense traffics, some cities, for geographical and historical reasons, have more potentialities for hybridity. That is what I call spaces of transition. Tangier in the north, Oujda in the east and Marrakech in the south. They have created a regional density which connects with other regions. Casablanca , in its unique way, stands as a platform for different networks : transport, communication, industry. No wonder that it is the place where melting-pots are shaped and reshaped. Both Casablanca and Rabat form a space for mobile cosmopolitans. In fact, all regional elites find their final destination in these two cities.

Hybridity is also about death and life, which are interconnected. In this context, we may call some places fading cities. This process of death, however is not irreversible, for there is always the possibility of rebirth. I mention in particular the city of Safi. There are also emerging cities, which strive to integrate modernity into a countryside style of life, and by doing so problematise old maps where they are still considered to be small villages. It is possible to mention Fkih Ben Salah, Kalaa Sraghna and Ben Rchid : Fkih ben Salah under the influence of emigrants living in Italy ; Ben Rchid under the effect of shifting industries from Casablanca ; Kalaa Sraghna after the modernisation of agriculture. We may also include Ouarzazate, Morocco's Hollywood, where there is a mixture of an authentically southern landscape and cinema technology and decors. As cities multiply, so does the nature of hybridity. In this context we may refer to an accentuated or concentrated hybridity, which includes Rabat and Casablanca, but also extends to El Jadida ; Mohemmadia and Kenitra. This axis is a space of opportunities, technologies and mobilities, which creates hybrid beings in constant search of a better way of life and more complex identities, struggling to come to terms with globalisation.

Ancient cities, though frozen by brochures for tourism, are not outside the scope of this hybridizing process, since they embrace modernity. Fes, Meknes and Marrakech are not museums for historians, but mosaic spaces where the traditional is in a dialogical relationship with the contemporary. Within these cities there is not a sharp dichotomy between the Medina and la ville nouvelle, the new city, but various exchanges and mobilities : shopping, work, and visits.

In terms of mobility, there is a shift from big cities to their suburbs, a new phenomenon in Morocco. We may cite the example of the movement from Rabat to El Harhoura and Temara, as well as from Casablanca to Berchid. There is also the counter movement from the countryside to the city, in particular in periods of drought. Furthermore, we have to deconstruct the neat binary opposition between the useful and the useless Morocco, for in the latter we may find utter poverty and in the former possibilities of wealth and development.

After this cultural geography survey, we may ask the question : What is Morocco ? What is its essence, its fundamental identity ? It is, in fact, located in the various constructions we make of it ; in their interactions and combinations. This process becomes much more complex as we move from the internal to the external, or rather the indefinite space between Morocco and its neighbours. We may start with that contact zone between Morocco and Spain. Paradoxically, Spain is so near, yet so far. All that is needed is a bridge to link peoples and cultures. This bridge, that bridge is both a possibility and an impossibility, for , on the one hand, it is associated with cross-cultural communication, and, on the other, it is suggestive of imagined waves of immigrants.

In the real world there is a fortress, the fortress of Europe, which does not allow hybridity to find articulation. Thus, it remains suppressed . Suppressed is also the rich Arabo -Islamic civilisation, which is part of Spain's history. Through an act of amnesia, Spain tries to mutilate a section of the Mediterranean region, famous for being a crossroad of civilisations, for the sake a homogeneous Christian and highly developed Europe..

The other form of amnesia lies in the fact that it tries to occlude its past, that is the moment when Spaniards invaded Latin America, and in recent history when they migrated to more prosperous regions in Europe. If Latin America is the hybridised place that we know today, it is in a large part because of Spain. It is quite ironic, then, that a nation of migrants has become phobic of immigrants. It is also ironic that once Spain has colonised and "Spaishised" The North of Morocco and retained two of its cities, it defends now the idea of strict boundaries between nations and cultures, some nations and cultures.

However, the frontier zone in these two cities remains fluid enough through commerce and the legal as well as illegal traffic of goods, which reach the most isolated markets in Morocco. The colonized's backlash consists of thousands of young people who desperately struggle to share in the newly found wealth in Spain, sometimes at the risk of their lives. Thus, the two cultures interact in various ways in spite of tensions and inequalities, and Spain's inability to move from colonialism to post-colonialism. Some other European countries have made more or less successfully that shift, by providing a certain space for mutual hybridisation and exchange. In fact, various and specific hybridities have emerged if we take into account the different national cultures. On both sides the following questions are addressed: What is identity? What is the nation? What is being French or Dutch in the 21st century? Is it possible to formulate a specifically European Islam? What is modern citizenship? In fact individuals and communities from both sides have to make changes to accommodate and live with each other.

This intensive mobility has created in Morocco a migratory culture, which has produced three generations with different mentalities and skills for adaptation in new and complex contexts. Recently, this culture has experienced further hybridisation through its permeation by women, a phenomenon which reflects cultural changes in Morocco and contributes to its transformation.

This process of nomadism has cultivated what I call migratory intellectuals, who appropriate thoughts and methodologies from various spaces in order to introduce them at home in a process of dialogue between languages and cultures. Abdelkebir Khatibi, for example, through his inter-disciplinarity and heterogeneous cultural practices here and elsewhere, remains an exemplary case. Khatibi, El Mernissi, Laroui, El Menjra, Ben Jelloun use the language of the coloniser in order to develop a network of relations and audiences, and new possibilities, which enrich local culture and affect the cultures of reception..

Let us move now to the East. It is curious that as soon a we change direction, hybridity takes different forms and functions. In addressing the relationship between Morocco and Algeria, I prefer the expression "blocked" or "frustrated hybridity". This is a good example of the gap between the polyphony of the people(s) and the monological voice of politics, or rather a certain political practice. Hybridity needs a genuine sense of freedom and democracy for its development. I think that Algeria, perhaps much more than Morocco, has not come to term yet with its colonial past, and has not found a compromise, a space of hybridity that can absorb contradictions through debate, exchange, circulation of ideas, and through the renewal of elites. Another point is the deep militarisation of the regime. This situation of blockage, however, can be applied to other countries as we move to the Orient.

Though an Arabo-Islamic core culture is shared by all Arabic countries, there is very little communication between the peoples of the different national cultures, and we know that communication is essential for cross-fertilisation. This communicative failure is corroborated by the collapse of a utopian pan Arabism, which has produced a great deal of rhetoric and ideology, but very little practical work for social and cultural exchange. Societies dominated by authoritarian regimes are not the appropriate spaces hybridity. In the Arabic countries hybridity is problematic, not because of its absence, for it is a fact of life, but because it is regulated, limited and censored through the production of a strong sense of identity, nationalism and strict boundaries.

However, from a cultural perspective, Moroccans are, in their imaginary and unconscious, inhabited by cultural products from the Middle East, in particular Egypt: music, films, soap operas, and printed material. Nevertheless, this imaginative horizon is being challenged, if not displaced by material from the West.

Another suppressed hybridity is articulated in the relation between Morocco and Africa. Morocco is in Africa, yet outside it. It is African, but not African enough. This is due to the racial definition of the continent, with a division between its white part and its black one. Black Africans feel they are genuinely African and look at North Africans as being hybrid populations, which are neither European nor African.

In addition, the popular attitude in Morocco is a certain latent racism and feeling of inherent superiority. The colonial prejudice of "the wild man in the bush" is hard to die. It must also be said that geography between the north and the south has not helped because there are vast deserted lands as they are in the desert. Nevertheless, African regimes have shown considerable brutality in the management of politics. In this context, borders, which are potentially a symbol of hybrid passages, have turned into a negative image through the provision of arms, the penetration of armies, and the theft of precious minerals.

In spite of all these limits and limitations, and for historical reasons, the blackness of Morocco is obvious, in particular in the south, and has contributed to the making of a multiracial and multiethnic society where various cultures interact.

From Africa let us move to America. The move seems like a flight of the imagination since the two terms suggest a radical opposition between the first and third world. However, the imaginative work of hybridity is, in fact, to make linkages, to create connections and to work out forms of contacts. It is paradoxical that though America (used in the popular sense) is distant, it inhabits people's imagination through films, TV programs, fast food and entertainment gadgets. It inhabits Morocco in the geographical sense through the American Schools, the American Language Centres, the Moroccan American Commission, and the Departments of English. The perception of Moroccans of the American way of life wavers between fascination and rejection.

From a politically correct position, America is seen as the policeman of the world, an unconditional supporter of Israel and a hegemonic power. However, from a pragmatic point of view, people appropriate in various ways American cultural products. In fact, Moroccan society is heading towards that kind of liberal democracy with its consumption, mass culture, advertisement, TV viewing and the sense of entertainment and spectacle.

Throughout this paper, I have tried to foreground strategies of instability by pointing out the limits of coherence, unity, ideology and dogmatism. I do not deny the existence of inequality, class stratification, cultural and economic exploitation, and the division of the world into blocks of power, but individuals and groups traverse these categories and cross the boundaries of these systems by inventing various small strategies of survival and resistance . It is in these crossings, these crossroads that hybridities emerge, mobile agents against determinism and fatalism. I hope that both Morocco and this conference, as real spaces but also as metaphors are and will be an occasion for productive cross-cultural contacts though which unexpected opportunities and unpredictable linkages and bridges will see the light.


Postcolonial OV discourseov Casablanca Conference Morocco

Last modified: 31 May 2001