Surfing on Debilities: Moroccan Youth’s Crisis of Identity
By Najia Ajraoui University Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences Dhar El Mehraz - Fez
In the third millenium globalisation permits the importation of goods and commodities from all over the world; and culture as well. If trade and industry constituted in the twentieth century an exclusively one-sided Western hegemony, culture as a soft power, penetrating continents from all sides, remains untractable and intangible for most. It perniciously enters homes and minds, subverting local customs and beliefs, and is all in the more pervasive that those it targets are unaware of its influence. The first element it seems to undermine is nationalism. By reinforcing the sense of belonging to the same nation, culture and the nationalism it entails, establishes a popular power that strengthens the ethnic identity of a people, in concordance with Edward Said’s saying about it that it is “a word that signifies all sorts of undifferentiated things, but it serves me quite adequately to identify the mobilizing force that coalesced into resistance against an alien and occupying empire on the part of peoples possessing a common history, religion, and language” 1.
Said’s understanding of culture and its essential components of “common history, religion, and language” is to be revised at a time of uncontrollable globalization that makes local cultures and nationalism seem obsolete, as national geographical boundaries lose their significance in the era of the dictatorship of the internet, as Christian Van Campe points out:
“The development of new technologies primarily the internet ... poses a threat to nationalism... The online world has the ability to create a new form of community; one that is not limited to national boundaries, history or culture. The development of a global community challenges and undermines nationalist thinking”2.
Geographical frontiers are being replaced by a sense of belonging to a virtual community which is supposed to hold the same opinions, to visualize the same news, to watch the same movies, and to listen to the same music. Resistance to the colonial enterprise in the past comprised a physical confrontation within a territorial delimitation, as corroborated by the colonial and the post-colonial periods of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. The colonizer, especially originating from the European space, was identified as white and supremacist, while the colonized was conceived of as inferior and inoffensive. The import of this conflictual relationship differed for each, but the rules were rather clear, controlled by international laws, and the battle waged between them generally utilized conventional weapons, and this somehow facilitated the apprehension of its mechanisms and the reaction to them. Now, within the new virtual geography with no frontiers, no armies, neither police to rebute foreign ideologies from permeating national territories, the paradigms of the battle between colonialism and national resistance have changed, as conventional warfare has become the ultimate resort, and is often no option at all. Shifting from the concrete to the virtual, it now engages a technology that tolls the bells for the natives’ resilience, making colonialism more potent as it is relentlessly rampant yet undetectable. The constant endeavour to fuse culture with globalization has turned it into a nebulous entity3.
This fact is observable in young Moroccans’ changes of behaviour and perception of self. Their being on-line most of the time puts them in permanent contact, and from an early age, with other cultures that may become substitutes of their own, which may induce a sense of not belonging to their native culture, and alienation from the constituents of their identity as Moroccans, as this is explained by Margaret Keane when she says that “national identity is socially constructed” 4 essentially through geography and that “places are more than the locations where people live...[for] societies ascribe political significance to places, and nations are built in order that people develop emotional bonds to places – a relationship that geographers refer to as having “a sense of place” 5. The internet may intrinsically impair the essence of nationalism, i.e. patriotritism, which may become irrelevant in a virtual world whose inhabitants, the netizens, are converted into the creed that frontiers and nationalities do not matter anymore.
Till the end of the twentieth century, Moroccan identity was determined by a common religion and history that established cohesion and the belief in a common destiny for “the construction of any certain identity is an inclusive process with the internalization of the same values of identifier, but is also an exclusive process with the elimination of other identities” 6. Accordingly, Moroccans were welded by a sense of oneness, resultant of the risk of loss of identity incurred by colonization. For this, the referents were ancestors and the traditions that composed the cultural heritage which they fought to preserve. Parents endorsed the mission of mediators of these, with external influences as agents of reinforcement of this national enterprise since “national identity as a social construction is a relationship between people and place defined by social structures and the social norms produced by these structures” 7.
The alteration of the parental function occurs by the second half of the twentieth century, due to the elaboration of new educational theories. Prior to that, children were to be seen and not to be heard, in prolongation of the Victorian approach to education. This is reassessed by new philosophical and psychological theories regarding children’s rights, although they were still subdued by the persistence of social codes of morality, that granted parents ample prerogatives over their offspring. These parents were considered as modern since they witnessed the twentieth century’s social, cultural, political and psychological revolutions, that gave birth to heated debates on the inadequacy of traditional educational methods and the necessity to reconsider them. This innovative stance put forth models of permissiveness towards an all-precious child that had to be indulged and pampered, especially as a new and powerful contributor to the economic dynamic of consumerism. With more or less deliberate collaboration of associations, and national and international institutions and organizations, external intrusiveness in the children’s educational decisions would decrease the parents’ power of control over them. Increasingly fierce competitiveness at school and in the job market, the growth and spreading of liberal capitalism, and the avant-gardist psychological theories of the liberalization of the individual, nurtured in parents the guilt and the fear of failure in their role as educators, as the majority of Moroccan adolescents of the nascent third millennium were in general the first generation to have educated parents. A loss of power that may be fostered by their children overrunning them in technological skills and ability to counter parental control. By introducing children to alternative educational mentors, on the other hand, the internet contributed to making parents redundant, and widened the gap between generations. A gap that is aggravated by the adaptation of a number of languages that would somehow further the estrangement of young Moroccans from their native culture.
Culture, and its essential component language, was previously used as a means of resistance and construction of the national identity as formulated by Asim Nawaz Abbassi when saying that “National language is a driving force behind national unity... Besides a boundary, a name, a flag, or a currency, what makes a country become a respectable and unique nation is its national language... [it] is a clear indicator that represents the national identity of a country...[and]...part of a nation and person’s heritage”8. The colonizer’s initial strategy was to weaken the natives’ culture by marginalizing their language and promoting their own. Now there is a new utilization of the natives’ very language to confuse their national self-perception, mostly through the audio-visual means of communication, targeting all social classes, by addressing each with a specific discourse and dealing with them separately, thus fragmenting their cohesion, as Christian Van Campe remarks that “Specifically the film industry is another crucial factor that erodes nationalism” 9. The elite is granted a sense of superiority and of being part of the international intellegensia and the intellectual community, through such languages as French and English; whereas to the remaining social classes, Western and Asiatic cultural products and TV programmes are made accessible through translation, first into classical Arabic, and later, into Moroccan Arabic. The opening up to the world since the 1960’s through television, and since the 1990’s to an ever-multiplying number of international channels, and in the new millennium to the internet, allowed the infiltration of foreign elements in the essence of “Moroccanity” that may interfere with Moroccan people’s perception of their identity as Arab, Amazigh, and Muslim. This was paradoxically enhanced by their proficiency in learning foreign languages10. Thus exposed to a variety of languages and cultures, and a confusing mixture of signals and symbols, Moroccans watch programmes and movies, and listen to music from all over the world: American, French, Mexican, Brazilian, English, Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese, Turkish, Indian, and Korean. The non-Arabic movies were subtitled in Arabic, and then came the option of delivering them in the Moroccan dialect. In addition, the distancing from their native culture expressed in a persuasive identification with the world at large, is enhanced by the extending number of private schools that promote French and English as an attractive device of their schooling system and strategy.
A young person in the West lives is an environment of openness and coherence of Judeo-Christian roots, where extra-cultural interferences are tolerated without being subversive. This cultural consistency is the outcome of such philosophical trends as classicism, romanticism, realism, positivism, Darwinism, existentialism, in addition to such concepts as humanism, Marxism, communism, capitalism, imperialism, revisionism, and feminism. Western youth’s introduction to these movements through educational programmes, inscribes itself in a continuum of Western history, and they are imbibed with these theories that form an integral part of their learning and their western identity that protects the individual’s rights and freedom.
It is with this Western youth that Moroccan young people indentify. They are involved in a constant process of comparison between ”me-ness” in relation to a society suffused with contradictions, and “they-ness” as models of self-satisfaction, self-indulgence, and self-fullfilment in a society that tolerates transgressions of limits and taboos, by sometimes encouraging them as expressions of inventiveness and creativity. For young Moroccans, this self-division is all the more pungent, that they are going through adolescence, as a stage of biological and psychological perturbation that is no longer accompanied by the ancestral rituals of passage into adulthood. They are left to deal on their own with “a unique period in life, in which independent choices begin to be made and in which new identities are formed” (Erikson 1968). Due to the “betwixt and between” nature of adolescence, it is a period of life which may be conductive to alienation (Calabrese 1987); in some cases it may entail separation from the ethnic group” 11. This is all the more probable in Morocco where psychology and psychiatry are new disciplines, and where adolescents have to delve in their own resources to face the transition from childhood to adulthood in front of their computers, to which they are permanently attached by a virtual ombilical cord. The internet provides opportunities for evasion, and the promise that all that is impossible within the confines of social and religious regulations, is accessible through a screen which can quench their curiosity to be informed about topics that parents and family avoid to mention. At the same time, they are submerged by a huge amount of unsought for information, without the ability or even the desire to refute or scheme it, while through chats, blogs, forums and social websites, they deem that their problems like lack of self-confidence and self-esteem, self-denigration and the absence of hope of seeing things change for the better any time soon, can be solved by a simple click. Along with this, the signification of family and traditions are put into question, inducing alterations in self-perception, self-awareness, and selfhood as a whole.
1 Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books, 1994, p.27
2 Christian Van Campe, Globalization and Nationalism, pdf 03-12-2008, p.3
3 Edward Said’s comment on this issue is that “Just as no one is outside or beyond geography, none of us is completely free from the struggle over geography. That struggle is complex and interesting because it is not only about soldiers and cannons but also about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings” Culture and Imperialism, p.29
4 Margaret Keane, How are People’s National Identities Connected to Places? St Mary’s university college, Northern Ireland.
5 Ibid. For more on this, see Herbert C.Kelman, Nationalism, Patriotism and National Identity: Social-Psychological Dimensions
6 HusamettinInac, “The Construction of National Identity in Modern times: Theoretical Perspective”. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science. Vol.3.N°11.June 2013.
7 Phil Klein (University of Northern Colorado, USA and Antoni Luna Garcia (Universitat Pomp eu Fabra, Spain).
8 Asim Nawaz Abbassi, “A national language represents the national identity of a country”, March 3, 2013 - See more at: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/uncategorized/a-national-language-represents-the-national-identity-of-a-country/#sthash.ecPb6qyv.dpuf
9 Christian Van Campe, Globalisation and Nationalism, p.3
10 Already in the 19th Century, A.De Toqueville in De la Democracie en Amerique recommends that French children should be taught only their native language to reach excellence and a harmonious development. At present, France and a majority of developed countries recognize the practicality of acquiring a second language, not more, generally English.
11 Rusi Jaspal, Language and Social Identity: A Psychological Approach, University of London. www.academia.edu