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  • Making Morocco: Colonial Intervention and the Politics of Identity by Jonathan Wyrtzen
  • Abdelmajid Hannoum
Making Morocco: Colonial Intervention and the Politics of Identity, by Jonathan Wyrtzen. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015. 352 pages. $40.50.

Jonathan Wyrtzen sets as a goal for himself to examine the formation of Moroccan national identity especially against two groups: Moroccan Jews and Muslim women. From the outset, Wyrtzen announces the framework of his analysis as he speaks of the political colonial field: "Pierre Bourdieu emphasizes the position of agents, their habitus, the agreed-upon rules of the game, and the competition of particular forms of capital in specific social fields" (p. 11). He then distinguishes between the state and the political field in order to capture "the positions of agents and institutions," the "array of forces," and "field of contestation" (p. 12). Thus, the reader expects a sociological analysis of colonialism that will reveal colonial agents positioned in a political field with rules and defined roles, with a variety of forces, and in a domain of contestation where the rules of the colonial game are set for its different actors. Even though the author acknowledges that "the central actor of this story is Mohamed V" (p. 28), he goes on to explain that "one of my methodological priorities is not only to trace the identification discourses of the elite (colonial administrators or urban nationalist ideologues) but also to incorporate voices from non-elite groups (including rural Berber speakers, women, and Jews) that are virtually silent in the existing historiography" (p. 29).

Wyrtzen then defines what he calls, "the space of the colonial political field" (pp. 34ff.), which is basically the geography of Morocco prior to colonial intervention. Showing several maps of the country, the author argues that "this geography has structured relations between state and society in Moroccan history." The famous bled es-siba, the land of dissidence, and bled al-makhzen, the land controlled by the established elite, surfaces in this description. But Wyrtzen notes, following Edmund Burke III, that the two are not "necessarily antagonistic" (p. 37) an idea that we find in the first formation of the siba/makhzen dichotomy put forth by Charles de Foucauld and somehow disappearing in later considerations of the country, especially with the highly influential work of Robert Montagne. Precolonial historiography, from the time of Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) to the time of Ahmad al-Nasiri (d. 1897), makes no mention of the siba/makhzen divide. In this precolonial work, one finds a local perception of the geography different from colonial formulations, which were oriented around ideology.1

Wyrtzen then proceeds to examine the organization of the forces of the field. He chooses the Paris Colonial Exposition of 1931 and, specifically, the Moroccan palace. He argues that the tour of the palace by the sultan and the resident general highlights "the organizing forces" of the colonial field. The author bases his description on official archives as well as contemporary, [End Page 165] published write-ups of the tours. Therefore, he bases his description on an existing representation of the exhibition, a sort of "represented representation," as Maurice Merleau-Ponty would say (and which is itself a colonial representation of the palace). Wyrtzen then concludes that "the palace of Morocco carefully reproduced and represented the protectorate legitimacy/legibility dyad — expressed through ethnographic, preservationist, and developmental modes of rule — that shaped the political field" (p.72). The author notes that this "legitimacy/legibility dyad" on the one hand justified conquest and on the other created categories of understanding Morocco — geographical, "ethnic" (sic), religious, and political — then politicized them and set them in clear-cut opposition.

Wyrtzen argues that there was a resistance to this colonial field, to which he devotes Chapter 3. The author's intention is to examine "the neglected perspectives of Tamazight-speaking groups in the Atlas Mountains" (p. 95). To do so, he uses mainly poetry chanted or sung by people in the Atlas Mountains. However, the author quickly gives up the notion of resistance and instead uses the highly problematic concept of jihad. Also, the geographic area he discusses is clearly a peasant area, and as such his book could have...


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