- Beyond Colonialism and Nationalism in the Maghrib
The Maghrib region of North Africa, stretching from Morocco to Libya, has been marginalized in practice and relegated to the periphery of history, if not agency. Considered and represented as being not quite the Middle East, not quite Africa, definitely not Europe, and seemingly everyone’s other, the Maghrib is yet a reflection of all of these. The countries of the Maghrib have been veritable borderlands, geographic locations of cultural mergings and hybridizations resulting in the development of a layered and highly varied culture and history. In the incisive introduction to this collection, editor Ahmida explicates the colonial and postcolonial marginalization of the region and argues for an appreciation and re-examination of the Maghrib from a Maghribian perspective.
The first essay, by Edmund Burke III, falls under the heading “Historiography,” and as such, together with the introduction, grounds the collection from the outset with a brief historiography of the region. Burke pays particular attention to the history of the defining of the ‘other,’ from an Orientalist colonial mindset to that of a nationalist urban elite perspective. This defining, or power to define, accounts for marginalization while also confining the region within the dictates of the colonial/post-colonial discourse. In order to transcend the discourse’s inherent limitations, Burke argues that it is necessary to recognize and move beyond both the colonial and the nationalist mindsets.
The following two essays, in a section on “Orality, Agency, and Memory,” address the difficulty of developing an indigenous history in the face of current policies and nationalistic political environments. Abderrahman Ayoub argues that internal and national politics have erected effective barriers to the study of folklore, resulting in a politicized process of “fakelore,” a product of nationalist movements and local hegemons who seek to limit and manipulate local folklore and invented traditions for self-serving reasons. Of more interest is Driss Maghraoui’s essay in which he examines the marginalization of the region through an exploration of the representations of the Moroccan colonial soldier. Maghraoui places the colonial soldier not only in a colonial context as a French creation, but also in a mythical context as a nationalist figure; this juxtaposition provides a vivid contrast and highlights the contradictory aspects of the region’s history. Maghraoui further uses this contrast to explode the myth of nation, and as a means, or portal, from which to move beyond the hegemonic discourse.
The third section, “Identity Formation, Gender, and Culture,” uses cultural works to explore alternate narratives. Essays in this section provide a cultural glimpse of potential studies and research that will encompass not only the ambivalence and contrariness of the region, but also its complexity. This is accomplished in unique fashion on all fronts, from Ahmida’s use of Libyan literature, to Fayad’s look at the feminist perspective and its aims to refute the either/or, us/them dichotomy dictated by nationalist cadres, to Colla’s exploration of the fate and history of an Egyptian film and its mirroring of the fate and history of a culture.
The region’s complexity is further explored in the section “Nationalism, Islamism, and Hegemony.” In this section, King uses the political history of the rural elites and the developing Islamist opposition to highlight the problems of political stability in Tunisia, while Lazreg calls for a de-mythification of Algeria’s colonial past as it is being used by Islamist elements in a way that is nothing “but politics under a religious garb” bent on “cultural revenge” (p. 152; 158).
The final essay, “Dreams and Disappointments” by David Seddon, discusses the history, both political and economic, of Pan-Maghribism. The essay not only dissects the internal maneuverings and conflicts that have both championed and thwarted Maghribian unity, but also addresses the actions of the European community in its bid to maintain “a form of imperialism without colonies” (p. 208). Seddon concludes that the Maghrib of the 1990s has been “further peripheralized and fragmented” (p. 225) in a seeming bid to turn the Maghrib into a “safe backyard” of the...