Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Self determination and Arab imperialism

Yet another reminder of the role of Arab imperialism in suppressing the legitimate right to self determination of native peoples in the Middle East.
Don't Call Me Berber (Amazighe)
Written by Adam Gonn
Published Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Note: Berber is the name given to the inhabitants of North Africa by Arab invaders; their own term is Amazighe, which means free people. 
 The Amazighe have been living in North Africa for nearly 4,000 years. Early Berber states, which predate the arrival of the Arabs to the region in the seventh century, were known as Mauritania and Numidia.
Until their conquest by Muslim Arabs, most of the Amazighe were Christian, and a sizable minority had accepted Judaism. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, the two great Amazighe dynasties, the Almoravids and the Almohads, controlled large parts of Spain, as well as north-west Africa.
With time even these dynasties disintegrated and the Amazighe of the plains of North Africa were gradually absorbed by the Arabs, while those who lived in inaccessible mountain regions, among them the famed Atlas Mountains, remained more independent.
When the French and the Spanish occupied much of North Africa, it was the Amazighe of these mountainous regions who offered the fiercest resistance. In more recent times the Amazighe, especially those of the Kabylia (Amazighe dominated areas), assisted in driving the French from Algeria.
Today, there are an estimated 23 million Amazighe, with the largest populations in Morocco and Algeria, in addition to smaller numbers in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
The connection between language and identity is very strong among the Amazighe and they take great pride in their own language, Thmazight.
The Media Line (TML) spoke to Dr. Amar Almasude, an Amazighe born in Morocco, at Cappella University in Minneapolis to get some more insight on the question of language.
According to Almasude, the language is the very essence of being Amazighe, as, for example, one would regard oneself as English because one speaks English, or Iranians who refer to themselves as Persians because they speak Farsi. This is why one of the main sources of friction in Morocco, where some 75 percent of the population is Amazighe, the official language is still Arabic and in schools the teaching is conducted in Arabic as well.
The preference for Arabic has several reasons – Arabic is the language of Islam and 98% of Moroccans today are Muslims. Despite the fact that most Amazighe were originally Christian, today most of them are Sunni Muslim.
Morocco is member of the Arab League, and as such the government is pushing for the country to be a Muslim Arab country and not an Amazighe country.
In March 2000 the Amazighe Manifesto was published by leading members of the Amazighe community, in order to find a basis for discussion to ease friction between the Amazighe and the Moroccan government.
The document outlines the situation of the Amazighe in Morocco and their feeling of having to be ashamed of their cultural heritage – the word berber derives from the word barbarian – while being forced to learn the ways of their Arab countrymen.
Almasude told TML that during his school days the students used to be beaten for speaking Tamazight in class.
The manifesto ends with nine requests in order to improve the status of the Amazighe. The list of requests starts with a call for a national debate on the different ethnic groups in Morocco and their history, since, according to the manifesto, the Amazighe identity was suppressed by the Moroccan government after the end of colonialism.
There are also several requests regarding Tamazight, the national Amazighe language, that it be recognized as an official language and as such be noted in the country's constitution. The manifesto points out the central role of the language in the Amazighe culture.
"This is because they are Amazighe thanks to their language not to their race. They are completely aware of the fact that whoever among them exposes his language to loss is doing the same to his Amazighe existence," Almasude says.
There is also a request for economic compensation for the exploitation of the Amazighe since the rule of the French protectorate in 1912, occasioned by their long war against the colonizers and their economic marginalization. They regard this as the main cause behind their so-called "cultural retardation" and the dwindling of their political role in the country.
Almasude says that today the situation has improved and Tamazight is being taught in schools and there are several Amazighe political organizations.
"Perhaps one day if the political reforms in Morocco continue there might one day be an Amazighe nation," he says.
Copyright © 2007 The Media Line. All Rights Reserved.

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