Saturday, 2 April 2011

Literature and the Future of North Africa

The Qantara Muslim world news website carried a feature article on Jewish Moroccan writer Edmond Amran El Maleh (1917-2010). Last year the anti-colonial freedom fighter and patriot had been laid to rest in the Jewish cemetery of his native Essouira. He was taken there in a coffin draped with the Moroccan flag by the royal advisor André Azoulay, the historian Hassan Aourid, the director of the National Library Driss Khrouz and artists Hassan Bourkia and André El Baz. Not a state funeral, but almost...
He had specifically requested to be buried there among "all these graves which, exposed to the rank growth, the wind, and the ravages of the ocean, silently enclose the Hebrew inscriptions and mysterious symbols." And indeed it is surprising to see the emblem of the Punic goddess on the weather-beaten columns, an indication that Jews have lived in Morocco since the days of Nebuchadnezzar, when they escaped Babylonian captivity on Phœnician merchant ships. El Maleh's headstone merely adds to the linguistic confusion. He insisted on having four scripts: Arabic, Berber, Hebrew and French. It was a reflection of his attitude to life and his sense of belonging, an attitude that rejects any insistence that identities have to be one-dimensional
Described as a 'thorny humanist and lateral thinker, critic of Zionism and supporter of the Palestinians', it should also be noted that El Maleh was highly respected in the new Morocco for the fact that he, a French assimilated Jew, never denied his Arab-Berber roots'.He came relatively late to literature and his depictions of a 'multi-layered, multi-faceted, multi-voiced Morocco' betray influences of other cosmopolitan writers such as Elias Canetti and Walter Benjamin, as well as Kafka and Proust. In fact, El Maleh saw 'himself as a thief of stories and a protector of words', unexpectedly weaving 'words and phrases from Jewish-Arabic, Berber, English, and Spanish into his work'.
Edmond Amran El Maleh (1917-2010)
 Characterizing El Maleh's linguistic style through which he tried to remain true to Morocco's plural identity, the Spanish author Juan Goytisolo is said have likened his the influence of the Moroccan dialect to 'a tattoo on the skin of the French used by this author, this Nestor, this great outsider on the fringes of Franco-Moroccan literary scene, an author who remains to be discovered outside Morocco'.

In neighbouring-Algeria, novelist Maïssa Bey, who has written extensively on her country's turmoil of the last few decades, insists on dealing honestly with uncomfortable truths of the past:
Without an honest reappraisal of the past there can be no democratising process in society or in the political structures. "We will never achieve anything in Algeria until we get the truth out into the open and begin acknowledging facts," [...] This is something that has to involve everyone: victims, perpetrators, those politically responsible for the violence and the authorities who have imposed a total blackout on the lives of hundreds of thousands of families".
Although many are clamouring for change, she also notes that despite serious social injustice and corruption many Algerians prefer the fragile stability represented by President Bouteflika.
There is, of course, fear that a revolution could again end in chaos and violence [...] I have heard many people from my own neighbourhood talking like this. But I believe that Algeria has learned from the experiences of the 80s and 90s. The Algerians now know that Islamism is not the answer. This is a realisation that puts us a stage ahead of other revolutions in the Arab world.
She is less than impressed with the attitude of Europe:
Maissa Bey
It is really bizarre that Europe is only now wakening up. I find this absolutely intolerable. As an Algerian citizen, I can tell you that we didn't need any Wikileaks to tell us what was going on. Everybody knew that the Arab leaders were illegally amassing large fortunes for themselves and allowing their people to suffer. How can it be that this Europe, that so prides itself on its ideals of human rights and liberty, kept so quiet for so long, and only opened its mouth after the people themselves had risen?
The Europeans are so sure that democracy is a civilising value that belongs essentially to Europe, Bey explains. "The Arabs, on the other hand, they are, allegedly, just tribal societies where people bite off one another's noses. We intellectuals expect nothing more from Europe. I think it is too late for that."
Read the full interview here.

Essaouira, cite heureuse (French Edition)Edmond Amran El Maleh: Cheminements d'une ecriture (Collection "Espaces litteraires") (French Edition)Mille ans, un jour: Roman (French Edition)Mille ans, un jourParcours immobile (Collection "Voix") (French Edition)Above All, Don't Look Back (CARAF Books: Caribbean and African Literature translated from the French)Above All, Don't Look Back (CARAF Books: Caribbean and African Literature translated from the French)Au commencement était la merCette fille laEntendez-vous...dans les montagnesDépartements et territoires d'outre-ciel : Hommage à Léopold Sédar Senghor poète et francophone

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