Monday, February 28, 2005

A fun little history lesson

Brief History of Morocco and Tangier

Mythology says Neptune’s son Anteus founded the city and named it after his wife Tingis (Tangeh in Arabic.) Hercules, who was also responsible for seperating the two continents at the Strait, slayed the giant Anteus. Anteus is buried under the Charf hills that line the coast. The paradisiacal garden of Hesperides is also supposedly somewhere nearby.

One dense past

The city belonged to the Pheonicians, then the Cartheginians, then the Roman empire in 42 AC. Diocletian made it the capital of Mauretania Tingitana, guarded by Celtic cavalry. The Vandals took over in 429AC and the Islamic Conquest conquered in 683. Tarik ibn Zyad from Spain claimed the territory in 705. It changed hands many times between then and when Spain lay claim to it in 1580 under Philip II of Spain when Spain and Portugal were united. It was passed to the English through Catherine of Braganza’s dowry to Charles the II om 1661. Seven years later Moulay Ismail beseiged the city and the British left, chumily burning the port and most of the city. The Berber Alaouite dynasty took over in 1684. The city remained an intense interest of most European countries until the treaty of Algeciras in 1906 that assuaged the Brits with Egypt and the Italians with Lybia. In 1923, because of its desirability and its tendency to make people fight over it (it was much like it became an international zone controlled by the diplomatic outposts of France, Spain, britain, Portugal, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, Italy and the US. The Moroccan Sultan also had an agent representing. Finally, Morocco got its independence in 1956 and took Tangier under its wing. Still, the transition was anything but smooth and the city had its moments of anarchy, which bred the scenes it is famous for; artists, writers, pedophile tourism etc. The Berber tribes never stopped fighting for their independence and are a huge cultural presence here. Morocco is a “constitutional monarchy” but the monarchy has more power than the parliament because the parliament is usually divided.

In short, Tangier is as much of a melting pot as America and I feel right at home. Even my traveling companion, Maya, who has fair skin and has bright red hair, has been mistaken for a Berber. Apparently, red-hair is one of the race’s characteristics.

I had to put the history out front because it explains a lot about the openess of the city. Everyone here is atleast bilingual, usually tri-lingual and sometimes quadralingual. People try arabic first, then French or Spanish, then the one they didn’t try, and then English. Luckily I know French and English. If someone is harrassing me (not really maliciously, more like a fly trying to land on your honey) I just answer them in Russian and they say “dammit, I don’t know that one, but I will next time!” and they walk away.

Many people warned me before I came to beware of lechers, that women are treated poorly here, that a woman out alone gets a lot of stares, that you have to cover your face etc. Tangier is most definitely a strange place in the Arab world, but it is not at all what our communal consciousness has made the usual islam. The changes are very recent and only in their infance but the people of Tangier (or Tangerines) have all the reasons to be open-minded.

My favorite story so far:

How women gained equal rights in every respect of the law

Last year, May 16th, there was a suicide bombing in Casablanca. Ten young boys blew themselves up (actually one couldn’t do it in the end.) God knows why they did it or who sent them. Right after, the new king, as a slap in the face to fundamentalists, instated a petition he received from a feminist group and the vote passed in Parliament unanimously with even the fundamentalist groups voting for it. Yto, my boss, said for a week after women had a glint in their eyes and were exchanging silent, proud smiles with strangers in the street.

I can’t explain that except to say, the climate seems to have changed. With the heaviness and violence of the fundamentalist movement came a backlash from the everyman. The majority of muslims aren’t fundamentalists and up until now they have caved to the pressure of the fundamentalists. After the bombing, which was an anomaly in Morocco, everyone realized it was time to halt their malicious influence. Now conversations have started among academicians (who, it seems, are listened to much more than in the US though they are still “liberals”) and politicians, about what the role of Islam should have in their society and about the interpretation of the Koran. Yes, it has been conceded that the interpretions that exist were created in order to maintain power. The order was all backwards, people think of the message first and then look to the Koran to find a justifying passage; the age-old corruption of religious texts for personal/party advancement. And of course, you can find anything you want in these texts if you look for it.


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