Monday, January 24

What it’s like to feel “Moorish”: six writers of Arab origin tell their experiences | Ideas


March in Paris against Islamophobia on November 10, 2019.
March in Paris against Islamophobia on November 10, 2019.Mehdi Chebil / THE COUNTRY

Hatred of the Arab and the Muslim explodes in European societies, where the immigrant who comes from the south is viewed with increasing distance and decreasing empathy. Events such as the embrace with which a Spanish Red Cross volunteer wrapped the Senegalese Abdou, collapsed after fleetingly crossing the border in Ceuta, unleash poisonous hostility on social networks. It is the most visible side of a rejection that seems to glimpse enemies where before we saw multiculturalism. The change is remarkable because hatred today is on display in the light of day, but suspicion is secular.

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Several authors dealing with the subject connect the phenomenon to a trend that has its roots far back. “The older I get, the more I realize to what extent the vision of the Arabs in the West is still highly influenced by Orientalism and colonialism,” says Abdelá Taia, author of the memorable novel Slow life (Cabaret Voltaire). The racist discourses built centuries ago on Arabs and Muslims, he assures, have lost complexes: they are in the media, in the networks. In fact, they have become a political program to win elections, as we see in Austria, Holland, France or Denmark, points out Taia, born in Salé (Morocco) in 1973 and settled in France, where he reached the age of 25 with a romantic vision of the West and democracy. “I soon saw that freedom was not for everyone, that fraternity can sometimes be just an intellectual discourse devoid of meaning and that equality is nothing more than a chimera,” he recalls from Paris, alluding to the three principles of Republic of France. Islamist terrorism accelerated that suspicion to the levels of opportunity strangulation that he reflects in his book. Slow life tells the story of a Moroccan homosexual in Paris who goes from having a courtship with a French policeman and a good relationship with his neighbors to being denounced as a terrorist. When agents break into your home, details like a shortage of furniture make you a suspect. About what? Nobody knows. He is a simple teacher with more training than those who question him, but he is Moroccan and therefore an enemy.

“You cannot put all Arabs in the same bag. A Jordanian has nothing to do with a Moroccan, a Lebanese or a Tunisian. Each one has a particular history, we live in very different political regimes. And this is what characterizes the vision of Europeans of us: all in the same bag ”, says Leila Slimani (Rabat, 1981), a French writer of Moroccan origin. “Most are ignorant of our particular history, customs and cultures. They see us first and foremost as Muslims and define us from the outset as religious beings. And we are much more than that! We are citizens with a history, a sociology, a culture and a vision of the world ”. After eluding the inquiry into her own biography, the award-winning Slimani (won the Goncourt with Sweet song) has started with The country of the others (Cabaret Voltaire) a trilogy in which he tells his family history and the different phases of otherness that he has witnessed since his Norman grandmother fell in love with a Moroccan soldier who served France in World War II and went with him to the Maghreb.

From left to right and top to bottom: Leila Slimani, Marwan, Abdelá Taia, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Munir Hachemi and Najat el Hachmi
From left to right and top to bottom: Leila Slimani, Marwan, Abdelá Taia, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Munir Hachemi and Najat el HachmiGetty / THE COUNTRY

Colonialism and the inability to stitch up wounds and acknowledge excesses have been compounded in recent years by the feeling of threat from Islamist terrorism, the recession and, above all, an outbreak of the extreme right that, for those consulted, releases hidden feelings. Events like 9/11 serve as justification for collective punishment, says Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who spent 14 years in prison at Guantánamo and was only released after a lengthy court battle. Author of Guantanamo Journal (Captain Swing), his story has reached the cinema with the recently released The Mauritanian. Slahi is sure that if he were white, he would never have gone through these experiences. “I was born in Africa, in a poor family, and that is an unforgivable sin,” he reflects by email.

Munir Hachemi (Madrid, 1989), of Algerian father, graduated in Hispanic Philology and author of Living things (Peripheral), has perceived all his life something that oscillates “between the strangeness with which you look at an unknown animal and hatred.” And he adds: “The feeling has accompanied me all my life, although I have only recently been conscious and I have been able to find it in the number of times that I have hidden my name almost unconsciously to go looking for a rental or a job.” This social rejection has peaks, such as the one that caused 9/11, or the current one, which sees connected to a West that has been dying for a long time, that continues to look at its former colonies with “disgust and contempt”, and does not fully understand why had to abandon them.

Similar experience relates the Spanish writer of Moroccan origin Najat el Hachmi (Nador, 1979), graduated in Arabic Philology and last Nadal award, has lost job opportunities or rentals that she had already talked about on the phone when they saw her face. Although it has always suffered from racism, it saw more intensity when the crisis of 2008 arrived. In Spain, he points out, rejection and distrust are manifested in the figure of the “Moor”, who is not the same as Arab or Muslim, although he is always be Muslim and may or may not be Arab. “It is a specific construction with historical roots: the colonial penetration of the protectorate, the Civil War and to some extent Al Andalus.” The term, explains the author of On monday they will love us (Destino), fell as politically incorrect. The language was put on makeup, which complicates the management of rejection: “If it doesn’t exist, there is nothing to analyze. But those of us who come from Morocco have suffered for decades ”. Perhaps, he says, is influenced by the forgetfulness of what the Spanish were not so long ago: more like Moroccans than Europeans.

Marwan Abu-Tahoun (Madrid, 1979) is today a famous and beloved poet and singer-songwriter, but he suffered from racism as a young man, including “a good little hand from a racist teacher”, he recalls. Hate is profitable, maintains this Spaniard with a Palestinian father: “Making a political campaign based on hoaxes against unaccompanied Arab youth creates adhesion, otherwise it would not be used.” He is also not sure that racism today is greater than before, but he is sure that he hides less because he feels endorsed by the extreme right. The story has been established “that outsiders come to take what is ours. The ignorant feel that they come to steal what is theirs instead of adding. The terrible thing is that the second to last in society is manipulated because they tell him that the last one comes to take away what is his.

Guantánamo express Mohamedou Ould Slahi has learned the recipe for racism: “Criminals are called by origin as long as they are not white. They are black, Muslim, Hispanic criminals … but whites are never called colorless criminals, ”he says from Mauritania.

The immigrant protagonist of Slow life He showed his French lover the Louvre Museum, which he had never been to. That was when they broke up. Impossible to accept the success of the foreigner? All those consulted have published, succeeded and joined. Taia explains it without complexes: “I have lived in Paris for 22 years and that gives me real legitimacy to speak, criticize, write stories of expelled and mistreated people. That legitimacy is given to me, I do not wait for the system to recognize me and validate me as that good Arab still colonized in his head. I advance with my weapons, with my relationship with the French. Paris is my battlefield, of several battles. There are many who suffer much more than I do, those thrown into suburbs with the order that they be integrated ”. Writing, he thinks, means including them, the voices that are not heard. “You have to continue the fight.”

A combat not related to terrorism, but to equality, freedom and true brotherhood.

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