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The Day Moroccans Gave Up Couscous for Satellites: Global TV, Structures of Feeling, and Mental Emigration

Couscoussière is French for Cass-Cass, symbol of Moroccan cuisine and, perhaps more, the pride and of joy of millions of Maghribis throughout the Great Maghrib. The Cass-Cass is necessary to cook the "authentic" thrice-steamed Moroccan couscous. It is made of two parts: the lower an oval-shaped pot where meat, sauce and vegetables are cooked, and an upper round structure with holes at the bottom to let the steam from the meats, carrots, courgettes, pumpkin, and coriander through to the couscous on the top. Couscous is a dish that has travelled far and now is part of an international cuisine; a dish readily available in the West. In Morocco, couscous is a mix of semolina with meats and vegetables; in the West, couscous is a "hybridised" dish, added to salads and other dishes. 

There is a story about the Couscoussière that goes like this: Overlooking the Old Medina of Casablanca (in an area also known as the Mellah, formerly a Jewish quarter) stands the imposing structure of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, on the roof of which, appeared a gigantic satellite dish. The Mellah's young people were fascinated by the structure of the dish, more so when they heard it could "bring the whole world to their sitting-room." Owning such a "phantasmagoric" (Bauman 1998) technology in 1989, at a time when most Moroccans only had access to one channel, was a very exciting prospect to the Mellah's working class youth. One day, a young Moroccan from the Mellah, standing with his unemployed friends, and joking, as one would, in the Derb (1), likened the image of the satellite dish on the roof of the hotel to the shape of the Couscoussière. In fact, he went further and experimented with the idea by attaching a Couscoussière to the television antenna on his own house. To his amazement, when he turned the TV on, he could hear voices which were neither Arab nor French: they were Italian, Spanish, English, and German. The picture was very bad and fuzzy, but this did not spoil the excitement, the euphoria at the mere thought of having access to sounds and images of the Gur (2) in one's sitting room. He returned to the antenna and readjusted the Couscoussière several times until the picture became clearer. He had re-invented satellite technology! The news travelled fast and few weeks later, the Mellah's roof-tops were littered with Couscoussières. This was the day Moroccans gave up their couscous for satellite.

The story of the Couscoussière is a text within a text. What I am referring to here is not merely the story which took place in real time and space, but also its other textuality: its symbolic form. Couscous is not merely a dish. It is also that against which the authenticity of a culture can be tested. The Couscoussière is not a mere aluminum pot but is also responsible for reproducing the "authentic" experience of what it means to be Moroccan, Arab, Amazigh, and Muslim.

Problems of Meaning

In his short, yet seminal work, Non-Places, Marc Augé (1995) advances that the ceaseless growth in media and communications in the late 20th century had led to an "overabundance" in temporality and spatiality, leading henceforth, to a crisis of meaning. Earlier on, Jean Baudrillard (1983) expressed the same feeling when he observed that we now inhabit a world with more and more signs, but less and less meaning. The crisis of meaning that Augé and Baudrillard alert to, also resonates when one looks at the language used by social theorists to make sense of the world we live in. If our world today is, because of the spread of the mass media, one of "globalization" and "hybridisation," how do we make sense of such phenomena? How useful have globalization theories been in helping us understand, let us ask for the purpose of this paper, the cultural consequences of "globalization"? It is not the purpose of this paper to sift through or attempt to organize the chaos of globalization theories (3), nor do I intend to engage in a phenomenology of meaning. I set myself a far more modest and less laborious task. This is inspired from the viewpoint that globalization theories, especially those Sparks (2004) categorizes as "strong" ones - those which make "culture" central to their enquiries - remain largely over-abstracted and "non-evidential." Sparks argues that "if we are to make any serious intellectual progress, we need to … develop the insights of social theory into the kinds of propositions about the mass media that we can subject to an evidential critique" (Sparks 2004: 4). The "newness" often contributed to cultural consequences of "globalization" is rarely challenged. Here I argue that a better understanding of globalization's cultural consequences means that we need to investigate not only the ways institutions of modernity have altered the "ordinariness" of culture (Sreberny-Mohammadi 1997) at the periphery, but also how they have altered the "structures of feeling" of its people. Ethnography, as a methodology, is here indispensable in providing evidence against which we can empirically test our assertions about "globalization" and its cultural effects. However, ethnography, as anthropologists and social scientists alike know well, is not problem-free; especially today when anthropological "space" is far more contested. Even in pursuing the anthropological as a means of coming to terms with globalization's effects on culture, we will still undoubtedly encounter problems of method and meaning, and to say otherwise would be misleading. Here meaning itself becomes an anthropological problematic (Augé 1995: 28).

Using both quantitative and qualitative data from fieldwork conducted in Morocco, I attempt to investigate how long-term consumption of global Western media texts, other factors included, play a role in altering young Moroccans structures of feeling. I contend that young Moroccans (a microcosm for youth in the developing world) are able to emigrate mentally to the West inside Morocco through their long-term exposure to "globalized" Western media texts and so expand the West's mental geography and its project of modernity. I rationalise dynamics of mental emigration as a cultural consequence of "globalization" and argue that the non-fixed problematic nature of its symbolic points of reference -- Islam/Arabness/Moroccanness and modernity/the West -- together with young Moroccans' contradictory structures of feeling makes the mental migratory trajectory incomplete. The paper also demonstrates how difference in socio-economic and cultural strata among young Moroccans produces different readings of and reactions to Western modernity. These reactions, the paper will argue, are those of incoherent acceptance, coherent acceptance, negotiation, and coherent rejection.

The Category of "Young Moroccans"

Young Moroccans share a common religion, language, and history with other young Maghribis and, in the case of Algerians, Moroccans, and Tunisians, the same French coloniser. Young Moroccans constitute the backbone of Moroccan society: 70 percent of the Moroccan population is under 35 (Talal 1993). Tessler observes, "One major characteristic of Morocco's emerging political generation is its size. With more than two-thirds of the population under the age of 35, men and women who were born and grew up in the mid-1960s or thereafter constitute the country's demographic centre of gravity" (Tessler 2000). Thanks to their great demographic weight, young Moroccans' lifestyles will in the near future constitute those of the vast majority of the country's adult population (Tessler: 2000). Their construction as a political generation and their role as agents of change, argues James Mattson, will not only affect Moroccan or Maghribi society but also the whole Arab world. Young Moroccans are also the backbone of a postcolonial society and an attempt to discern their structures of feeling provides us with an insight into the form of a problematic postcolonial consciousness. It is within this critical geo-political and socio-cultural framework that young Moroccans are placed here.

Young Moroccans and the Media

A 2003 survey conducted in Morocco (Sabry 2003), targeting one thousand Young Moroccans (YMs) from different social strata, demonstrates that 99 percent of the households in urban Morocco have television. The survey data also showed a massive increase in access to satellite technology. Eighty percent of the respondents said they had satellite at home. Research conducted by Hassan Smili in 1995 shows that only 7 percent of Moroccan households had access to the satellite (Smili 1995: 39). The chart also shows a clear case of stratification in access to media technology among respondents. (See Appendix for chart and explanation of categories.) Where 80 percent of the respondents from category A said they had access to a household computer, only 18 percent from category D and 16 percent from category E said they did. As for the Internet, 47 percent from category A had access to home Internet, where only 11 percent from category C2, 8 percent from category D, and 3 percent from category E said they did. In relation to satellite access, 100 percent of the respondents from categories A and B had access to household satellite but only 63 percent from category E had such access. Only 3 percent of respondents from categories C2, D, and E said they had no access to a home television, which makes television by far the most common form of entertainment for respondents.

The survey also shows YMs have a clear preference for Western media texts. Chart 2 shows that female respondents consume far more Arabic programmes than male respondents. These include mainly Egyptian films and soap opera. It also illustrates that female respondents consume far less Moroccan programmes than male respondents and that almost an equal amount of male and female respondents prefer Western programmes. Only 28 percent of respondents liked to watch Moroccan programmes. The chart demonstrates that Western programmes are most popular with respondents, followed by Arabic programmes (mainly Egyptian film and soap). Moroccan programmes are least popular with respondents, only 19.6 of male and 9.2 of female respondents saying they were preferable to Western and Arabic programmes. 

The data also emphasises the unpopularity of TVM (First Moroccan National channel) among both male and female respondents. Only 15 percent of male and 18 percent of female respondents watched TVM, whereas 85 percent of male and 82 percent of female respondents watched the Moroccan commercial channel 2M. Launched in 1989, 2M was the first private commercial channel in Africa and the Arab world. In 1998, only 40 percent of 2M's programmes were broadcast in Arabic, the remainder being broadcast in French (Majdoul 1999: 58). Below are two tables: one contains a one day running schedule for TVM, the other the schedule for 2M. Please note the broadcast languages and nature of the programmes.

Table 1: TVM, timetable for 19th of May 2002

Time / Program / Language 
7.00 a.m. / Koran recital / Arabic
7.15 / News / Arabic
7.30 / Cartoons / Arabic (dubbed)
9.00 / Documentary / Arabic (dubbed)
9.30 / Cartoons/ Arabic (dubbed)
11.00 / Children's / Programme / Arabic
11.15 / Folklore / Arabic
12.00 p.m. / Economic program / Arabic
12.30 Sport / Program / Arabic
13.00 / News / Arabic
13.15 / Cooking / programme / Arabic
13.45 / Morocco In Your Hands / Arabic
14.15 / News / Tamazight
14.30 / Documentary / Arabic (dubbed)
14.45 / Inspector "Rocker" / Arabic (dubbed)
15.30 / Football / Arabic
17.30 / Documentary / Arabic (dubbed)
18.00 / News / Spanish
18.15 / Music Clips / Arabic, French and English
19.00 / News / French
19.15 / Art program / Arabic
20.00 / Main News / Arabic
20.45 / Parliamentary issues / Arabic
21.00 / Series "PSE" Factor / French 
23.00 / News / Arabic
23.45 / Andalusian Music / Arabic
12.45 / End of Transmission / Arabic (Koran Recital)
(Source, Al-Ahdath al-Maghribiyya: 19-05-2002)
*Morocco' s highest-circulation daily newspaper

We should note that TVM dedicates only 15 minutes in a whole day's broadcasting to an Amazigh (Berber) programme. It is also important to note that this dedicated broadcasting space is a news programme, accommodating three different Amazigh dialects, each of which is allocated five minutes of daily broadcast time.

Table 4: 2M, timetable for the 19th of May 2002

Time / Program / Language 
6.45 a.m. / Koran Recital / Arabic
6.55 / Documentary: Sea Treasures / French
7.20 / Cartoons / French
7.35 / Cartoons / French
7.55 / "All dogs go to paradise" / French
8.05 / Film / French
8.30 / Documentary / French
8.50 / Cartoons / French
9.40 / Hercules V Ares / French
10.00 / Travel program / French
10.50 / Cybernet "Magazine" / French
11.10 / Simpsons / French
11.35 / Sports Action: NBA / French
12.15 / Turbo: Car Program / French
12.45 / News / Arabic
13.10 / Arts Program / French
13.45 / Music / French
14.00 / News / French
14.05 / Sport / French
16.20 / News / Arabic
16.25 / Soap: Top Model / French
17.20 / Film: Melrose Black / French
18.00 / Series: H / French
19.30 / News / French
20.00 / News of the Week / French
20.20 / Sport Programme / French
20.50 / Interview / French
21.15 / Film: la Suspé Ideal / French
21.55 / News / Arabic
22.20 / Series: Soprano / French
1.10 a.m. / NBA (Basket ball) / French
2.10 / News / French
2.30 / Series: Profiler / French
3.15 / News / Arabic
3.35 / Documentary / French
4.20 / Cinema, cinema, cinema / French
4.45 / Turbo: Cars / French
5.15 / Documentary / French
6.10 / Documentary / French
(Source: Al-Ahdath al-Maghribiyya, 19-05-2002)
* Morocco's highest circulation daily newspaper

It is clear from these two schedules that Moroccan television is saturated with Western programmes. Apart from the 11 minutes of Koran recital at the beginning of the broadcasting schedule and the 1.45 hours Arabic news, the remainder of 2M's 24-hour running schedule on May 19, 2002 was all broadcast in French. The contents of these tables begs a pressing question: If the media play a big role in nation building, as we learn from Scannell and Cardiff's work in The History of Broadcasting in Britain(1991), what kind of a nation are the Moroccan media, 2M especially, in the process of building? The reader is reminded that only 15 percent of male respondents and 18 percent of female respondents watched TVM, whereas 85 percent of male and 82 percent of female respondents watched 2M. To put another question, what kind of an audience is 2M targeting if 65 percent of the Moroccan population is illiterate, and if a substantial amount of those who are literate (in Arabic) cannot read in French?

Young Moroccans, the Thereness of the West, and the Mobility of the Immobile

Survey data demonstrated that 80 percent of respondents wanted to emigrate. Of these, 50 percent wanted to emigrate permanently and 30 percent said they wanted to emigrate temporarily. More than 95 percent of respondents chose "the West" as a desired migratory destination. Seventeen percent of respondents did not specify their desired migratory destination. Of those who did, 26 percent wanted to emigrate to the United States (the most desirable destination by far), 22 percent wanted to emigrate to France, 5 percent to Canada, 4.5 percent to Spain, 3 percent to Italy, 3.5 percent to Australia, and 1.5 percent to Japan.(4) Only 1.5 percent of the respondents said they wanted to emigrate to Saudi Arabia, and less than 1 percent said they wanted to emigrate to the Emirates.

To my mortification, I confess that I have only used the word "mobility" perhaps once in my life. I have, of course, used similar terms to describe different kinds of movement, such as migration, emigration, burning (5), but hardly ever mobility. Today "mobility" is used to explain different aspects of the human condition -- modernity, postmodernity, globalization -- and there are layers upon layers of discourses of "mobility" -- the physical, the social, the political, and so on. However, physical "mobility" as a category is seldom questioned or problematized. Is our world truly one of "mobility," as many cultural theorists from the West suggest (cf. Appadurai 1996)? What is often unspoken in discourses of "mobility" in the Western academy is the very immobility or perhaps immobilities of the "other" who resides outside the boundaries of Fortress Europe and the US. Mobility of people from developing countries to Western industrialised societies is considerably marginal because of visa restrictions imposed by the West. Since 9/11, restrictions on young Muslim youths have especially become stringent. Five hundred Moroccans drown every year trying to cross to Spain. To this, we must add hundreds of young people from Algeria and sub-Saharan countries. "Mobility," which so many Western scholars take for granted, is sadly a prize for which "the wretched of the earth" are prepared to die. As one young Moroccan told me, "I'd rather a shark than stay in Morocco." The seldom asked question is, "Whose mobility are we talking about?" Most of the world's poor, and the poor outnumber the rich, simply cannot afford to be mobile. So, drawing a picture of a globalized world, characterised by mobility, is dangerously occidental and must be questioned. We ought to also be concerned with the structures of immobilities, which extend from physical to mental (symbolic) trajectories. While undertaking ethnographic research in Morocco, I asked a young Casablancan from the working class where the West was. He answered, relaxing his tongue, "Lheaaaaah," Moroccan colloquial for "there." If the phonetics were translated, the word would sound like "theeeeeeere." The utterance "there," indicating the west as "there," has connotations that are deeply seated in Moroccan popular imagination. The "thereness" of the West here does not here merely signify distance or location, but also and most importantly "unreacheablity" -- the geographic, economic, and cultural unreacheablity of the West. This can be said not only of young Moroccans but of most developing world youth. Europe is for many of them both desirable and unreachable.

Europe, as Ang and Morley argued, "is not just a geographical site, it is also an idea: an idea inextricably linked with the myth of Western civilisation, and its implications not only of culture but also of colonialism" (Ang and Morley 1989: 133). Fortress Europe may be closing its borders, but Europe's mental geography is, thanks to transnational communications, borderless. In fact, it is a welcoming one! The West's mental geography ceaselessly invites others to cross its borders, whereas its physical geography is ceaselessly trying to get rid of, and cleanse its home from unwanted dirt.

Using qualitative focus groups and participant observation material conducted in Morocco, the remainder of this discussion will look at the ways in which the flow of Western media texts in Morocco has allowed the emergence of different symbolic migratory trajectories. To make sense of how young Moroccans decode the Western media text, I stop to explore the composition of their "structure of feeling."

Relocating the Term "Structure of Feeling" within a Postcolonial Context

What do I mean when I refer to the young Moroccan's "structure of feeling"? I am aware of Raymond Williams's use of the term, defined in The Long Revolution as "the culture of a period: it is the particular living result of all the elements in the general organization . . . I think it is a very deep and a very wide possession, in all actual communities, precisely because it is on it that communication depends" (1961: 64-65). What does the term "structure of feeling" mean if detached from its Western context and applied to the postcolonial? I use the term "structure of feeling" differently to Raymond Williams, i.e., in a context where the structure of feeling is not merely the result of dynamics inherent to one culture, one "general organization," one "culture of a community" or one "culture of a period," but is used rather in the context where "structure of feeling" is the product of a dialectical interaction between two different sets of cultural "general organizations." I also use it where its context is best described not only as the product of the "culture of a period," but also as the product of an interaction between two different cultural temporalities. For young Moroccans, structures of feeling were explored vis-à-vis their conceptions of two worlds, namely, (a) their understanding, conceptions and feelings vis-à-vis their tradition, society, and culture, and (b) their feelings and conceptions of and about the "other," here, the West, and Western modernity. I do not content myself with studying elements of the two "general organizations" separately. Further, I explore the dialectical relationship and dynamics resulting from their inter-relation and intersection. It is the relationship between at least two repertoires -- Moroccan "culture"/Islam and Western modernity -- that form young Moroccans' structure of feeling. The interaction between these two worlds and ways in which they are cultivated, felt, and conceived by the young Moroccan give rise to a complex set of dynamics, among which is his/her desire to be different in the world. This desire is predetermined by the cultivation and co-existence of two cultural temporalities in the young Moroccan's mind. His/her desire to be different in the world results from his/her conception of the constituent parts making up their structure of feeling about the world. In other words, their desire to be different is triggered by the existence of an "alternative" cultural temporality or what presents itself as an alternative to him/her through the globalised Western media text. A desire to be different in the world is also a revolt, a kind of rebellion, as it is a genuine desire to replace one structure of feeling about the world and being in it by another. So, a desire to be different in the world only can be fulfilled through the existence and communication of a different structure of feeling as an alternative. This desire is, paradoxically, also a desire to be like and similar in the world. Difference here also means and translates into likeness.

The Mental Migratory Trajectory and Its Points of Reference

What I am offering is a modest attempt, perhaps a preliminary introduction, to the structure and nature of mental emigration's symbolic trajectory and the problems that have arisen as a consequence of my attempt to examine and rationalise its dynamics. Mental emigration is a lived experience and as such is a social phenomenon. It is a postcolonial condition that dwells in the mind of the young Moroccan who is also a microcosm of the young Muslim. Mental emigration is a state of mind and a structure of "feeling" about the world, not necessarily felt by the anthropologist, social scientist, or student of cultural imperialism but experienced by the mental emigrant proper. When Knadi, a young Moroccan, says he feels Western music in his blood and it makes him feel as though he were there (in the West), only he truly knows what he means and what it feels like. The same could be said about the young Moroccan who said, "Our blood is Moroccan, but the outside is Western." Mental emigration is a structure of "feeling" about the world and an active desire to be different in it. This "feeling" can only be partly understood by observing, talking to, and sometimes befriending the mental emigrant. It is consequential to massive penetration of Western culture, cumulatively absorbed and cultivated by young Moroccans through Western carriers of meaning. Mental emigration is the product of globalization but is distinct from it. In other words, it is not a surrogate or a different terminology for globalisation, for it is its product. This is a fundamental epistemological distinction. It must be added that mental emigration, is also the product of problems internal to Morocco, e.g. authoritarianism and poverty, as well as the cultural vacuum for which the media are largely to blame.

Mental emigration is also a rich and complex cultural space accommodating different, and at times contradictory, problematic structures of feeling about the world, and describing it therefore merely as a negative social phenomenon, the object of which is the ceaseless erosion and colonisation of consciousness, would in several ways be misleading. As evidence from fieldwork shows, mental emigration is also perceived by many young Moroccans as a means of change, emancipation, and, most importantly, as an "alternative" to hegemonic cultural practices inherent to Moroccan society. It is this paradox that makes the assessment and examination of mental emigration as a social phenomenon problematic. On one hand, it promises change and emancipation and, on the other, it is, as channels of resistance embodied by young Islamists argue, a serious threat to young Moroccans' heritage, identity, and consciousness. The problematic nature of this symbolic trajectory is further problematised by the complex structure of its points of reference: departure and destination.

Mental, like physical, emigration takes place within a trajectory with these two reference points of departure and destination. In mental emigration, these are replaced by symbolic migratory reference points. It departs from cultural hegemonic practices inherent to Moroccan culture and heritage, with Islam as a major constituent, to ideas of freedom, emancipation, progress, and wealth deeply embedded in discourses of Western modernity. In turn, these emanate and are decoded from Western media texts. At no stage, however, is mental emigration total, and to argue otherwise would be an aberration. Young Moroccans may feel that Moroccan Arabic is inferior to French and consequently prefer to speak and read French, yet many still speak Moroccan Arabic most of the time. Young Moroccans may emigrate mentally from certain Islamic cultural practices, yet mental emigration does not eradicate these practices and they remain Muslim. Later in this discussion, I illustrate the variety and complexity of the different positions that can be adopted on this spectrum with examples from discussions with young Moroccans from different social groups. To argue that, for young Moroccans, mental emigration takes place from a fixed "discourse" of Islam to a fixed "discourse" of Western modernity would be misleading. It would be a simplification and a rarefaction of what is a far more contested and problematic phenomenon. What are my reasons for saying this? All require an examination more thorough than we have time or space to undertake, so only the major reasons are examined. The mental flight from Islam and its teachings to Western modernity is never total and perhaps never will be; rather, it happens at different levels.

How is it possible to mentally emigrate from Islam when the latter often has been manipulated as an ideological tool? The history of Morocco's makhzan (6) shows that Islam largely has been implemented, not so much to rule with justice (a fundamental prerequisite for ruling in Islam), but as an ideological tool, whose aim has been the gaining and maintenance of power (see Munson 1993). Furthermore, Al Jabri argues that the absence of rules for the public sphere has created a deep asymmetry in the whole Islamic legal system and "made it a means of submission to the ruler rather than for control of political power" (Al Jabri in Ansari 1998, 169). In the same vein, Islam lived and experienced by the ordinary Moroccan differs from that preached by the 'alim (theologian), the Islamist, or that rationalised by the secular Muslim philosopher. All arguments made here point to the fact that Islam, as a symbolic "repertoire" is not fixed. Mental emigration can in this context only take place from one kind of hermeneutics or use of Islam and not Islam per se. To problematise mental emigration's trajectory further, it is important, in assessing its symbolic reference points -- Islamic culture and Western modernity -- not to perceive them as being two entirely oppositional historical entities, which would be an aberration. Arab Islamic civilisation, argues Al Jabri, was not merely a link between Greek and European civilizations, but also a reworking and a reproduction of Greek culture. Al Jabri insists: "The presence of Arab-Islamic culture in international European cultural history was not a mere temporary intermediate; its presence was that of a necessary and crucial constituent" (Al Jabri 1991: 48). This argument blurs the line between modernity and Islamic "repertoires" and places them, culturally at least, within the same parameter of human heritage.

With all these problematics in mind, rather than arguing that mental emigration takes place from a fixed discourse of Islam/Moroccanness to a fixed discourse of modernity, it is far more sensible to argue that mental emigration occurs from specific principles inherent in Islam's "repertoire" to other principles intrinsic to Western modernity's "repertoire." This rationalisation can be authenticated by many fieldwork examples.

Western Modernity as a "Structure of Feeling"

Dealing with Western modernity as both a discourse and symbolic migratory reference point is equally problematic. My intention here is neither to draw a sociological analysis of the meaning of Western modernity, nor to repeat what has already been said and written. Rather, my intention is to explore Western modernity in the light of different structures of feelings, as expressed by young Moroccans from different socio-cultural strata. To emigrate mentally to the West is to emigrate to the West inside Morocco and therefore expand the mental geography and the repertoire of the West and its project of Western modernity. However young Moroccans' readings of Western modernity were not uniform; they varied according to differences in socio-economic and cultural strata. I have classified young Moroccans' readings of Western modernity as those of negotiation, incoherent acceptance, coherent acceptance, and coherent rejection.

The "Socialist" Group: Negotiating Western Modernity

Socialist youth are not socialists per se, but are active young members affiliated to the Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires party, many members of which are now in government. The ones I spoke to do not aspire to Morocco becoming a socialist country, but rather an open democratic country where freedoms (social and media) and human rights are respected and corruption is controlled. The core of both discussions held in the socialist youth hall in the working class area of Medina centred on the state of Moroccan media and meanings of Western modernity emanating from Western media texts. There was a clear emphasis on the issue of freedom, which I believe is well encapsulated by the confrontation that took place between Siham, a Westernized, modern young Moroccan woman, and Zeinab, a female Islamist, also a member of the Socialist Youth. The confrontation between Siham and Zeinab symbolises a rupture inherent to the cultural structure of Moroccan society. One part aspires to join the modern world and enjoy its freedoms; the other adheres to tradition and Islamic teachings, which it claims promise a different and higher stage of emancipation. One sees Western modernity as an alternative to cultural hegemonic practices inherent in Moroccan society; the other sees Western modernity as a sickness and a threat to the Moroccans' collective consciousness. Here I concentrate on the American sitcom Friends.

What emerged from comments made by participants from the socialist group about their consumption of Friends is a complex set of dynamics, symptomatic of a postcolonial country coexisting in a postcolonial spatio-temporality and caught, like many previously colonised Islamic countries, between two sets of cultural dynamics: tradition and Western modernity, mental colonisation and mental de-colonization. The extract below recounts a conversational confrontation between two female participants from the socialist group that highlights contradictions inherent to the structure of feeling of the young Moroccan.

Siham: "There's nothing such as a friendship between a man and woman in Morocco . . . I think this is wrong; men and women can enter relationships which are platonic . . . I do not think there's anything wrong with that . . . On the contrary, we will get to learn more about each other . . . That's why I think the relationships in Friends set a good example . . . I think it would be great to live with a man without having to marry him." (Siham, 25, Casablanca, 2000)

Zeinab (The only female participant wearing hijab): "But these sorts of programmes contradict our tradition and way of life. Islam teaches us to dress modestly and respectfully and not to wear mini skirts or reveal all that God gave us." (Zeinab, 22, Casablanca, 2000).

Siham: "How can I now suddenly wear the hijab after 25 years of Western influence? Young people are afraid of growing beards and talking about Islam . . . You say American and Western film has an influence on us. We take from the Americans. They never ask us to. They never impose things on us. I am going to be frank here, I will touch on a point many of my brothers and sisters ignored or are maybe shy to talk about . . . We are taught that to be true Muslims we have to wear the hijab, hide our head, our legs, and whatever maybe attractive to a man. We cannot have sex until we are married. Having sex beforehand is a big sin . . . Most of those who marry do so in their thirties (have to get good jobs first) . . . If you have a sexual relationship beforehand, society points its finger at you . . . Our society is against us, our tradition is clearly not helping so where do we go? . . . When young Moroccans consume Baywatch, their priorities become their human nature and not religion or Islamic culture."

The debate here revolves around two main issues -- the questions of cultural identity and of gender roles or male/female dynamics within Moroccan society. Before I engage with these two issues, I think it important to draw upon the mental migratory trajectory at hand by describing its structure and dynamics. Here we have a traditionalist or traditionalizer in the person of Zeinab, who throughout the focus group discussion was in conflict with Siham, a liberal "modern" Moroccan girl. The two participants embody different sets of dynamics. Where Zeinab embodies Islam and tradition, Siham embodies the West and its discourse of modernity. Siham draws on the meanings of Western modernity embedded in Friends to make her case against tradition and the Islamic cultural hegemonic practices intrinsic to Moroccan society. Siham's argument can be encapsulated in the following questions: How are we supposed to restrain our natural sexual urges in a changed society where, for economic reasons, women cannot marry until they are in their thirties? What happens between our teens and thirties? Siham proposes the relationship models in the American series as an alternative to hegemonic Islamic practices.

In a social study (Mernissi 1975) examining anomic effects of modernisation on male/female dynamics in Moroccan society, Mernissi came to the following conclusion:

I believe that sexual segregation, one of the main pillars of Islam's social control over sexuality, is breaking down. And it appears to me that the breakdown of sexual segregation allows the emergence of what the Muslim order condemns as a deadly enemy of civilisation-love between men and women in general, and between husband and wife in particular (Mernissi 1975, 58).

Desegregation has increased in Moroccan society since the 1970s. Men no longer dominate Moroccan society's entire public space. Women represent more than 30 percent of the workforce in urban Morocco; they inhabit the same space as men at work, in colleges, universities, the beach, the swimming pool, the café, the discothèque, cinema, and so on. The only conspicuous places where men and women are segregated are the mosque and the Turkish bath. This change, a product of both local and external factors, has managed to break down Islamic control over sexuality. With this breakdown comes a kind of sexual frustration, confirmed by Siham's propounding of the relationship model in Friends as an alternative to fixed hegemonic Islamic cultural particularities: "I'd love to live with a man without having to marry him" said Siham. It is crucial to add that what Siham is negotiating through her comments is not only the right to sex before marriage, which incidentally happens behind closed doors, but also, most importantly, a removal of the taboo of sex before marriage so that it becomes, as in Friends , the norm. Siham calls for the normalisation of sex before marriage. She wants a society where she could have sex before marriage without society pointing the finger at her.

Zeinab's position as a traditionalist and a traditionalizer is undermined by Siham's outcry for what she, Siham, believes is her natural right. The Friends model, regardless of Zeinab's attempt at traditionalising, remains for most participants a better alternative to Islamic traditional hegemonic practices. This shift represents a mental emigration from one set of values to another. It is a trajectory from the wisdom of Islam and its teachings to a wisdom emanating from the American model -- through Friends -- of Western modernity. What comes from the popular Western media text Friends is, Siham argues, an "alternative" to the traditional male/female dynamics at play within Moroccan society. Zeinab, the female traditionalist, who questioned the version of modernity championed by Siham, argued that modernity and our desire to be free in the world are not inherently Western characteristics, but are innate to all human beings.

The Ait Nuhians and the Incoherent Acceptance of Western Modernity

It is by harsh economic reality and long-term cumulative exposure to Western media texts and their contacts with Amazigh émigrés living in France that young, largely illiterate, residents of the small douar of Ait Nuh in the Atlas Mountains (population about 270) construct their structure of feeling about Western modernity. Their poverty and lack of education encourage young Ait Nuhians to see the promise of the wealth, comfort, and luxury they so desperately desire in Western modernity. It is important that I revisit a comment made by a young Ait Nuhian since it illustrates not only a young Ait Nuhians' structure of feeling about the world, but also, and most importantly here, structure of feeling about Western modernity.

"Those who emigrated from here left here looking brown came back with a different colour … Their faces look whiter. They brought with them new expensive cars, clothes…They bought more land and opened shops in the city …" (Ahmed, 22, Ait Nuh 2001)

For the young Ait Nuhian, Western modernity manifests itself as a promise of happiness wholly built on and motivated by the possession and accumulation of material luxury goods like cars, money, new Western clothes, shops, businesses, etc. This kind of mental emigration, brought about by capitalism and its culture, has not only altered the young Ait Nuhians' structures of feelings about their world and their position within it, but has also transformed their very world by altering its pre-capitalist social structure. Those from the douar (7) who emigrated to the land of the Eromen (8), have come back looking different, looking like the Eromenseen on television -- white, modern, free and prosperous. This has had a destabilising effect on what could be described as the previous "socialist social structure" of the douar, not previously motivated by wealth or material possessions so much as by structures of care, trust, and play. The "émigrés are dogs, they are racists" said two angry young Ait Nuhians. The Ait Nuhian émigrés are all shockingly, in one way or another, related to both angry Ait Nuhians. Young Ait Nuhians are aware of the change taking place and of what has caused it. Nonetheless, their aspirations to become as rich as, if not richer than, the émigré and his family are undiminished. For many young Ait Nuhians, this is the dream of Western modernity, and its realisation many believe will, regardless of difficulties, only happen if they cross the border, to the land of the Eromen.

The Middle Class Group and the Coherent Acceptance of Western Modernity

For the middle class group, whose members have all been raised in a liberal milieu, Western modernity is not perceived as a threat or problem, but as a way of life. As Moulay, a young Moroccan from Gautier, a Europeanized quarter of Casablanca, commented, "We live in Morocco, but the way we speak, dress and everything else is European." Young people from this group are introduced to Western modernity through French, which they are taught in private schools from the age of 4 or 5. Their life style is liberal in several ways. These characteristics are very uncommon among the Moroccan working class, which remains largely traditional. As a young female Islamist argued, "I think those from bourgeois backgrounds are most likely to develop a Western way of life because they can afford it and have already been brought up in a Western liberal environment" (Casablanca 2001).

Western modernity is neither alien nor alienating for the young people of Gautier: they are brought up in it and it is part of their experience. Ironically, what they find alien and alienating is their own language, religion, and culture. Young people from this group referred to local languages: Tamazight (8) classical Arabic, and Moroccan Arabic, as uncivilised and passé, championing French as the language of civilisation and "style." Data from the focus groups show that of all subgroups, the middle class group is the largest consumer of Western media texts, whether news or entertainment. The survey (Sabry 2003) demonstrated that respondents from the upper middle and middle classes were by far the most prolific consumers of Western media texts. Sixty-seven percent of respondents from the upper middle classes and 49 percent from the middle classes said they preferred Western programs to Arabic and Moroccan programmes. The survey also showed that no respondents from the upper middle classes watched TVM, Iqra (the privately owned Saudi religious satellite channel) and al-Manar (the Islamic Lebanese channel). These characteristics qualify the young people of Gautier to be mental emigrants par excellence. Their dislocation and detachment from local culture and experience, which they perceive as uncivilised, makes them strangers in their own country. Western modernity is for them not merely a way of life, but a tool, one which they use to establish their cultural superiority over the "ordinariness" of Moroccan working class culture. Amin referred to the working classes as "dirt," while Farid referred to young people living in the Medina, a working class quarter, as hbash "savages."

The Middle Classes and the Language Factor

One of the main reasons why young Moroccans prefer to be seen and heard speaking French rather than Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, or Tamazight is because they believe these languages to be culturally inferior to French. Besides this "cultivated" complex, there are other practical reasons, as Gallagher suggests:

It may be stated flatly that in Morocco today the non-French-speaking candidate has no chance of getting a good government job or advancing himself in any ministry except those of Justice, Religious Affairs, or in specialised functions in the Interior (police work) or Education. High level posts in key ministries like Foreign Affairs, Commerce and Industry, Planning, Public Health, Defense . . . and Agriculture, as well as in the many specialised offices dealing with production and technical matters, are virtually closed to the monolingual Arabophone, not to mention jobs in important commercial or industrial enterprises in private business" (Gallagher 1968: 143 as quoted in Bentahila 1983: 15).

Gallagher's analysis is now perhaps even more true than when it was first written. Since then, there has been no strategic, structural change in the way Moroccan institutions operate. Today's Morocco, as a market, is even more open to capitalist forces. It has attracted many European and American businesses where business is done not in Arabic, but in French and English, and where the demand is not for monolingual Arabophone labor but for Francophone and Anglophone labor. This is one of the main reasons why the Moroccan bourgeoisie teaches its children French from a very early age and sends them to expensive schools with a heavy emphasis on French and not Arabic. Working class families who cannot afford these schools and their children therefore continue to be disadvantaged. This disequilibrium deepens the stratification of Moroccan society and produces a culture reducing Arabic, ironically, the language of science even in Europe until the fifteenth century, to an irrelevance. Language is an indispensable constituent of culture, for with language, culture expresses its experience, and creates and grows. A culture where the common language is subordinate or perceived by its people as such is doomed to stagnation, if not to cultural suicide. The subordination of Moroccan and classical Arabic in Morocco has deepened the stratification of its society into a crude and a dangerous cultural rupture -- that between the Moroccan perceived as an Arubi "uncultured" speaker of Moroccan Arabic or Tamazight, and that of al-Alipa -- "Moroccan high society" -- speaking French. To be modern in Morocco has become partly linked to being able to speak and read French, not Arabic, and where French is perceived as "une langue civilisee," Arabic has taken the rear seat and became the language of the non-modern or those yet to embrace modernity. French in Moroccan society is also perceived as the language of "prestige and prosperity," whereas Arabic as the language of "poverty and the past" (Gassous in Bentahila 1983: 28). As Gellner observed, "I believe the impact of French culture in North Africa to be profound and permanent…In his heart, the North African knows not merely that God speaks Arabic, but also that modernity speaks French" (Gellner in Bentahila 1983: 15).

The Islamist Group and the Coherent Rejection of Western Modernity

The Islamist group, unlike the rest of the subgroups, had a good overall knowledge of the world's geopolitics. For most of them, Western modernity is, with the exception of one female participant, a kind of sickness, a threat to Islam and its culture, and so a threat to the Moroccan's consciousness, culture, and identity. They perceived Western modernity as the culture of capitalism, imperialism, and globalisation, a culture erected on the principles of an unjust economic system, which is both reifying and alienating. As a young female Islamist remarked, "For me the West conveys silb (from Arabic, adj. silbi, meaning "negative." It is also from the verb salaba, meaning to deprive or deny someone something) because the West has denied us so many things: our youth, our identity, and our culture … I understand the West as meaning silb, silb in the negative sense" (Casablanca 2001).

Young Islamists saw Western modernity as a coherent, historical, and organised attack on Islam and its civilization, deploying both coercive and non-coercive methods to annihilate and humiliate a part of the world, which, they argue, refuses to bow down to the West's imperialist motives. Their critique of Western modernity extends to Morocco and its media, which they believe have become an extension of the West. They thus see the threat of Western modernity as being both external and internal: "There's nothing worth watching . . . . Nothing broadcast is relevant to our realities . . . and this surely is intentional. 2M reproduces Western discourses . . . . It is mainly broadcast in French and I think it has cheated Moroccan people out of their culture." (Casablanca 2001)

Islamists perceived the Moroccan ruling classes as collaborators of the West and its project. They argue that Morocco is ruled by Francophiles who serve capitalism and its culture and deepen the Moroccan people's dislocation and alienation from their culture and heritage. In their critique of Moroccan media, Islamists argued that, rather than working towards creating an alternative to discourses of modernity emanating from Western media texts, the Moroccan ruling classes use the media to annihilate Islam's heritage and reproduce discourses of Western hegemony. The Islamist group's position with regard to Western modernity and its discourses is thus one of resistance and coherent rejection. But is this enough? In their attempt to resuscitate a golden Islamic renaissance, most young Islamists emigrate mentally back to a past, an historico-cultural temporality, which they idealise and present as the only "true" alternative to Western modernity's ambivalent project. In so doing, they tend to articulate questions of the present with answers from the past, thus creating a rupture, if not a confusion, within their cultural temporality. It is only through reconciling the past with the present that a future cultural temporality that is conscious of itself can materialise. Resistance alone is, therefore, not enough. It has to be coupled with a search for the present cultural tense, which is by the way not lost but there for the making.

Concluding Remarks

Using ethnography to make sense of a new type of migration - mental emigration - as an effect of globalization has certainly yielded more complexity than clarity. I have shown how the mental trajectory from the "repertoire" of Islam/Moroccanness to that of Western modernity is not complete, in that it did not take place from one symbolic reference point to another, but from specific characteristics inherent in one repertoire to specific characteristics inherent in another. I have also attempted to show that cultural "effect" is the product of dialectical interactions between at least two "cultural organizations" and two cultural temporalities coexisting within the same spatiality. I have categorized different Moroccan groups' reactions to Western modernity as those of negotiation, incoherent acceptance, coherent acceptance, and coherent rejection. Islamists, who represent a very small part of Moroccan society, were by far the most critical of the West and modernity. For them, the West's significations that are communicated through the Western media text, e.g., freedom and democracy are mere discourses that mask other negative Western significations, such as imperialism, domination, and interests. The young Islamists here are convinced that Islam has far more to offer than Western modernity. Most importantly, they are convinced of Islam's interpretation of happiness, which they argue is based not on greed, consumerism, and the accumulation of capital but on equality, modesty, and spirituality. The dominant reading of the West and Western modernity by young Moroccans, however, remains largely positive. For some, it is a utopia for which they are prepared to die. Can the symbolic model of "mental emigration" be generalised to explore other dynamics of mental mobility and subjectification in different cultural contexts? As for couscous and the Couscoussière, well, what happens to them is the toughest of questions and will, I am afraid, remain so. But whatever you do, please don't ever tell a Moroccan that Tunisians or Algerians make better couscous!


1. The latter is a geographic space; usually an over-populated urban space where people, largely from the working classes, share a strong sense of community and belonging. The Derb is also a socio-cultural space that reflects everyday experience. It is the product of material realities inherent to Moroccan society. Its existence can be attributed to different factors. Here I will content myself with describing two main ones, one economic, the other cultural. The practice of standing by the Derb — which is more common in working class areas — is largely due to the problem of unemployment. Many unemployed young Moroccans from the Casablancan working classes cannot afford to go to cafés or other recreational spaces and therefore choose to stand or sit by the Derb for most of the day. The second factor is cultural and it is inextricably linked to the previous one. Being unemployed means being dependent on parents, which in turn implies living under the same roof with them. Here the Derbas a social space offers the young, unemployed or student, an outlet, a space in which cultural hegemonic practices, imposed by the elderly, can be and often are broken. Derb is also a patriarchal space, as only men may occupy it (see Sabry 2005). 
2. Moroccan name for Westerners.
3. See Sparks’ article: “What is wrong with Globalization?”
4. It is important to note that the survey was conducted before 9/11 and the subsequent events and that therefore the US may not still be the most desirable migratory destination among young Moroccans.
5. From the Arabic word harrag, literally meaning “burner.” The latter word has become a very common and recurrent word in everyday talk in Moroccan popular culture. People I asked gave two interpretations of the word. According to one group a burner is someone who burns his passport and all his identity cards before emigrating illegally to a Western country, so that, if caught, his or her identity will not be revealed. The other group traces the etymology of the word to an historical event in 711 AD when Tariq Ibn Ziyad, an Amazigh general, burnt his fleet on approaching Spain, so that his army would have no choice but to fight to conquer Spain. At the rock of Gibraltar, Ibn Ziyad delivered his famous speech: “The enemy is in front of you and the sea is behind you. Where is there to run?” To “burn” in Moroccan popular talk is therefore a reference to a one-way journey where one attempts to enter a Western country illegally (see Sabry 2005). 
6. In his book Les Origines Sociales et Culturelles du Nationalisme Marocain (1977), Laroui distinguishes between two meanings of the makhzan: the first consists of social groups such as the Shurafa, Murabitin, Ulama, “intellectuals,” heads of the Zaweyas, army tribes, and all those who mediate between the Sultan and his ra’iya “subjects.” The second meaning of the makhzan is far more limited as it comprises the official apparatuses of the state such as the army and the bureaucracy, both of which function under the authority of the Sultan. 
7. Moroccan for “tribe.”
8. Amazigh for “Westerners.”
9. A Moroccan Amazigh dialect.


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Appadurai, A. (1990) “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy,” in Featherstone, M (ed.) Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization and Modernity, 295-310), London: Sage.

Augé, M. (1995) Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, London: Verso.

Baudrillard, J. (1983) In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, New York: Semiotext.

Bauman, Z. (1998) Globalisation, London: Polity Press.

Bentahila, A. (1983) Language Attitudes among Arabic-French Bilinguals in Morocco, Avon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Gassous, M. (1988) “Observations on Transformations in Contemporary Moroccan Popular Culture,” in Al-Thaqafa Al-Sha’biyya Ihda Raka’iz Wahdat al-Maghrib al-‘Arabi (pp. 33-56) (in Arabic) Kunitra: Manshurat al-Majlis al-Baladi.

Gellner, E. (1981) Muslim Society. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Laroui, A. (1977) Les Origines Sociales et Culturelles du Nationalisme Marocain. (in French) Paris: Maspero.

Mernissi, F. (1975) Beyond the Veil, Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society. London: John Wiley and Sons.

Munson, H. (1993) Religion and Power in Morocco, London: Yale University Press

Sabry, T (2005) “Emigration as Popular Culture: the Case of Morocco” in the Journal of European Cultural Studies Vol: 8 (1) pp: 5-22.

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Sartre, J.P. (1956) Being and Nothingness, New York: Pocket Books.

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Sparks, C. (2004) “What is Wrong with Globalization?” A paper presented at the conference “Epidemics and Transborder Violence: Communication and Globalization under a different Light,” Hong Kong, December 17-18.

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Focus Groups
1- Islamists (3x groups), Casablanca, 2000.
2- The socialist youth (2x focus groups), Casablanca, 2000.
3- Young Moroccans of Ait Nuh tribe (2x focus groups), Ait Nuh, 2000-2001.
4- Young Moroccans from the middle classes of Morocco (2x Focus groups), Casablanca, 2001.
5- Young Moroccans from the working class (2x Focus groups), Casablanca, 2000-2001


Information on the survey and the social categories: A, B, C1, C2, D, E.

Although a substantial number of young Moroccans were targeted by the survey and although it had a very good respondent success-rate (891 out of 1000), this survey does not claim to be representative of Morocco or even Casablanca. However, the survey was sampled so as to reflect social stratification within Casablanca. Six different colleges were targeted from different areas of Casablanca. As an example, Anfa School Groups, one of the most expensive private schools in Morocco, was targeted by the survey to reflect opinions and viewing habits among students who are brought up in and come from the upper middle classes of Moroccan society, whilst Ibn Toumart is a state-run Lyceé situated near the Old Medina, one of the poorest areas of Casablanca, and has thus been targeted to reflect opinions and viewing habits of students who come mainly from a working class background. I have used the demographic category ‘A’ to refer to Anfa and ‘E’ to refer to Ibn Toumart. I have also used categories B, C1, C2, and D to reflect other socio-economic structures within Casablanca. It is important to note, however, that these social categories are only roughly approximate to social categories used in the West and might therefore not adapt correctly.

A: Upper middle class
B: Middle class
C1-C2: Poor middle class
D-E: Working class

Chart 2:

About Tarik Sabry

Tarik Sabry is a senior lecturer in Media and Communication at the University of Westminster (UK), where in 2003 he completed his PhD on the topic of media and migration. He has published on symbolic dimensions of migration and on popular culture in Morocco. He is a member of the Communication and Media Research Institute London and editor of a newly launched journal called Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture.

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