Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Morocco's Ben Barek, The Black Pearl of Soccer

Here is an article on Larbi Ben Barek, apparently one of the best soccer (football) players to ever live, and a Moroccan.


Morocco's Ben Barek, The Black Pearl of Soccer
Larbi Ben Barek c.1948
By George Fosty
Sr. Editor,
Boxscore News - New York
July 23, 2010

Known as "The Black Pearl," Larbi Ben Barek was the greatest soccer player of his time - perhaps of all time. Unfortunately, because of the lack of press coverage and visual film records, we will never know the full extent of his greatness. Yet, what we do know is quite revealing.

For those who saw him play, he was simply miraculous. Described as "a true artist, a master of the dribble and the feint, as subtle as a cat and always marvelously relaxed," it is said he was a sight to behold. An invaluable and rare find.

Born on June 14, 1914 in Casablanca, Morocco, by the age of fourteen Ben Barek was playing center midfield for the FC El Ouatrane de Casablanca. After two-years with El Ouatrane, Ben Barek joined the Ideal Club Casablanca where he played from 1930-34. From Ideal he moved over to US Marocaine, another Casablanca based club, wherein he played four more years.

His incredible ability and achievements did not go unnoticed. In 1938, the twenty-four year old signed with Olympique de Marseille of the French League becoming the first African-Arab to play professional soccer in Europe. Ben Barek was an immediate sensation in Marseille playing thirty games and scoring ten goals, along the way helping the Olympique claim runner-up status in the French League Championships. His outstanding play resulted in his being named to the 1938 French National Team.

In subsequent years, he would continue to represent France internationally, playing in nineteen internationals between 1938-1954 and scoring a total of three goals.

We do not know how much abuse, both physical and emotional, Ben Barek endured in the French League due to his cultural origins or the color of his skin. Apparently, it was enough, however, to earn him the respect of those who saw him play; summed up in the statement 'he was only suspended twice during the entirety of his playing career.'

When you are the best player on the field you can expect to draw the notice and special attention of the opposition and their fans. When you are the first African-Arab professional in European soccer, not only are you prone to be noticed, but you can also expect to be a target simply for being the symbol and person that you are. Symbolism is a powerful element in any human endeavor. It is magnified, taking on a structure and embodiment of its own, in sports. Surely, this was the case with Ben Barek and his time in France.

In September 1939, with the outbreak of World War Two, Ben Barek left Marseille, returning to his native Casablanca. The war had caused the cancellation of the French League season and therefore, Ben Barek resumed play with US Marocaine. Following the military defeat of France, in the Summer of 1940, he remained in Casablanca continuing to play for Marocaine, only returning to France at the end of the war in late 1945.

In the Fall of 1945 Ben Barek began play for Paris' Stade Francais, F.C. of the French First Division. He played four-seasons with Stade scoring forty-three goals in sixty-three games. In 1948, he again moved, this time to Spain, signing what would subsequently be a five-year contract with Atletico Madrid. While with Atletico his play and production would be impressive, as he scored fifty-six goals in one-hundred-and-thirteen games.

Atletico's signing of Ben Barek had not been easy. Ben Barek was a star in France and Atletico paid top dollar - a total of 8 Million French Francs for his services. The Spanish Press, in their cleverness, nicknamed him 'The Foot Of God." On the surface, it was a seemingly complimentary and glorious way to credit him for his tremendous scoring skills, yet it was also a two-edged sword, one that could also be intended as a backhanded insult.

The Spanish understood the Arab mindset and realized the significance of describing Arab-Africa's greatest soccer player as a lowly 'foot' or 'shoe.' It was a way to denigrate the entire culture all-the-while seemingly bestowing praise on its most famous and successful Son. For in Arab culture, the foot is the lowest part of the human body. It is the point that touches the ground. This symbolism is at the heart of Arab culture going back centuries. At the same time, the foot is the most important element in the game of soccer -thus the double entendre.

Taken into context with the time and complexity of Spanish colonial dealings in Arab Morocco, the nickname becomes a profound and calculating symbol of the ongoing friction between the European and Arab cultures in terms of each group's cultural beliefs. The World is a complex entity. This complexity often reveals itself in the most simplistic ways. In the case of Ben Barek and his time in Spain, it appears to have taken the form of a dual-meaning nickname. To understand this more, one must take the time to study Spanish-Moroccan history and the disdain that the Spanish had at the time for Moroccans and their culture.

In 1912, France effectively annexed Morocco by way of the Treaty of Fes. Later, that same year, coastal regions adjacent to Spain and Spanish-held islands in the Mediterranean were ceded by France over to Spanish control.This 'special arrangement' meant that the Morocco would be partitioned and governed as two separate colonial territories.

Under Spanish and French colonial governance, more than half-a-million Europeans immigrated to the territories effectively controlling all economic and political aspects of the culture and region. Within a generation, the native Arab population had been supplanted to such an extent that they were effectively unwelcomed in their own land.

This denigration of the locals created tensions and opposition to the French-Spanish rule, leading to a five year violent uprising (1921-1926) led by the Moroccan Berber leader Abd el-Krim. The Rif Rebellion, as it is referred to historically, was such a threat to the regions stability that before it was over, Spain would have to commit over a quarter-million troops just to create a military stalemate.

In 1953, at the age of thirty-six, Ben Barek returned to Marseille. He would remain with the Olympique for two-years playing in thirty-two games and scoring thirteen goals. In 1954, he again would lead the the Olympique to the French League Finals but would again be denied the Championship title. After leaving Marseille he signed on for one-season with Sidi-Ben-Abbes.

A year later, he would retire from the game as a player accepting the position of Head Coach of the Moroccan National Team. He would be the newly independent countries' first official soccer coach. He would step down a year later only to resume the coaching job in 1960. Not much is known of Ben Barek after his coaching career ended.

In the 1960's when the Brazilian star Pele was described by a reporter as the 'King of Soccer', he replied: "If I am the King of Soccer, then Larbi Ben Barek is the God of it." It was the greatest tribute ever bestowed on Ben Barek.

Over the next two decades the game of soccer forgot about Ben Barek. By the late 1980's he was a distant memory; a simple footnote in history. In fact, his story had become so obscure that he was not even mentioned in most World Cup soccer or player histories. It was as if he had never existed.

Ben Barack died on September 16, 1992 at his home in Casablanca. At the time of his passing, he was 78-years of age.

In 1998, six-years after his death, and seemingly embarrassed by the fact that he had never been awarded the recognition deserving of him, FIFA bestowed upon him their highest honor, the Order of Merit Award.

In presenting the award, he was described as "one of the finest players ever to represent France, his adopted country." Even as late as 1998, the soccer world still seemingly struggled to recognize Ben Barek for what he was, a Moroccan. Better it seemed to imply that he was an 'adopted Frenchman' than to acknowledge him as an Arab athlete.

Indicative of the ignorance the soccer elites displayed towards the man and his legacy was the fact that when celebrating his life, they apparently failed to record the correct date of his birth, claiming he had been born on June 16, 1917 rather than the actual date of June 14, 1914.

Even the number of times Ben Barek had represented France in international play was incorrectly cited at seventeen when in fact it was nineteen.

These historic mistakes or inaccuracies may not seem important to some, however, they speak volumes in terms of the Ben Barek legacy and soccer's failure to come to terms with the man and the symbolism of his accomplishments. How many athletes do you know would be honored void of one's correct birth date or a correct accounting of their sports statistics?

How unfortunate it is that Morocco's greatest gift to the legacy of modern sports - Larbi Ben Barek - has yet to be properly embraced, accepted, or celebrated in terms of his importance to world soccer and its history.

It has been said of Morocco, that it is possible to stand on its shoreline and see both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea at the same time. This unique country, rich in history and culture is, geographically speaking, a meeting place. A point where two powerful forces come together. It is a fitting symbol especially in terms of Arab-Western culture and sports. It is also a life lesson. A moment of true wonder. For if we were to stand back and reflect at the life of Larbi Ben Barek, much in the same manner that one would stand on a Moroccan shore, we would see clearly the greatness of his life and accomplishments. Only then would we realize, in soccer history, there is no such thing as a separate Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea as they are all one and the same.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Being a Paying Guest of King Muhammad

We post the following article with a bit of disturbed fascination. It comes from the Wall Street Journal and talks about a hotel built by M6, the current King of Morocco, near the royal palace in Marrakech. Prices range from 1,928 up to 38,552 per night. May the poor of Morocco forgive him. Ameen


Being a Paying Guest of the King
Morocco's ruler builds a palace—with rooms starting at $1,928 a night

Marrakech, Morocco

Once upon a time there was a young King of Morocco, who was said to be the seventh richest monarch in the world. King Mohammed VI ascended to the throne in 1999, descendant of more than a 1,000 years of sultans but, being a modern man, he drove his own car, championed women's rights and took only one wife.

Despite his many inherited palaces, he decided, a few years into his rule, to build yet another. For this magnificent place there was no budget, only the royal edict to make it the most beautiful example of Moroccan architecture in the world. It was handmade by 1,200 artisans using the best stones, marbles, tiles, silks, satins, beads, feathers and cedar. No one, to this day, knows how much it cost.

The Royal Mansour is finally finished, and this palace is for visitors—the kind that check in. In this hotel, Scheherazade would have found enough cozy corners in which to tell a different tale on a different divan every night.

The hotel doesn't plan to advertise and a Web site has yet to appear. It's a word-of-mouth hotel, and it is not cheap: Prices run from $1,928 a night for a one-bedroom riad (a traditional, three-story, Moroccan-style house), to $5,397 for a two-bedroom, or $38,552 for the almost 20,000-square-foot Riad d'Honneur.

The experience begins on the tarmac at the Marrakech airport when an arriving guest is whisked out of the line of weary travelers, led to a quiet room and offered sustenance while passports and baggage tags are collected. Within minutes one is escorted out of the airport into a discreet shiny black Mercedes. Well, fairly discreet. The bags are in the trunk and passports are returned inside the car. All this is done in reverse upon departure, bringing home the notion of what it really means to be staying, as it were, with a king.

A 15-minute ride brings into view the mammoth punctured walls of the old section of Marrakech in dark–orange ochre, the glorious color that is Morocco under an unsheltered sky. The Royal Mansour is just inside one of the gates, nestled up against the 13th-century city walls. The massive entry gate—a four-ton marvel of wood sculpted, then covered in bronze—opens like, well, Sesame.

During construction the king showed up one day at this gate, said "It's not big enough," and departed without entering. The gate is now about one-third bigger, and the hotel staff are still awaiting a first visit from the king. His extended family, however, have been frequent guests and are said to report to him daily by phone.

The hotel is designed like an old Moroccan city with winding paths lined with lily ponds and fountains that open suddenly into sunny squares of palm trees, brilliant bougainvillea and aromatic olive and lemon trees. The public spaces—lounges, bars, library, and restaurants—are built, as are the 53 accommodations, as riads with all rooms on all levels opening inwardly onto a courtyard and upwardly to an array of carved arches.

The reception is a place of both grand opulence and yet quiet understatement perfectly echoing the poetry of the entire place. The check-in desk looks like embroidered silver and behind it a towering wall of geometric arabesques in thick, double-layered white marble.

The rugs are woven suede and leather, the couches and chairs silk and velvet brocades, the crystal Lalique, Baccarat and Venetian, the swathed silk curtains harnessed by mother-of-pearl inlaid tiebacks. (My favorites are on the curtains framing the central entryway: huge, deep-red ostrich feathers flecked with gold silk tassels and red velvet—the history of the Folies Bergère in a single tassle.) The reception riad appears to float in the silence of the still water in the central fountains with the occasional chirp from a cage of pastel parakeets.

Each riad's ceramic tiling follows one of four color themes, including "vert-anis," a bright lime, the king's favorite color. The central courtyard's circular fountain is filled one morning with floating white roses and red carnations. The dining room, living room, small kitchen and another pillowy gathering area surround the courtyard. The second floor has the sumptuous bedrooms, live-in bathrooms (here marble really is king) and an enclosed glass Juliet balcony overlooking the courtyard.

The roof is a multileveled outdoor patio with dipping pool, shower with a whimsical stained-glass cupola, dining area (a lovely place for breakfast or dinner by candlelight), a fireplace, chaise longues and a brightly-colored couch corner with a Bedouin tent. Beyond the tops of the intricately carved cedar-paneled walls of the deck rise swaying palm trees, the glowing tower of the haunting nearby Koutoubia Mosque and, in the distance, the snow-caps on the Atlas mountains. The roof of the riad can be opened to the sky so that the sun's rays ricochet off the luscious, lime-plaster tadelakt walls, and the occasional bird descends to drink at the fountain below.

The riads are serviced by a vast staff—the hotel employs 500, a ratio of 10 per riad—who arrive, unseen, from beneath. The hotel has a parallel underground city where the staff drive golf carts and can enter each riad through hidden elevators. Each riad has two butlers, on alternating shifts, and they will simply do or arrange anything for you. Everyone is helpful and welcoming, and, perhaps most notable for such an elite hotel, entirely without disdain for their guests—no matter who, or what, you are wearing.

All this luxury is overseen by the debonair General Manager Jean Pierre Chaumard, a hotel-business veteran who's been decorated with the Légion d'Honneur for "representing the French savoir faire worldwide." (You've got to love the French for awarding a medal for being super-French!) A spunky septuagenarian with a twinkle in his eye, Mr. Chaumard likes riding his Harley-Davidson Road King Classic to explore Morocco.

The hotel has three restaurants all overseen by Yannick Alléno, the chef of Paris's Le Meurice hotel, where he earned—and has retained— three Michelin stars in 2007. The stars are much in evidence in the setting, service and food at two dinner restaurants, one French and one Moroccan. The "Pigeon in Crispy Pastille" in the Moroccan restaurant is a delicate patty of tender shredded pigeon in crispy layers of millefeuille, an edible work of art, while the "Orange Salad" dessert offers magical orbs of orange ambrosia that burst in your mouth like citrus caviar.

And yes, there is a spa, a 27,000-square-foot airy white lacework frame that is a kind of pale marble temple to the human body. Don't, under any circumstances, leave Marrakech without having a hamam—a classic Turkish bath—here with Abdelkader al Ibtikar. After he has washed, scrubbed, shined, dipped and stretched you (this last is a Moorish "dance" to remember—just breathe and go with it!) you will feel reborn not as you are but as the child you once were, like the child of a sultan perhaps. Now where is the beautiful Scheherazade? I am ready for my bedtime tale. I feel sure Mr. Chaumard will find her for me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Moroccan Jew has Become Fiction in the Jewish Consciousness: Interview with Moroccan-born Israeli poet Mois Benarroch

Here is an interview from the Poetry International Web with Moroccan/Israeli Poet Mois BenArroch. He makes some interesting points. There are still so many questions that we want to ask though, like about the significance of Morocco as a place,homeland, etc.

Interview: Moroccan-born Israeli poet Mois Benarroch

On being different and writing a different poem

July 15, 2010
Moving from Morocco to Israel at the age of 13 was like moving from one planet to another. Israel was not only a different country, it was a different culture and these were completely different Jews and it was a completely different Judaism. It was September 1972 and within a year and a half of my arrival there was a war, the Yom Kippur war, and my little brother died; all this happened before the end of 1973. These traumas are the source of my writing, and perhaps the reason I started to write. I missed out completely on adolescence and was also very isolated from the Israeli community.

Can you tell me about your childhood in Morocco, your parents, your education?

We went to a Jewish school, called El Ittihad Maroc. That was the official name of the school but everybody called it La Alianza, in Spanish; it was the first school opened by the Alliance Israelite Universelle in 1862 and became the first of an international Jewish network of schools called the Alliance Française that spread all through the Muslim world and beyond. The level of education was very high and we were prepared for the French baccalauréat. We were also taught many languages and had classes in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Curiously, we were not taught Spanish, although this was the mother tongue of all the pupils and most teachers. So, when the bell rang everybody switched to Spanish. I find this miraculous. Back in class it was forbidden to say a word in Spanish.

My childhood was very Jewish and I still lived in a city that respected the fact that Jews did not work on the Sabbath [Saturday]; business was built around it since many Jews had businesses in my home town Tetouan. The school, as I said, was also a Jewish school. Although there were also some Christians and Muslims, the immediate surroundings were also very Jewish.

We were a family of four children; I was the second, after my sister. I remember very well that we were always on the point of emigrating. The feeling was that we were not staying in Morocco. There was talk of emigrating to Spain, to Venezuela, to Canada. And of course, Israel where we finally settled in 1972, when I was 13.

Have your views about Israel changed in the time you have been living there?

My views about Israel have changed a lot. Despite so many years here I think I see Israel from the outside, I live on the outside. Of course I didn’t have a complete concept or point of view when I was 13. I thought I was coming to a spiritual and religious country where Jews loved each other. This was the naive point of view of a Jewish boy.

What other work do you do besides writing poetry?

Nowadays I am a full-time writer and translator. I have just published a new novel in Spain, Amor y Exilios. I translate novels. I was a clerk-accountant for 12 years in the past with a steady salary. I also worked for a few years in hotels before that. And I studied natural medicine and pratised for time years as a part time job. I liked the idea but I don’t think I was such a good therapist.

How did you become a writer?

I started writing poetry when I was 15, because of feeling isolated and unable to connect with my surroundings. The first poems were love poems to a girl I couldn’t talk to. That seems pretty normal. Isn’t it?

Since then I have never stopped writing. I may be imagining it but I am pretty sure that after writing my first poem I knew deep inside that I was going to be a writer, and for some reason I also knew that it would take a long time for my writing to be accepted. But since then I have never stopped writing and have even done so obsessively at some periods of my life, writing 18 hours a days. It was like if I stopped writing I would die. Maybe it still is. I didn’t stop. I tried a few times but it didn’t work.

Which poets, or other artists, have influenced your work?

There are many. I think that two of the most influential writers are Charles Bukowski and Edmond Jabes, which may look like a complete contradiction. But the main art form that has influenced me beside writing is that of the singer-songwriter. I actually started writing my first poems after listening to the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Jackson Browne. I even tried to compose music to my poems for some time. I also like movies, and I think that has influenced my novels. Some critics have pointed out that I use cinematic techniques

I have been influenced by many authors in many languages. Let’s start with Hebrew: Natan Zach, David Avidan, Erez Bitton, Zelda, Yona Wallach, Moshe Sartel and many others. From the French, besides Jabes, Cocteau, Breton, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Blaise Cendrars and many others have influenced me. From the Spanish, mostly the Latin American poets like Neruda, Huidobro, Nicanor Parra and Gonzalo Rojas, all from Chile; then Borges, as poet and prose writer. The beatniks in general: Ginsberg, Burroughs, then Brautigan, Whitman, Ignatow. And as I said, Bukowski. I am probably forgetting many of them.

Your poems chosen for PIW focus on themes of belonging (e.g. ‘I went up to the Land of Israel’, ‘Suitcase’) and outsiderness (e.g. ‘Antipoetry’ and ‘Beans with Tabasco Sauce for Breakfast’). Can you comment on these motifs within your own poetry?

This is definitely the recurring theme in my writings. It spreads all over, from being an outsider as a Jew, or as a writer (and Edmond Jabes would say that every writer is a Jew) to feeling like a different kind of Jew and not really part of the mainstream of Judaism: that is being a Sephardic Jew. Maybe that’s what poetry is about: being outside, being different and writing a different poem.

Your work will be published on PIW alongside Esther Raab’s writings. Although Raab is considered to be the first female and Hebrew/native poet of (pre-state) Israel, she can also be viewed as somewhat of an outsider. What are your thoughts about this and about her writing? (Are all poets perhaps ‘outsiders’?)

I read Raab a long time ago and frankly she did not make much of an impression on me. I don’t think she is really an outsider; her books were in stores back in the 1980s. Maybe I was not impressed because I don’t like landscape poems. I also do not like early Israeli poetry before Zach, Avidan and Amichai. I think that in most cases the poets were trying to find a language, a Hebrew that they could hardly handle. That surely includes Bialik and Alterman. I consider Avidan to be the first great poet of the Modern Hebrew language, and the first sabra to write poetry. I am not saying Raab is not a good poet, but her influence was minimal. But this leads me to an interesting observation made by Professor Shlomo Elbaz, who noticed how many women poets there are in Israel. And although the boys play the big ego game, we have Lea Goldberg, great and important poets like Zelda, Yona Wallach, Amira Hess, Hedva Harkavi and countless other women poets in the first league of Israeli poetry. I don’t see that many in Spanish or French or British poetry; the USA fares better, but even a world leader in poetry like Chile has one Mistral compared with dozens of male major poets. I think this would be a good subject for a PhD. Compared to most countries I know the situation is unique.

As for outsiders: in Israel 20,000 poetry books are sold yearly. This means that poetry is the outsider. Not the poets. I don’t see myself as more of an outsider and I have had my share of recognition; 20,000 books is like one prose bestseller and many novels sell even more. So, a poet who has published a few books and has a hundred readers can consider himself recognized. More so if a dozen articles have been written about him. As a novelist I am marginalized, but that’s another story. And a long one.

What are your thoughts about the Josephus book, the history book written by Josephus in 70 AD? You recently wrote about a new Hebrew translation in the Haaretz newspaper.

I reread the book and wrote about it with the feeling that it was in fact completely irrelevant to our political reality of today. This must seem obvious to any European, but the problem is that in Israel there is a gap in political time; in every discussion someone tries to compare today’s political situation with something that happened 2000 or 3000 years ago in Judea or in this part of the world.

You are bilingual in Spanish and Hebrew, and very proficient in English. Do you feel some things are easier to write about in Hebrew and other things in Spanish? In other words, how does your multilingualism manifest itself in your life as a poet and in daily life?

I have written poetry in three languages and that’s not something I would recommend to anyone. It was a poetic need. It came out of the poems. I started writing poetry in English when I was 15, and did it for four years. Then I switched to Hebrew, for the next 20 years. Then I moved to Spanish because there were things that could not be written in Hebrew. Language not only describes or represents reality, it also creates it. And Modern Hebrew is a language that has created a totally different Jewish Moroccan from the one I know; there are many ways to describe the Moroccan in Modern Hebrew and almost all of them are negative. And I could not change the whole of the Hebrew language, or cope with it. So the need for Spanish was a linguistic need and also a social need. A line like “I am an exiled Moroccan poet” (from one of my poems) could not be written in Hebrew. It took me eight years to translate it, and even now I am attacked for writing something so obvious. A Moroccan in Israel has to thank Zionism for saving him from a terrible life and fate, so the question of being an exile outside the understanding of Israeli society. I should thank everyone every day for having been saved and converted to the new Zionist-Judaism, and to ultra new Judaeo-Christianity, which is the same thing.

So my poetry is definitely different or I am even a different poet when I write in different language. Spanish is my mother tongue and my historic tongue, since this language has been spoken by family over the last thousand years, Hebrew is the language of my oppression, and for the fight against this oppression; it’s a father tongue, a male phallic chauvinistic tongue, but it is also the sacred tongue, the tongue of the temple, somewhere deep inside. English is a kind of neutral tongue, and also the tongue of the empire, it’s all over and I often use it when the other two conflict with each other or for more philosophical poems.

In my everyday life I live in Hebrew, with some French too because my wife is French, and we have many French friends, although I speak Spanish with my mother, and with some of my family too. And in Israel there is always some English in everyday life, since there are many tourists in the city, as well as many American and English immigrants who don’t bother to learn Hebrew, because they don’t have to.

How do you reflect on your linguistic identity and how do you perceive your cultural identity?

I see myself as some kind of disappearing species. I see myself as a Karaite in the 18th or 19th century, like a member of a sect; the Karaites were the mainstream of Judaism in the 12th century and now there are may be 1000 of them left. Since the 16th century Ashkenazíc Judaism has dominated the Jewish world. Israel was an anomaly during the 1980s when there was a majority of Sephardic Jews, but now they are maybe 40% (since the big Russian emigration) and most are trying to be like the image of the new Jew that was imposed on them by Zionism. I think that the Sephardic Jew is disappearing from the world. Ruth Knafo-Setton sent a few stories to a Jewish magazine in the US and they told her that her stories were nice but that she should write about “real Jews”. Moroccan Jews are not “real” Jews; they are some kind of folklore. Since most of my novels are about Moroccan Jews, I guess they are not “real” Israeli or Jewish novels. The Moroccan Jew has become fiction in the Jewish consciousness.

How do you envisage the future of your children in terms of culture? Do you feel they fit into society in Israel?

I don’t really know. Israel is a country in a state of change. It’s very dynamic and it is hard to say where it will be in a year. I have tried to pass on part of my history and heritage to my children, although this is not very simple, since school texts contradict all that I say to them. I am only one against a big system, and it’s a battle I cannot win. Maybe I can lose it with some dignity and save something from my past that will go on in future generations. As it is, my descendants will probably think that I came to Israel from a cave in Africa. That’s more or less the concept of the Sephardic Jew.

By Lucy Pijnenburg

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Moroccan Theatre School Opens Worlds for Poor Youth

Here is an article from Reuters by way of Arab News about a theater school in the "slums" of Rabat. There is the usual dichotomy of religious "extremist" vs secular "progressive." Life need not be so fragmented, young religious kids can have good healthy fun too.

Morocco theater school wages battle for young minds


Published: Jul 14, 2010 21:04 Updated: Jul 14, 2010 21:36

It seems hard to object to Mohamed El-Assouni's street theater school, set up on a patch of scrubland between a rail line and a huddle of slums on the outskirts of Morocco's capital Rabat.

But the idea of young boys and girls gathering to learn somersaults, dancing and walking a tightrope was too much to bear for some extremists living nearby, he said.

Assouni dug a 200-meter trench to bring water and power to the school's tent.

"They came and ripped out the pipe and cable in the night," he said. "Yes sir, we are in conflict with those people. We don't deliberately disturb them, but they say we corrupt the local children."

Judging by the numbers thronging the tent on a recent Sunday, the extremists seem to be losing the argument.

Learning to trampoline, make puppets and take part in street parades is a big draw for the children, many of whom already work to supplement their parents' meager income, leaving little time for play. More than 260 have enrolled but not all turn up.

Pupils who rebel against the workshop's quiet discipline are sent away and frustrations can boil over. Boys have thrown stones at the tent and one slashed it with a knife.

"Even when the school is shut you'll see lots of the kids nearby, practicing their dance moves or stilt walking," said 25-year-old dance instructor Khalid Haissi, who turned down a circus job in Europe to join the school.

Assouni and his wife Soumia founded their Nomad Theater Association in 2006 and set up their workshop with help from Morocco's National Human Development Initiative (INDH), Germany's Goethe Institut and the French government.

He says the self-control and talent of the workshop's young trainers, all from poor backgrounds, make them powerful role models for the children — and will hopefully encourage more of them to return to school.

"Our school headmaster always ordered me and the other lazy boys to pick up rubbish, so I fled," said 14-year-old Said Mustapha Khalfi. "Here they encourage us. I feel like an artist and I have something to show."

Walking a tightrope

Morocco has one of the worst school dropout rates in the Arab world, with only one child in 10 completing their education, according to UNICEF.

A 2007 World Bank report ranked Morocco 11th in the region in terms of access, equality, effectiveness and quality of its education, above only Yemen, Iraq and Djibouti.

The government designated the last 10 years the decade of education and training. Now it has embarked on an "Emergency Program for the Reform of Education", lasting to 2012.

The reforms need to start working if the kingdom is to find enough trained graduates to compete in world markets and overcome the youth unemployment that breeds despair and makes it easier for violent extremist groups to recruit new members.

Assouni points to a boy queuing up to learn cartwheels.

"You see that boy? Each weekend I have to go to the cafe where he works as a waiter to bring him down here. That other boy with the red soccer shirt doesn't go to school. He goes around with a donkey and cart collecting plastic for recycling."

The workshop is set in the neighborhood of Douar Mika — Plastic Village — so named because families who arrived over the years from the poverty-stricken countryside covered their makeshift shelters with sheets of polythene.

For Assouni, the local children are already walking a tightrope, in danger of falling for evils such as alcohol and drug abuse on one hand and religious extremism on the other.

"I tell myself that if I save four or five of these children with every residence we do, that's enough," he said. "Save? Yes, I mean that. They are at risk of being lost to the streets."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

“This is a beautiful thing, when you shoot and hit your target:" US and Moroccan Troops in Arms Exercises in Morocco

Here is an article from the US Marines website about military exercises they are doing in Morocco in conjunction with the Moroccan army. This is serious stuff that should make one ponder the extent to which power is maintained by force, and it might make one begin to think about the nature of their fears and their plans.

U.S. and Moroccan troops wrap up exercise African Lion 2010

6/15/2010 By Maj. Paul Greenberg , Marine Forces Reserve

CAP DRAA TRAINING AREA, Morocco — U.S. service members taking part in African Lion 2010 wrapped up their training here June 9 in a final combined arms exercise with the Royal Moroccan Army.

“African Lion in Morocco is very important for both the Marine Corps and the United States government. This is a strategic relationship with one of the United States’ oldest allies,” said Marine Corps Reserve Maj. Gordon Hilbun, assistant operations officer for Task Force African Lion. “This relationship maintains a strong collaborative training opportunity for both militaries and ensures that the Marine Corps maintains its expeditionary capabilities and mindset.

More than 1,000 Marines, sailors and U.S. Air and Army national guardsmen participated in African Lion this year, with the preponderance of troops coming from Marine Forces Reserve units throughout the United States.
This is the seventh year in a row that U.S. troops have come here for this exercise, which Marine Corps Forces Africa, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, has the lead on facilitating.

The final exercise was a culmination of more than four months of planning, mass logistical movements and detailed coordination between U.S. and Moroccan diplomatic and military leadership.
In the exercise scenario, several enemy mechanized units had intentionally crossed into Moroccan territory. A joint U.S. and Moroccan task force was formed to repulse the enemy with a combination of air and ground capabilities. These included helicopters, tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, mortars, combat engineers and mobile assault platoons.

After Moroccan Kornet guided missiles initiated the attack, combat engineers from 4th Combat Engineer Battalion in Roanoake, Va., used their Bangalore torpedoes to blast a hole through the breach.

“It was excellent,” said Cpl. John Saunders, a reserve Marine with 4th CEB who helped to emplace the 33 pounds of high explosives and secured the fuse igniter systems. “Our goal from the time we dismounted, emplaced the charge and withdrew was 90 seconds, and we beat it. When that bunker buster went off, it was incredible.”

The Moroccan Army provided the air power with Gazelle helicopters strafing their targets with missiles.

U.S. and Moroccan tanks closed in, hammering old tank hulks with high-explosive rounds and machine gun fire.
The American M1A1 Abrams tanks came from Company F, 4th Tank Battalion headquartered at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

“It was a good show, and great practice maneuvering and firing as a platoon,” said platoon commander 2nd Lt. Peter Heiman, who is on his first deployment as an officer in the Marine Corps Reserve. “The Moroccan tankers seem to really know their stuff.”

Heiman explained that earlier in the week, he and his Marines had the chance to meet with the Moroccan tankers, climb inside their tanks and shoot their weapons.

“It was really great training,” said Heiman, “One of their sergeants had been on the same tank for 26 years. One thing I can say is that they’re really experienced.”

Cpl. Matthew Ross, a 23-year-old vehicle commander with 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in Quantico, Va., also had the chance to work with Moroccan troops prior to and during the final exercise.

“My initial impression is that they are very professional,” said Ross, a five-year reserve Marine who is a senior at Georgetown University. “They know what they need to be doing at all times. There is no laissez faire leadership. They’re like us; mission oriented. They always knew what was going on.”

A linguistics major with a focus on Arabic and Dari languages, the exercise gave a Ross both a chance to exert his leadership as a first-time vehicle command and to practice Arabic with the Moroccan soldiers.

“There are a lot of things you can take away from the exercise,” said Ross. “It proves to the Marines that you can work with a foreign military force in a (military to military) exercise and see that they can have an equal level of professionalism. We can integrate with foreign militaries if the mission dictates. The Marines at the (noncommissioned officer) level have confidence that they can work successfully with a foreign military that speaks another language, and with a culture that is really different. There is a very specific commonality between them and our Marines: military professionalism.”

While the tanks were blasting away at their targets, Marine Corps mortarmen from Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment fired their 81 millimeter mortar rounds.

“This was a very positive experience overall,” said Sgt. Timothy Gena a reserve Marine mortars section leader with Weapons Company, who also had the chance to train with his Moroccan counterparts prior to the final exercise.

“They have the French and Spanish versions of the weapons (81 millimeter mortars), but it’s the same concept. What was amazing is that we were able to work with them without an interpreter, and these guys, (the Moroccans) were really good. This kind of thing is very important, especially for the junior Marines, who may not have done this before, or who might have had a negative experience in the past. It’s great to come here for (annual reserve training) and come away with a respect for the Moroccans. I think we had a mutual respect here.”

While the troops on the ground put the pincers on the notional enemy forces, the U.S. and Moroccan senior leadership sat together watching the fiery show from a vantage point on a hill nearby.

After the successful completion of the live-fire, Moroccan Gen. Abdul Al Aziz Benani, General of the Royal Moroccan Army Corps, spoke to the American delegation, which included Samuel L. Kaplan, the U.S. ambassador to Morocco, and Marine Corps Reserve Maj. Gen. James M. Croley, the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general.

“This is a beautiful thing, when you shoot and hit your target,” said Benani. “I want to tell you how satisfied we are, and I want to thank you for your work to make this exercise successful.”

Although this year’s African Lion has come to a close, U.S. and Moroccan planners are already looking at next year’s exercise, which is expected to bring even more Marine Forces Reserve units here and involve a broader range of U.S. and Moroccan troops.

“The evolution of this exercise would entail an amphibious offload and a larger training force to include expanding our current combined training relationship with Moroccan forces,” said Hilbun. “Marine Forces Africa is becoming a focus of effort for the Marine Corps. This exercise provides us with continued access to one of our key strategic partners in Africa as the United States continues to maintain a national focus on expanding our involvement on the African continent.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

European Union To Promote Dialogue in Morocco

Salaam! Here is a piece from Global Arab Network about the EU seeking proposals for dialogue promoting activities in Morocco. Is dialogue where people get to openly discuss how they feel about things without repercussions? Great idea.


EU: Call for Cultural Activities to Strengthen Dialogue in Morocco

- Maha Karim
Sunday, 04 July 2010 20:54

The EU Delegation in Morocco has issued a Call for Proposals for Cultural Activities to be carried out within the country in 2010.

For the 2010 calls, the Delegation will give priority to projects that aim to strengthen:

* dialogue and exchange between cultures, access to culture of all sectors of the population;
* the promotion of mutual understanding
* the visibility of the cultural aspect of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership.

The call for proposals is open to projects including artistic cultural activities focused on oral communication, visual arts or music, and the promotion of tangible and intangible heritage towards educational or playful activities aimed at a young audience.

Activities should contribute to capacity building both at an artistic and technical level, and from the perspective of administration of the activity through the contribution of European experience.

Any grant awarded under this programme must fall between a minimum of €30,000 and a maximum of €50,000, with an indicative global allocation of €100,000. The programme is funded under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI).

The initial planned duration of an action may not exceed 12 months. The deadline for the submission of applications is 1 September 2010.

An information session on this call for proposals will be held on 5 July 2010 at 5pm in the Delegation of the European Union's premises. Registration is compulsory at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Global Arab Network