A Tip on Citizenship

Earlier this week, I ran into a few problems with my taxi driver. He purposely took a much longer route than necessary, discretely switched my meter to the cost of a previous passenger, and even refused to give me my luggage, all in an effort to scam me out of my money. As a foreigner, I would be justified in feeling targeted, but Moroccans aren’t exactly immune to the same type of dishonesty I experienced, believe it or not.  Having a stable source of income isn’t easy to come by, and many Moroccans have to resort to such methods, or even begging, just to make ends meet. However, for those who have the capacity to make a decent living, I believe that improving one’s citizenship can lead to a more prosperous future.

2014-06-25 09.05.09

My new animal friend of the week.

On our trip to the Sahara desert the weekend before last, we made a stop at perhaps the lowest quality eating establishment I’ve ever set foot in, due to its extremely atrocious service. In America, it is customary to leave a tip even for subpar service, but in Morocco, unpleasant experiences such as these don’t qualify for any sort of compensation. Because of the sheer frequency of my taxi rides and dining experiences, coupled with my compulsion to conserve cash, I’ve become far more selective with the times I do throw in a few extra coins. All it really takes is a simple smile or a warm greeting to really set the tone.

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Delicious meal near our hotel in Agadir, during our final Moroccan excursion of the trip.

But, the reality is that many Moroccans can handle business in really unhealthy ways. Some can be biased towards Americans—and whether we deserve it or not, a predetermined disposition is a hard reality to change, especially when lacking command of the local dialect and having come from two completely different worlds. I’m not generalizing this to the greater whole of Morocco, but regardless of the reason, such attitudes shouldn’t penetrate into business dealings. Every citizen of any country is, to some extent, a liason of sorts, whether he or she would like to or not, especially when considering interactions with foreigners. When those interactions become detrimental to its global identity, and contradict with the laws of the land, it really jeopardizes a nation’s intentions and is extremely harmful, should the trend be perpetuated.

Honestly, I’ve been treated very well in Morocco holistically, and this trip has been wild—one that I would love to have again, but perhaps somewhere else in the world. Even with such drastically different cultures, there are really a lot of things that don’t really change. But it’s about time I got home, to return to the comfort of my own bed and the familiarity of my past existence. Not a lot has changed, but there is going to be a lot more to appreciate.

So for the last time, I’m signing out.

اسلام عليكم

براين –

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Active Citizenship

Citizenship can be distilled into two main components: the rights and the responsibilities that it entails. I had often thought of citizenship only in terms of the rights that a legal status confers upon individuals. However, far beyond that, citizenship is also about abiding by the common rules, developing a sense of duty to the community and actively contributing to its betterment – which is what active citizenship is about. There are many levels of active citizenship: personal, community, national (which are clearly outlined by Andrew below) and global. In my opinion, one can only be an active citizen if he or she is willing and able to do so. Hence, strengthening citizenship at any level would involve instilling in the people a desire to contribute to their community, as well as implementing the necessary political and economic framework to help them.  

Let’s first talk about sense of duty and willingness to contribute to a community. People are more inclined to contribute when they feel like they truly belong. I’ve realized that largely – but not completely – homogenous nation-states like Morocco face a dilemma regarding the treatment of minority groups: an emphasis on the identity elements of the majority group would strengthen the sense of commonness among them; however, that would mean minority groups are completely marginalized in the process. Many Moroccans we have talked to see the Arab-Islam heritage as an integral part of the Moroccan identity, but the minority Berber or Jewish populations would most likely not. I agree with Steven that more inclusiveness is better. We should note however that inclusiveness does not mean complete disregard of the majority group, or any group at that. There is a fine line to tread: the Arab-Muslim identity can be a powerful motivating force for active citizenship when it is used for the right community, but not when it is imposed upon other ethnic and religious groups as an umbrella identity for the entire nation.

(Caption from Steven) The Arabic literally reads: "The Israeli cemetery in the city of Fes"- note that they have used the term "Israeli" interchangeably with "Jewish", even though most of the people buried here were almost certainly born, raised and lived all their lives in Morocco

Jewish community in Fes
(Caption by Steven) The Arabic literally reads: “The Israeli cemetery in the city of Fes”- note that they have used the term “Israeli” interchangeably with “Jewish”, even though most of the people buried here were almost certainly born, raised and lived all their lives in Morocco.


Mustafa, our Berber tour guide in Sahara

External influences further complicate the issue of identity.  In this age of globalization when everything is in flux, when cultural boundaries are rapidly blurring, international travel more and more common and religious allegiance no longer as rigid in many parts of the world, personal identities are dynamic. Our identities can be continuously shifting, rejecting and amalgamating elements from different sources. Some youths we have met identify more with the American way of life, music and popular culture than the Moroccan one (talk about globalization). We ourselves have civic interests in issues that go beyond national levels, or are specific to a different geographical location altogether, because we identify more with the issue: bride burning in rural South Asia, the ivory trade in Africa, and so on. I think with this trend, global citizenship will play a more and more prominent role in future.

Willingness to contribute has to first start from awareness, which in turn comes from education. I believe that everyone should be made aware of the ways they can contribute to the community through subjects taught in school and popular culture as well. In addition, willingness only comes when the people believe that they have the ability to bring about changes.

This brings me to my next point, which is empowerment:  implementing the necessary political and support framework to help promote active citizenship. In many countries I have been to, people openly express distrust in the government and lament about the rampant corruption. Political involvement seems meaningless as they do not believe an average citizen has the ability to change the calcified system. Hence a key requirement for political participation is that the political system, democratic or not, has to be accountable, open and responsive to feedback. Furthermore, active citizenship initiatives can potentially be much more impactful if there are places that they can come to for financial, legal and consulting assistance, which those in positions of power can provide.

Categories: Blog Post 6 (week of 6/23) | 3 Comments

The Context of Being A Citizen

What is citizenship? It is more than a legal or political definition that bestows upon individuals certain rights and privileges. Citizenship also involves giving back to create a better community and in turn creating better citizens in the future. We are all a product of our environment to a certain extent whether we like it or not. Bad environments tend to produce less productive individuals. When we have the ability to give back to our communities and make them better it is our responsibility to do so, so that future generations may enjoy the same privileges afforded to us and more. This giving back does not only come through charity. It comes at many levels. At the personal level it is embodied in bettering oneself both to improve the quality of life for you and your family and also to set an example for others. At a community level it involves charities, civic groups, and participation in things like local councils. At a national level it involves voting and active acquisition of knowledge and passion for a better political future for the nation. A breakdown in this system of civil society leads to a breakdown in societal progress.




A Mural at the ALC in Marrakech

My observations of Morocco have shown that many people feel dissatisfied with the system and do not try to impact it because they have no faith that their efforts will have any results. There is an electoral system in Morocco for electing members of the legislative body, but the king still maintains a strict level of control over political outcomes which are confined to a realm that does not threaten the legitimacy of the monarchy or its interests. In this context it is easy to understand why people feel powerless to affect change. There is only so much they can do within the given constraints and it appears that it is not possible for them to be satisfied in the given context.

Improving our understanding of citizenship is contingent upon recognizing these obstacles to the development of democratic institutions. Our notion of citizenship is only applicable to a Western style democracy and does not account for different systems. Sure an individual living in an autocracy can work to improve their regime through protest, but personal harm and violence are a real possibility. A citizen who can have their grievances redressed by the government through legal processes can’t be compared to a citizen who risks death to disagree with a monarch. Yes ideally every citizen would be one who actively participated in society, but such judgments must also acknowledge the costs of participation and the opportunities available to participate.

My conversations with several Moroccans revealed that they knew exactly what they wanted their political leaders to be, but they still did not vote or participate in civic groups. They did not vote because they did not see a link between the votes they and their peers cast and the results. To them it appeared that no matter which party won, there was corruption among elected individuals. Essentially, they viewed the political class from which candidates could be drawn to be polluted and producing no worthy candidates. They did not participate in civic groups because they tended to be associated with pushing an ideology. One story I heard described a religious group volunteering at a children’s center, but instead of playing with the children they attempted to preach their religious message and indoctrinate them while providing food. This pushed many individuals I spoke to away who viewed such activism as something that should be separate from a political or religious message and merely for the good of the recipients. The bureaucratic nature of forming these groups also discourages those who aren’t the most dedicated. I watched one individual work for over a week to get permission to hold an event at an elementary school to teach about the dangers of smoking tobacco on International Stop Smoking Day. He was worried through the entire process that his request would be denied because the government apparently limits association among individuals.

In the US we tend to now focus on the aspects of citizenship that originate in the citizen to augment the commonly accepted views on the rights and privileges of formal citizenship. Perhaps in a context like Morocco we should be focused on these rights and privileges, or lack thereof, instead of expecting citizens to be taking the leading role in defining citizenship. The acceptance of these rights by both the government and the people provides the foundation for other forms of participation. Without this bedrock there is nothing upon which to build a strong civil society and increase the capacity of the citizenry.

Categories: Blog Post 6 (week of 6/23) | Leave a comment

The Notion of Citizenship



(all our camels in a line walking into the sunset- Sahara Desert)

The notion of citizenship is a universal concept, yet can also be very individualized and applied within specific contexts. As some of our classmates defined it, citizenship to a nation or society means abiding by the rules/regulations, but also taking certain responsibilities to aid with the advancement to the society as a whole. These rules/regulations that societies abide to differ from society to society, as do the responsibilities that a society encourages its citizens to have. There are also differences between the legal definition of citizenship and the social/cultural aspect of it. These differentiations alter the notions of citizenship from local levels to global.

From my time in Morocco, I’ve learned that on the local level, citizenship can become a very personal commitment one has with their nation. People define citizenship differently depending on their own identities, priorities and responsibilities. If a person is a minority within that society, a very religious person, or a person that has a lot of authority/power, they can respond differently to the question of what it means to be an active citizen or how one can better engage with their community. On the local level, citizenship is also often measured by engagement in the community. Most Moroccans, when asked if they consider themselves active citizens, almost always included within their answer an element of volunteering or community service. On the local level, citizenship is seen more as a collective effort, also highlighting the individuals personal sentiments and responsibilities.

On the global scale, the notion of citizenship tends to be viewed more in connection with nationality. With a few exceptions, everyone in the world is a citizen of a specific nation, and with that, the idea of a global citizen becomes more diminished. Since the notion of citizenship on a national scale is more focused on political participation rather than community engagement, we found more Moroccans using those terms to guage their level of citizenship on a national scale. More Moroccans claimed to be less active politically, yet more active socially in the context of citizenship.

This goes to show how complex the notion of citizenship is and how it can be expressed in very different ways, depending on the scale used to measure it. In order to improve the notion of citizenship, I believe that equal effort has to be made for higher engagement on both the local and global level. Although everything should feel allegiance to their specific nation, they should also think more outside the box, and think about how their citizenship affects others around the world. Also the level of engagement on the local level needs to correspond more with the national level.



Categories: Blog Post 6 (week of 6/23) | Leave a comment

Strengthening Citizenship

Citizenship is a fickle concept. It is a highly personal concept and finding trends based on political affiliations, nationalities, age, or other factors has proven difficult, especially here in Morocco. The question “how do we strengthen citizenship locally and globally?” is a necessarily difficult one. Certainly there are specific steps to be taken within each community which would strengthen individuals’ sense of belonging and a correlated sense of duty to their local, national, and global community. But, there is a common thread that is the key to strengthening the notion of citizenship in every locale and on multiple levels- inclusiveness.

One of the biggest barriers to active citizenship is a sense of oneself as “the other”. It can be the result of exclusionary politics, an exclusionary national identity (more on this later), or exclusionary actions by specific members of a community. Whatever the case may be, the less one feels they are given by their status as citizens of a local community, nation, or the globe, the less they will be inclined to give back in any way.


Students prepare to practice Arabic calligraphy with a local expert in the ancient city of Fes

Students prepare to practice Arabic calligraphy with a local expert in the ancient city of Fes

In Morocco, one of the biggest barriers to a strong sense of citizenship is the inequality of the genders. When Morocco originally became a signatory to the Convention to end all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, they did so with 2 reservations- international law would be trumped when it concerns ascension to the Moroccan throne and when it conflicted with Shari’a law. The second reservation gave Moroccan politicians a lot of wiggle room, because Shari’a law is a nebulous concept which relies heavily on interpretation of texts and tradition which are the subject of continued debate. Eventually, Morocco dropped its reservations and the Convention made it clear that a reservation which inhibited total equality was against the spirit of the agreement, no matter the justification. Further steps were taken in the 2011 Constitution, which enshrines the concept of gender equality in language so strong it cannot possibly be misconstrued- yet there remains a large gap between men and women in legal status as well as earnings, political participation and representation, and other important metrics. Women have become alienated from their identity as Moroccan citizens, often being forced to bend to the will of those who interpret Islam in such a way as to subject them to second class citizenship.  The result is that many women feel they do not belong and choose not to participate in politics and restrict themselves to community service and caring for their families as their primary form of citizenship.

Another problem I have seen first-hand in Morocco is the exclusionary notion of “Moroccan” as a national identity that many people hold. Until the creation of the state of Israel, Morocco was home to a sizeable Jewish population which coexisted in relative peace and prosperity with the Muslim population. The remnants of this community can be seen in many cities’ Jewish quarters, or mellahs. Additionally, Morocco’s southern regions still contain a large Berber population- their language is Berber and they tend to remain geographically separated from Morocco’s majority Arab population, residing primarily in the mountains and deserts. But, when you ask many urban, educated Moroccan citizens to define Moroccan, they include both Arab heritage and Islam as two ineluctable aspects of Moroccan identity. This creates a sense of being the “other” for those Moroccan who do not share these identifying factors and weakens their belief in their own citizenship- making them less likely to engage with civil society, politics, and work to improve their national or global community.


The Arabic literally reads: "The Israeli cemetery in the city of Fes"- note that they have used the term "Israeli" interchangeably with "Jewish", even though most of the people buried here were almost certainly born, raised and lived all their lives in Morocco

The Arabic literally reads: “The Israeli cemetery in the city of Fes”- note that they have used the term “Israeli” interchangeably with “Jewish”, even though most of the people buried here were almost certainly born, raised and lived all their lives in Morocco

I firmly believe that the only way to elevate to a notion of global citizenship is first to construct a national identity that is all inclusive. This is certainly not an easy task in the post-colonial Middle East. Poorly drawn borders have pushed numerous countries into dire political and social situations- spurring civil wars and terrorism in their most tragic cases. It is impossible for people in the midst of such intense conflicts to look beyond their struggle to create a state or community conducive to their own identity to look beyond that desire and ask what they can do to help those outside of their immediate circle. It is difficult and ultimately unreasonable to expect that.

So, what can we collectively do to strengthen citizenship locally and globally? Most importantly is to be inclusive in every aspect of our definition of what it means to be an American or a Moroccan or a Duke student, or any other community which combines people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs. The more accepting we are of each other, the more inclined we will all feel to give back and strengthen that community through community service, political engagement, etc. On a global scale, we must encourage others to do the same. In places suffering from ethnic or religious violence, we must be realistic and rather than continue to impose borders which create conflict, search for ones which allow for people to look beyond themselves as the “other” and have a sense of belonging in their own nation. It is crucial for everyone to feel this before they can look at themselves as belonging to an international citizenry and working for the betterment of people in other nations- which we have an unprecedented opportunity to do in this era of ever expanding global economic, political, and social integration.

Categories: Blog Post 6 (week of 6/23) | Leave a comment

Citizenship in Morocco

Throughout my time in Morocco, I’ve had many conversations with Moroccans about what it means to be a good, active Moroccan citizen.  Surprisingly, almost all of the Moroccans I interviewed viewed the concepts of political participation and active citizenship as separate entities. They believed that one could be a good Moroccan citizen without being at all politically active. This might coincide with the fact that so many of the Moroccans I talked to were not politically active at all. Most of them thought that being a good, active citizen had more to do with how involved in the community one was rather than how involved one is in politics. Many the Moroccans who said that political engagement is a component of active citizenship still considered themselves active citizens even though they themselves were not politically active at all.



Desert Kitty (taken by Lien Hoang)


In fact, many of the Moroccans I talked to actively avoid politics. Many of them view being politically involved as a social stigma. They have a very high level of mistrust in their government and refuse to involve themselves in politics as a sort of protest against the government. Some of them do not vote because they believe their vote is worthless. They believe that because of corruption and the current political climate in Morocco that their one vote will change nothing, and that even if they vote that their problems with the government will not be solved. Thus, they do not vote. The “it’s only one vote, what can it do” excuse is prevalent in the US as well.

However, most of the Moroccans I met were involved in their communities in some way, even if they were not politically active. Four out of the five Moroccan women Steven and I interviewed for our final paper were part of community organizations and participated in activities such as visiting retirement homes, visiting children with cancer, and collecting food to give to the poor during Ramadan. Through the group’s weekly volunteer work, I met many Moroccans who are very invested in bettering their community through civic engagement.


Atlas Mountains

The problem with citizenship in Morocco or in any democratic country, however, is that it does include a political aspect as well, and I met very few Moroccans who were active in both spheres. In 2011 only 28% of eligible Moroccans actually turned out to vote in the parliamentary elections (http://www.idea.int/vt/countryview.cfm?id=138). Having seen protestors get beat up by police in Rabat and hearing about the death of an Islamic Party leader at a political meeting, I can understand why many Moroccans are reluctant to join demonstrations or a political party as a means of expressing their frustration. However, the point of a democratic system of government is to allow citizens to participate in their own governance and to have a say in the direction of their country, and the formal way of expressing those views is to vote. Many of the Moroccans I talked to were very disgruntled with their government, yet they refuse to exercise the right, granted to them by their status as Moroccan citizens, to try to change their elected government.


On the way to the Sahara

Thus the greatest way most Moroccans can be better, more active local citizens is to be more engaged in their own governance, to exercise their democratic rights as Moroccan citizens. Of course there is room for more civic engagement and a larger civil society in Morocco, but in my interactions with Moroccans over a six-week period, I noticed a far greater level of civic engagement than political engagement.  The simple act of voting in local and parliamentary elections is a good first step for most Moroccans. Most of the Moroccans I met were knowledgeable on political issues and somewhat interested in politics, but for all their knowledge and interest they do not vote.


Atlas Mountains

As for the global citizenship of Moroccans, most of the Moroccans I met knew a lot about what was happening within North Africa and in Spain or France, but knew little about the rest of the world. (Some of their notions about America actually made me laugh because of how idyllic they made America sound.) Thus I believe that most Moroccans can become better global citizens simply by becoming more informed about more global issues, rather than just issues within North Africa or other Arab countries.

Categories: Blog Post 6 (week of 6/23) | 8 Comments

Global Citizenship

Citizenship is difficult to critique on a personal level.  If I were to analyze my own citizenship, I would tell myself to care more about local politics or be more involved in my community. I would try to be better informed about state and national issues. But it is harder for me to critique the citizenship of Moroccans of whom I know little about on a personal or political level.  Over the past six weeks, I have learned a significant amount about Morocco, its citizens, and its political, religious, and social culture. Moroccans in general have a very wary attitude towards politics, especially about political parties, and overall they have little confidence whatsoever in the ability of their government to positively effect their society. However in contrast, the constitution of Morocco was changed due to unrest during the Arab Spring.  While we learned in class that these constitutional changes will have negligible effects in reality, many citizens feel the changes will make a huge difference in their life and Moroccan society.



picture of me at a madrasa in Marrakech

I think one good step towards greater citizenship is political participation in its most basic form: voting.  Many Moroccans don’t vote, but the capacity to vote allows Moroccans a voice in government of which they should take advantage.  By having a majority of Moroccans choose representatives to institute laws the citizenry want, people’s faith in government may be restored (but that may just be my inner democracy-loving American talking).

Beyond just voting, Moroccans can participate in their civil society, contributing to improving their own society.  Many Moroccans do participate in such groups through their mosques or because of personal interest, but there is always room for improvement on both a societal and individual level. Helping the community, improving their education and participating inservice programs betters the nation.  After talking to many Moroccans, it is clear that while some people, driven by either personal or religious motives, do help their greater community, there is a significant portion of the Moroccan population that doesn’t participate in any community groups whatsoever.  By moving these people towards more civil participation, they can become better citizens of both their country and the world.



Students from Duke and local Moroccan students debating about education

Protesting is another type of political participation and citizenship hard to pinpoint in Morocco.  I saw it happen, and I know it is quite common, but most average Moroccans refuse to participate, either because it is illegal or they have no grievances about which to protest.

After interviewing several Moroccans, it is apparent than could be more engaged in global politics.  Though many of them support Arab regionalism, they do not know significant amounts about global politics.  Morocco is tied heavily to Europe and other Arab countries, but engagement with politics beyond these regions of necessity is rare.  By simply informing themselves about global issues, Morrocans can learn more about their world and other global citizens.


Duke students on the second tallest Sand Dune in Morocco


Categories: Blog Post 6 (week of 6/23) | 9 Comments

Evaluating Citizenship

There are many, many  aspects of being a good citizen, and it is elusive to what it means to be a good citizen. Theodore Roosevelt said being a good citizen means that you are “willing to pull [your] own weight”. Vague as this statement may seem, this can be related to people of all ages because it addresses the teenager to focus and succeed in her education as well as the adult to be hardworking and successful in his career. The fact is you don’t have to be a generally a good person to be a good citizen. I believe that there are two different components. Citizenship means to uphold certain responsibilities that a member of society you do for the sake of creating a better community and future. It entails doing charity work or getting it involved in community issues. On the other hand, it also means to be involved in politics and be knowledgeable about the national and domestic issues. In a passive method, this can mean to vote or to obey the laws and file your taxes, but in an active method it can mean to get involved in political parties, run for office, or protest.

After interviewing and talking to people in Morocco, I began to notice that there are two very different distinctions of citizenship. There are people who focus on charity work and community involvement whether it be through religious or non-religious organizations, pertaining to more on a local level. Then there are others who are more politically involved who are concerned about the issues not pertaining to just them but to the nation as a whole. What is interesting to see is there are people who focus on one aspect more than the other. For example, my oldest host sister, and others that I have talked to, do not care about the politics and see no real point of getting involved. They believe that the political system is corrupt and people primary goal is money before anything else. Because of this, they do not get involved in any means. Then you have those who are very politically involved, but do nothing to get involved in the issues of their community. They care about the domestic and foreign issues, but don’t think about the need and concerns of their community.

Here is a link to one of the organizations that my host family is a part of called Maroc Generations https://www.facebook.com/MarocGenerations 


My host mother is someone who I have met who exemplifies both aspects of community involvement and political activism. She is always trying to find ways to help her community or get more involved in charity work. From small things like feeding the homeless people who sleep outside the mosque on her street, to giving money or bread to almost every homeless person she walks by, or to getting involved in organizations that help the women at the old age home, she is consistently seeking ways to help. As a woman, she feels that it is highly important to be politically active. She meets with her friends to discuss issues in politics and votes during every possible local and national election. She believes that women should get more involved and encourages her own friends to. All around, she believes, and I certainly believe, that she is an active citizen. As a mother who cares about her kids, as a teacher who is concerned about the future of her students, and as a citizen who is worried about both the local and national community. She certainly exemplifies the notion of being a good citizen and someone that Roosevelt would say is “willing to pull [her] own weight”.

To increase one’s citizenship I truly believe one has to uphold both the local community responsibilities as well as be politically involved and active. It is through these two ways that I believe make someone an active citizen. Meeting people like my host mother makes me rethink even my own citizenship. Now at the end of my trip in Morocco and the end of Professor Lo’s class I have begun to really evaluate what I have learned about citizenship. I realize that being an active citizen doesn’t mean following criteria that are set in stone, but in way consistently asking the question ” in what ways can I improve the life around me and understand the issues” or in Roosevelt’s terms “in what ways can I pull my own weight”.

Categories: Blog Post 6 (week of 6/23) | 1 Comment

Globalization or Homogenization?

“Ugh do I have to wear this…?”

This is what my host sister says when she has to wear a djellaba, a traditional, everyday, Moroccan dress.



“You’re giving food to the homeless just look nice,” says my host mother.

This seems to be the general attitude of most Moroccan youth towards the traditional clothing. Walking down the streets in the Marrakech, you immediately see a huge division in terms of what people are wearing. There are women wearing traditional djellabas, men wearing either works clothes or shirts and jeans, and then you see mostly younger women wearing mostly appropriate (in US terms) western clothing. Among the men, the elder and younger generations both wear western clothing, but you’ll see the much older generations (probably above 50-60) wearing the traditional male clothing. Among women there is a more prominent rift between the generations. The older women generally wear the traditional djellabas with the hijabs, where everything is covered except the face and hands. It has been very rare for me to see a teenager girl around my age wearing a djellaba, but I’m sure some do. Then you see people like my host sisters who wear western clothing everyday, which are sometimes more revealing than what I wear on a daily basis. My professor who has traveled and lived in multiple Muslim countries such as Sudan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia told us how different women act and dress here than in the countries that he’s been in. “You just never see women wearing these kinds of clothes.”

It’s safe to say that Morocco is more liberal than most Arab nations, and the type of clothing that people wear here really identifies with this statement. I started noticing this not just on the streets, but mainly at the popular malls in Marrakech. One of the malls I went to had purely European and American brands like H&M, Juicy, Chanel, and Lacoste. All you would see are European, American, and even Asian models in the advertisements that seem to show off what was in and what people should want. All of the advertising and mannequins illustrate foreign culture and fashion that were trying to influence what brands people should buy. What’s even more interesting is that the clothes I see my host sisters and other girls on the street west are clothes that I could see anyone wearing in the states and probably in Europe. People from even different countries were starting to all look the same to me.

This is certainly globalization in the making because it’s encouraging people to follow common trends and brands from all over the world rather than encouraging people to wear their own cultural dresses. In my opinion, it is homogenizing how people look and in some ways losing culture and identity that we see the older generations holding on to. I can see why people buy these brands because they are generally better quality, but overall it seems to me that there is definitely a loss of culture.

This makes me wonder. Is globalization a method for spreading ideas and quality products or is it another way where foreign influence is pushing aside culture, identity, and tradition? Is it merely capital-motivated companies pushing to make profit in all corners of the earth, or a method of homogenizing what people should want and desire?


Categories: Blog Post 5 (week of 6/16), Uncategorized | Leave a comment

From Mosul to Marrakech

The other day a group at the American Language Center in Marrakech began creating murals around the entire complex. The last one they created was titled “before I die I want to…” and then there was space below for the younger students to write on stickers and answer the question. Once it was completed the first sticker that caught my eye was one that said “to be king”. I couldn’t help but think of the oppressive realities tied to such a childish claim. The second one I saw simply said “change the world”. It is such a common aspiration. I can remember saying and hearing the same sentiment when I was in elementary and middle school. But what does it really mean? How do you go about changing the world? In an ever globalized world our actions can have widespread effects. The US has been a force of change around the world and the recent events in Iraq involving the ISIL made me think about how the US is involved in creating change around the world.

My Photo

In 2003 the US expanded its Middle East campaign by invading Iraq ostensibly to find and destroy Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Led by George Bush and Dick Cheney the US toppled the regime and dismantled the army in attempt to find these weapons that apparently never existed. The goal was not to spread freedom and democracy as some are now claiming, but it was to change the balance of power in the region and eliminate a threat to US hegemony. Bush used the sword and military might to affect change in a region of the world that was changing in a way that was unfavorable to American interests. Now, 11 years later, we are witnessing the devastating effects that this invasion had on Iraqi society. Rather than rooting out the forces that were challenging American interests, namely al-Qaeda and now the Sunni ISIL, the invasion and resulting government have empowered them. Ethnic conflict between the Shia government, Sunni extremists, and the Kurds has devolved into a civil war in which no single entity can claim actual control over Iraq. Parts of the nation are now administered by the ISIL, the Kurds in semi-autonomous Kurdistan, and the Iraqi government. No pluralistic democracy was created. Instead one faction, seen as the least dangerous to American interests, was empowered to run the nation and used that position to further its own interests rather than that of the nation.

This illustrates one way of affecting change. Through the use of hard power and regime change it should be possible to create favorable outcomes in a nation. Unfortunately in practice this didn’t work and one bad regime was exchanged for anarchy and a lack of any semblance of governmental control. During my time in Morocco I have seen another method of affecting change. Through soft power and the sheer size of American influence on the international level Morocco has been changed. American products carry some type of American values attached to them when they are exported. Things from music, television, and clothing trends express a form of liberalization that has profound effects on society. Young people tend to not conform as strictly to traditional norms in society and instead exhibit a more Western, and especially American, attitude on life. This seems largely based in consumption and the level of an individual’s consumption is tied to their socioeconomic status, but American influence seems to permeate all layers of society at least to some extent. Even driving through a rural village in the middle of the High Atlas Mountains last weekend where most people probably didn’t have running water or electricity there was painted sign advertising Coca Cola on the side of a tiny community store. People want to emulate what they perceive to be success. For the last 70 years that has been embodied by the American Dream. The Islamic Revolution in Iran was in large part based on fighting against this latent influence of American consumerism and modernism in Iranian society and an attempt to return to a more traditional and religious system.

If the aim of US policy in the Middle East is to eliminate elements that threaten violence against the US and its interests, then what is the best way of accomplishing this goal? Obviously attempts through war have failed. Iraq is devolving into chaos, Afghanistan is close to doing the same, and Libya is ruled by militant militias. Stamping out terrorists is not working. Instead of using force to rid society of elements we don’t like we must undermine their power by showing a better way of doing things, not by forcing our way of doing things upon unwilling nations. This is even easier in a globalized world where shipping products takes days not months and sharing ideas takes seconds instead of years. The diffusion of ideas through the internet and media can do more than any war, but war can undo this and create a backlash that renders the diffusion of ideas useless because they will be unaccepted simply because of their origin. Making friends, or at least not enemies, and then allowing the soft power of the US to take over from there represents the best way for the US to root our forces which seek its downfall and the best long term national security policy we could embrace.

Categories: Blog Post 5 (week of 6/16) | 1 Comment