Asif Majid studied on SIT’s Morocco: Migration and Transnational Identity program in fall 2011 and SIT’s Morocco: Multiculturalism and Human Rights program in spring 2012. He recently published a book entitled This Moroccan Life that was informed by his research and experiences on the SIT programs. Below, Asif describes his impressions of Morocco and the issues he explores in his book.
With Amazigh, Arab, French, Spanish, and sub-Saharan African influences, Morocco is more of a melting pot of cultures and languages than many parts of the United States. It was within this mixture that I spent nine months on two SIT programs in Morocco tackling the questions I had about my surroundings and the role I played within them.
Understanding the various political, social, cultural, and linguistic dimensions of Morocco was challenging to say the least. It became apparent to me that addressing Morocco from the perspective of traditional field research would not be adequate; there were simply too many questions, ranging from the Arab Spring to transitioning gender roles, to explore.
As I struggled, I found solace in Djemaa el Fna, a public performance space in Marrakech. There, street performers told stories but interrupted themselves at climactic junctures to tease money out of their audience. Those interruptions became opportunities for me to explore the issues I sought to understand through experiential research.
That research led to my writing the book This Moroccan Life; the book is in two parts. In Part 1, I used the structure of stories told in Djemaa el Fna and supplemented it with Bertolt Brecht’s epic theater concept to write a play framed around an old Arab folk tale in which a wily main character tricks three thieves using a donkey, stick, bird, and knife.
In my play, the three thieves and the objects they are tricked by become interjecting characters that interrupt the narrator—who is telling the frame story—in order to expose Moroccan social issues including migration, transnational identity, human rights, gender roles, and sexual harassment. Further, the play is a sociopolitical allegory for the Arab Spring, in which the narrator is a despotic ruler oppressing his people—the interrupting characters—by marginalizing their stories.
Part 2 is a lengthy analysis that connects the themes raised by the characters of Part 1 to academic research and my personal experiences in Morocco, both of which influenced the writing of the play. In fact, the two parts are so intertwined that they are one.
I am grateful for the flexibility of the Independent Study Project period, which allowed me to take such an intellectual risk. My ability to empathize with the people of Morocco and the themes I explored is far greater now than it would have been without the opportunity SIT facilitated.