National Narratives and the Invention of Ethnic Identities: Revisiting Cultural Memory and the Decolonized State in Morocco

Norah Karrouche

Educational systems are key to our understanding of the ways in which national identities are created, sustained and reproduced. When the project of nation building is closely associated or appears simultaneously with processes of modernization, state institutions play a crucial role in spreading national ideologies and creating shared cultures (Gellner, 2006). In the nineteenth century, European countries used divide-and-conquer politics overseas in order to sustain their colonizing power. In this chapter, I scrutinize the lasting effects of such policies on the organization of ethnic and cultural differences within the so-called decolonized nation-state. I will primarily approach the issue by looking into the ‘cultivation of culture’ (Leersen, 2006) that accompanies projects of nation building.

As Anderson (1991) argued, several modern institutions preoccupied with the classification of individuals and groups (such as the museum, the demographic census and the geographical map) were invented at a time when European expansionism was at its height. These modern institutions appeared simultaneously with the building of nation-states in Europe (Megill, 2011). Modern academic disciplines such as geography, historiography and especially ethnography developed during the nineteenth century as well as part of the colonial and imperial project (Stoler & Cooper, 1997). European nation-states introduced the system of standardized education in their colonies as a way to supersede local and regional loyalties. Education supported and sustained

N. Karrouche (*)

Department of History, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands © The Author(s) 2017

M. Carretero et al. (eds.), Palgrave Handbook of Research in Historical Culture and Education, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-52908-4_16

moral citizenship and loyalty on a larger scale: that of the nation (Anderson, 1991; Gellner, 2006). History education in particular caters to this need and provides historical depth and understanding to national subjects’ loyalty to the state, as it defines who counts as a citizen of the state and what it means to belong to a nation.

This chapter explores the ways in which the national narratives of supposedly decolonized societies are constructed. It focuses on North African countries that have previously been colonized by France and deals with the production of national narratives in the context of historiography and history education.

Recent developments in the Maghreb known to us as the ‘Arab Spring’ have put the construction of new national narratives high on the region’s political agenda. Over the past few decades, policymakers and socio-cultural activists have been preoccupied with national identity (Muslim, Arab and Berber) and ties with France. To what extent are those ‘new’ national narratives in Morocco truly ‘decolonized’?

I will henceforth focus on the persistence of the so-called ‘Berber issue’ in national historical culture, historiography and history education in particular. The French are known to have made an artificial distinction between Arabs and Berbers during colonial times, evaluating the Berbers on more positive terms. After independence in 1956, when Morocco was defined as an Arab and Muslim country, the Berbers—their language, culture and heritage—were marginalized. This narrative has been contested in recent years. Throughout the twentieth century, Berber identity has been subject to an intricate power dynamic which, until this day, impinges upon modes of meaning making in national historical culture. Actors in this process tend to claim a fixed location for the Berbers and the Arabs in Moroccan history. Berber culture is presented as static, fixed and unified and thus is set off against Arab and Islamic culture. The history of the Moroccan nation-state was reduced to the history of the monarchy. Most historiographers focused on writing a history of the nation that amounted to a history of the anti-colonial nationalist movement (Gilson Miller, 2014).

This chapter in particular explores the tension between regional and local Berber identities on the one hand and the Arab and Islamic identity of the Moroccan nation-state on the other. It does so by focusing on the historical narrative that has been taught in Moroccan schools from independence in 1956 onwards. Recently, this narrative has been adapted to fit a new mul- ticulturalist ideology. From the early 2000s onwards, ethnic and religious minorities have increasingly been included in national historical culture. More than half a century after independence from its former colonizers, states such as Morocco and Algeria continue to grapple with their respective legacies of colonization, especially within the fields of national historiography and history education. In this chapter, I therefore scrutinize the historical process of decolonization and the re-invention of ethnic identities in the Maghreb.

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