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memri
March 19, 2009 No.
2262

'Berbers, Where Do You Stand on Palestine?'

Throughout the recent fighting in Gaza, the mainstream North African press was nearly unanimous in its support for the Palestinians and its condemnation of Israel. Some Amazigh (Berber) activist groups, though, made a point of distancing themselves from this mainstream view - for which they were attacked by the Islamist press. While a number of conservative and left-wing Amazigh groups expressed support for the Palestinians, others expressed contrary views, to underline their non-Arab identity and their belief that North Africa should detach itself politically and culturally from the Middle East.

Following are excerpts from the Moroccan and Algerian press and electronic media on the dispute over Berber attitudes towards the Gaza war:

Moroccan Islamist Daily: "Amazighs of Morocco, Where Do You Stand on Palestine?"

On January 15, the Moroccan pro-Hamas Islamist daily Al-Tajdid published a column by Hassan Bouikhf titled "Amazighs of Morocco, Where Do You Stand on Palestine?" The article took to task Berber activist groups that did not show support for the Palestinians in Gaza:

"Amazighs of Morocco! The massacres in Gaza, and those that came before, have revealed a strange phenomenon: the near-total absence of the voice of the Amazigh organizations and civil and political leaders from the arena of solidarity [with the Palestinians] and condemnation [of Israel].

"This absence is in stark contrast with the mass uprisings of the peoples of Tamazgha [i.e. North Africa] to champion the nation's causes, as evidenced by the strength of their demonstrations, of which the strongest were the million-man demonstration in Rabat on January 4 and [the demonstration in] Algiers on January 9.

"What is the justification for the silence of these dozens of groups, organizations, and individuals - with a few exceptions, like in Al-Hoceima, Nador, and the Souss - and their refraining from joining the Amazighs around the world [who did demonstrate]? What is the justification for the blackout of the Amazigh electronic and print media on the issue of Gaza? What has muted Amazigh human rights groups and kept them from denouncing [Israel], which was the least they could do? Or is this yet another sign that they are isolated, marginal, have nothing to do with the stand of the Amazigh masses, and represent only themselves?..." [1]

An earlier Al-Tajdid article had addressed the same phenomenon. After mentioning a number of Amazigh groups that did express support for the Palestinians, it singled out for criticism the well-known activist Ahmed Adghirni, secretary-general of the Moroccan Amazigh Democratic Party: "On this matter, Ahmed Adghirni refused to state his position on the Zionist aggression against Gaza. Reached by phone, he said that 'the matter is no concern of mine' and 'I will not make a statement on this.' Adghirni refused to reveal the reason for his absence from the million-man march in Rabat…" [2]

The article also mentioned a communiqué from EMCAB, an Amazigh student group in Boumalne Dades, a town in southeast Morocco that was in the headlines a year ago, after police broke up a linguistic-rights protest and 10 Amazigh activists were sentenced to long prison terms. In their communiqué, the student group boasted that they had broken up protests in support of Gaza:

"It is saddening to see this farce: the Moroccan people waging a struggle for the liberation of Palestine, when the Moroccan people are still shackled and suffering from indirect colonialism. The Moroccan people need someone to struggle for their own liberation.

"With the events in Gaza, Moroccan cities witnessed protest marches expressing solidarity with Gaza, and the Boumalne Dades High School had its share of this baseless fight. The consciences of the EMCAB activists would not allow them to remain silent, and they intervened to denounce what was going on in the high school in particular, and in Morocco in general, which is a result of the intellectual dispossession to which the Moroccans have been subjected.

"EMCAB succeeded in foiling and preventing the continuation of the 'pro-Gaza' struggle organized by students and teachers [belonging to] Islamist groups…" [3]

Columnist Ahmed 'Asid: We Don't March Because Islamists and Pan-Arabists Have Monopolized the Public Sphere

Columnist Ahmed 'Asid responded to Al-Tajdid's accusations in the Moroccan Bayan Al-Yawm daily on January 23, 2009: "…We know the Moroccan people's solidarity with the Palestinian people, and we [the Amazighs] join in this. It is in the hearts of people of all ages and in all sectors [of society]. It is a true and spontaneous solidarity… But there is nowhere for this to be expressed apart from the private sphere. As for the public sphere, it is monopolized by others who have other aims in expressing solidarity… The author's second error is that he has limited solidarity with Palestine to participation in marches organized by the political current to which he himself belongs [i.e. the Islamists], in cooperation with the pan-Arab current - whether in its left-wing, nationalist salafi, or right-wing liberal forms. Everyone knows that these marches are held in the framework of these two political ideologies [Islamism and pan-Arabism], both of which we reject completely and irrevocably. These marches are organized in the name of the Moroccan people, but in truth they only represent their organizers, and promote a 'solidarity' of a different sort, and a struggle of a different sort - [that of] agitators for jihadi Islam and preachers of pan-Arabism, whose feelings are roused only when it is Arabs who are wronged…

"Thus, we are for Palestinian rights and against the instrumental political use to which they are put; we are for the Palestinian people but against Hamas, [Islamic] Jihad, and all the peddlers of Palestinian blood… We are against the savagery of brutal revenge demonstrated by Palestinian political Islam in the Gaza coup, and against all the maneuvers aiming to derail political talks through missiles - which kill no one apart from the Palestinian dream of an independent state. We believe that the Palestinian cause is a human one that is larger than the Arabs and the Muslims, and that those who have Arabized it and Islamized it have cost it the world's forceful solidarity and have turned it into a wearisome play of which all have tired…" [4]

Berber Activist Moha Moukhlis: "The 'Arab Street' Is Jubilant When an Indoctrinated Palestinian Child Blows Himself up in Tel Aviv" - And Ignores Crimes in Darfur and Kurdistan

An article by the Moroccan Berber journalist Moha Moukhlis posted on the amazighworld.org website expressed in starker terms what some Berbers feel is the gulf between themselves and the Arab world: "…I want first to emphasize that I am writing as an Amazigh deprived of my most basic and legitimate rights: to be myself in the land of my ancestors and to express myself freely without constraint.

"I am not part of the flock that bleats as it is being led to the slaughterhouse. I am allergic to totalitarian ideologies and impassioned rhetoric. I hate confusions and ambiguities: I am an Amazigh, a free man.

"I can thus affirm that the tragedy of the Gaza Palestinians serves as fuel for Hamas, a gang of fundamentalist criminals who are perpetrating self-genocide, with the assistance of genocidal Arab regimes. [They are] mentally disturbed people who hate life and use the blood of their fellow Muslims to perpetuate their macabre aura.

"What can homemade and primitive rockets do against the fifth [largest] army in the world? '[They can bring us] Paradise,' say the Islamists and their dark networks, and they have the Quranic verses and hadith to prove it! [These are] criminal Islamists who conceive of their own people as cannon fodder destined to build up their bogus 'glory'…

"Death is their ideal, their culture, and the pillar of their values. The society that it [Hamas] dominates is indoctrinated to murder, to kill in jubilation and in horror. They are vampires who suck the blood of their citizens… It matters little to them if hundreds of children die or are torn to shreds. They think that they will go straight to Paradise. How morbid!

"And the so-called 'Arab street[?]' A brainless herd that has been indoctrinated and riled up and that has lost all sense of gravity and direction. They express their hatred for the Jews, whom they hope to exterminate from the face of the Earth… Yet this 'Arab street', which sees itself as the voice of the [world's] peoples, never dared to lift a finger against the crimes committed by the Hamas fundamentalists, or by the Arabo-Islamist regimes against non-Arab populations in Darfur, Kurdistan, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Algeria, or Niger. No! [And] the rights of the Amazigh people are supposed to be sacrificed on the altar of [this] Arab fundamentalism …

"It is striking that the denunciation of the massacres in Gaza by the 'Arab street' and the Arab 'intellectuals' is not meant to defend the Palestinians' right to live in peace, but to denounce the identity of the aggressor: the Jew. Who cares about the massacre perpetrated by the Hamas gangs against their brothers in Fatah? This macabre [attitude] is taken to extremes: The 'Arab street' is jubilant when an indoctrinated Palestinian child blows himself up in Tel Aviv."

"The Amazigh People… Will Never Give in to the Siren [Songs] of the Peddlers of Death"

Moukhlis continues: "They criticize the Amazigh movement for its 'silence' on Gaza! This is because its position [on Gaza] is determinant [of its status]: either it goes along with the herd, or else it is condemned and accused of high treason against the fundamentalist Arab nation. To rehabilitate itself, it is expected to send its children to blow themselves up in Tel Aviv, to teach them to hate Jews, and to express the wish, after every prayer, that they [the Jews] will disappear from the Earth!

"No! The Amazigh people love life and work to perpetuate it. They will never give in to the siren [songs] of the peddlers of death and human flesh. They will always know to defend just causes without hatred and without vengefulness. While for the 'Arab street' and the Arab fundamentalist groups the death of dozens of children and women means nothing - since their death is a means of entering Paradise - for the Amazighs the life of every human being is sacred and must be defended by legal means and with respect for the other.

"In order to develop, the Arab fundamentalists and [pan-]Arabists need to start by changing. This change, which will allow them to build a future for coming generations, needs to be based on the total and definitive rejection of the culture of death." [5]

Kabyle Writer: "Selective Humanism and Compassion Are the Expression of an Unspoken Racism"

The same attitudes could be observed in Algeria as well as Morocco. In an article on the Kabyle (Algerian Berber) website kabyle.com, Azouaou Azeggagh wrote: "The Palestinians, taken hostage in the Gaza Strip, suffer martyrdom while serving as a human shield in a war imposed on them by Hamas' Islamist militias and their allies in Damascus and Tehran. The media are at the source of the clamors of indignation heard from the four corners of the world when faced with the horrors of a war broadcast live… They would do better to turn against the persecutors of the Palestinians' liberty -namely, the Hamas fundamentalists, disciples of Khomeini and bin Laden…

"The method remains simple and terribly effective. First, you must make Israel commit an error, by launching rockets from crowded neighborhoods, schools, or hospitals, so that the return fire will inevitably hit the largest number of civilians possible - preferably women and children. Then, you show the TV [crews] the shredded bodies, and there you go. The condemnations pour in and the world looks at Israel as the barbarian of the 21st century, when it did nothing but defend its right to live - a right openly and unambiguously contested by Islamists of all stripes.

"Nonetheless, Western opinion, which often stops at the emotional level, wants neither to see nor to understand the reasons for the Israeli military reaction. [According to them], all Israel had to do was not fall into the trap of its enemies. What Western opinion forgets is that with such a reaction, it encourages in Gaza what it condemns at home: Islamist terrorism…

"Other tragedies - in Darfur, Kivu, Gambia, the Ivory Coast, Kabylia, Somaliland, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Afghanistan, and the Touareg lands ([in] Niger, Mali, Lybia, and Algeria) - are largely minimalized, and do not give rise to mass movements [of sympathizers]. Selective humanism and compassion are the expression of an unspoken racism. The victims of political and military violence are equal in death, whatever their identity." [6]

"The Majority of Kabyles Cannot Show Solidarity with Hamas - When It Is Arab Islamism that Remains the Principle Menace to the Survival of the Amazigh Peoples"

Another author, D. Messaoudi, wrote on the same website: "The violence of the fighting, the mistakes [on the battlefield], and the proportion of civilians killed by the IDF in Operation Cast Lead have traveled the world round. Both in Europe and in the so-called Arab countries, the tragedies of the Kabyles, the Kurds, and the Darfurians have not excited the same compassion. In this context, it should be added that no one in Algeria or in [other] Berber countries cared when, for eight years, the Islamic jihadi militias of Hamas and Hizbullah tore Israel to pieces with Qassam rockets and Grad missiles.

"The majority of Kabyles cannot show solidarity with Hamas when it is Arab Islamism that remains the principle menace to the survival of the Amazigh peoples…

"To be sure, the slaughter being carried out by the Israeli army against the Arab Palestinian residents of Gaza is condemnable. Thus it is normal that the Arabs of other country would express solidarity with their blood brothers, try to bring in non-Arab Muslims on a basis of religious solidarity, and try to swell their ranks with people of different ethnicities and faiths on the basis of human solidarity.

"But a question has been bothering me for quite a long time and holds me back from expressing solidarity with the Palestinian cause, though I am Muslim and a human rights activist: Have the Arab peoples and regimes, whether Muslim or Christian, ever demonstrated their support for oppressed non-Arabs, whether around the world or in their own countries? The answer is 'no'…"

Messaoudi then reviews the cases of the Kurds and Darfur before going on to address that of his own people in Kabylia: "… In the Black Spring (2001-2004), Kabylia was invaded by government troops and 126 Kabyle civilians were murdered, and hundreds of others were crippled for life. Yet the Kabyle tragedies have never aroused the compassion of Arab figures, regimes, or simple Arab citizens, either nationally [in Algeria] or in the so-called Arab world…

"In sum, the Arabs believe that only their causes are noble and only their populations are to be classed as human - this being the justification for [why] one [should] support them and surround them with love and compassion. It is unfortunate that many people have let themselves be carried away by this wave of hypocritical inter-Arab solidarity." [7]

Berber Columnist Ahmed Sidqi: The Zionists Have Ensnared Some Leaders of the Amazigh Movement

Not all Berber writers were happy that these kinds of arguments had become associated with the Amazigh movement. Ahmed Sidqi wrote in the Moroccan Hespress e-journal: "Perhaps many people think that the Amazighs do not support Gaza in its recent ordeal, [an impression] based on the media forays of some Amazigh activists… I am an Amazigh and I refuse to let these people represent me… and there are many Amazighs like me who reject [the phenomenon of] bizarre articles and strange responses being signed with the name 'free Amazigh' or 'Amazighs of Morocco'…

"The cause of Gaza is, before anything else, a human cause… but the Zionists wanted to humiliate [these humans], and when they refused and revolted, they were subjected to punishment and destruction…

"One member of the Amazigh movement related to me his astonishment that the left and the Islamists agreed to organize [joint] activities in support [of Gaza]. I pointed out to him that this was a human cause, but he interrupted me, stressing that they [the Gazans] are Arabs, the enemies of the Amazighs. I tried to make him understand that the hundreds of children killed by the Zionists in their unconcealed holocaust were too young to speak, whether in Arabic or any other language…

"We need to stop the hostility towards Islam, our common identity, and towards other ethnic groups who are together with us in the camp of the oppressed. The Amazigh camp stupidly loses many points by expressing positions against causes like the Palestinian cause… This stupidity can only be explained by what we hear about some of the well-known leaders of the [Amazigh] movement falling into the web of the Zionist state's enticements, as part of its plans to sow confusion in our societies - which is a prelude to smashing the forces of resistance and rejection… until the peoples of the region accept this usurping entity.

"The Amazigh youth need to be wary of plans whose secrets and meanings they may not understand. They need to know that the Zionist entity has descended in force on the Amazigh ethnicity, in order to ignite civil strife in our countries…" [8]

Endnotes:

[1] Al-Tajdid (Morocco), January 14, 2009.

[2] Al-Tajdid (Morocco), January 8, 2009. For MEMRI TV clips featuring Ahmed Adghirni, see Clip No. 1518, "Debate about a Newly Formed Berber-Jewish Friendship Association in Morocco," July 31, 2007, http://www.memri.org/legacy/clip/1518 ; and Clip No. 1713, "Arab Nationalists Attack Berber Activists over Ties with Israel," March 16, 2008, http://www.memri.org/legacy/clip/1713.

[3] www.ageddim.jeeran.com/archive/2009/1/770572.html, January 6, 2009.

[4] Bayan Al-Yawm (Morocco), January 23, 2009.

[5] www.amazighworld.org, January 23, 2009.

[6] www.kabyle.com, January 17, 2009.

[7] www.kabyle.com, January 10, 2009.

[8] www.hespress.com, January 23, 2009.