The Amazigh: Returning from the Ashes of Neglect II
Part II - What the Amazigh (Berbers) Want
Note that the native people of North Africa call themselves 'Amazigh' (sing.) or Imazighen (plur.), which means 'Freemen'. They refer to their language as 'Tamazight' and their homeland in North Africa as 'Tamazgha'. The name 'Berber' was imposed upon them by the Romans who followed the Greek custom of designating speakers of unintelligible languages as 'barbarians'.
Five years ago, a group of Amazigh Intellectuals headed by a prominent scholar and former teacher of the current King of Morocco produced a document called The Amazigh Manifesto; a document that has come to symbolize the official rebirth of the Amazigh movement. The Amazigh people were finally intent to forego their silence and openly challenge the status quo in order to regain their rights and obtain redress for the many years of discrimination they have suffered under Arab regimes in their homeland of North Africa. It was finally time for the Amazigh people to denounce the unjust treatment they have suffered and the systematic repression they have endured.
What follows is a summary of demands outlined in the The Amazigh Manifesto. Since the publication of this document, the Moroccan Monarch responded favorably to some of the Amazigh demands. This includes the creation of an Amazigh Cultural Institute and the teaching of the Amazigh language at the primary level of the school system. However, many of the fundamental demands of the Amazigh people are still unsatisfied, including the recognition of the Amazigh language as an official language of the country, lifting the ban on registering Amazigh names, and the economic development of Amazigh-speaking areas. While some of the initiatives taken recently by the King of Morocco are positive, the Amazigh people of North Africa continue to suffer systematic discrimination and premeditated repression.
The government must make the issue of the Amazighity of Morocco the subject of a large-scale national debate. Some of the political parties have the duty of educating those of their followers who were brought up to be fanatical about Arab nationalism and the denial of the "Amazighity" of Morocco.
The government has at its disposal all the State’s financial and logistical means in the domains of mass media, education and culture and the freedom to act as the official organizer and moderator of the much needed debate.
It is high time that the recognition of our original national language–Tamazight (i.e. Berber)–as an official language be enshrined in the country’s Constitution.
There is no gainsaying the historical reality, which indeed can not be contested, that the economic and cultural marginalization of the Amazighs since 1912 has brought about their political weakness. Thus, they have been largely exploited by the political Right and Left alike.
Therefore, we demand that a serious planning for the economic development of the Amazighs- speaking areas take place, with the aim to give them momentary priority to get equipped with the necessary infrastructure.
The Amazighs are strongly attached to their linguistic heritage, more so than to a material one. This is because they are Amazigh thanks to their language not to their race. They are completely aware of the fact that whoever among them exposes his language to loss is doing the same to his Amazigh existence.
Thus, we are asking the government to prepare draft bills aiming to enforce the teaching of Tamazight in schools, institutes and universities. Moreover, we request that it create the scientific institutions capable of codifying the Amazigh language and preparing the pedagogical instruments necessary for its teaching.
In the last 40 years, the political trends that have adopted a fanatical stand about Arabism have exploited their effective hegemony and used their authority to orient historical studies on the Maghreb and the teaching of History in accordance with their wishes and ideological inclinations.
For these reasons, we demand that a serious reconsideration of the kind of history taught to our children take place. To achieve this objective, a "National Scientific Commission" must be set up, at the highest possible level, and charged with the task of devising the History syllabi, particularly for the primary, junior and high school levels. Our ministers of education shall not be given free disposal as concerns syllabi and curricula in the field of History.
We call upon the government to make the use of Tamazight mandatory in public service, for the benefit of those of our fellow citizens who are not cognizant in Arabic.
The official mass media should be in the service of the Amazighs in the same way that they are for other citizens. This would be achieved only by the creation of a "Radio and TV station" where the linguistic medium used is mainly Tamazight.
The State has to create a training institution for translators and interpreters in Tamazight to be employed in the court system, the administrations, the hospitals and all the public services.
The government should allow the use of Tamazight in the proceedings of official meetings, at least at the level of local and regional councils.
The government must lift the ban on registering the Amazigh names in the Sate Registry Services as soon as possible, because in this ban lies a clear intention to provoke the Amazighs.
The original Amazigh art is to be rehabilitated. This includes literature, dancing, singing, architecture and decoration. This art is to be modernized so that it will be improved and promoted. The Amazigh artists must be granted the same financial assistance and endowments as their Arab colleagues.
The authorities must cease to intentionally distort the Amazigh names of places, villages, cities and regions, through their arbitrary Arabization, as this increases the resentment of the Amazighs.
The Amazigh cultural associations are to be granted the status of "Public Interest" associations so as to enable them to benefit from State financial assistance.
The newspapers, magazines and all publications concerned with the defense and promotion of the Amazigh heritage of Morocco are to be given the same financial help as that made available for publications in Arabic and the foreign languages.