Thursday

The Beats of Morocco's Young Islamists


Chekh Sar, "Poor, Muslim and proud of it", and not happy with the current state of Morocco. (From his Facebook page)
Chekh Sar is a young Moroccan rapper who, as my friend Said says, "speaks the truth." His song, "Wasted Time (Part II)", laments Morocco's morally and ethically corrupt society. Though he is clearly an Islamist, Moroccans of all stripes echo many of his complaints.

Below is the video, which is long, but worth watching to see the breadth of his and others frustration. Commentary follows which highlights some of the song's more poignant verses and criticisms.



Chekh Sar Da3t lwaqt by mehdischumann


Chekh Sar's verses touch on many problems plaguing Morocco and Moroccans in their daily life. In general, his points fall between Islamic/moral and more general 'secular' social criticisms.

He touches on the former in the first part of his rap, lamenting how little Moroccans know about Islam compared with their voracious consumption of popular culture:

"go watch Real and Barca / Everyone knows the names of the players, /... tell me how many of them know the names of the Prophet's companions?" (verse 10)

He goes on to express his frustration with Moroccan, and by extension, Modern, society's treatment of Islam: "In the 21st century, what Islam is there to speak of?" (verse 13). In the age of Al-Qaeda and the War on Terror, which Morocco has participated in enthusiastical, being a Muslim puts one at risk of being labeled an extremist or terrorist.

And though he seems to support Morocco's government and new Constitution, he disparages its interference in Religious affairs. The heavy handed Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments is seen as preventing Islamic scholars from fulling their traditional purpose of guiding the Umma:
 "the Ulama [Islamic scholars] that we depend on here / are silent or paid to keep quiet / or they only give us fatawa [religious opinions] about sex" (verse 18)
When scholars are allowed to speak freely, their opinions don't touch on the issues critical to Moroccan's daily life. We see this in his lambast of Sheikh Abdelbari Zamzami, a Moroccan mufti who recently issued a fatwa approving carrots' use as women's sex toys.

He also laments the case of Sheikh Abdellah Nihari, a Moroccan religious leader who was censored in 2012 by the Moroccan government after a visit to the Western Sahara.

The conlflict between Islam and Modernity  permeates his critique. To Chekh Sar, Modernity makes it hard to be a good Muslim, which has causes Moroccans to forget their obligations to God and society.

In the second half of the song, Chekh Sar shifts into a more 'secular' social critique. He starts with  television, which is ubiquitous even in Morocco's most rural or poor villages, and to him is both mindless and morally offensive. Its pervasive influence is responsible for a breakdown in Moroccan society, leading Moroccans to not communicate with another and to be intolerant of others opinions.

It also makes Moroccans stupid. In this verse he rails against ads which run on the national television station 2M:
"The people are laying down, they are drugged / Watching their TV makes you a dumbass, and according to them that's what we are / 'Send SMS to win a house and live the good life, / Where is Agadir? In Morocco or Algeria?" (verse 26)
Text message competitions like these are sponsored by companies to gain access to people's telephone numbers. Ridiculously simple questions like these (every Moroccan knows where Agadir is, according to Said), 'trick' Moroccans into think they will win cars and houses, when in reality they'll only start receiving advertisements on the cell phones. Later, he treats the Internet with similar acrimony.

The material fruits of Modernity mean nothing to Chekh Sar. As he says, "Development is a hoax." It's true that Morocco has increased it's material wealth in the last two decades. But the growth has been, at best, uneven. The traditional urban/rural dichotomy can be seen in the growth of the countries coastal cities, particularly Casblanca, Rabat and Tangier, compared with the relative stagnation of the country's interior.

Nothing illustrates this disparity more than the current project build a high-speed rail line between Tangier and Casablanca. Chekh Sar responds to this brilliantly:
"Two hours in the TGV between Tangier and Casa[blanca] / 2 hours by foot just to get to school"
These two lines embody his earlier label for Morocco: "the Land of Contradictions." How can a country with so much wealth spend it in such "trivial" ways and forget about the problems of its common people?

There are reasons which make Chekh Sar's criticisms easy to dismiss. First, he's a rapper and young. Second, he's clearly biased. He's a staunch Islamist, and invokes some tropes which sully some of his arguments. When commenting on Moroccans' confused identity he states, "we're Jews in how we treat each other," expressing some anti-Semitism. He is also critical of Mithli, a Moroccan pro-Gay rights magazine that is banned from the country but published abroad.

Chekh Sar also invokes a classic Islamist argument by blaming the Masons for constructing and leading the Modern world with all of its bad intentions. Conspiracy theories like these are common in Islamist circles and make their arguments seem ridiculous and illogical.

Despite these problems and shortcomings, most Moroccans would agree with the sentiment of Chekh Sar's verses. A few days after translating the video, I struck up a conversation with one of the shopkeepers in my neighborhood. He told me that Moroccans just, "eat, sleep, eat, and sleep, and don't do anything." His words almost perfectly echo Chekh's when he says:
"People want you to live aimlessly in this world / Just to eat, drink, sleep, then die without any goal / These are the Mason's ideas"
I'm not sure if my shopkeeper would agree with Chekh Sar's insistence on blaming the Masons for this, but he certainly share's the rapper's sentiment. And though I think many Moroccans would disagree with the strength of his pro-Islam position, many more would agree with his general assessments of Morocco's moral, ethical and political corruption.

There are many times when his criticism is spot on. Many times while watching the video, Said would burst into laughter over the blunt truth of Chekh Sar's rhymes. We saw this above with his take on the TGV. His response to the Amina Felali tragedy is similarly concise and direct:
"How can we be proud since we're ranked so low in the world? / We've wasted our time, that Amina Felali / She was raped, and married, and at the end committed suicide / Oh yeah, in Morocco rapists are protected by the law" 
As we see in Chekh Sar, hip-hop offers Moroccan youth a platform for poignant social criticism (this is also true for other, more established, rappers like Muslim).

It's also important to point out how Chekh Sar reflects Islamism in Morocco and throughout the Arab World. He's young, 21, and wears Western clothing, adopting a typical hip-hop style. He's not an old man with a beard who wears traditional clothing. He is also active on Facebook and other social networking sites, both to connect with fans and to distribute his videos.

In these in other ways, he's indistinguishable from a young, up and coming rapper from New York or any other Western city. However, instead of rapping about the club and girls, he raps about how his countrymen are descending into depravity courtesy of development and Modern values.

This reminds us to look with caution on theories which connect the spread of Modern technology with the proliferation of Western ideology (i.e. Facebook and Twitter caused the Arab Spring).

Said Illahiane provided invaluable help with the translation of the video. Safae Berhila also provided excellent, last minute research about some of the personalities mentioned in the song.

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