Race and the Making of the Arab Majority in Morocco

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 5:59 PM
Virginia Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Chouki El Hamel, Arizona State University at Tempe
Morocco has traditionally been described in local historiography as a racially/ethnically homogenous nation, defined religiously by Islamic doctrine and linguistically and politically by Arabic nationalism.  Written history is generally silent regarding slavery and racial attitudes, discrimination, and marginalization, and paints a picture of Morocco as free from such social problems, problems usually associated more with slavery and its historical aftermath in the United States.  Slavery and racism are issues that were previously academic taboo in Morocco, but for ethnic groups such as the blacks in Morocco, the problems of slavery, cultural and racial prejudice, and marginalization are neither new nor foreign.  Blacks in Morocco have been marginalized for centuries, with the dominant Moroccan culture defining this marginalized group as ‘Abid (slaves), Haratin (a term that generally meant formerly enslaved black persons), and other references to the fact that they are black and/or descendants from slaves. 

The construction of race in Morocco is different from that of its American counterpart, even though after the abolition of slavery the effects were somewhat similar.  Initially the institution of slavery in Islamic societies and those influenced by Islam was not legally drawn along racial lines.  However, even though Islamic law explicitly prohibits the enslavement of other Muslims, Muslims did enslave other Muslims, particularly if they were black.  In this paper, I analyze how racialist ideas and positions became not only an ideology of enslavement but also a structure based on patterns of color and culture prejudice.  I discuss how this process preserved old Arab social relations at work in the creation of a “nationalist” Moroccan Arab majority and at the same time subjugated black ancestry.