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Home »» Moroccan Of The Month

Dr. Mokhtar Ghambou  [ June, 2001 ]
Dr. Mokhtar Ghambou  Mokhtar Ghambou is a professor of humanities at Yale University. In addition to numerous publications and conference papers, Dr. Ghambou is currently working on a book entitled “The Myth of the Nomad.” His academic interests include multiculturalism, immigration, minority studies, and American cultural discourse.

wafin.com: Most Moroccans come to the United States to pursue their studies and research in scientific, technological, or business fields. What does it mean for a Moroccan like you to study and teach humanities in this country?

Dr. Ghambou: I've been asked the question before; I think it's more about the image of America in the Moroccan imagination than about the difference between one academic discipline and another. For Moroccans at home or abroad, America is mainly the country of “practical” and quick opportunities, and English is not really perceived as the language of literature, philosophy, and the arts, but a means though which the worlds of business, free market, global economy, and high technology are studied and mastered. In comparison, Arabic and French might have the same aspirations—to be languages of science—but they are predominantly reputed to be the languages of “culture”, in both its traditional (Quranic) and modern (European) dimension. Without discriminating between one field and another, I believe that American universities have as many brilliant humanists (historians, philosophers, cultural critics) as scientists. A scientific mind can hardly achieve its goal without substantiating itself through critical language, innovative spirit, argumentation, original thinking, and rhetoric. These are the very qualities that form the core of humanities.

wafin.com: How do your students at Yale respond to the non-Western material in your courses?

Dr. Ghambou: Students are usually resistant to the subject matters they haven't studied before entering college because their interests have been mostly restricted to Western authors and canonical texts. But as modern scholars would argue, there is no such thing a “pure”, “exceptional” American or European culture. When I teach Greek classical texts by Homer, Herodotus, and Plato, I explain to the students that Greek and Roman heritage was much more involved with Egypt and North Africa, the other side of the Mediterranean, than with present day France or England. To give another example, Saint Augustine, whose texts are fundamental to college education, is an Amazigh from Algeria, known as “Numidia” in antiquity. Moreover, much of modern Western intellectual history is deeply intertwined with the Islamic/Arabic civilization. My methodology consists, first, in discerning the non-Western material within Western culture itself, and then, once the students' curiosity is aroused, they become easily receptive to the richness of non-Western intellectual traditions. In short, it is crucial to understand the cross-cultural aspect within and between different traditions and histories. Only then we are able to grasp as well as safely engage with what is currently marketed as “globalism”.

wafin.com: If a great deal of your research is about the image of the “Other” in the contemporary American culture, where do Morocco and Moroccans fit into this image?

Dr. Ghambou: Morocco occupies a special place in the American imagination. As most of us know, the Kingdom of Morocco is one of the first nations to recognize the independence of the United States. Morocco strikes Americans as a beautiful country, with a rich history, culture, and landscape. The image is not always positive, however. This is true especially when we understand that America inherited its views of the outside world from the European colonial powers, namely England and France. The stereotype of Morocco as a desert space, inhabited by camel-herders and “primitives” is common in American imagination. Fortunately, the stereotype is disappearing and it is modern, not exotic, Morocco that seems to attract students and scholars in American universities. Each year scores of American students and scholars go to Morocco with a different perspective, that is, to engage directly with the modern issues that preoccupy the Moroccan society. In our turn, and as Moroccans living in this country, we should work together to change the classical image of Morocco as having nothing to offer but exotic scenes and folkloric spectacles. We must take the lead in informing the American public about the richness of our history and the unique diversity of our culture.

wafin.com: Given your permanent transitions among diverse cultures, literatures, and languages, is there a specific experience that has played a central role in your academic career?

Dr. Ghambou: Without sounding too patriotic, I believe that my native culture, a combination of both Amazigh and Arabic heritage, is the fueling energy behind my present accomplishments just as it is the continuing vehicle for my future academic pursuits. I always tell myself that I came to the US to re-discover the value and richness of Moroccan culture even when my academic activities have nothing to do with Morocco. What interests me is placing Moroccan culture at the heart of a cross-cultural debate, a universal debate whereby our rich legacy has a great deal to offer, especially when that legacy is revived and allowed to cut across geographical and political boundaries. Without this Moroccan view that is part of myself, my understanding of America, and of the Western world in general, would be incomplete.

wafin.com: How does your field of comparative studies modify your original perception of Morocco on the one hand, and of the West, on the other?

Dr. Ghambou: The cultural diversity that constitutes the central part of my occupation is itself inspired by my upbringing and primary education in Morocco. The difference or multiculturalism that distinguishes America in the eyes of many is not alien to Moroccans, who find themselves, at an early age, at the intersection of multiple cultures, religions, and languages. I did not discover the importance of cultural diversity in America; rather, America has provided me with the appropriate medium, both professionally and culturally, where my background is consolidated, diffused, and put to practice. Moreover, the deeper I study Europe and America the stronger I become convinced that the classical barriers between “civilized” and “uncivilized” worlds have to be blurred and entirely dismantled. Civilization is neither a static concept nor a racial phenomenon, but a dynamic process based on work, diligence, and merit. Such is the lesson we derive from our Moroccan culture and from the other cultures with which we interact.

wafin.com: As you are aware, the Moroccan community is growing in the USA, especially in the big cities like New York, Washington D.C., and Chicago. What, if anything, does this say to you regarding the present and future of the 'diasporic' Moroccan communties?

Dr. Ghambou: Given its past history, America is no doubt a strategic place for setting up diasporic communities, which both enrich and are enriched by the America public at large. So many models are available to draw upon. Various communities from Africa, Asia, Latin America, as well as the Arab world, have made a strong presence in American cities, becoming influential “ambassadors” of their native countries. Why should we be the exception? Morocco is at the crossroad of potential shifts and historical transitions, and it needs our support to get its universal message across. We must be organized by creating a space, whether symbolic or physical, where our desires and anxieties as Moroccan expatriates are shared and galvanized. Whether our concerns are related to our presence here or to our brothers and sisters back home, they should be seriously and legally addressed in cultural and social organizations to reach their ultimate effectiveness. This is the very context within which I situate the unique forum of wafin.com, one which makes us increasingly aware of the value of our collective efforts to promote ourselves and our country of origin.




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