Monday, May 14, 2007

The Island

(Not a film with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson)

Generally, I am loath to ask my students to suspend belief for even the briefest of moments because their responses tend to be as unimaginative as humanly possible for individuals not raised in cardboard boxes in basements or bombshelters deep underground. Expecting an answer of childlike whimsy has become my Brick Wall, and I long learned to stop hitting my head against it. Nonetheless, in a moment of rare fickleness, I asked several of my adult classes this week to imagine that they had been marooned - alone & bereft of any media - on a desert island for 30 years before being rescued. I didn't ask them to imagine that they were Tom Hanks cast adrift on an island with a half dozen Fedex parcels because that would have been cruel. No one should have to defile their thoughts with images of Mr. Spanks in various stages of undress. Their assignment - predicated on the already onerous task of using their imaginations - was to tell me what 3 questions they would first pose to their rescuers.

The top 3 responses (or rather questions), in order, were:

1) Has Palestine become an independent sovereign nation?
2) Is Nicolas Sarkozy dead?
3) Has Morocco joined the European Union?

The first response (or question) placed first among every group in every class. I was gobsmacked. It's not that the question is without merit - because it is - but in the two years that I've been working in Morocco, not one student of mine has ever raised the "Palestinian problem". Quite simply - if I may trot my ignorance out on parade - I hadn't realized that it was such a hot button issue for Moroccans. And if it is - which according to my highly scientific survey it clearly is - why is it that in all of the discussions I've had with adults and teens during this time, it has never once been raised? Did they think I'd be unsympathetic? I doubt it; my own cultural sensitivities have seldom been spared in class. After all, I've been told that I'm going to Hell unless I convert to Islam, the true and living faith. How much more prickly would it be to discuss Palestine?

The second response (or question) shouldn't have surprised me but nevertheless it did. I asked why the death of another country's leader (elect) was of such tantamount importance to them. I mean, I don't want to see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dead* but I do want to see him ousted from power and run out of town like the mud-sucking dog that he is. So why the bloodlust? "He hates Muslims," I was told. Oh. I suppose I should have seen that one coming. After all, it was Sarkozy who, as Interior Minister, insisted that scarved women remove said-scarves for their identity pictures - a move which was likened by some Muslim leaders to the yellow stars worn by Jews in Nazi Germany. But after Sarkozy's election, M6 called to offer his congratulations. Was he just being polite? Collegial? Or does he too harbour nefarious thoughts about Sarkozy being ousted from power and run out of town like the mud-sucking dog that he may (or may not) be? Whatever the case, he certainly showed better manners than my students.

The final response (or question) - a.k.a. hope springs eternal - narrowly edged out "Did Morocco get the World Cup?"(i.e., not qualify for it win it, just host it). Apparently losing the World Cup venue to South Africa still rankles deeply in the Moroccan subconscious, but not deeply enough to surplant wanting to be "European". It's been 20 years since Morocco (a country in Africa) applied for membership to join the European Union (which is made up of countries not in Africa) and was rejected. In fact, the application was denied because Morocco "was not considered a European country" which is a pretty accurate observation since it isn't. Nonetheless, with the ascension of M6 to the throne, the deepening of economic ties with Europe, and the announcement that rail tunnels (à la Chunnel) will be constructed beneath the Straits of Gibraltar (joining Spain & Morocco), rumours are yet again flying about that accession can't be that far off. With a projected start date of next year and a completion date of 2025, it may not pave the way to accession to the EU, but it will make immigration a whole lot easier. And by immigration, I mean from Morocco to Spain.

So there you have it. No questions about the King (like, is he still alive?), nothing about the implementation of further democratic reforms in Morocco, zip curiosity expressed about the "West Sahara issue" (i.e., the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination). I might add that a follow-up question to this exercise was "Which 3 books would you bring with you?" but perhaps that's for another post. Or maybe I already blogged about it.

* (lying)

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