Postcolonial scribbles


Casablanca, as we know it today, exists because of international trade through its port. As I’ve written before—well, paraphrased what’s been widely written to begin with—this is a new city, without the history (read: traditionally Moroccan heritage) of places like Fez, Meknes, Marrakesh, etc.

Technically, Casablanca did exist as “Anfa” hundreds of years ago, but it was a sleepy, nearly inconsequential coastal town. Anfa, whose origins are murky but probably Berber, was destroyed by the Portuguese in the late 15th century. Three hundred years later Casablanca, know as Dar Beyda in Arabic, was a modest and sparsely populated center for trade with Europe. The Alaouite Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abdellah jump-started this town in the 18th century by building a sqalla, a fortress used to defend the port. The sqalla of Casablanca still stands today, as an overpriced café-restaurant where I had a glass of juice for six bucks just the other day.

I’m really fascinated by the claim made by André Adam—and he’s not alone—that Casablanca would not exist today if it weren’t for the Europeans, and in particular the French. Europeans pushed for the building of a port, which the Sultan resisted for awhile because he thought they were stepping on his toes.

Adam, it must be said, is a colonial historian and a believer in the benefits of European presence in Morocco. He’s not necessarily wrong, but he does sometimes echo an obnoxious brand of smug, colonial self-righteousness.

The copy of Histoire de Casablanca, des origines à 1914 (1967) I’ve been reading is falling apart, and there are comments in the margin by at least three people who’ve underlined words, highlighted passages, dog-eared pages, and injected their commentary over the years. It’s kind of childish, even blasphemous to deface library books, but the comments add an interesting postcolonial layer to Adam’s account.

The worst (best?) are the comments in the chapter concerning the 1907 bombing of Casablanca by the French. The details of the event aren’t that important, and I’ve read in several sources that the attack was sort of in the works for awhile anyway. In any case the long and short of it is that the French destroyed Casablanca and five years later officially held Morocco as a protectorate.

Adam writes that a few incidents across the country, including the murder of Dr. Mauchamp in Marrakesh, served as a pretext for riots by Moroccans. Mystery commentator writes: et ce prétexte qui fait exploiter un pays et un peuple. (Which in turns serves as a pretext for the exploitation of a country and a people.

Next to a footnote saying that all French residents of Morocco supported annexation of Morocco: Et oui! Car la loi de la jungle. C’est le plus fort qui l’emporte! (That’s right! Because it’s the law of the jungle. The strongest one wins!)

There’s also an incident leading up to the bombing where a group of Moroccans attacked a train, which was built to connect the port to a quarry. Adam says: “C’est ce pacifique instrument qui précipita le drame.” (It’s this peaceful instrument that precipitated the drama) Commenter writes: Un oubli: cette machine pacifique devait traverser un cimetière. (One detail he forgets to mention: this peaceful machine was supposed to cut through a cemetery)

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Filed under Casablanca, colonialism, postcolonialism, Urban Morocco

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