Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Travel Writing about Morocco #28



Racism alive and well in Aspen.

This edition of our occasional series on travel writing comes to us courtesy of a regular reader who forwarded an extraordinary piece from The Aspen Times. Our reader was somewhat shocked by the article and would like to know what other readers think. Not only is the tone of the piece Islamophobic, but it is also confused and badly written. This is surprising, because the author, Andy Stone, is former editor of The Aspen Times.

Stone sets the scene and tone with this introduction...

We were on a flight from Paris to Rome perhaps five years ago and there was a Muslim family sitting across the aisle from us: a man, a woman and their daughter.
All three were in what might be considered traditional Islamic dress. The man wore a skull cap and a robe. He had a full beard. The two women were heavily and completely veiled. As we began to taxi toward take-off, all three, folded their hands, put their heads down and began to pray. With 9-11 not all that far in the past, my wife and I became distinctly uneasy. Muslims! On our plane! Praying as we took off! Who wouldn’t be concerned?

Well ... pretty much everybody else on the plane, as a matter of fact. No one else seemed to even notice. We were, after all, flying out of Paris, where Muslim immigration has been going on for decades — and although some people consider that a bad thing, no one is surprised to find Muslims on their flight out of Paris. And the family next to us certainly didn’t cause any problems. They were most likely just nervous fliers, for whom prayer on take-off was comforting. But to us they were most certainly “other.” They were alien, they were a little scary. They were unknown. I mention all this because we have just returned from nearly a month in two seriously Muslim countries: Tunisia and Morocco. These are two of the most moderate Islamic countries and the people we encountered were often quite warm and friendly — and, at worst, cool and indifferent.

But , let's turn to Morocco, where the men in djellabas seemed something of a threat....

Their presence and appearance made us uneasy because we sensed them as an intrusion — a potentially dangerous intrusion — in our world. But now we were surrounded by hundreds and sometimes literally thousands — such as in the grand square of Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech — of men any one of whom on the streets of Aspen would have had us calling Homeland Security. But now we were in their world. And it was our alien appearance that sparked a reaction. As I said, the reactions were almost always benign. Although in the Djemaa el Fna the reaction was mostly a demand for money from the “snake charmers” (who carried around semi-conscious, de-fanged snakes to drape over tourist’s shoulders, no “charming” involved). But those positive-to-indifferent reactions helped drive home the point: This was their world and they didn’t really care one way or the other about us.

And then Stone turns his withering glance on Fez where, apart from having a confusing "Tunisian moment, Stone was oblivious to ... well, it seems, most things...

Fez — the edgiest, most nearly hostile place we visited — there was no tourist industry in this little city. When we walked the streets, we were the only non-Tunisians in sight. There was, in a sense, no room for us in the city. There was nothing that even remotely catered to tourists — except, perhaps, the cash machine at the local bank, which offered instructions in French as well as Arabic. A few people certainly did glance at us as we walked the streets in that town. We were most definitely objects of curiosity when we went into a café for coffee and mint tea. The two women in our group were the only female customers in the place and the crowd of men, almost all in their late 20s or early 30s, unquestionably did notice. One glanced up from his water pipe to give my wife the once-over.

The phrase that sticks out is "There was nothing that even remotely catered to tourists" - with observational talents like this, Mr Stone would have been better to stay at home.


There's nothing for you here? Tourists dancing at a concert in Fez.
(photo: Sandy McCutcheon)


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12 comments:

Abdel Halim El Hachimi said...

:-) Laughable total nonsense. This guy probably never visited Morocco such is his ignorance and stupidity.

Anonymous said...

WOW. How disappointing to read this narrow minded article. WHy do such people even leave their own cities when they are obviously uncomfortable around anything unfamiliar to them. I am an American who fell in love with Morocco and its people in 2004 and I can hardly wait to save enough money for another trip there. In fact, I could picture myself living there in a beautiful Riad or in a Kasbah high in the Atlas Mountains, or in a villa in Rabat!

Anonymous said...

Abdel actually hit the bull's eye. That's not racism...it's ignorance...which is actually where racism thrives.

Anonymous said...

Sad,... such ignorance. Most journalists in the US try to get their facts straight, i.e., the 'Tunisian" reference.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like he went to North Africa for all the wrong reasons, with a load of implacable and preconcieved ideas and above all no real interest in anything different to the slopes of Colorado. He should have gone to the Disney Land village and saved us all from reading his trite drivel.

Anonymous said...

It makes me wonder if there is a city fes in Tunisa! Because the comments are so utterly ridiculious. Never has it been said that there is no tourism! HELLO.

Anonymous said...

It makes me wonder if there is a city fes in Tunisa! Because the comments are so utterly ridiculious. Never has it been said that there is no tourism! HELLO.

Wendy T said...

Ignorance at it's best!

Anonymous said...

Love the picture of 'tourists dancing at a concert' captures perfectly the type of audience they get at these events. Makes you want run and run and run... in the opposite direction.

What is it about these old women that makes them think that they will find their 'nirvana' here, it is the worst week of the year in Fes.

Bihi said...

Yet an other ignorant peson writes publish his rubbish when he cannot get his facts right & juge people by theirlooks & dress sence ! I liked the one about if only he syaed in Disney Land & spared us reading his bullshit !!

Rachel said...

Hope he finds this website! Seems like he needs to see it.

Abou said...

Thank you for showing us all what some people are thinking like. It is more sad I feel than angry.

Your blog does good by sharing this. Thank you and Salaam.