The Atlas Lions fueled a sense of belonging in Europe | Qatar World Cup 2022 | Popgen Tech


The Altas Lions’ history-making run at the Qatar 2022 World Cup may have come to an end, but their victories continue to make headlines off the field. For us, members of the Moroccan diaspora living in Western Europe, it was a transformative experience.

Throughout the tournament, Moroccans of all ages gathered to watch the matches and celebrate the triumph of the Moroccan team. We felt an unprecedented rush of pride that gave a new impetus to our evolving identity.

Historically, identity building in the Moroccan community in Western Europe has been challenging. We have long felt a lack of true belonging in our “host countries” and have never really had a coherent identity given the diversity of Morocco’s own population and its Amazigh, Arab and African elements.

But this World Cup changed that. In my conversations with fellow Moroccans living in Europe, I have seen how the Atlas Lions’ mountainous feats have inspired them to embrace and be proud of their Moroccanness.

‘I am neither there nor here’

The words of the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish reflecting on displacement and belonging strike a chord with the Moroccan diaspora in Europe: “I am from there, I am from here, but I am neither there nor here.” This is how many of us feel.

Today, between three and five million Moroccans and people of Moroccan descent live in Europe. Many of them came to countries such as the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Germany as laborers during the post-World War II period of economic growth in Western Europe.

In a political climate in which migration and diversity are increasingly seen as a problem and Islamophobia is on the rise, Moroccans in Europe felt differently. Many first- and second-generation Moroccan-Europeans felt disconnected from both the country they live in and the country they came from – myself included.

My fear of being excluded in Belgium, the country in which I was born, is especially exacerbated by routine encounters with racism and the rise and normalization of right-wing rhetoric across Europe amid the “migrant crisis”. Rather than evoking compassion, images of refugees arriving from across the Mediterranean justified and reinforced the otherness of my community in Europe.

Yet many of us have also not found a sense of belonging in the land of our ancestors. When we visit Morocco, we are often identified as “not really Moroccan”. Part of it has to do with the pressure we feel to hide or shed elements of our Moroccan identity.

“It’s almost like I’m ashamed to show my Moroccanness because it makes me less Spanish, and also because I’m not purely Moroccan because I didn’t grow up there,” said my friend Nouredine, who was born and raised in Spain is, told me.

A Moroccan couple, living in Belgium, also shared with me that they only spoke French to their young children because they fear racist abuse if they speak Arabic in public. “We regret that decision,” they told me. Their children now feel excluded from Moroccan culture because they do not speak their heritage language.

Many Moroccans believe that such “integration” efforts will make their host society accept them. However, this linguistic assimilation not only changed their precarious position in society, but it also alienated them from their own community who did not understand – and perhaps even judge – their decision.

Another challenge for diaspora Moroccans has been the lack of cohesion within the Moroccan community driven by ethnic, linguistic and cultural divides. Located at the intersection of Amazigh, African and Arab cultures and history, the Moroccan identity is quite complex and fluid. As the World Cup has shown, there are debates in and out of Morocco about which element is dominant or defines the nation.

As a linguist currently researching language as a barrier to health care for the Moroccan community in Brussels, I am confronted with the challenges of linguistic diversity within my community. We have a total of four languages: Moroccan Arabic or Darija, Amazigh – the language of the indigenous people of Morocco – has three more varieties: Tarifit, Tamazight and Tachelhit.

Although I can speak Darija and Tachelhit, I face an obstacle with community members who only speak the two other Amazigh varieties. The linguistic barrier extends to the rest of my community, as those who do not speak Darija as a lingua franca tend to stick mainly to the group that speaks the same Amazigh variety as them.

From ‘cubs’ to ‘lions’

I met Racha, a medical student who grew up in France, when we both watched a public screening of the Morocco-Canada match in Brussels. Although we were complete strangers, we immediately connected as Moroccans, and we cheered and celebrated together.

“I think I have never been so proud to be Moroccan, and for the first time in my life [I saw] a good representation of Morocco: the supporters chant; their traditional clothes; our values ​​of respect for our parents, especially our mothers; to keep praying whether we win or lose,” she told me in a message afterwards.

For many of us, the coverage of the Moroccan team’s winning streak was the first time we saw positive news about Moroccans. Although tensions with police rose in some Western European cities and clouded some of the celebrations, international media embraced the Moroccan fans and their team.

Lauding news articles and social media posts about the Moroccan players and fans unleashed a display of Moroccan-ness that I have never seen before in Europe. It opened the door for my fellow community members to show pride in their Moroccan heritage, both in the street and on social media.

It was an experience to feel represented, accepted, not different. During the match between Belgium and Morocco, Nora, an accountant and a Belgian citizen, told me that she was proudly cheering for Morocco because, as she put it, the Moroccan team “looks like us”.

To see ourselves represented in the final stages of the World Cup, a space that seemed unattainable until now, has filled the next generation of diaspora Moroccans with the courage to dream big.

Born and raised in France to Moroccan parents, nine-year-old Adam has been obsessed with the Atlas Lions since seeing them on the front page of French newspapers, his parents told me. He wore his Morocco jersey to school on match days and decided that Hakim Ziyech was his favorite player because he was “also born in Europe”.

His parents said this is the first time he has shown such a strong interest in his Moroccan heritage. Adam has spent hours memorizing the Moroccan national anthem, and feels proud and connected to Morocco in a way he has never felt before.

But besides instilling pride in our Moroccan identity, the Atlas Lions also united us. They showed us that diversity is strength, not an obstacle. More than half of the Moroccan team was also born in Europe, and they have the same cultural and linguistic diversity as our communities.

While a national language is seen as an important identity marker and the glue of most national teams, the Moroccan team has shown that cohesion can transcend language and be built on commitment and pride. Seeing how the Moroccan players fight until the last moment to bring success to their country and embody a whole spectrum of “tamghrabiyt” – the cultural term for Moroccanness – inspired us to proudly call ourselves Moroccan, regardless where we were born or what language we speak.

When asked about representing the Arab world in the World Cup, Walid Regragui, the Moroccan head coach, affirmed our intersectional identity by emphasizing that the team plays for Morocco and for Africa. It was an important public assertion that Morocco is a culturally heterogeneous country that cannot be reduced to the Arab part of its identity.

The Atlas Lions reminded us that Moroccanness truly includes linguistic and cultural diversity. They gave us hope that we can identify as Moroccan and European, and that we don’t have to give up one or the other. They challenged us to dream of a Europe where multiculturalism is not only accepted but embraced.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial position.


Source link