Editorial Note: On 22-23 June 2017, the Second World War Research Group held its annual conference on the theme of ‘When East meets West: The Second World War in Global Perspective’. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting entries written by some of the conference’s presenters.
Otman Bychou is a teacher of English as a foreign language in Morocco. In 2016, he worked as a part-time teacher of paragraph writing at Sultan Moulay Slimane University, Faculty of Humanities, Beni Mellal, Morocco. In 2014, he became a PhD candidate in Interactions in Literature, Culture, and Society at the same university. He has published several articles on Morocco’s experience during the Second World War.
After the French defeat at the hands of the Germans in 1940, the French regarded the Moroccan soldiers’ enlistment in the French army as significant and very highly estimated since it consolidated the French coloniser’s colonial ambitions in rising colonial soldiery. However, this could not come to the fore without disempowering the Moroccan peoples under control. To put it in another way, the Moroccans who witnessed or heard about the German inspectors’ visit to their colonised country should be framed, in a way or in another, to give approval to the French cause in France. John McLeod explains that
Colonialism is perpetuated in part by justifying to those in the colonising nation the idea that it is right and proper to rule over other peoples, and by getting colonised people to accept their lower ranking in the colonial order of things – a process we can call ‘colonising the mind’.
Absolutely, without the French process in colonising people’s minds, the colonial rank would not be highly respected. The Nazis were on top of the colonial pyramid; their colonial culture was remarkably carried out against their supposed- to- be- French sub-colonial culture. They were superiors because they succeeded in subduing Holland, Belgium, and France in 24 hours. The location of the Moroccan colonised in relation to this colonial scale would not come to occupy the third rank unless it was in his mind. To put into practice some of the ideas we have gathered, Hammoud Zaiter, a Moroccan veteran who participated in the Second World War told this story:
We used to work coercively in paving roads at no cost. When a male reached the age of fifteen, he would be called to serve under the authority of the French occupation. Every male was expected to carry out the French tax, except females. The duration of this tax could be from six to twelve days when the labour was double. Additionally, sheep, mules, wool, wheat – in general, all that people and land produced – had been transported to France before the French defeat at the hands of the Germans in 1940. Still, what remained for the colonised were locusts and eirny [A wild plant which grows in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains. People used to eat it when the French deprived them from their crops]. Wonders that burst out from the land became ready to feed people’s hunger. Families were reluctant to afford sugar and appropriate clothes, except some woolen dresses that a few women made for children. However, the women who could not get wool, their family members would not find any clothes. Life in such a way pushed me to enlist in the French army in 1940. If a Moroccan family had a soldier in the French army, no qaid [tribal leader], no sheikh [chief], no mqaddam [supervisor] could dare to offend the soldier’s family. The French were keen on appraising the individual’s enlistment in the army.
As Zaiter reveals in his narrative, and as we shall analyse in Aztam and Al-Ashhab’s narratives, this obnoxious manner of employing Moroccans at no cost makes the French employers look rude and devoid of the least humanitarian feeling towards powerless colonial subjects. Disempowering the colonised positively fostered the French colonial stability in Morocco, but negatively framed the colonised peoples’ ways of seeing each other. Moreover, what I mean by disempowering the colonised is that it is not only having colonial subjects deprived of food, drinks, and clothes, but also framing them to be extremely devoid of the least positive view of each other. Look again at this narrative told by Brahim Aztam:
Before joining the French army, I used to go to Tanant [A village in the Moroccan Middle Atlas] so as to work for four or five days at no cost. They employed us in paving roads with shovels and axes. At that time, we also crossed the mountains in order to work for lqaid Ouchtto in Tanant. We brought some supplies that could suffice till the end of the working days. Lmqaddam was the then supervisor who made us work until the four days finished and we disappeared. It was only our brothers, the Moroccans, who controlled us, while the French remained far from us at their office. They did not even approach us. Their captain planned how our work must be carried out and lqaid agreed about every decision. I was ten or eleven years old then. The time is past.
The presence of the colonised tormenter as an instrument of roguery to be directly used by the French, and intentionally without the coloniser’s direct presence, against the colonised operatively serves to disempower both colonised slave and colonised master. How Aztam perceives himself and his Moroccan chief perfectly gives an image of the subsidiary ways through which they are looking for each other. Due to their absolute collaboration with the French, Aztam’s deep despising to his countrymen, ‘our Moroccan brothers’, remains an unexpected output of an emotional shock experienced through deflating the colonised peoples. By emotional shock, I mean the feelings that result from a colonised teenager’s contact with a Moroccan male who sides with the enemy against the rest of the colonised people, as Aztam’s story reveals. Treason has no constitution, but it is a privilege for the colonised punisher who takes a malicious pleasure in hurting his countrymen. To bring up a piece of evidence to what we have discussed, let us turn to another narrative told by Al-Ashhab:
During the Second World War, the French coloniser imposed lkulfa [A tax imposed by the French on Moroccan males] on Moroccan people. It was a seven-day-coercive labour a year. People arranged their personal supplies and headed for carrying out their forced labours elsewhere at no cost. When the seven days finished, every worker received a receipt, confirming his fulfilment of the task. If the labourer lost his receipt, he would be forced to carry out a new tax. While some of the workmen stayed in my village, Tanant, working in building roads and serving in French offices, I moved with others to the city of Azilal [A Moroccan city in the Middle Atlas]. It was Thursday, the day of the souk [market place] in Azilal. There, we met a French warrant officer who was calling for people to enlist in the French army. We were five men who complied with the call of the warrant officer who told us to come the next day at eight o’clock. Friday morning was then the appointment of undergoing a check-up and the day when lkulfa came to a standstill as we were told by the French.
Through this persecuted voice, one can notice how skillfully the French coloniser deprives Al-Ashhab and his comrades of power. It is a perpetual French plan that forces itself to be regarded as an inevitable instrument not only to humiliate the colonised in front of his companions, but also to push him to believe that the coloniser himself will serve to release the little subject from an unfair social justice carried out by and at the same time imposed on his people. The French coloniser’s ways of establishing the colonial order in Morocco was highly based upon a divide-and-rule approach. Zaiter and Aztam, among other workers without measure, naturally hate the Moroccan torturer who warmly welcomes the French coloniser who bluntly despises them both. By getting a teenage colonised worker perceives himself as the poorly unlucky inferior in this colonial relation, he sees himself as being ‘robbed of all worth,’ as Césaire’s words have it.
The least and most unavoidable preoccupation for Zaiter, Aztam and Al-Ashhab is to be unchained from serving the enemy without wages. That is what makes joining the army a way of behaving against the native monster. The teenage colonised youngsters look helplessly overcome with a passion for enlisting in the French army; however, this would not happen, it seems, without their Moroccan punishers’ collaboration with the French coloniser to subdue, produce and develop inferior agents that despise their cultural values through hating what I would like to call ‘the instruments of the French indirect punishment’. For the three-supposed-to-be warriors in the French army, the coloniser would not fully achieve a complete mastery over their villages without their country men’s willingly spiteful alliance with the French. It is as if they went through a strong desire to favour the reason of becoming soldiers in the French army rather than to support the passive attitude towards their employers’ abusive behaviour that hurts their feelings. Ruling over the colonised through military force is slightly absent while colonising the colonial subject’s mind is tirelessly pursued.
This post first appeared at the blog of the Second World War Research Group.
Image: Adolf Hitler and his entourage visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris on June 23, 1940, following the occupation of France by the Nazis, via Wikimedia commons.