My Blue PassportMay 14, 2009
In a traditional café in old Amman we were a band of friends laughing around apple chicha and lemon mint juice. The conversation is about identity and local dialects and each one of the Moroccan, Lebanese, Egyptian, Turkish and Palestinian friends are making jokes about how classical Arabic is becoming sterile in expressing our emotions and our changing identities, until Karim, an Egyptian film maker, took out his green Egyptian passport and tears off a page and start writing on it all the funny jokes we were making. What Karim did was a symbolic action that made me think about my identity and question the notion of reducing all what I am in a miserable travel document.
I set on my bed yesterday gazing at my green passport, remembering what Karim did and searching in every single line and shape for my identity, but was unable to find it. How could my name, my place of birth and my age determine who I am. Am I just a number in the lists of the Moroccan ministry of interior and the Schengen database. Is it said anywhere in my passport that I am a big dreamer, that I spend my nights whispering to the polar star, that I love Sufi songs or that I hate onions? So how could my being be summed up in this miserable travel document, and why do I need all the visas and the stamps of the world to move into a Mediterranean apace to which I belong? For a Moroccan like me it’s even more problematic, since I don’t feel very Arab, very European, very Muslim, very Jewish, very Berber, very Andalouisian, very African, very Maghrebine, and at the same time I feel belonging to all of these groups. So the only Identity which unites all these pieces of me is to say that I feel Mediterranean.
I deal everyday with noble concepts like dialogue of cultures, mutual understanding, or restoring trust. Therefore, even if I am one of the deepest believers in a north-south dialogue, I feel that the Euromed partnership is a chained pigeon as it doesn’t guarantee the freedom of movement for the people from the South of the Mediterranean. The mental barriers can’t collapse as long as the geographical barriers are being enhanced with electrical wires, exaggerated visa procedures, and endless checkpoints. The concept of Union for the Mediterranean itself is very problematic. Let me start by asking the simplest question: Why they didn’t call it Union of the Mediterranean? The simplest answer would be because the Mediterranean is made up of different contradicted blocks: Europe, The Maghreb, The Mashrek, Turkey, and Israel. The word Union assumes egalitarian relationships for a common cause, hence, a perception of a Union based on dichotomies of North/South, developed/undeveloped, Christian/Muslim, or European/Arab is nothing but the continuation of Edward Said’s orientalism in a modern terminology.
The Euromed or the Union for the Mediterranean are geopolitically speaking a form of ‘’imagined geographies’’ to follow the new social and political shifts which acquired after World War II. This methageographical invention is a very positive one for the people of the Mediterranean sea, since it’s their common fate to live together as it was their common past to move once and forth in the Mare Nostrum within the same civilizations. The continual exchange in terms of culture, goods, human beings is a process which no political or ideological circumstances succeeded in stopping throughout the centuries, thus, it’s a clever move to institutionalize this exchange within a framework which could tolerate even the most controversial component of the region: Israel.
From a purely realistic point of view, it is true that the nation state has the right to protect its interests by closing its borders for security reasons. Nevertheless, a humanistic project like constructing a new common civilization based on the Mediterranean shared heritage requires reconsidering the notion of the nation state itself and trying to construct a community based on common values while favoring diversity within elastic political borders. The enterprise of constructing a Euromed identity should pass through the process of imagining the Euromed community. According to Benedict Anderson 1983 “a nation is a community socially constructed, which is to say imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group”, Anderson argues that states are created from different symbols that we attribute to it. Consequently, the members of a community construct a mental image of their affinity even if they are an heterogeneous group in reality. The “imagined community” is gradually constituted by inventing common symbols such as: the flag, the national dish, the national anthem, the official holydays, the national dressing codes… etc Applied to the Mediterranean Anderson’s theory can really be an efficient way to construct a common identity by working on the mental images and highlighting different common symbols that we will not even spend a long time to find since they already exist. For example we can invent a flag for the Mediterranean, declare olive oil and tomatoes as an official dish, and foster academic research on our common anthropological and historical heritage. Anderson’s theory explains how what he calls “print capitalism” helps in consolidate the common mental images, accordingly, focusing our efforts towards producing printed press and publications will support the quick construction of our Mediterranean identity.
After spending hours meditating about the essence of identity I realized that I feel proud of my Moroccan identity with all its diversity, but I decided to put a blue sticker on my passport which reminds of the color of the Mare Nostrum saying: Mediterranean Citizen, because that’s how I feel!