What Morocco Taught Me About the Decline of the West

I am not a globalist, but I am something of a hypocrite. Which is to say that globalism—cheap flights, affordable lodgings, and a tourist industry with its tentacles in fascinating and far-off places unreachable only a few short generations ago—has given me the opportunity to see dozens of countries and experience cultures around the world. There is a weird irony about all this. Globalism has destroyed many local cultures, traditions, and ways of life, but it has simultaneously created a market for them. Most tourists do not want to go to McDonald’s in Moscow or Marrakesh. They want a ‘real’ experience—something that has not been ground up and homogenized by the global monoculture.

As a Westerner, envy often accompanies my encounters with traditional cultures. Not for the specific culture, mind you—but for having one to begin with. Cultures are fundamentally about stories, and when belief in foundational stories disappears, cultural confidence vanishes with it. In the post-Christian West, we have not only lost our belief in our values but in our stories—our heroes are condemned as criminals, and our history is dismissed without nuance as a sordid saga of racism, colonization, and genocide. It is difficult to build a culture based on self-loathing and agnosticism.

I felt this keenly on a recent trip to Morocco, where I traveled with my wife to ancient cities across the country while protests fueled by the malevolent marriage of anti-Western Muslim migrants and anti-Western leftists rocked campuses and city centers from London to Toronto. These protests highlight the sheer depth of Western self-hatred and the nihilism of their desire to destroy what is left of the Christian West. (Exhibit A: “Queers for Palestine.” The queers may be for Palestine; Palestine, no matter how many guys in booty shorts cheer their jihad against the Jews, is very much not for the queers.) The contrast between that self-loathing and the love of our Berber tour guide for his own culture and traditions was very stark.

At the great mosques and palaces, Saïd rattled off the guidebook details. It was in the villages and in the desert—for him, the most beautiful place on earth—that he came alive. The Berbers are an ancient people, he told us. Berber, one of the oldest human languages, is now one of Morocco’s official tongues but was suppressed for generations by the Arab colonizers (whose accomplishments Saïd largely dismissed). He told us about the Berber traditions, the millennia-old stories, and the great Berber leaders. Juba of Mauretania (ca. 48 BC-AD 23), for example, was not only a great king but a respected scholar and author. His first wife was Cleopatra Selene II, the daughter of the ill-fated lovers Cleopatra and Mark Antony.

Saïd himself grew up in a tiny desert village of 100 people, in a compound inhabited by 20 of his 87 cousins. His father is a herder with twenty dromedaries. Most marriages were arranged, although that is changing. To visit, we drove through kilometers of rocky hardpan—there is no road to the village yet, although one is planned. This, he said, is both good and bad. Good, because it makes the village more accessible; bad, for precisely the same reason. Once there are roads to the village, it is no longer a desert village. In Saïd’s home village, we sat in the mud-walled bakery building and watched the women and girls make bread, after which we perused their wares and purchased a small rug of sheep’s wool and camel hair. We ate with Saïd’s family in the compound. He was inordinately proud of them.

That night, we stayed in the Sahara, taking camels up into the dunes for sunset, watching as the sun turned the sand into a sea of fiery yellow, then gold. The short ride gave painful context to Saïd’s tales of long desert treks, as the jolting gait of the dromedaries—frequently interrupted by detours to munch on skinny bushes—was extremely unpleasant, and I could not fathom heaving about this way for whatever length of time it takes to get across the world’s largest desert. (My search for a fennec fox, a tiny, tan-colored creature with enormous bat-like ears, failed, and so Saïd detoured into a nearby village, and several children brought out their pet captive fennec foxes.) The night sky unfurled as the sun sank lower, so clear that we could see Saturn, Jupiter, and the Milky Way stretching overhead like a shimmering carpet and shooting stars darting across the black.

Late that night in the camp, the music began. The Berber guides played drums and other instruments, and it grew louder as other guides migrated over from nearby camps. It all fused together—the drums, the fire, the sparks, the stars—some of them got up and did a strange, shuffling dance. We asked what the songs were about. Camels, the desert—one of the guides searched for words. “Old songs,” he said. “From before globalization.” Everyone knew them because they were singing the collective story of which they and their ancestors formed a part. They asked the Western tourists to “sing a song of your people,” and the best the tourists could come up with was a song from a Hollywood soundtrack, which most of the guides had heard too.

Then, a Scottish girl sang the first few verses of “The Flower of Scotland” in her Gaelic accent, which to my ears is one of the most beautiful in the world:

O flower of Scotland
When will we see your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen

And stood against him
Proud Edward’s army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

There was silence, and then clapping and cheers. That’s the stuff. The great nations of the West had their own cultures once, and that inheritance is still there for those who care. The Dutch national anthem, Wilhelmus, boasts about beating the Spaniards; the Scottish anthem about beating the English; and the folk songs of the West, before they were replaced in our collective imagination by what Sir Roger Scruton called “the tyranny of pop music,” are of the great deeds of great peoples and ordinary people, too. Those are our stories, which we are now told that we should not have and cannot celebrate. I am interested in but not enamored by Berber culture; I am, however, envious of their commitment to its continuity and their refusal to let it die.


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