Culture and

The North-South Divide and Bewilderment


By Dr. Abbes Jirari


A Presentation to the Academy of The Moroccan Kingdom In Its Session Held In Tangiers 23-24-25th Shaaban 1408 A. H Corresponding To 11-12-13th April 1988.


       With your permission, I would like to begin by saying that the aim of this presentation, which I am pleased to make as a contribution to the works of this session, is not to present you with an exhaustive analytical study on one aspect of the theme which the founder of the Academy, His Magesty King Hassan II - may God protect him - has brought up for discussion, but to put before you for consideration a deep thought which, I readily admit, is overwhelmingly subjective due to the nature of the approach. 


       The basis of my examination is a consideration  of the gap and bewilderment ensuing from the dialogue which is taking place between the North and the South from an angle which disapproves of the course this dialogue  has taken.  This course    has taken on purely materialistic dimentions that  do not go beyond economic interrests. Whether intentionally or not, this course has disregarded culture, this effective   element in man, which affects the life of both the individual and the community, governs the making of bonds, and adjusts relations. Thus, the existent interaction reveals the intensity of that problem, for it has triggered a great deal of anxiety in the North and hampered the full development of the South, so as not to say it has firmly established underdevelopment by accentuating its problems, complicating its issues and making suitable solutions impossible to reach.


       I would not hesitate to describe this situation as an intellectual and psychological state that  reflects a cultural situation, the responsibility of which is shared by the two parties: the North and the South.  The North - in its bewilderment -  has not yet divested itself of past negative attitudes or of the  deterioration  of the present so that it can face tomorrow with realism and optimism.  For it seems that the North’s present conscience still harbors residus of the colonialist era and old ideas and prejudices that push for  various aspects of hegemony in the political, miltary and economic fields, as well as in the cultural field with all the implied threat to identity and entity. 


       The South with its privation is in the grip of subjugation and submission.  It seems to be afraid or helpless, unable to start a dialogue entirely of its own accord.  The South appears to be unable to discriminate between the merits and demerits of the other, and to challenge the various obstacles that hinder the effectiveness of decision and the acknowledgement of contribution. This burden weighs and will continue  to weigh upon the South unless it liberates itself from that hegemony , and regains its self-confidence to achieve self-reliance and to find a way to invest  its own wealth , energy and labor force successfully.   To achieve  this, the South can profit from its own experiences and from those of the other and from the technical expertise it has acquired.  The South must also  shun  any blind and random immitation of others.  In the end, the South ought to find a new formula for dialogue which stems from its own vision,  one  which suits its plans and perspectives and can dissolve all the contradictions that stand in the way of   speaking with one voice in this   dialogue. 


       If the role of culture starts from visions, and if every sound vision is based on concepts, it is imperative in   a domain such as the one we are examining  to clarify two points. 


       The first point is the nature  of the North and the South and their semiotic dimensions.  For a reason that is difficult to explain    in this survey, southern regions of the globe have not had the opportunity to contribute effectively and positively to the progress witnessed recently around the world in political ,economic, social, and cultural life.  Consequently, these regions  are  unable to catch up with the great leap made in productivity and in its means and the ensuing relations, despite these regions' urgent need and endeavors to catch up with the North  and  in spite of the various potentials at their disposal.  These regions lag far behind the developed world which happens to belong to the northern hemisphere.  Nevertheless, this coincidence does not mean, for both the North and the South, that development is associated with an environmental factor, a racial element, or a social cultural concept; nor is it associated  with a particular kind of mentality, a pattern of behavior or a level of thinking and intelligence.  Needless to evoke the past to recall the history of northern people before the Rennaissance, as opposed to the peoples of the South who, despite their great numbers and differences, had produced homogenous or similar civilisations and cultural communities throughout the ages.  These communities shared common features of integrity and assimilation.  It is also needless to evoke the role performed by the southern peoples in the history of the mediterranean basin and the East  - from the Near East to the Far East.  This role ranges from their scientific achievements to their artistic and literary ingenuity, the imprints of which are plain to whomever is familiar with these realities.  More importantly perhaps is the fact that   they still aspire to regenerate and renew this role.


       The second point is the significance of dialogue, its objectives, and the means of realising them.  This significance must go beyond the present scope of meaning according to which the North should lend a   hand to the South within the framework of aid.  Help programs, which are often carried out between countries sharing a common colonialist history, do not go beyond materialistic and technical fields.  Help was perhaps limited only to the donations that rich countries may present to the poor ones to save them from the ugliest conditions of decay, such as famine and diseases .  This reality has underpinned and legitimised the need.  It has even established and legitimised the hegemony of developed countries over the other countries.  This reality has also invalidated every logical analysis of the data and situations of the underdeveloped peoples and has eclipsed the real problem they are experiencing. This problem has human and historical dimensions characterised by broadness to include the values and fundamentals, and the foundations and relations, together with its present development. For the gap, which is an aspect or an outcome of underdevelopment, does not mean that a mere backwardness in industry or in materialistic production yields little benefit and a meagre individual or national income and leads, thereafter, to dependence. However, this gap is comprehensive and covers every aspect of personal and collective life and various civilisational and cultural aspects. In addition, dependence has an intellectual dimension that is often forgotten in this context, notwithstanding its weigh and the paramount importance of its consequences.


       Hence, dialogue must break free from the concept of     assistance and adopt that of exchange and cooperation in which action is based comprehensively on various economic issues, such as energy, raw materials, trade, monetary and credit issues. The cultural element, which people think is just an accessory or a resultant, should also be taken into account. People were not quite convinced that the cultural element should disclose other elements toward which it ought to be directed and on which it should have an impact. But this concept should be   characterised by flexibility which ensures its validity and ability to adapt to the changes in time and place. These include changes in the balance of power, the difference in needs and the advancement in the means of education and communication, in addition to other circumstances and conditions which require full awareness of them on the basis of new human and cognitive data. 


       If this transformation in the notion of dialogue exacts a change in the kind and degree of transactions, and for it to be fruitful and effective, the change needs to reconsider some views and judgments which are so common that they have become well-established constants. At the top of these views is the assumption that the materialistic and practical aspect of science which is linked to technology is alone capable of realising development and sophistication. This aspect alone is, therefore, worthy of care and attention. As for the rest it is a mere abstract thinking or a recreational, luxurious knowledge which, regardless of the level of creativity it reaches, fails to develop into any thing concrete and palpable or to effect any change in life. This view is at variance with the comprehensiveness of human thought, with the complementarity of its types, and with the overlap in its domains. It is also in stark contrast with the reality of progress which often begins with a dream, a hope, and an aspiration. What ought not to be neglected, however, is the effectiveness of literature, art and other human and social fields of knowledge in educating the soul, probing into its depths, stimulating it into new efforts and exploding its creative potentials, and also its effectiveness in preserving experimental science and protecting it from self-destruction.


       This truncated view of pure sciences spawned a perspective which, in turn, needs to be reconsidered. This view has defined the North through one single angle from which it has been interested in the civilisation and culture of the South.


       This interest is summarised in the way the civilisation and culture of the South are treated. They are treated as a strange raw material or as special cases that may, in their frozen image, be suitable for field exploration, similar to the paleontologists' explorations in their excavations of Egyptian vestiges. In the written form of their heritage, these special cases may   be   suitable for testing the lesson, following the example of orientalists who developed an interest in the valuable books and documents they found in Arab-Islamic libraries. These special cases may, in their oral popular model, also be fit for some sociological practices, in accordance with the achievements of anthropologists.


       In spite of its importance, this interest - in all its various aspects or at least in some of them - conceals a view of classification which marginalizes the peoples of the South. At the same time, this interest presents these special cases as a traditional legacy that can be displayed in meusums or analysed in laboratories in order to get a correct reading of the life of these peoples and a correct understanding of their reality. The objective is to realise certain goals which may or may not be scientific. 


       In this kind of interest, the North relies on criteria and uses tools that spring from its cultural visions and civilisational positions, because it considers itself the model and the prototype, the source and the origin. That is why the North is sometimes impelled, through the influence of the media, to distort and defame the image of the South or to stress some of its tarnished features, resolutely showing the South as steeped in deep-rooted backwardness and, therefore, ready to act in a most uncivilised manner. This undoubtedly stirs in the northern receptors of this image a spontaneous aversion towards the South, and probably stirs up their belittlement, if not their contempt, along with a certain reluctance to help the South, let alone to cooperate and deal with it and on an equal footing.


       Devoted to pursuing its perspective and method, and attempting to effect specific changes in the South's civilisational and cultural structure, the North turns to the solid structures and to individual values and the communal constituents and   proceeds to isolating these structures, values and constituents in order to marginalise and, perhaps, to invalidate them through destructive means. To achieve this purpose, the North often resorts to aides from the South so that the destruction can be spontaneous and from within. To replace these structures, the North presents a substitute that is very attractive in its artistic form. This substitute violates, through the media, the sanctity of our homes and reaches the depths of our hearts and every corner in our brains. It aims to dazzle the Southerners with its progress and its greatness, and to convince them of its superiority, with all the things this feeling may engender: contempt towards identity and entity and acquiescence in the dependence which remains - however great the ambition - beneath the level of competition or attainment.


       It follows from all of this and from other factors which, for lack of space, cannot be discussed, that the situation of culture in the North-South relationship is very complex for both parties.


       In the North, it is associated with the anxious view discussed above, and some of its aspects are affected by the dealings of the colonialist era. It seems that advocates of this view are unable to get rid of it, or are unwilling to do so although they have, with their southern counterparts, stepped into a new era which is meant to be founded on give and take, and on cooperation. The truth, however, is that this era is based on aid and assistance for a hidden reason which lies in the predominance of some notions, as we have already seen. The other reason is apparent; it is the imbalance of powers due to the uninterrupted superiority of the North in the field of science and technology, and to the South’s growing need   for the North 's expertise and products in this field.


       In the South, the situation is linked to a cultural conflict ignited by two contradictory factors. These oscillate between a rejection of the self, on the one hand, and a search for and a return to it, on the other. Each from its own position, these two factors try to face underdevelopment whose overcoming is actually linked to elements that exist outside this self. This self controls and directs underdevelopment. This renders the task of getting rid of this conflict    impossible to achieve without a consideration of both internal and external influences that affect social life, and without an attempt to reconciliate between them and personal components.


       If, as a result of this situation, the South’s attitude     hesitates between approaching the other and shunning it, the urgent need for the other makes approaching it the shortest way to reach the other despite the smoldering irritation that magnifies the problem and complicates the equation. What probably makes the way even shorter to approach the other is the fact that the civilisational model of the North is inceasingly becoming universal.


       This attitude has interwoven functional relations between the two sides which soon changed into a dialogue - the one that is existing now. Yet, this dialogue is rather one -sided; it is based on an individualistic view in which the North looks after its political, economic, strategic, and military interests heedless of the extent of the other side's response to it, of its contribution and of its own development agents, its own capacites and special potentialities. The dialogue is also based on the North's control over the technical and scientific means which help the North to act, direct or take the initiative.


       The ultimate goal of the South, which the North must also seek to achieve, is to bridge the gap between them; that is between progress and backwardness in the hope that everyone will meet the other half way in the circle in order to remove the North’s bewilderment and to meet that South’s need. However, this goal can be achieved only through the South 's readiness for it. It is also imperative that the North make an effort in the fields of cooperation and integration far away from such concepts as control, hegemony and exploitation, given the fact that not all of the North's gains are its alone and that the South has played an active role in these gains. Moreover, the South is still contributing to their enrichment, albeit from a marginalised position, or rather from one that has not been acknowledged yet.


       This contribution is achieved through the importation, promotion, and investment of the North's products in both private and public lives, regardless of whether or not these products are compatible with the South's life. It is carried out first and foremost through the exportation of energy, raw materials, labor force, and also through the emigration of minds represented by university degree holders in various scientific and technical fields and in any vital field relevant to human activity and to the necessary expertise and skills. This phenomenon further enriches and supports the developed north. In return, the phenomenon prevents the South from benefiting from the potentialities of its citizens at a time when it is in dire need of these potentialities to overcome backwardness. As it is confirmed day after day, immigration statistics are too high, because the numbers are no longer in the thousands but the millions of new comers into northern countries in general; epecially to the most developed ones. These new emigrants to the North leave heavy losses behind in their underdeveloped countries, the least of which is the huge sums that the countries of the South have squandered on their education and training. They also leave a huge gap which their countries can plug only through bringing in expertise which is often drawn from the same country to which their nationals emigrate. 


       Hence, any dealings between the North and the South will certainly bear no fruit if they remain dependent upon finding a solution to the problem from a purely economic and technical angle that stems from a very narrow view of development. This will not solve the problem, and it will only create new ways of pillage, exploitation, and hegemony.


       In its broadest sense, development is not achieved through relying on the technological element only; it must be coupled with the human element which is crystalised by cultural data. If development is measured by the level of production, it is first and foremost measured by man's scientific standards and his creative potentialities of this production, as well as by the living standards of the beneficiaries of this progress. Underdevolpment, on the other hand, is associated with opposite facts, thus making the difference between a developed and underdevolped people lie in the degree of development of the first over the second in terms of cultural potentialities and in the extent of its knowing how to invest these potentialities in its development and progress while being spontaneously   ready   for reception.


       To dispel any ambiguity that may trouble advocates of the propagation of culture and its existence everywhere, which is a statement that seems to be outwardly true, I would like to explain the difference that makes culture in the North a capital and a means of investment and a factor of production, and in   the South a shrinking away from reality, a reflection on the self, and an existentialist shelter   which often urges the need for   extolling and taking pleasure in the self. In the best circumstances, this turns culture into a means of distraction and enjoyment for an unemloyed or semi-unemployed high class   that does not contribute to the process of production.


       Effective culture in development is a kowledge and a feeling, a behaviour, a capacity for production and absorption, as well as a readiness to give and take. It is a comprehensive culture that raises the awareness of knowledge and its role, promotes a feeling of the self, of life and of others. Effective culture helps understand the reality of man and the universe, and facilitates the understanding of all the problems and concerns through analysis, criticism and solutions; it creates discipline and balance between all kinds of interests; and it puts and end to the predominance of matter and to the excessive power of mind.


       It is through this large concept, in which the mental activity that concersn itself with   human activity in general is incorporated, that culture intervenes in the process of the development, as a key factor in the production and as an effective element in changing the reality of undr-development, starting from the setting up of development programs and plans, the founding of the essential social and economic structures and developing them all the way to constituting a framework for these structures ; in other words, supervising both the producer and the investor which , in the end, makes culture another technology whose aim is to “make” man and to fashion his mind and emotions.


       In this regard, the intellectual’s responsibility is not only to describe, complain and express discontent. It even goes beyond consideration and reflection to action and practice which rely on research and planning, on delimiting the materialistic and human capacities, raising awareness of the conditions of development and on mobilisation with a view to accepting and participating in them.


       Raising awareness and mobilisation are a key factor in development because of its need for the human element, and because this element is always related to its culture in general and to its popular heritage in particular. No developmental policy will be positive unless it relies on a collective philosophy that takes into consideration national opinion and public feelings, thought and taste and the various intellectual, mental, psychological and emotional aspects, starting from heritage with everything that it represents: customs and lore, trade and industries, behavior and morals, and all the resultant social ways of life and responsibilities. Without this, one cannot concieve of a nation - any nation - that accepts development plans, let alone benefiting fromt hem and participating in them, so long as the aim of this development is to serve the needs of the masses and not a specific group or a particular class.


        Besides, technology itself cannot be realised in the most useful and perfect way if it is not in the hands of its users. In other words, if these users are not ready to do away with borrowing and imitation, and if they are not compelled to stop borrowing and imitating when they no longer need to do so. Furthermore, technology cannot be realized if its users are unprepared to make it meet present and future needs, and if they are unable to develop it in such a way as to face emergencies, if they are not qualified to reconcile technology with cultural and social requirements; in other words, reconciling the two types of technology: the mechanised and the materialistic, on the one hand, and the mental and moral, on the other.


       Man is the real producer and the master of the process of production performed by the machine. The latter can not work without his intervention. Its productivity is closely linked to man's guidance and to the programs which he sets up for the machine as well as to the yields he reaps from it. He is, thereby, the ultimate supervisor of the development and growth process and its controlling agent. The development and growth process can not be carried out against his will, or for the benefit of a dominant power, or even in a disorganised manner, which makes him realise his progress within the scope of practising his personal energies, that is practising his humanity.


       In the light of this perspective which puts culture in a suitable position and makes it possible for its role to be effective in its dealings, the issue of the need and bwilderment must be raised. Dialogue, whose aim is to achieve cooperation between the North and the South, should also be based on respect; for respect alone can lead to understanding which, in turn, can make dialgue revolve around real issues that threaten humanity. At the top of these issues are the critical questions of development which irk the South and holh up its progress. This may undoubtedly lead the dialogue to positive fields in which each side has a chance to participate and be effective. The North will then rid itself of its bewilderment, and the South will divest itself of its need, away from any feeling of selfishness and exploitation or from the necessity of confrontation as a reaction to that feeling.


       The starting point in this new phase is that each side should grant itself a moment’s reflection over the deteriorating reality afflicting itself and humanity. This deteriorating situation is due to the huge distance between the developed and underdeveloped peoples, and to   the predominance of the materialistic development and its effect on man. Man has allowed himself to be carried away with this development and has yielded to it, impressed by the scientific achievements founded on mind and technique. He has blindly adapted the creeds this development has generated, heedless of   any dissolution of values and of all the social ailments that accampany social anxiety and bewilderment, such as weak faith, libertinism, addiction to drugs, the widespread of violence and terrorism, and the absence of psychological, familial and social security. These symptoms have permeated many fields of interaction between individuals and between countries alike. Therefore, the bonds which are based on law and morality have disappeared and have been replaced by the desire to dominate through force, fraud, and deception.


       No doubt, launching dialogue - starting from a consideration of these realities - will not be to the benefit of the South only, but to the benefit of the North, too. This should encourage the North to accept it so as to ensure the preservation of its civilisation and culture. If the North is puffed up with pride and overwhelmed by the feeling of superiority, and if it does not do a little bit of soul searching, if it does not reconsider its ways of dealing with others, together with the conditions of its progress, the North will fall in a monism that may deprive it from its sociability and humanity, and may even bring about its collapse.


       This anticipated dialogue will surely lead to peace in its various forms and in its political and social significance. This peace is the one which man dreams to establish with free will and quietude; one that proceeds from satisfying the needs, without poverty, deprivation or any fear whatsoever. It is the kind of peace which man wishes to live with equilibrium in the various elements of the self and its requirements, and in this self and others.


       Such a peace cannot be achieved without a feeling of the other or an understanding of the reality of existence and without a conscience of the secret of human existence and its continuity along with man's mission in the universe and everything that this mission requires: pride, dignity, wisdom, reason, good behavior, and sagacity, all within the framework of values believed in and exchanged by all. At the top of these values   are freedom, justice, esteem, respect, cooperation, and the desire for a secure, prosperous life. This life ought to be free from jealousy, complexes, or any kind of tyranny. These values stem from the awareness that human existence has today gone beyond concepts of dominance and tyranny - or it should go beyond them - and that the realisation of this existence is conditional upon an atmosphere of coexistence and tolerance, away from any feeling of superiority and supremacy. Without this, civilisation, or rather human life, cannot hope to continue.     


Dr. Abbes Jirari.