Today I went to a local small grocery store (épicerie or literally “spicery”) that I’ve started using more recently, just because they’re always pleasant and the store is always open. Today I wasn’t in a rush and chatted a bit. I asked the owner if he was Tunisian, just because I have been to Tunisia.
“No, Moroccan,” he said. “Most of the épiciers in Paris are Moroccan.”
“And are you a Berber?” I said.
“Yes. 99% of the population in Morocco is Berber.”
“Do you speak Berber?”
“Oh, yes. It’s my mother tongue. We are very proud of it. But in school we used Arabic.”
I told him I was interested in the language, and he offered to teach me a little bit of Berber each time I come in. We started with hello and goodbye. “Hello is azel,” he said. “But au revoir is hard to translate. There are many different ways to say it. But to say ‘see you later’ is akiran.”
When Americans (mostly people who have never been to Europe) rant to me about “Eurabia,” a concept that is more and more in style in the States, I think of people like these Berbers. I can’t be afraid of them. They are no fundamentalists.
Their ancestors were Roman citizens 2000 years ago, pagans, then Christians; Vandals, then Muslim Arabs conquered them, and they never have never forgotten it was a bitterly fought conquest. They are the people who created tolerant, intellectually brilliant Moorish Andalusia, who built the Alhambra and saved Greek learning in the west. They were also the Barbary Coast pirates.