For best yesterday- How Imazighen in Germany fight against their marginalisation and connect towards a new community

For best yesterday- How Imazighen in Germany fight against there marginalisation and connect towards a new community



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,,One is to fight on the outside that people don't say Berber anymore and on the inside we want to heal“

Leila is 23 and the youngest child of an Amazigh- family which migrated to Germany from Morocco. Even though she was born and bread in Germany, at home and through visits to Morocco she still grew up with her family´s culture and language. Until recently she used to hide her Amazigh-Identity to the outside in Germany because it is likely to be seen as something inferior and Leila did not have any contact to other Imazighen apart from her family.

Imazighen, in singular Amazigh, form the biggest indigenous group in North Afrika and include between 30 and 40 million people from Morocco to Egypt, Niger and Mali. Since 7th century`s Arab invasion, Imazighen experience structural and systematic oppression- their languages and cultures were and partly still are officially prohibited. Even though by now the Moroccan state has accepted Tamazight, the most common use for Amazigh- languages, as a third official language next to arabic and french and even though Amazigh voices of equalty movements are getting louder, Imazighen still do not receive any attention of global media and discourses. And apparently this is also reflected in German Imazighen`s perspectives and experiences. ,,The special thing about Imazighen is that here we think, ok, are we German? No, society tells us we are not German. Then we must be Moroccan or Mazigh. And then you’re in Morocco, but you have exactly the same thing again: you’re back in the marginalized group. I can’t even lean on that other identity and somehow belong to a dominant society there“.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, for the first time Leila delved deeper into her identity and the questions and inner struggles surrounding it. She found the Instagram Account of Samira, another German Tamazight, who frequently posts Amazigh-contents and also talks about them in her podcast called Amazigh XBerberIn, where she wants to inform about Amazigh- history and their recent situation in Germany and all over the world. For it is not only Leila who is accompanied by a persistent feeling of shame for her mother tongue, which she would always had to minimize in front of others adding how unimportant it was, and it is not only her who they would tell in response how useless it indeed would be for her. ,,You better learn french, or arabic, tamazight won’t do you any good.“ In her Podcast Samira adresses exactly those topics and hopes to create more awareness and sensitivity about the past and present of Imazighen among the majority society.

Amazigh instead of B***

The first and most important step, as both emphasize, is the abolition of the term Berber(*innen), which has been established largely unquestioned in German-speaking countries, and its replacement by Amazigh/Tamazight/Imazighen. It is not difficult to find out – Samira also explains it in great detail in her podcast – that the term Berber derives from the ancient Greek word „ὁ βάρβαρος (Barbaros)“ for barbarian. In ancient times, „barbarian“ was used to describe a person who slurs, babbles, mumbles – in other words: who has no real language. Ans this very mindset about an uncivilized group runs through history with the B-word. To understand why Leila feels so ashamed of Tamazight in Germany these days, she remarks: ,,It starts so much earlier. That Tamazight is not as valuable as other languages is something you already have in Morocco. The moroccan arabic has a higher stand. They tried to eradicate the language bit by bit.“ And a threat against Tamazight also means the threat against a culture of about 40 Million people. ,,It is often overlooked that language is a huge part of identity, contains a lot of culture ans is very critical of someone’s own identity“.

To Leila it is not only the stupid comments and mimicing by white-german ignorant people without an own relation to North Africa, which constitute her everyday discrimination. Even arabic native speakers who live in Germany often do not take Tamazight as a serious language and make fun of its sound and culture. ,,It is a demand, that everyone coming from a country identified as Arab, also knows Arabic. I do not want to be spoken to in Arabic simply because I come from Morocco.“

Cultural appropriation

Another point that upsets and saddens Leila ist the appropriation of Amazigh culture by western fashion. While most people in Germany either never heard about the existence of Imazighen or still name them B***, Amazigh Henna tattoos, Lamps and so called B*** carpets are already a long term medial trend. Even when researching this article, it wasn’t easy to sift through the plethora of links to Pinterest pages or white people’s blogs tagged with B***-style and get to content that was actually published by Imazighen themselves. ,,People made use of Amazigh culture“, says Leila. ,,I think to myself, this culture gets exploited and profitted from, but it gets nothing back.“

She explains: ,,I understand why people find those things beautiful, of course so do I. I would just really wish that people would, let’s say, consume or buy it, but at the same time just engage a lot more with it and turn „cultural appropriation“ into „cultural appreciation“, so that there is simply more valuation behind it. For my part they could also pay more and people get the money they really deserve, especially because this culture is so endangered.“

A new Amazigh- Community

Due to Samira’s desire for networking and online presence, a group of around 250 Imazighen from all over Germany has come together in the last few years, many of whom meet regularly to organize events and „talks“. Leila also became part of this group and tells how good it makes her feel to find herself in a larger environment of Imazighen for the first time and therefore getting to know people who understand and share her struggle about identity. Oft he first face-face meeting that Leila has attended, she reports: „It was a lot of feeling at home. That is exactly what’s totally missing.“

Because unlike many other (post)-migrant groups in Germany, for example from Turkey, it is not common for Imazighen to have a community with people of similar or the same origin. The pressure of assimilation to „german“ mayority society is so high, that often no relevance is seen to live out and pass on the Amazigh culture. Through Leilas childhood her family would often say: ,,Keep away from the Moroccans or Imazighen, they’re not good for you.“ – an experience which overlaps with those of a lot other Imazighen in Germany. The Importance to seek exactly that contact in order to be able to understand oneself and each other within this community and to share experiences, Leila realizes just now. „Secretly I always had the wish to get in contact with other Imazighen, because i thought no one else will understand my struggle.“

During the pandemic the group started to take weekly online meetings to speak their language together. Usually Leila does not even speak to her siblings in Tamazight, but only in German, so immense is the instilled negative connotation of the language. But since the group’s frequent meetings Leila’s Tamazight has increased a lot and in that she is not alone. She explains: „The crazy thing is that there are people joining, who only know chunks of Tamazight, but through our meetings they learned a good deal and by now they can communicate quite well,“ One member of the group even offers internal language courses and slowly develops a latin transcription of Tamazight.

In addition, the community has already had two „real-life“ meetings, in which a large part of the group from all over Germany came together to play Mazigh games, make music, dance, eat, exchange ideas and speak Tamazight. ,,We just rediscovered all those rituals, reestablished them and turned them into something positive for us. That was healing.“ When talking about the community Leila often refers tot he word healing. ,,It is such a nice thought within the community, that we try to alleviate this pain together as we unlearn to feel inferior.“; she says. „How close this has brought us together is a very, very beautiful thing.“

Leila describes the members of the group as quite diverse. They are people of different age, different careers, education and interests, some were born in Germany, other were not. What connects them is their Amazigh Identity. ,,Who are we, where do we belong? We all got the same struggle.“

Her parents too are inspired and exicted by their daughter’s coming together and exchange with other young Imazighen. Leila tells with amusement about a meeting in which many parents were invited to tell about their migration experiences and connections to their Amazigh culture and to be „quizzed“ by the younger generation. ,,And then we started some kind of ,,Mummy-talk“, we invited all our Mummies- mine also joined us-, that was so beautiful and cute how proud they were of their children and everybody said it’s so nice how we come together to discover our roots and speak our language.“

Trangenerational Traumata
The present generation of Imazighen in Germany accomplishes to build something very important and valuable, which their parent’s generation did not have at their time. The Imazighen’s history in North Africa, Colonialism, Oppression and Discrimination not only by arab but also by european dominant societies shaped all generations and is far from being rehabilitated. In the context of search for her own identity, Leila also came across the phenomenon of trangenerational traumata. As Samira intensively examines in one episode of her podcast, there are traumata of people that are unconsciously passed on to the next generation and can trigger inexplicable psychological problems up to serious illnesses. Although Imazighen’s story of discrimination was not a big issue for Leila herself, she often observes feelings of inferiority in herself. ,,There were so many things about my psyche and my behaviour that I could suddenly understand. This feeling that you are inferior over and over again, you’re not good enough, not worthy to be here. As if I didn’t deserve to live here.“ This phenomenon she also observes within her community. Even though some of it’s members are doctors of professors- something that in Germany usually comes with a lot of reputation- they carry huge inferiority complexes. ,, A lot of pain that has to do with Morocco or the Imazighen and the inferior position to the „big West“ runs relatively deep.“
The recognition of the existence of transgenerational trauma is fairly recent in psychology. However, there are already various approaches to understanding this form of trauma and treating it therapeutically. Samira explains: ,,What you experience individually or what you have to fight- healing your inner wound ect.- that is something you also have to do collectively, as a whole group, as a society.“

,,For best yesterday“

First of all, to Leila and the other members the community is a place to find. Each other, oneself and back to Amazigh culture- healing together. But it is also a place t get active and fight tot he outside for their visibility and eventually their equality. This is done, for example, through regular phone calls and complaint emails to ,,Duden“ or other public sources about their unreflected use oft he B-word.

But the responsibility and effort of this healing process cannot and must not be sufferers‘ task. Unfortunately, usual in the fight against any form of discrimination in Europe, almost nothing is happening on the part of the governments and white majority societies. ,,At the same time we are trying to challenge Germany, France Spain and all those others colonial powers to start this rehabilitation, for best yesterday.“

Leila gives credit to the few media outlets which try to let those people speak who usually are not heard. Which try to give them a platform, they do not have elsewhere. Because first of all it is a form of appreciation. ,,Due to the fact that this culture is not that visible, also in comparism to other marginalised groups, it falls into oblivion.“

Being german

The new coming together of an Amazigh community and their absence so far is very indicative of a problem that is far too little addressed in Germany. Leila recalls: ,, My whole life I’ve thought, as less contact I seek to this side, this community the more integrated I am and that was completely reflected to me by others. You only hat german friends, you’re so integrated.“ Meanwhile she keeps asking herself was this ,,being integrated“ actually means. And where is it supposed to integrate? In the society in which she was born and raised? In your own mother tongue German? Or in the „Christian-Jewish dominant culture“ of which it is always hypocritically claimed that it exists and that the majority of people living in Germany would live according to it? „Being german is not defined“, Leila claims.

In the group, the topic kept coming up, whether it is good to be an exclusive community, where nobody is allowed to come who does not have an Amazigh „background“. And everyone agreed: ,,Yes! It is indeed extremely important to have those safe spaces.” And Leila adds: ,,I can hang out with this group- all of them are Imazighen and at the same time all oft hem are german- and I am still part of the society and will not live in a parallel society. It’s such a misconception that having this group is exclusive, that it’s only done to exclude others, on the contrary it’s something you for once do for yourself.“

She is a big fan of ,,Desintegriert euch“ by Max Czollek from 2018, who as Jew living in Germany adresses and revolucionizes exactly this topic. ,,That’s a huge new thought. Before that it was always only about integration.“

Czollek’s call to disintegrate stands in stark contrast to what has been touted in Germany for the last few decades. He speaks: ,, I consider the discussion about who belongs to Germany and who doesn’t to be an expression of excessive and excessive arrogance.“[1]

It still needs a lot of work, reappraisal and acknowledgment of this society until this very discussion disappears. The formation of the Amazigh community can be of help for everyone – especially for their own acceptance and the empowerment of German Imazighen themselves.

,,This is a big and difficult step“, Leila says. ,,Yes, I am german. Even with my Amazigh cultural influences.

[1] Transparency note: The author herself addressed Max Czollek’s work in the interview, leading the conversation in the direction of disintegration.


Friederike Wegscheider

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