Tangier: International, Interzonal… Intercultural

TALIM UNESCO PosterThe term intercultural carries perhaps less semantic baggage than "multicultural," and as a personal attribute, is nicely compared by Wikipedia to "cross-cultural competence."

The Tangier UNESCO Club hosted a day-long symposium on Tangier: City of Intercultural Dialogue, and invited the representatives of diplomatic, cultural, and educational institutions, as well as members of civil society.  The list was long: from Belgium to Syria, the most recent community.

We're fond of spreading the word on TALIM and America's long history in Morocco among Moroccan audiences, and the format put us in familiar territory.  Just as "the Powers" shared the administration of Tangier during the days of the Interzone, the Club UNESCO gathering had presentations from a wide range of countries which have had longstanding links to Tangier and Morocco.

But it wasn't only countries with present and/or former diplomatic representation: we heard too about the Jewish presence (probably the longest-running of all, though now down to a few dozen aging members), and the Italians, whose Roman ancestors ruled Tangier for centuries.

We were reminded that monarchs in Lisbon were called "King of Portugal and the Algarves," Algarve from the Arabic al-Gharb ("the West"), and the plural referring to the centuries-long Portuguese presence in Tangier and other coastal Moroccan cities.

In the exodus from Czarist Russia following the Soviet revolution, the fugitive Black Sea Fleet berthing in the French Tunisian port of Bizerte gave French officials from Protectorate Morocco a recruiting opportunity, and the Russian community grew as a result.  Though Tangier was then an International Zone, White Russians came here as well.

Naturally, our presentation on the American presence in Tangier was heavily influenced by Legation history, but we concluded noting that of the institutions remaining in Tangier with "American" in their title – the American School of Tangier (AST), the American Language Center (ALC), and the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies (TALIM) – all have education as their vocation.  For us, of course, our acronym TALIM in Arabic means "education."

Other than a chance for each community to tell of its past glories and current status, the symposium focused on historic preservation challenges and Tangier's ambitions to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Certainly Tangier's unique geographic situation overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, and being a cultural bridge between Africa and Europe are its strongest points.

As much as we all preached for the safeguarding of endangered buildings and sites – Africa's northwest tip at Cap Spartel still is lusted after by real estate promoters – yesterday's gathering underscored another Tangier plus: its rich past and present as a haven for foreigners.

Rather than simply being considered as exotic foreign implants, Tangier's expatriate communities are valued as a link to the city's international past, and as proof that it can continue into the future as a unique cultural meeting ground at the junction of Africa, Europe, and the Atlantic world.

Gerald Loftus

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