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Defying Stereotypes

This story originally appeared in the Portland Press Herald on February 16, 2004, in section 1B.

New English-Language quarterly about Morocco gives voice to liberals.

Tingis is edited by Anouar Majid, head of the English Department at the University of New England.

KEVIN WACK Staff Writer. Portland Press Herald; Portland, Me. 16 Feb 2004: 1B.

An English professor and an Internet entrepreneur – they make an unlikely duo.

But in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Anouar Majid and Khalid Gourad shared a vision. Both imagined a new magazine that would showcase liberal voices from their homeland, Morocco.

The collaboration paid off in November, when the pair published the first issue of Tingis, a quarterly magazine that’s believed to be the world’s only English-language periodical about Morocco.

Majid, the magazine’s 43-year-old editor, is chairman of the English Department at the University of New England in Biddeford. During an interview last week, he wore a wide smile that never seemed to fade. He expressed hope that the magazine will counter both the images of Islamic fundamentalists that dominate the American media and, across the globe, Arab stereotypes of the United States.

“People want to force you – both sides – into a category,” he said.

Tingis, which is subtitled “A Moroccan-American Magazine of Ideas and Culture,” features articles on religion, art, literature and film. The first issue provides a glimpse into the complexity of a society that is part of Africa, but also has Mediterranean and Arab influences. Politics are sometimes discussed, but never in a confrontational way.

“I would love to have political pieces, but not polemical ones,” Majid said. “Too many people are doing those.”

Jacques Downs, a retired UNE professor who has twice visited Morocco and contributed a story to the magazine’s first issue, added: “Tingis is a force for understanding. . . . I just hope it keeps going.”

Like a lot of good ideas, the magazine was the product of happenstance.

A few years ago, Majid was interviewed on Wafin.com, an Internet portal for Moroccan-Americans. The article caught the attention of Gourad, a Connecticut businessman who owns the Web site, and in spring 2002 the two met in Portland to discuss launching a magazine.

Majid says it’s not a coincidence that the magazine was hatched in the months that followed Sept. 11, 2001. A French Moroccan, Zacarias Moussaoui, was being prosecuted in connection with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But the nuances of Moroccan society were often obscured by broad generalizations about the “Arab world.”

That response was frustrating to Majid, who was raised in the international city of Tangier, just nine miles from Spain and even closer to English-speaking Gibraltar. He acknowledges that today he feels a greater affinity with Spain than with much of the Middle East.

After attending a university in Morocco, Majid got a scholarship in 1983 to study film at the School for Visual Arts in New York. He has lived in the United States ever since, getting a Ph.D. in American literature at Syracuse before coming to UNE in 1991.

“I love American literature,” he said. “To me, the only writer who can compete with William Faulkner is Gabriel Garcia Marquez.”
One of the magazine’s goals, Majid said, is to show Moroccan readers that America is about more than Hollywood films and military strength. With 20,000 copies of the first issue printed, Tingis is now being distributed at newsstands around Morocco.
In the first issue, Majid recalls his first visit to Washington, D.C. He’s writing, at least in part, for overseas readers who have never visited the American capital.

“Washington, D.C.’s monuments speak loud and clear against injustice, oppression and war,” he writes. “The ideal has never been perfected, of course . . . but freedom is always a work in progress, and there is no reason to despair.”

In future issues, Majid hopes to publish articles by Jews, Christians and atheists, points of view in the Middle East that are often drowned out by Islamic fundamentalism.

Morocco’s rich pre-Islamic history is the source of the magazine’s title, he says. Tingis was the mythical wife of Antaeus and, later, Hercules.
Majid’s magazine may not be a million-dollar idea – there are only about 70,000 Moroccan-Americans, he says – but it has struck a chord.

“People kind of like it. People think there’s a huge operation behind it or something,” Majid said with a laugh. “It’s by two people who have never done a magazine before.”