Hind Touissate: Changemaking in Morocco Through Art
Thu, February 25, 2016
Hind Touissate. (Photo: Screenshot from video)
Hind Touissate is a 25 year-old writer, activist and photographer based in Morocco, although she identifies as a global citizen. She is the founder of BetaChangemakers, a social enterprise with a mission to enhance the lives of students through Art programs and build a community of Changemakers in Morocco.
In 2012 she won "Best Female Blogger" at the Maroc Web Awards. She speaks five languges and is actively learning two more.
She graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project Dialogue Coordinator Elliot Friedland about her blogging, activism and how she sees the Middle East.
Clarion Project: You've traveled extensively in the Middle East (and further afield). What are the most positive trends you've seen first hand you think are unreported by the media?
Hind Touissate: Negative stories about the Middle East have been dominating news headlines since 2001 and the media played a major role in portraying this region as an undemocratic, homogeneous place of terror, violence, religious fanaticism and authoritarianism.
The present-day Middle Easterners are generally portrayed as fundamentalist, terrorist, sexist, violent, suicide bombers, hijackers, orthodox and fanatics and that is linked to the context of war, conflict and violence the region is facing and the way the media serves to plant the idea in the human psyche that somehow Middle Easterners need to be saved from themselves which makes air striking and bombing their countries a way to help them fight terrorists and extremism.
What is missing in these portrayals is the fact that the Middle East is one of the most culturally and politically intricate regions in the world. It is historically and culturally rich and diverse with the 3 major religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam tracing their origins back to it. It is a region that is populated with 400 million individuals across 25 countries, each with a different story and cultural background.
I have had the chance to visit a number of these countries and meet youth, women and men, girls and boys, who launched successful startups and social enterprises, won national, regional and international competitions, made music, directed award-nominated movies, opened cultural-centers, repainted the walls of their cities, celebrated graduation, excelled in sports and sciences, volunteered around the region, and travelled the World to help break the stereotypes that the media has been spreading for the over 15 years while focusing on the worst.
These Youth also used social media tools to do justice to the rich complexity of life across their region.
To me, the most unreported trends that I’ve seen first hand were all related to Arts, Culture and Social Entrepreneurship.
Spreading these type of positive trends about the Middle East is the only way to combat generalizing negative stereotypes, encourage the understanding that the region is as rich and vibrant as any other region in the World, increase empathy and translate into support against abhorrent ideas such as rejecting refugees fleeing terrorist organizations.
Clarion: How do you see the impact of the 2011 Arab Spring in your native Morocco?
Touissate: It is always interesting to get this question since I generally don’t read, hear or watch much about the ongoing struggle for democracy in Morocco, mainly I suppose because of the lack of violence, which I hope never changes.
Morocco avoided extreme violence, outright revolt and riots during the Arab Spring and the Youth opened a space of freedom of expression, which encouraged Moroccans to discuss ideas in print, social media and in public. It was a peaceful group of youth who carried banners and chanted for a better social, economic and political situation in their country.
The ruling regime has been reformed instead of replaced; a new constitution was adopted and Morocco was officially transformed into a constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliament, sweeping new human rights as enumerated in Article 20 to Article 31 including the right to life, the right to physical and moral integrity, the right to a fair trial, freedom of the press, and gender equality.
Additionally, the inclusion of rights for the Amazigh indigenous people, such as making Tamazight a national language, was a huge step forward and the political reforms in the new constitution focused on the division of powers between the King and the Parliament.
However, despite Morocco’s smooth transition, there still remains significant debate about the extent of the reforms in the country.
Clarion: What has your biggest success been so far with BETA Changemakers?
Touissate: BETA stands for: "Better Education Through Arts" Its idea fits into the category of Education, Arts and Social Entrepreneurship.
It is a Moroccan Social Enterprise with the aim to empower Moroccan kids and youth to create a positive change in the community and to work in collaboration with different stakeholders to transform schools and universities into hubs of creativity and innovation.
I believe that the Biggest success so far with BETA Changemakers was being able to be selected and represented in multiple international events and programs such as: SafirLab, the Female Leadership Program, the UNESCO Youth Forum, the Mahatma Ghandi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Education, the Change-Makers Forum, the Turk-Arab Youth Congress, the World Humanitarian Summit and many more.
Clarion: What is the goal of BETA Changemakers?
Touissate: In BETA Changemakers, we use Social Artistry and Social Entrepreneurship to address and recognize different social and environmental issues through Art, creativity and innovation. We encourage students in schools and universities to decide their future and take action to make a positive change in their community.
The main aim of our programs, events, trainings and workshops is to improve society as a whole and help youth to find their own voice and means of creative expression and to bring them together to help them foster an understanding of each other and of other cultures around the World.
Clarion: What's the important thing you feel people in the West either don't know or ignore about Middle Easterners?
Touissate: Anyone who is familiar with the Middle East probably knows that the first thing anyone needs to know is that the region is composed of various countries, each with their own unique history, culture, ethnicity, dialects and religious practices.
Speaking of which, in most Middle Eastern countries, the decision to wear a Hijab (A headscarf to cover a woman’s hair) or not is entirely up to a woman and insinuating otherwise can sound insulting.
In this region, it is part of a woman’s identity, much the way wardrobes around the World are used to showcase individual identities.
People in the West are sometimes surprised when they are told that not every person in the Middle East is Arab and/or Muslim. Even the Muslims you will meet will be different in every country, every city and every place you go to. Middle Easterners are not exactly the same.
However, they are some of the warmest and most welcoming and hospitable people you’ll meet in the World.
Clarion: What is the one thing that gives you hope for a better relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims?
Touissate: Today, we live in a global village where no person can live in isolation and indifference to what goes on elsewhere.
Our world has become more interdependent and interrelated than ever that peaceful dialogue had become imperative and I believe that initiatives of interfaith dialogue around the World are the one thing that gives me hope for a better relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims.
In spite of serious instances of abuse of various religions by some of their claimed followers, people have used arts (comedy, music, theatre, photography, movies…) and social media tools to break different stereotypes about their religion and culture.
Therefore, peaceful intrafaith and interfaith dialogues is helping to clarify central issues of concern to all.