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CNES Launches North African Outreach Initiative

Lecture by renowned Algerian cartoonist Slim, films on Islam inaugurate year-long program

... our goal is to inform, educate, and enlighten the public about a region and a faith that resonate with the American imagination but have not been sufficiently explored outside academic circles...

American perceptions of North Africa have been obscured over the past half-century by an array of erroneous notions regarding the region and its people. It is all too easy to identify North Africa with the Casbah, the Sahara, and the Foreign Legion, or lately, as a new battleground in the war on terror.

Known as the Maghreb (i.e. the Arab Far West), this pivotal region extends along the southern shores of the Mediterranean, from the northern coast of Africa down across the Sahara, forming a cultural continuum and spectrum that provide insights on Muslim civilization in such spheres as religion and society, geopolitics, urbanism, and relations with the West, including the United States. North Africa is a region of enormous variations in climate, topography, population, and traditions. While it remains understudied in academia and misunderstood by the public, it clearly merits the increased scholarly attention afforded at UCLA and a few other institutions of higher education.

With funds provided by the UCLA International Institute, the US Department of Education, and the Social Science Research Council (the latter grant being part of a broader SSRC initiative on Islam in World Contexts), the Center for Near Eastern Studies is planning a year-long public and media outreach program on North Africa that includes symposia on religion, migration, music, and cinema, an international conference on Fez, film series and exhibitions, a workshop for teachers, and lectures on a variety of topics including a May 8 presentation titled Slim and the History of Algerian Cartoons.


"Slim" Menouar Merabtene

Menouar Merabtene, the legendary cartoonist known as Slim, has produced more than a dozen graphic novels and animated films as well as syndicated cartoons, many featuring Bouzid El Besbessi, his archetypal Algerian everyman who embodies decades of political, sexual, and social satire.


Visualizing the Sacred: Islam on Film 

A Door to the Sky

Le Grand Voyage

On May 14, A Door to the Sky (Bab al-Sama Maftuh), directed by Farida Ben Lyazid, screens at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum. The Sufi-inspired tale vividly portrays the spiritual awakening of a young migre after she returns from France to her native Fez for her father's funeral. On May 17, Le Grand Voyage, directed by Ismael Ferroukhi, explores the transformation of a French-Moroccan teenager who grudgingly agrees to accompany his devout father on pilgrimage from France to Mecca. These two productions part of the Visualizing the Sacred: Islam on Film series sponsored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive candidly and insightfully dispel the monolithic and essentialist view of Islam that has become all too common in Western cinema and media.

Summer 2008

On July 31 CNES and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will organize a city-wide concert showcasing a variety of music from North Africa: Rai, Amazigh (Berber), Gnawa, Andalusian, Judeo-Arabic/Ladino, and Hip Hop. Dance performances will highlight both traditional and modern expressions from the region, notably the Amazigh style of belly dancing elaborated and popularized in the US. Documentaries on music and dance will be screened in conjunction with the performances.

Professor Mustapha Kamal, University of Illinois, Chicago, with Moroccan Tutor teens

From July 19 to July 31, CNES and other area studies centers in the International Institute will host a teacher workshop on North Africa with a special focus on colonialism, cities, gender, migration, Amazigh (Berber) culture, and the Jews of North Africa. In conjunction with the workshop, CNES will pilot Moroccan Tutor, an online language instructional module designed for middle and high school students and teachers.

Fall 2008

In November, CNES will co-host an international conference with UC Riverside, titled Fez: Crossroads of Knowledge and Power, marking the 1200th anniversary of the citys founding. To commemorate the occasion and the citys designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, local scholars will meet with colleagues from Morocco, Europe, and the US to explore new cross-fertilizations of ideas about urban space and social relations. Viewed as the archetypal North African, Arab, and Muslim walled city, the medina of Fez can be mapped chronologically or surveyed as a traditional site to be revived and renovated. Thus it can serve as a case study for the comparative exploration of visual, architectural, and literary representations in research at the intersection of social history, architectural history, urban planning, engineering, anthropology, and literature. A concert featuring Fassi music will be a highlight of the conference.

Paperbacks from the YRL's Special Collections


Spring-Summer 2009

Two exhibitions will be held concurrently from spring through summer. The CNES exhibition at the Powell Library Rotunda, titled America's North Africa, will represent American Orientalist narratives and productions about North Africa in pulp fiction and adventure magazines, LPs and CDs, and games and ephemera from the Young Research Library's Department of Special Collections. An accompanying film series, Hollywood's North Africa, will present a cornucopia of features from the annals of American cinema, including Algiers, Escape from Tangiers, and the classic Casablanca. And from April 21 through August 16, the Getty Center will present Walls of Algiers: Narratives of the Colonial City, an exhibition focusing on the citys urban fabric and reflecting the turbulent history of the Ottoman and French colonial occupations.

All of these activities will be showcased on Global Maghreb, a metasite on North Africa that CNES is developing to serve as a bridge between academia and the public. Global Maghreb will provide critical information and resources not centralized elsewhere.

Building on the momentum generated by our recent conference on Islam Re-Observed: Clifford Geertz in Morocco, our goal is to inform, educate, and enlighten the public about a region and a faith that resonate with the American imagination but have not been sufficiently explored outside academic circles, especially regarding nuances of religion and culture, civil society, the built environment, and transregional connections. The variety and diversity of activities and venues will reinforce the central mission of this program which is to shed light on the cultures of Islam by showcasing its North African nuances and their reverberations worldwide.

All of these events are open to the public, free of charge.

For more information, visit

Center for Near Eastern Studies