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Morocco: Berbers can be blonde

Major media outlets and bloggers went into a frenzy a few days ago when a blurry photograph taken by a Spanish tourist in Morocco's Rif mountain region showed a small blonde girl bearing a strong resemblance to missing British child Madeleine McCann perched on the back of a Moroccan woman.

As it turns out, the photograph was not of Madeleine McCann, but of a two-year-old Moroccan girl named Bouchra Benaissa, whose blonde hair and light eyes are not uncommon to the region. While many news sites marveled at the similarities between the two girls, Moroccan bloggers weren't all that surprised.

Naim from Au début était le blog … (fr) said:

Décidément, les stéréotypes ethniques ont la vie dure. Il a suffi d'une photo floue prise par une touriste espagnole, tout près de Tetouan, d'une fillette marocaine pour que la machine médiatique, espagnole et puis internationale, se met en marche: Madeline McCann, petite anglaise de 4 ans disparue au Portugal depuis le 2 mai dernier, serait enlevée par un couple de Marocains. Pourquoi ce malentendu? La réponse est simple: la fillette marocaine photographiée sur le dos de sa maman était blonde comme Madeleine. Le mystère vite éclairci, la Maddie marocaine s'appelle en fait Bouchra Benaissa. Ses parents, Ahmed et Hafida, d'une extrême gentillesse, se sont même prêtés aux longues questions des gendarmes, et surtout à l'harcèlement des dizaines de journalistes internationaux, Anglais et Espagnols en tête, qui voulaient élucider ce “mystère”.

Ethnic stereotypes definitely die hard. All it took for the Spanish, and then international, media machine to spring to action was a fuzzy photograph of a young Moroccan girl taken by a Spanish tourist close to Tetouan. Madeleine McCann, a four year-old English girl who disappeared in Portugal May 2nd, could have been kidnapped by a couple of Moroccans. Why this misunderstanding? The answer is simple: the young Moroccan girl photographed on the back of her mother was fair-skinned like Madeleine. The mystery was quickly cleared up, “Moroccan Maddie” is in fact called Bouchra Benaissa. Her parents, Ahmed and Hafida, extremely kind, even lent themselves to the long questioning of the police, and even to the harassment of dozens of top international, English and Spanish journalists who wanted to clear up this “mystery.”

Even prior to the news that the photo was not of Maddie, blogger Abdelilah Boukili had his doubts:

Personally, I don’t think it can be Madeleine. The woman seems from the countryside. In Morocco people, especially those living in the countryside know each other. For her having a child speaking English can raise the curiosity of people in her area. She can have as an answer that the child is from a relation who lives in Europe as a substantial number of Moroccan immigrants originate from the north of Morocco. If that girl was really Madeleine, the women wouldn't show her in public. She can be easily spotted as Madeleine's case is still fresh in mind and among the search priority of the security services in Morocco. In general, the local authorities’ job is to know about any foreigner living in any areas. It has a network that regularly reports about anything special taking place in any area of the country. If the girl was Madeleine she couldn’t have gone unnoticed as it is too early for her to speak the local language fluently without reverting to English. As a consequence she can be the talk of the area where she is.

Bouchra Benaissa and family

Laila Lalami shared her favorite headline:

It comes from Le Matin, of all places: The Spanish discover the existence of blondes in Morocco.

Chergaoui (fr) also mocked the Spanish for their ignorance:

La fausse piste marocaine dans l’affaire Maddie… a permis aux Espagnols de découvrir qu’il y a des Marocains aux cheveux blonds et aux yeux clairs, comme le soulignent mercredi plusieurs journaux espagnols.

The Maddie saga's Moroccan red herring…made it possible for the Spaniards to discover that there are Moroccans with fair hair and light eyes, as several Spanish newspapers highlighted on Wednesday.

But the best headline of the day came from Ghasbouba, whose blog post was entitled “BWM: Blond While Moroccan.” In the post, he said:

It is really a shame and a pity that little Bouchra and her family are harassed by media and authorities just because she “might” have looked like another European person. Her family was called by the authorities. Her parents had to prove she was their daughter. I find this really strange, for lack a better word.
I wonder if the same acts of harassment would happen if “another Maddy-like blond little girl” is ‘seen’ in any places in Rural Alzas, Basque, Arizona, or Wales.

Photo Source: Gulf Times

  • Master

    ¡Por supuesto hay niños rubios en Marruecos! Tanto así que sobraron niños para cambiar a la niña de la foto por otra llamada Bouchra Benaissa, porque ambas no son la misma. ¿De verdad los periodistas y fotógrafos creen que el público es 100% estúpido? ¿En menos de 14 horas encontraron a Bouchra? ¿Es famosa en su pueblo esta niña, para que un periodista londinense la hallara tan rápidamente? LA niña de la primera foto no es ni parecida a Bouchra.

    GV translation:

    Of course there are blonde children in Morrocco! In fact, there are so many children that they could change the child in the photo for another named Bouchra Benaissa, because both are not the same. Do the journalists and photographers think that the public is 100% stupid? In less than 14 hours they found Bouchra? Is the child so famous in her town that a London journalist could find her so fast? The child in the first photograph is not and does not resemble Bouchra.

  • http://talqualmente.wordpress.com Paula

    Master, sorry, I can understand Spanish, but I don’t write it, but after the picture was published all over the world, Bouchra would not need to be famous to be found – any neighbor, any family member or friend would be there to help the police to find the people on the picture and show that the circus was just another blunder. As a journalist, I have seen it happen so often.

    Now, how could the Spanish tourist in a passing by car far away be so 100% sure that the little girl was Madeleine (a girl that she had seen only pictures of?

  • Eileen

    I cannot believe that such a global forore took place on the basis of a mid-fair haired child who was obviously not even the right age. It was of course based on racist assumptions and sheer ignorance. Will every predominantly dark-skinned family with a light coloured child between the ages of 2 and 5 have to submit to police questioning and international media attention ? I only hope that Bushra’s Daddy had the the good sense to charge the hacks pursuing him for pics and comments and that he will use the cash to secure his obviously much loved and well cared for daughter’s education and future.

  • Kit

    I’m not surprised that the Xenophobic British culture would take such a racist tone on this issue. It has become apparent that most British journalists are, to put it blatantly, ignorant hacks who find it easier to create the news than to research it. But there a deeper, sinister side to this issue, the assumption by the closet racists that fair skinned, blond haired people cannot exist in developing nations. Many in established European and North American media feel that to be blond, fair skinned is only possible in developed countries (specifically Northern Europe) due to the mindset that has its roots deeply entrenched in WW2 Nazi Germany. Which in turn allows a greater insight into the level of inequality that exists in so called socially progressive places like the U.K. and the true nature of world politics as it exists today.

  • DZ

    Well what can I say. 1000′s of children die every day due to war, diseases and violence of all sorts. And here we are witnessing a mediaric farce that has no value whatsoever other than those who prefer tabloid poor information and news. While my sympathy goes to the Cannes I hope the media and their poor reporters find better things to report and inform than this and leave law enforcement agencies do their job.
    On another front, I hope the Moroccan farmer couple whom their privacy has been violated would get some legal help to chase the junk media outlets for some money as I am sure they rightly deserve it.

  • Radwane

    I’m from Morocco and except from people from Spain and France, it seems that most people in the world don’t know that in the north of Morocco, the vast majority of Moroccans have a very strong blonde gene, as most have blonde hair and blue eyes.
    Berbers inhabited Morocco before the start of the Romans and Greek empires, and there most of Moroccans are actually Berbers, some of them have adopted the darija dialect, and same who went to school can speak Arabic too.
    Morocco is e melting pot of races and cultures and it’s beautiful place to visit.

  • Radwane

    Also, not all Berbers are blonde, some are black and others are have a light brown complexion, and in Morocco pure Arabs, not Berbers who adopted the darija and Arabic language, are less than 15% of the population.

  • http://crispal.blogspot.com Crispal

    The fact is that the couple who took the photo kept it for a while until they heard others talking about girls like Maddie appearing in the North of Morocco. Then they remembered the blonde Moroccan girl and released the picture to the media in case it was the real Maddie. It is stupid to blame the Spanish couple as ignorant. They just wanted to help instead leaving one possible clue unattended. When you see the photo you may think that the little Moroccan looks like Maddie or not, but it was worth it trying. What about if it was Maddie and nobody did anything to help?

  • http://ghasbouba.blogspot.com bouba

    “When you see the photo you may think that the little Moroccan looks like Maddie or not, but it was worth it trying. What about if it was Maddie and nobody did anything to help?”
    @Crispal: this is the logic that angered a lot of Amazigh people. it means that it is ok to profile people racially. Boushra is not Bouchra till it is proven she is not Maddy. this is we should read your sentence.. and this is what makes it a logic of superiority, Euro-entrism, racism and arrogance… it is not acceptable in the modern world to look down on people and consider them inferior yet use them to build your economy and your software.
    @Kit, you said it all.
    @Jill, shoukran.

  • T

    That is just like saying british people are all white they cant be black and if i see any black person in the street of london that means he is from africa.
    Ignorance mixed with stereo type.

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