Crossing (and) the Rihla Tradition of Travel Writing
This chapter addresses literary engagements with hijra (illegal migration from Africa to Europe) produced in Morocco and Gibraltar in French, Spanish, and Arabic. It reads Mediterranean hijra and its concluding shipwreck as the negative mirror image of the illustrious tradition of rihla—the knowledge-seeking journey underpinning the development of Arab modernity. The chapter starts with Tahar Ben Jelloun’s configuration of Tangier as the realm of subversive poetic parole in Harrouda. Following Ben Jelloun’s model, Moroccan Mohamad al-Baqqash’s deconstruction of rihla—a model entangled with Arab nationalism—reframes Mediterranean crossings as an extension of subaltern resistance to the postcolonial watan (the national construct of Arab nationalism). In turn, Gibraltarian Trino Cruz shifts the focus from national space to the deadly maritime plane of the crossings. As the hope for inclusion into alternative networks through emigration to Europe founders, only physical disintegration awaits the migrant. The chapter concludes by showing how this form of mobility delineates a new dystopian Mediterranean. This valence of the sea as a voracious abyss brings to light the epistemic violence intrinsic to the region, complicating readings of the space of the Mediterranean as a site of cultural mediation in a lingering echo of Andalusian convivencia.
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