Tangier-the-White is like the advanced sentinel of Africa, while Gibraltar, encamped in the extreme south of Spain, stands guard over Europe; a sea strangled in a strait separates the two civilisations more deeply than thousands of leagues.
Europe, bristling with bayonets and cannons, speckled with factories, covered with a grid of railways, capped with an aerial lattice of telephone and telegraph wires, a formidable factory and gigantic arsenal; Morocco, the most western of the Islamic countries, where the great stride of the Arabs guided by Mohammed has come to an end, a country of fatalism and immobility, prostrate under the incessant prayers that the muezzins drop from the minarets at the fateful evening hour.
It has fiercely guarded itself against civilisation as if it were a leprosy, walled up in the mystery into which it has sunk for centuries, shutting itself away in its houses with their jagged porticoes, their festooned doors, their inimitable arches, veiling its morals, its traditions, its customs like the faces of its women.
See these carpets, these blankets lamé of gold and silver, these embroideries which serve to adorn the untied hair, these chiselled weapons, these rifles with the flared stock to encase the shoulder, these embroidered harnesses of gold clasped with silver, you cannot assign any date to them, stamp them with any year of manufacture.
They are marvellous in their art and colouring, in their nuanced and exquisite hues, but are they from yesterday or three centuries ago? The proud horsemen who, in the 15th century, pounded the ground with the hoofs of their nervous horses, must have been equipped like these Beni-Hanen, these Cherarbas, these tribes who live their nomadic life on the fringe of official Morocco.
Colourful dishes, red leathers, barbaric jewellery, sabres with curved handles, wicked, short daggers, whose blade gives a shiver, piles of red and yellow babouches which accumulate in the stalls of the Moroccan bazaars, in the small obscure shops glittering with weapons, silk and gold, today as yesterday, yesterday as centuries ago. And these objects speak to our eyes only in their splendour or strangeness. They have no reflection that tells of a progress, that marks a stage, no imprint that specifies an era, they have always been like that. They have no soul that betrays the oscillations and jolts that work and move the destiny of a people and in which can be read, as in an open book, the impulse of its admirations, the crisis of its anger, the march of its ideas.
They are only stereotypes of different ages, framed in the same immutable and passive decor.
And one remembers and understands better Pierre Loti's sentence: "O dark Maghreb, remain for a long time, impenetrable to new things, turn your back on Europe and remain immobilised in the past. Sleep a long time and continue your sweet dream, so that at least there is one last country where men make their prayers.
"May Allah preserve for the Sultan his unsubdued territories and his flower-covered solitudes, his deserts of asphodel and iris, to exercise in the open space the agility of his horsemen and the hocks of his horses; to wage war there as the paladins once did and to harvest rebellious heads.
"May Allah preserve for the Arab people their mystical dreams, their disdainful immutability, their grey rags... "
And so it will be until the day when Morocco will emerge from its lethargy only to die perhaps to the sounds of the tambourines of what diplomacy elegantly calls the European concert. There are three or four of them who hover around him, bending over his bedside, showering him with kindnesses, all the while keeping a close eye on their good care.
It's too many four Esculapes, be they from Spain, France, England and Germany, to vaccinate him with civilisation. It is a vaccine that is no guarantee against appetites and ambitions.
And Morocco, which is content with its uniform and monotonous life, finds too many eager and charitable friends to educate it in European civilisation.
It feels no inclination or mood to play the role of the sick man by persuasion.
©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition Universelle de Liège 1905