Nouakchott — Maalouma Mint El Meidah is one of the most prominent Mauritanian artists to garner local and worldwide acclaim. Her genre of music rebelled against tradition and spread her liberal ideas in culture and art.
Mint El Meidah inspired many artistic generations in the Maghreb. She didn't restrict her activities to art alone, but entered the world of politics years ago, becoming the first musician in Mauritania to take part in the senate; something that enabled her to reach new arenas.
She talked to Magharebia about her experiences and views of the recent developments in the Maghreb.
Magharebia: What message should artists use to enlighten public opinion in light of the spread of extremism?
Mint El Meidah: Artists must have a clear vision about life so they can chart a picture of what they want to express, and should have a message that can inspire listeners and audiences. This is because art is a means of expression through which we can communicate a speech that establishes the foundations for moderation. However, this hinges on the artistic value of work and the power of its message. Therefore, the artistic value of a performer's message must be cohesive in music, value and core.
Magharebia: Why do you think young people fall prey to extremism and join terrorist groups?
Mint El Meidah: I think the main reason for that is the spread of ignorance, given that Mauritania has been through a stage of deterioration in education in recent years. This has created a rift between two groups, with one studying Arabic, but only in a superficial way lacking integration, and the other studying French. At a later stage, the state suddenly decided to reform education by imposing a new system that forced those who studied Arabic out of society rather than contain them in state institutions. And as no mechanisms were created to prepare them to integrate, they felt their future was dark and became an easy prey for extremist groups, and some of them even embraced terrorism.
However, I think that when there is some focus on enlightened people in Mauritania and other Maghreb countries, and when intensive meetings are organised for youths, this will help bring some deviant people back to their senses.
Magharebia: There has been talk recently about some Maghreb girls falling victim to what is now known as "jihad annikah". What are your thoughts on the topic?
Mint El Meidah: To me, "jihad annikah" is alien to the values of Islam, which we were brought up with. To the best of my Islamic culture and religious knowledge, such a concept never existed in Islamic history because Islam didn't come with teachings requiring women to offer up their bodies for jihad.
Magharebia: What's your interpretation of the current spread of jihadists and murderers in the name of Islam?
Mint El Meidah: As far as this is concerned, I can say that, unfortunately, there are fallacies and serious things that must be dealt with smartly. I personally believe that the effect of reason and culture is better than the effect of weapons, because persuasion through ideas is much easier than persuasion through intimidation. Therefore, dialogue and mentality change are better than using weapons in dealing with this issue.
Magharebia: What is your message to Maghreb youths?
Mint El Meidah: I encourage enlightened youths from all over the Maghreb to give those academically, financially or intellectually impaired people access to useful things. I also hope that the countries concerned with terrorism will create new opportunities and institutions capable of accommodating those people who are financially and intellectually inept. I believe that those intellectually deviant people wouldn't find a motive to go astray if they found a proper way to support their parents.