The lives of the exiles in Tangier pointed up the world as it exists as absurd: exile is perhaps a distorting mirror held up to reality.

— Iain Finlayson, Scottish writer and biographer, and author of
Tangier: city of the dream (1992) 

Tangier: a city of many legends, myths and dreams. A gate between different worlds: real and unreal, seen and unseen, magic and sometimes even tragic. In the middle of the twentieth century, the International Zone of Tangier, located at the Strait of Gibraltar, not only guarded the passage to Europe and the Mediterranean Sea but also embodied a sanctuary for outcasts, for people living on the margins, for adventurers and fugitives from Western societies. Artists, criminals, lost souls and sensation seekers found a home in a city they never really belonged to. Some of them sought freedom from American puritan morals and laws, some sought inspiration in the exotic and oriental environment of Morocco, some longed for sexual adventures, while others just fled from legal prosecution or financial ruin. ‘On all sides you see men washed up here in hopeless, dead-end situations, waiting for job offers, acceptance checks, visas, permits that will never come. All their lives they have drifted with an unlucky current, always taking the wrong turn. Here they are. This is it. Last stop: the Socco Chico of Tangier,’ wrote William S. Burroughs in his short story collection called Interzone, the short form of International Zone which he used to refer to his fictional version of Tangier. In this short scene, Burroughs describes the atmosphere of the Medina as well as the status of many of the expatriates who were stranded there. They all found refuge in a place that belonged to Western powers in name only, where they were tolerated by the natives, safe from their past deeds, lulling themselves into the timeless workings of an unreal city, a political non-zone, an Interzone where the boundaries between reality and dream constantly blurred. Due to the sheer unlimited possibilities of intoxication and sexual mergence, enshrouded in mists of kif, and due to the hidden but solid line that Tanjawis drew between their native place and the foreigners who invaded and inhabited it, Tangier hosted many invisible creatures with invisible desires and goals.

The rest of this article is only available to subscribers.

Access our entire archive of 350+ articles from the world's leading writers on Islam.
Only £3.30/month, cancel anytime.


Already subscribed? Log in here.

Not convinced? Read this: why should I subscribe to Critical Muslim?

Elsewhere on Critical Muslim: