Electrosonic Statecraft: vocal discipline and studio infrastructure on Moroccan Qur’anic radio

By Ian VanderMeulen
Submitted to Session P5106 (Sound, Time, and Space in the Middle East and North Africa, 2018 Annual Meeting
Islamic Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
What does it mean for a state to commune with its subjects? How is sound or the voice implicated in this process? For many, Althusser’s model of the policeman hailing a pedestrian remains an evocative representation of how vocal or sonic power is derived from state institutions. In contemporary Morocco, however, state religious actors are striving not only to revive distinctly “Moroccan” styles of pedagogy relevant to Qur’an recitation, but to involve a wider public in such pedagogies through mass media. Thus, the question seems to be less about the state hailing its subjects and rather: how does the state discipline its subjects vocally?

In this paper I explore these questions through an ethnographic study of “Learn How to Recite the Qur’an” (Ta‘llum Naqra’ al-Qur’an), a weekly program on the Moroccan state-funded radio station Idha‘at Mohammed Assadiss lil-Qur’an al-Karim. The program content includes explanation and performative demonstration of the proper rules of Qur’an recitation, known as ahkam al-tajwid, which ensure adherence to a distinctly “Moroccan” recital known as riwayat Warsh. Additionally, each episode offers opportunities for listeners to call in to the broadcast, recite on air, and receive real-time critical feedback from the expert hosts. Building on an analysis of the content of dozens of episodes, I turn as well to the ethnographic “backstage” of the program’s production booth, highlighting both the technological elements involved in production and the way in which callers are disciplined verbally by the program’s producer before being allowed, vocally, on air. Thus, I argue, the program’s avenues of participation function as a form of electrosonic statecraft, one that aims at a type of vocal perfection but because of its spatial and temporal limitations, inevitably fails to fulfill this promise.