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The First Country to Recognize America

Where is the oldest US diplomatic property still in use and America’s first piece of foreign real estate?

Surprise! It’s in Morocco.

my American friends posing underneath their favorite symbol

Mr Z and Biggie  posing underneath their favorite symbol

When United States of America was a young country (its thumb sucking phase), few recognized it as a nation because they were afraid to piss off Britain. Then in 1700s, ruling supreme country. This foolish young upstart dare to unshackle the chains of its parent and declare itself independent? It was unheard of. Without a queen and a king to boot. It was a period of monarchs and before the legendary French Revolution (which America may have inspired which then inspired other colonies to declare independence from its oppressive colonizers). It’s like if Guam were to declare independence. No one would dare recognize it especially if America denied it.

It was like that between America and Britain.

Enter Morocco.

In 1777 Sultan Sidi Muhammad bin Abdallah knew that if he wanted to secure the safety of his kingdom, Morocco from conniving European countries he needed allies and diplomatic relations. He was afraid of neighboring Spain and Portugal because they go waaaay back. Way back when Morocco invaded Spain and Portugal (back when they weren’t known as Spain and Portugal) and turned it into the beautiful Al Andalusia (yes, Spain and Portugal used to be Arab and African!..specifically, Berbers- what native Moroccans call themselves). The Moroccans occupied Southern Spain and Portugal for 500 years (from 711 to 1400 –hmm.. the last few hundred years during the Mongol conquest and the Black Plague) before they were kicked out by the northern Castile and Aragon armies (the two main kingdoms that were to become Spain).

Well, Sultan Sidi Muhammad bin Abdallah sent out a friendly hand to United States when it declared independence thereby making history. Morocco became the first country to recognize America as a country and thus began United States’ longest unbroken treaty between these two countries. Imagine what the conservative Republicans would say about that. Yes sir! A Muslim Arab (technically an Arab-Berber) was the first to recognize America as a nation. What say you now?

America then acquired its first property abroad in Tangier, Morocco and established one of its first diplomatic missions. It’s now called the Tangier American Legislation. Legislation is a rank lower than embassy and consulate (like second runner up in a beauty pageant).

The symbol of America in this diplomatic mission

Tangier American Legislation

Today the Tangier American Legislation is a museum, a cultural library, a cultural library and a research center on Arabic studies. And still owned by the United States. It is also the only American national historic landmark on foreign soil. It’s boggles the mind. When we entered the building, it’s like stepping into a little piece of America in Morocco. Finally, we were in a clean pristine place. Big old red white and blue flags were everywhere. Everything was organized. Air conditioning was blasting. Yep, we were in American soil.

I'm in America! .... in Morocco

I’m in America! …. in Morocco

This is a historic letter from Sultan Mohammed bin Adbullah to George Washington in the Tangier American Legislation museum.

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Sultan Sidi Muhammad bin Abdallah’s response to George Washington’s letter part 1

This is George Washington’s reply. Imagine! America’s first president writing a letter to a Muslim head of State expressing gratitude. Well, this was pre-9/11 after all.

Letter of George Washington to the Sultan of Morocco

Letter of George Washington to the Sultan of Morocco

Here’s  an excerpt from the letter.

City of New York December 1, 1789

Great and Magnanimous Friend,

………..It gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity of assuring Your Majesty that, while I remain at the head of this nation, I shall not cease to promote every measure that may conduce to the friendship and harmony which so happily subsist between your Empire and them, and shall esteem myself happy in every occasion of convincing Your Majesty of the high sense (which in common with the whole nation) I entertain the magnanimity, wisdom and benevolence of Your Majesty.

May the Almighty bless Your Imperial Majesty, our Great and Magnanimous friend, with His constant guidance and protection.

– George Washington

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To know more about the Tangier American Legislation, visit these sites:

Middle East Institute- George Washington Writes a Letter to the Sultan of Morocco

Preservation Nation Blog- American History on Foreign Soil

Image credit for George Washington’s letter

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Touring the Blue Medina of Tangier

Two Moroccans dressed in their Berber djellabas

Two Moroccans dressed in their Berber djellabas

We didn’t know what to expect when we went to Tangier. The place was simply a dropping-off point to go to Spain. There was a ferry from the port to Tarifa, Spain. I read that since many Europeans go to Tangier to experience the “real” Morocco, it’s become a tourist trap border town. The sort where there are many peddlers and hawkers and expensive restaurants with watery Moroccan food. Expensive restaurants, yes but not that many hawkers (Euro slump, maybe?).

Tangier surprised us. There were actually a few decent sights. First off was the tomb of the famous traveler, Ibn Batuta. Ibn Batuta is a famous Arab and Muslim traveler who went all over the world in the Middle Ages (all over except the Americas and that’s because Western History hasn’t seen it yet, well maybe except the Vikings).

He traveled lands that were under the Mongol rule. The Mongols! It’s like traveling in lands that are controlled by ISIS except waaay crueler. The Mongols make ISIS look like chumps, like a 1 year old breastfeeding and the Mongol is its genius brother. The ISIS murder. The Mongols annihilate. They would commit total genocide over a town including killing cats and dogs. And to top that off, once they left that town, they’d send soldiers there months later to make sure no one survived!

Ibn Batuta traveled from his home Morocco to the Middle East for his mecca haj (not under the family Saud rule yet) then onto Africa, Central Asia, South Asia (India), Southeast Asia and then East Asia (all the way to China). He went to more places than Marco Polo. He did it by ship and hitchhiking by camel/caravan (bet he didn’t stick his thumb out then). From Morocco to China in the 1300s! Yowza! What a backpacker!

Ibn Batuta- what a badass

Ibn Batuta- what a badass

We had to pay homage to the explorers in the past who paved the way for us present travelers. Though they traveled in much harsher conditions (marauders, thieves, the Black Plague, absence of air travel, no TSA) they were able to go boldly and explore lands no one in their cities have ever been. They had guts, they had glory – something tourists in a tour bus wished they had.

Paying homage to a traveler hero

Paying homage to a traveler hero

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It was rumored Ibn Batuta’s remains lie in this spot

After we visited his simple tomb (no body though), we explored the Tangier medina. The medina was a beauty. I didn’t expect to see it painted in different colors (there was the blue corner, the red corner, the orange corner). The prominent color of the day was blue.

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Time to squeeeze in

Time to squeeeze in

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Cat and her kittens in a box

We saw other sights in the medina too. Like this Momma Cat and her kittens in a box

A German Shepherd and his master

A German Shepherd and his master

And this beautiful view at the top

And this beautiful view at the top

Sunset

Sunset