Radical Islam won't be rocking the Casbah

Despite the recent bombings, expect Morocco's body-politic to reject the Islamists.

morocco police 88 (photo credit: )
morocco police 88
(photo credit: )
The latest headlines notwithstanding, Morocco will not find itself undermined by the kind of ferocious, militant Islam-instigated violence that is now tearing Iraq apart. The people of Morocco have no interest in becoming the next arena for the disquieting winds of Islamo-fascism. The reason is due in large part to the social and political dynamics of a land driven by national pride, one which sees itself and its citizens as the countenance of Islamic modernity and forbearance. There is a very strong, popular allegiance to the king, so Morocco's intensifying struggle between fundamentalists and secularists will be short lived. The body-politic will slow the Islamist momentum - not side with it. Over the past week, the alarming headlines coming out of this most Western outpost of Islam seemed to undermine the notion of an unassuming and peaceful society. But, in fact, and in contrast to the rest of the Arab world, terrorism has largely remained alien to Morocco. That Islamism has no deep roots in the country, despite its proximity to other extremist breeding grounds, is noteworthy, and largely connected to the role of the king, who is sovereign both politically and religiously owing to religious claims that his family's lineage traces back to that of the prophet. That makes extremists' claims that the monarchy is illegitimate under Islamic law seem almost farcical. THE STABILITY of Morocco rests with the monarchy, and this institution alone is capable of subduing Islam's militants. It has done so before. This is a country accustomed to fighting for its freedom - and winning. The king's grandfather, Mohamed V, was able to rally his people against Vichy France and the Nazis. His secret, as my Moroccan grandmother would say, was his unique sense of nobility, which commanded the respect and obedience of his people. Even his son, Hassan II, who was viewed as a tyrant, commanded unwavering respect from the people, although this was due largely to his survival of three assassination attempts, reinforcing the idea that he had baraka, or a special God-given grace. The current king has benefited from the modernity introduced by his grandfather, and he relies heavily on the nation's intelligentsia, who play a key role in providing an ideological answer to fundamentalism. Western-oriented elites - academics and the wealthy - are strongly opposed to any shift away from modernization. They value the benefits of US aid. FOR ITS PART, the US has often cited Morocco as a model for other nations in the region, namely Algeria and Tunisia, to emulate. Furthermore, the country's standard of living has increased since Mohamed VI's societal innovations; and opportunities for women have been expanded. There is even a budding official cooperation with Human Rights Watch, aimed at locating those who disappeared under the old regime. All this has provided people with a new sense of hope, admiration for their king and for his desire to modernize. Since the bombing of Jewish-owned cafes in Casablanca in May 2003, the king has taken precautionary measures in the event of a showdown with the Islamists, tightening the reins on the religious sector and closing down mosques preaching radical messages. In Morocco, much like the rest of the Arab world, extremist messages are adopted largely by dissatisfied, uneducated and unemployed young men - the target market for those selling a radical message, and easy prey for those specializing in transfiguring desperation into cathartic "truths." BUT IN Morocco buying into such a message is costly. If the young generation decided to stray from the current path they would be taking a dramatic step back which would almost certainly end in calamity. In neighboring Algeria, for instance, the past 15 years or so have seen a gruesome civil war between Islamists and government moderates. Algeria has found itself under immense pressure to offer political blandishments to the religious authorities in the form of influence in both government and social affairs. Were something similar to happen in Morocco, were the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, for example, similarly indulged, the country's march toward modernity would almost certainly be halted. Islamic terrorism in Morocco is about one thing and one thing alone: the subjugation of liberalism and modernity. The Islamists want to end the monarchy and replace it with an inflexible caliphate operating under Shari'a law. This must not be allowed to happen. In order to rally the troops and make it easier to purge the terrorists, the recent attacks are being exaggerated by the government as an attack on the monarchy. Thus Morocco is more likely to tighten state oversight than succumb to fear and terror. While Islamist groups are trying Hizbullah-like tactics of feeding the poor and providing for the needy, they will not win over the average Moroccan, who knows that these groups will only be condemning them to future suffering. The people of Morocco will fight for king and country. Vice-Premier Shimon Peres has said that breaking psychological barriers is a precondition for success in the quest for peace and prosperity. Nothing could be truer in the case of the Islamist menace in Morocco. Ultimately, I believe, Moroccans will choose the peaceful and moral high ground, leaving Islamist terrorism to dry up in the hot Sahara sun. The writer is a Jerusalem Post intern.