Sunday, May 22, 2005

A real fight against terrorism

One of the popular myths out there is that ordinary people wake up one day and choose on the spur of the moment to become terrorists. That they suddenly say to themselves, "Gee, I think I'll decide to hate [enemy of the day] and blow some people up."

Another popular myth is that poverty causes terrorism. If it were, then Africa would be the worldwide center of international terrorism because it's the region with the most poverty.

In reality, terrorism is nourished by senses of desperation, powerlessness and hopelessness. Though poverty are contributors to those two sentiments, it is not a cause of terrorism in and of itself.

Fortunately, some people can see beyond those (somewhat self-serving) myths. Such, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, arguably the most progressive and most democratic country in the Arab world (its occupation of Western Sahara aside).

King Mohammed has launched a program to improve quality of life in the country's urban slums, a prime recruiting ground for radical Islam.

Mohammed VI said the problem was the country's most serious social issue, and made a reference to Islamic extremists preying on Morocco's poor. It was young men from the city slums who carried out the suicide bombings that left 45 dead in May 2003. Their poverty and desperation apparently made them ready recruits for Islamic extremist cells, according to the BBC.

"Any exploitation of social misery aiming at political ends, at nurturing extremist inclinations... cannot be morally accepted," noted the king.

The program, which will cost almost US$115 million, will bring the basics of clean water and schools to the dusty, corrugated iron wastelands, where so many thousands of Moroccans live.

This is one of the realities that the so-called war on terrorism ignores. The fact of the matter is that in many places, Islamist organizations provide services that the corrupt, inefficient or non-existent state does not. For example, the group Hezbollah has run hospitals, schools, orphanages and a television station since the chaotic years of the Lebanon's civil war. The group Hamas also provides welfare and social social services to residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, services which neither the Israeli occupiers or the Palestinian Authority provide. In other words, these groups are filling a vacuum. Thus, it's no surprise that while westerners see these groups as terrorists, many residents of Lebanon and the Palestinian territories have a different view.

Morocco's king is wise to try and fill that vacuum before Islamist groups do. And hopefully the 'terrorist warriors' will help him and other progressive-minded leaders do the same. It's not as exciting as blowing (someone else's) stuff up, nor does it cause the adrenaline rush of invading random, non-threatening countries. But it's a heck of a lot more relevant to actually preventing terrorism.


At 4:17 PM, Blogger sokari said...

I congratulate the King in his attempts to combat terrorism by tackling urban poverty. However as someone who knows Morocco relatively well I would hardly describe Mohammed VI's Morocco as "the most progressive and most democratic country in the Arab world” - possibly Lebanon but certainly not Morocco. Despite it's "democratic" institutions and overtones of liberalism the monarchy is still the most powerful institution in Morocco and the country is essentially run as his feudal Kingdom. Yes he may be planning an overhaul and injecting much needed cash into Morocco's sordid urban cities of Casablanca and Tanger and the Imperial cities of Fez, Meknes and Marrakesh. But the majority of Moroccans live in small towns and rural areas where there are no plans and frankly where the level of poverty reaches the obscene. A few examples. Take Ourzazate province in the South just below the High Atlas. The King has built a “private gold course and hunting ground”. The water for this mammoth site has been diverted (where the Dades river meets the Draa) from further downstream at the Oasis town of Zagora where the River Draa is now dry. The oasis is dead. Nothing grows there any more and all the people who had their small plots of land to grow food now have to purchase at the weekly market which for many is too costly. Another example. In the Oasis town of Erfoud locals complained that they did not have basic amenities, schools lacked basic equipment and medical facilities were completely inadequate yet the King has built yet another huge new palace costing who knows how many millions of Dirhams. I could go on but these are just two examples.

I have spent the past 4 years visiting rural and small town Morocco and never heard anyone compliment the present King except to say he is not as bad as his father who was an autocrat of the worst kind and committed horrendous human rights violations on his own people.

As for Sahara Occidental, how can you call an occupation an “aside”. The occupation of Western Sahara is an essential part of Morocco's political and economic life, its life blood oil is in WS. . Moroccans are being offered double wages, free housing and other incentives to settle there in the same way that Israel set up settler camps in occupied Palestine. Meanwhile the Saharawi's are doomed to a life of dependence in the refugee camps of Tindouf in southern Algeria.

At 4:39 PM, Blogger Brian said...

What I said was that Morocco was "ARGUABLY the most progressive and most democratic country in the Arab world " You provided one, single example of a more progressive, more democratic country: Lebanon. I will not argue with you the point that Morocco has its fair share of problems. I will not argue with you that development is not what it could be. It is from perfect. However, it is not a country suffocated by a brutal, corrupt military like Algeria. It is not a police state like Tunisia (even if it used to be). There is some breathing space for political opposition and civil society groups, unlike in Egypt or Syria or Libya. It's not a 16th century theocracy like Saudi Arabia. The king pushed through reform of the family code, requiring that women actually be treated something close to humanely. So yes, compared to its neighbors in the Arab world (save Lebanon, as you mentioned), I'd say Morocco is a relatively progressive country, relative compared not to Sweden or Holland, but to its neighbors. I'm sorry but if a country like Morocco is taking steps in the right direction, it should be praised and encouraged to do more. This doesn't mean anyone should refrain from criticizing Moroccan human rights abuses or its occupation of Western Sahara (a friend is involved with the pressure group ARSO and keeps me up to date on their activities).

At 7:18 AM, Blogger Chippla Vandu said...

I do not see Morocco as a democratic country, even by Arab standards. True, parliamentarians are elected but you only need discuss with Moroccans to see that the king holds absolute power in that kingdom. Morocco is like the rest of its Arab North African neighbors a de facto police state.

The monarchy in Morocco is incredibly powerful and cannot be questioned. Journalists who have attempted to write about the wealth of the king have been imprisoned or forced into exile. Nothing bad can be said about the king either in the print or electronic media. Little wonder that 'dissident' Moroccan websites are located and run from countries such as France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

King Mohammed VI may be doing a great job by providing social and economic incentives to his subjects, but he pretty much knows that like most of his Arab peers from Libya to Egypt and Saudi Arabia to Jordan, he sitting on a time bomb that is being fueled by the anger of Moroccans who would like to see greater freedom and inclusion in the polity of the country they call home.

At 9:21 AM, Blogger Brian said...

Well the key is to remember that my analysis was a comparative one. I do not think Morocco is progressive compared to, say, Sweden or the Netherlands or, for that matter, South Africa.

However compared to most of its Arab neighbors, Lebanon aside, it's better off. Not a high standard, I realize. But can you imagine any other Arab monarchy or monarchical republic setting up a truth and reconciliation commission*? How about another Arab regime allowing the opposition to be prime minister and form the government?


At 9:35 AM, Blogger sokari said...

See my post on T& R in Morocco on 27/12/04 or under human rights. Your comment doesnt allow for html code unfortuantely!


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