Morocco World News
Ithaca, New York, April 20, 2011
Al-Qaeda’s attacks against American targets during the 1990s were met with approval by many ordinary people in Morocco, some religious scholars and a handful of political analysts. They seemed to agree that Al-Qaeda’s attacks against American interests around the globe were the result of the United States foreign policy in the Middle East. This wave of approval in the 1990s reached a dead end on Sept 11, 2001. The horrifying scenes from Ground Zero shocked everyone and opinions about Al-Qaeda began to split. People’s opinions split into at least three categories: People who supported the 9/11 attacks; people who condemned the attacks; and people who suggested that there was a conspiracy behind the 9/11 events – meaning, the attacks were an ‘inside job’ or the work of the Israeli Mossad.
The movement in public opinion about Al-Qaeda from general approval to mixed reactions, from the 1990s to the beginning of the 21st century, has decidedly continued in the direction of disapproval in more recent years. The waning popularity of Al-Qaeda can be attributed to the fallout from the War on Terror and the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring. In fact, I would argue that in 2012 Al-Qaeda as an ideology is dead.
At the time of the 9/11 attacks I was a sophomore student in the English Language Department at Mohamed V University in Rabat, Morocco. A friend of mine and I decided to do a presentation for our Spoken English class on the topic of terrorism with a focus on the attacks against America. We handed out questionnaires that asked the students a few questions about their reactions and feeling about what happened on what started to be called Black Tuesday. The outcome of the questionnaire was shocking. Our professor couldn’t believe that almost half of the students in the class were in favor of the attacks against America. She got so emotional, and tried to explain to us that politics must not interfere with our ability to feel sorrow for and sympathize with other human beings who had been inflicted by a horrendous calamity.
If we were to circulate that questionnaire again today, would the same students react the same way? I don’t think so. Al-Qaeda has done unprecedented damage to the image of Islam and has inadvertently contributed to the rise of Islamophobia, which has affected the lives of Muslims in the West. Al-Qaeda’s attacks and/or the attacks of the groups affiliated with it have killed over the past 10 years innocent Muslims and Non-Muslims in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Turkey, Spain, the UK, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In addition, the response of the West to these attacks has led to the occupation of two Muslim majority countries (Iraq and Afghanistan) and counter-terrorism laws adopted in many countries. Furthermore, Al-Qaida’s actions have triggered unprecedented criticism of the holy scriptures of Islam since Al-Qaeda constructs the justifications for its actions and its recruitment discourse on the Quran and Hadith.
Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the second most influential man in Al-Qaeda, in what appears to be an attempt to co-opt the Arab Spring, keeps sending audio and video messages to the men and women who marched in the streets and occupied public squares during the uprisings of 2011 to entice them to struggle for the establishment of a pure” Islamic rule.” Does Al-Zawahiri’s message resonate with the people of the region? People behind the Arab Spring want democracy, equality, and social justice. Throughout the Arab Spring, we didn’t see the flag of the USA being burnt in the streets. The rage expressed in the 2011 uprisings was not largely directed toward foreign powers, but was rather directed toward the region’s dictators. Now that moderate Islamists have seized power democratically in Tunisia, Morocco, and most likely will in Egypt, Al-Qaeda’s ideological struggle is over. Moderate Islamists in power today have proved that they are not anti-western. Their economic agenda is in favor of the free market economy and cooperation with the west. Their priorities are solving social and economic problems, rather than hunting down unveiled women or stoning prostitutes in public squares.
Al-Qaeda’s method for change doesn’t seem to attract any more support, and it looks so pale and ineffective compared with the power of civil disobedience and the occupation of public squares. It took the men and women of the Arab Spring a few weeks to remove from power two of the oldest dictators in the Muslim World (Hosni Mobarak of Egypt and Zin El-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia) while Al-Qaeda tried to achieve the same objective for more than 20 years and failed.
Some sympathizers with Al-Qaeda claim that the latter inspired the Arab Spring. But the Arab Spring’s objectives are different from those of Al-Qaeda, in that people who took to the street during the uprisings wanted democracy and human rights, rather than the reestablishment of a medieval system of rule. Were there protesters holding signs stating that Spain should be ruled by Muslims again? We didn’t see any pictures of Bin Laden or Al-Zawahiri in demonstrations. Instead, we saw the pictures of Khaled Said, the young Egyptian man who was tortured to death by the Egyptian police.
The Arab World is marching toward democracy steadily. Power-sharing is becoming a reality after it had been just a dream for a long time. Now it is time to open the debate about the role of religion in public spheres and rethink the ideological origins of religious fundamentalism.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy.
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