The murder of two innocent Scandinavian tourists in Imlil this week is a heinous act of terrorism that can never be justified.
Washington D.C – Moroccans have come out in droves to condemn this murder which is contrary to the tolerant, peaceful and hospitable nature of Morocco and to express empathy towards the families of the two innocent Scandinavian victims.
Vigils will be staged in front of the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Rabat this Saturday. At the same time, Moroccans feel powerless and angry to see that this horrifying and inhuman murder will tarnish the reputation of Morocco and its people, in addition to the harm done to its economy.
While the terror attack might affect the country’s reputation as a safe destination for tourists, Morocco remains in fact one of the safest countries. This fact must be emphasized to minimize the damage that this crime could inflict on the country’s image and tourism sector.
Moroccans should express empathy to the families of the victims and demonstrate once again that they are peace-loving people, their country has always been and will remain a welcoming and hospitable country, and they can by no means accept the perpetration of this kind of monstrous crime.
That being said, Moroccans should not engage in self-loathing and blame what happened on religion again. Nor should Moroccans issue a collective apology to the Danish and Norwegian people for what happened.
In the same way as Norwegian people were not supposed to apologize for the 2011 attack perpetrated by a right-wing extremist who killed 85 innocent people, the Moroccan people are not to blame for the Imlil murder and should not apologize for it.
Like every people on earth, Moroccans’ main concern is to lead a decent life; live in peace, stability, and security; have access to quality education and health care; and offer good prospects to their children.
Yes, the suspects have allegedly committed an act of terrorism and have pledged allegiance to ISIS. But their act is not the result of a religious journey or an in-depth knowledge of Islam. Neither is it motivated to advance the interests of their community. They are blinded by hate and resentment and determined to wreak havoc on their society. They are part of a small minority with radical ideology that must be combated with all possible means to eradicate it and counter its narrative.
Addressing the root causes of terrorism
The problem has rather economic and social causes, and using allegiance to ISIS or religious texts has become just a pretext and rallying cry for millions of people who are left behind in their societies without prospects for a decent life or to meet their basic needs.
Since the 2003 Casablanca bombings, the Moroccan government has adopted a multi-tiered approach to nip terrorism in the bud. In the past 15 years, by tightening its security apparatus, increasing control of its borders, asserting authority over the religious sphere, and launching projects to fight poverty, Morocco has done a tremendous job in preventing terrorist attacks.
These efforts have turned Morocco into one of the world leaders in the fight against terrorism and allowed it to rank among the safest countries worldwide.
However, the government’s strategies have fallen short of improving the lives of people in remote areas and in shanty towns and of immunizing Moroccans to indoctrination by extremist groups.
While the efforts of the government are laudable, they have tended to focus on specific regions of the country at the expense of others. It appears that Moroccan officials are still guided by the dialectic of the “useful” versus “non-useful” Morocco inherited from the colonial era when France tended to favor some regions and neglected others.
Some people tend to believe that as long as big cities are being developed and billions of dirhams are being invested in major structural projects, the country is safe, secure, and prosperous.
What they seem to have forgotten is that Morocco is not limited to big urban areas, such as Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech, or Tangier, and rural areas must also be given greater attention. While some Moroccans are benefitting from the large-scale projects Morocco has launched in the past two decades, many millions do not benefit from them and feel that their government has left them behind.
Reforming education system
In addition, Morocco is now paying the price of years of the government’s failure to provide a quality education to those who live on the fringe of our society. Reforms upon reforms have been implemented and hundreds of billions of dirhams have been squandered, but Morocco’s education system ranks near the bottom globally and in the Arab world.
No country can build a sound society without investing in human capital, without investing in education. We can build the best glittering projects, state-of-the-art movie theaters, stadiums, or the highest skyscraper in Africa, but if we do not invest in the human capital, if we don’t promote acceptance of others, it will just be a matter of time before things fall apart.
Without investing in human capital, without providing equal opportunities to all Moroccans regardless of their regions and family affiliations, we will just be buying time until the time-bomb that is waiting to explode on the fringe of society explodes again and reminds us of the shortcoming and short sightedness of government strategies.
Education is the key in every society. When there is no education to give people hope for a better future and tools to be masters of their destinies and productive members of society, people tend to radicalize.
Without education, millions of disadvantaged individuals are left with nothing but despair, illiteracy, and ignorance, the ingredients for extremism. Any individual—whether Muslim or from another religious persuasion—who has no prospects for a decent and productive life or who feels that his society has left him behind is a person that can be indoctrinated by anybody.
Most importantly the government should redouble its efforts to fight the Wahhabi ideology that has permeated our culture and public discourse in the past three decades. Millions of Moroccans have witnessed how this ideology, promoted by Saudi petrodollars, has upended and affected the century-long culture of tolerance and openness to the world that has made Moroccans proud of their country.
Our parents no longer recognize the society in which we live. Because of their exposure to Saudi-promoted television and radio channels, millions of Moroccans have become less tolerant of others and adopted views and positions that are foreign to the Moroccan culture.
It is this narrow-minded and extremist reading of the religion promoted by Wahhabism that provides radicalized criminals the pretexts to commit their terror attacks in the name of Islam.
Providing equal opportunities to all Moroccans, ensuring a fairer distribution of the country’s wealth, engaging in real reform of the education system, and fighting Wahhabism will help Morocco to prevent terrorist attacks and build a society guided by the values of tolerance, openness, and acceptance of others regardless of their cultures or religious persuasions.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis.