Wednesday, November 17, 2004

 

Moroccan: slums breed jihad

There is a fascinating look at Moroccan "Takfirists" in the November issue of Le Monde Diplomatique. In it, Selma Belaala visits the slums of Morocco to explore the environment that has spawned a particularly virulent form of Islamic activism, responsible for the bomb attacks in Casablanca on 16 May 2003.
The Takfirists are part of a new generation of Islamic fundamentalists from Morocco’s urban slums (7). Their strongholds are what locals call al-karyan, the disused quarries in industrial zones left to decay after independence in 1956. The shanty towns that have mushroomed there in the past 20-30 years are home to uprooted landless peasants, victims of a rural exodus. Most Takfirists, like the suicide bombers of 16 May, are karyanis, from a class of social outcasts living in the shanty towns.

In the greater Casablanca area, Douar Sekouila and the shanty towns of Thomas and Lahraouyine, home to 16 May bombers, were constructed illegally. Hovels of planks and cardboard boxes found in the streets are heaped in anonymous blocks without formal roads that congregate into districts with no official identity. Inhabitants survive on petty theft and trafficking. These miserable slums, less than half an hour from the centre of Casablanca, have no running water, sewers or electricity. Foul water stagnates in alleyways of packed earth that attract clouds of mosquitoes carrying diseases. The inhabitants call the districts Chechnyas, which says much about the extent of urban, social and cultural disintegration.
In focusing on the social and cultural disintegration, Belaala also points out that it is not a resurgence of traditional Islam that is taking place in Morocco. Instead, the squalor and social breakdown of the slums has, in effect, created a worldview that is now being imposed on Islam by the Takfirists.
The breakdown of the culture of the derb, the traditional urban working-class district, is a major factor in the propagation of Takfiri Salafism in these areas. In the medina, the poorest can survive on petty trade and traditional solidarity. The situation is different in the shanty towns, where the absence of economic activity, the isolation of the inhabitants and their divorce from the rest of society encourage marginal behaviour. Food is bought from a few street peddlers; there is no market or small shops. Living conditions are terrible.

Social life in the old city centres traditionally revolves around the mosque, the baker and the hammam. In the shanty towns the absence of the communal life typical of the old working-class districts has prevented social bonding. Moroccan Salafism is a product of the disintegration of traditional Islam rather than its resurgence.
Belaala goes on to compare the situation in Morocco to that of the Algerian GIA and GSPC of the 1990s. There are some crucial differences, especially in the size and organization of these radical groups, but Belaala poses the question as to whether it is just a matter of time in Morocco before you see similar results. All in all, it is a very frightening picture. And I think that it is an important reminder that what breeds violence and radicalism (whether it takes on a religious form or not) are those factors that we should be seriously addressing if we really want to fight the "war on terror": poverty, unemployment, sanitation, health, nutrition, social and cultural stability, and hope.

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