Sunday, October 08, 2006

'Since the Jews left, everything has gone down'

Haaretz correspondent Daniel Ben Simon visits Morocco:

Morocco changed utterly on May 16, 2003, when several suicide bombings in the heart of Casablanca rocked the land. Passersby were killed, hotels and restaurants were destroyed, the Jewish community building was demolished. (...)

Following the initial shock, there are now signs of a reconciliation with religion and religious clerics. Under the king's leadership, the state is evincing openness toward religious faith, and newspapers contain numerous reports about openings of new mosques or renovations of old ones. But this time, it is all being done under the watchful eye of the state, and is overseen closely by its emissaries. Since this past May, all imams and clerics are appointed and trained by the state. Political parties are strictly prohibited from dealing with religious matters. Only the Islamic Party in parliament is exempt from that ban. (...)

It is hard to tell whether the new formula will succeed. In a country where 99 percent of the citizenry is Muslim and 99 percent fast during Ramadan, it will probably take more than that. Poverty is the greatest threat to the state's stability. That is what drove the fanatic Islamicization of the young men who carried out the suicide bombings in 2003.

In the mellah, or Moroccan ghetto, that once housed the Jews of Tineghir, a poor Berber town in the Upper Atlas not far from Warzazat, folks were busy this week with construction work at a renovated mosque. Nothing has changed here in the past few centuries, not even the dark hovels in which Jewish families lived before they immigrated to Israel. "Since the Jews left, everything has gone down," one workman said nostalgically. And indeed, the town's commercial life has plummeted since then. (My emphasis -ed). The town center is a bunch of rundown bazaars, and along the pavements are stands selling kitchenware that has seen better days. There is hardly any work even for those who want to work.

In Tineghir and hundreds of similar towns lies the real threat to Morocco. Religious extremism is sometimes the cause, but mostly it is the result of horrific social injustice. If Morocco reduces such injustice, the impact of the moderate mosques will be felt more greatly.

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