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A Sad Story

Finally, part of the explanation for the terror scare that has been hovering over Morocco in recent months. A recent article in the Washington Post tells the story of Saad al-Houssani, a Meknes native who was arrested on March 6 in Casablanca. His arrest and the arrests of his associates apparently disrupted plans to bomb tourist-related targets such as cruise ships and hotels. Without his arrest, the bombings that happened over the following weeks would probably have been worse.

Al-Houssani studied chemistry in Spain during the 1990s, and dropped out just weeks before finishing his degree. His research paper on “the anti-cancer properties of certain chemical compounds” was published in a professional journal. According to his advisor Francisco F. Perez:

    He was very interested in social justice. He said his country was governed by tyrants…. He never said anything bad about Western countries. Quite the opposite. He envied our political regime here and said he wanted our political regime and democracy to be installed in Morocco.

This strikes me as reasonable. After all, in Morocco the 1990s were still the years of Driss Basri. From there, al-Houssani got radicalized. During his interrogation by Moroccan police, he explained how a Tunisian friend exposed him to militant Islam.

    Our principal subjects of discussion were around the jihad. He made me understand the importance of religion and faith, providing me with religious books and audiotapes of the great sheikhs’ speeches.

As a result of these influences al-Houssani taught himself to make bombs, then went to Afghanistan where he met top al-Qaeda leaders. He stayed there until the U.S. invasion in 2001. After his return to Morocco, he is believed to have been one of the masterminds of both the Casablanca bombings of 2003, and the Madrid bombings of 2004. Thanks in part to “the great sheikhs’ speeches,” a chemistry student with a passion for social justice was transformed into a mass murderer.

I would love to believe that the conditions that made this possible were unique to the 1990s, and are no longer valid. But I fear the opposite. The events of the Bush era are giving new jihadis plenty of reasons for resentment, and the war in Iraq is giving them training. It shouldn’t surprise us to read more stories like al-Houssani’s in ten years’ time.


Comment from Ibn Kafka
Time: July 17, 2007, 18:32

A familiar tale, unfortunately. Another spin on this though would be that not all of those who’ve read Ibn Taymiya or Saïd Qotb become terrorists.

Comment from eatbees
Time: July 17, 2007, 19:56

I should hope not! That would make a lot of terrorists—and I don’t think any of us can say what combination of social conditions, intellectual influences or personal instability might push a person over the edge to become a terrorist.

But while I wouldn’t keep my own (hypothetical) children from reading Ibn Taymiya if they found that fascinating, I’m much more a fan of his contemporary and intellectual rival, Ibn ‘Arabi.

Comment from amre El-abyad
Time: July 18, 2007, 16:09

When I first started loking at your new post, the first phrase my eyes fell upon was social justice, at once I rembered Mohamed Bin Barakah. Unfortunately, the post was not about him. Anywy, interesting perspective. In Egypt I think that the social structure of society is identical to the Morrocan one. So, I don’t know why I was not surprised at the idea of linking lack of social justic to terrorism

Comment from eatbees
Time: July 18, 2007, 16:41

As you know, Amre, I am passionate about social justice myself—but I reject the connection to terrorism, though I can accept armed resistance in some cases, such as the old racist South Africa, even if I wouldn’t be the one doing it.

Terrorism is just desperation or humiliation that has turned violent. The difference between it and armed resistance is that it seems to have no goal outside the destructive act itself. It turns its rage against all of society rather than focusing it on the oppressor.

As the case of al-Houssani shows, there are ideologues who understand the psychology of angry young men, and are ready to turn it to their advantage, using religious idealism as a powerful motivating principle. In other times and places it was Marxism or Fascism, but our era seems to have turned to religion. In my view, that’s not a negative comment on religion, but it shows that today’s angry young men despair of achieving social justice in this world.

I agree there are big similarities between Egyptian society and Moroccan. I just watched the excellent film The Yacoubian Building, with its rich and complex social relationships, and felt that everything in it could have happened in Morocco. As one of my friends in Tangier put it, the only difference is that in Egypt, the drama is more intense.

Comment from Amre El-Abyad
Time: July 19, 2007, 06:09

It would be interesting to tell you that a considerable portion of “really” cairenes families trace their origins to Morroco.

If you visit the Faimid cairo you would notice that traditional artefacts are similar to moroccan ones( that is what I heared from a foreign friend)

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