A real fight against terrorismThis essay is part of a weekly feature on my blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel and Iraq.
One of the popular myths out there is that ordinary people wake up one day and choose on the spur of the moment to become terrorists. That they suddenly say to themselves, "Gee, I think I'll decide to hate [enemy of the day] and blow some people up."
Another popular myth is that poverty causes terrorism. If it were, then Africa would be the worldwide center of international terrorism because it's the region with the most poverty.
In reality, terrorism is nourished by senses of desperation, powerlessness and hopelessness. Though poverty are contributors to those two sentiments, it is not a cause of terrorism in and of itself.
Fortunately, some people can see beyond those (somewhat self-serving) myths. Such, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, one of the more progressive monarchs in the Arab world (with the notable exception of its unconscionable occupation of Western Sahara).
King Mohammed has launched a program to improve quality of life in the country's urban slums, a prime recruiting ground for radical Islam.
Mohammed VI said the problem was the country's most serious social issue, and made a reference to Islamic extremists preying on Morocco's poor. It was young men from the city slums who carried out the suicide bombings that left 45 dead in May 2003. Their poverty and desperation apparently made them ready recruits for Islamic extremist cells, according to the BBC.
"Any exploitation of social misery aiming at political ends, at nurturing extremist inclinations... cannot be morally accepted," noted the king.
The program, which will cost almost US$115 million, will bring the basics of clean water and schools to the dusty, corrugated iron wastelands, where so many thousands of Moroccans live.
This is one of the realities that the so-called war on terrorism ignores. The fact of the matter is that in many places, Islamist organizations provide services that the corrupt, inefficient or non-existent state does not. For example, the group Hezbollah has run hospitals, schools, orphanages and a television station since the chaotic years of the Lebanon's civil war. The group Hamas also provides welfare and social social services to residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, services which neither the Israeli occupiers or the Palestinian Authority provide. In other words, these groups are filling a vacuum. Thus, it's no surprise that while westerners see these groups as terrorists, many residents of Lebanon and the Palestinian territories have a different view.
Morocco's king is wise to try and fill that vacuum before Islamist groups do. And hopefully the 'terrorist warriors' will help him and other progressive-minded leaders do the same. It's not as exciting as blowing (someone else's) stuff up, nor does it cause the adrenaline rush of invading random, non-threatening countries. But it's a heck of a lot more relevant to actually preventing terrorism.