Morocco’s Grassroots Campaign Against ISIL
David S. Bloom, MAC
October 24, 2014
As governments continue to define their roles as part of the coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), perhaps the stronger statement is being made by citizens, publicly repudiating the extremists and their rampage committed in the name of religion. While the coalition effort to dislodge ISIL is urgent and indispensable, a sweeping grassroots renunciation of fanaticism could do more in the long term to stem the tide of this kind of violence.
The Moroccan government is emphatically against ISIL. Morocco was an early member of the US-led coalition against ISIL, committing to provide intelligence sharing to bolster counterterrorism operations, as well as humanitarian assistance. The decision was not a surprise; Morocco has long been a strong security partner for the U.S. in North Africa. The country is officially designated as a Major non-NATO ally (MNNA) of the U.S., a designation it shares with only 14 other countries including Australia and Japan. Morocco also hosts the bilateral African Lion military exercises with U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), a coordinated exercise involving over a dozen African and European countries. Well before ISIL even existed, Morocco had bolstered security in the region with its comprehensive strategies for countering violent extremism, recently praised in a UN forum.
Meanwhile, Moroccan citizens are making their own statement: “Machi Bessmity” (“Not in My Name”). Late last month, Moroccans across the country posted images of themselves featuring this phrase. It is a grassroots movement, boldly and bravely flying in the face of the violent extremists who have hijacked and perverted their beliefs. One of the Machi Bessmity campaigners, Ahmed Ghayet, said that they gained 4,000 members in 48 hours, with hundreds of young people publishing ‘Machi Bessmity’ photos independently on Facebook. Similar movements have drawn attention in France and the UK – a declaration of solidarity against not only ISIL, but all extremists.
Meanwhile, the U.S. media was immersed in a debate over violence and religion centered around, oddly enough, actor Ben Affleck and comedian Bill Maher. These two spurred a debate over whether or not Islam is an inherently violent religion. Over the ensuing cacophony of talking heads, it can be difficult to hear the true voices of the people they were discussing. As “Machi Bessmity” was being proclaimed across the world, it was overshadowed on the same social media platforms by the Affleck/Maher debate. US audiences unfortunately paid more attention to the latter.
Morocco has, both through its government and its people, overwhelmingly rejected extremist groups like ISIL. Hopefully this message is heard loud and clear, both by those who might try to co-opt Islam in the name of violence and by those who fail to see the distinction between extremists and the rest of the population.