Jihadis from Morocco

There is a remarkable essay by Andrea Elliott in the NY Times Magazine about a group of boys who grew up in Tetouan Morocco & became jihadis in Spain & Iraq. Though it was many years ago, I traveled through Tetouan & then further south in Morocco. Perhaps that is why I found the accounts in Elliott's essay to resonant. I've seen those streets, though they would have been populated by these boys' fathers & grandfathers a quarter century ago when I was there. (The final section of my first book, Customs (1987), contains poems about Morocco.) Still, the same social problems existed then as now: an authoritarian state, a static society, a pervasive rule-bound religious practice, lack of decent job opportunities even for the educated . . . The theme that runs through Elliott's essay is Why this place? Why these boys? & more broadly, What makes one young person shift over into jihadi violence while his brother or cousin does not? A lot of people have suggested answers, but it seems to me that each of the young men described in the article had a particularly strong need for meaning in their lives. They were driven toward some version of authenticity in ways their peers were not.The way such a drive expresses itself is highly variable. Some restless boys have always gone for soldiers while others became poets or doctors. When you add a fundamentalist religious system, you make it easier for some boys to abandon their capacities for imagination & critical intelligence in favor of the arid intricacies of textual exegesis. "It is shameful to be an artist," one of the boy's father told him. I was told the same thing, essentially, by my own (Christian) father & it wouldn't have taken too many steps in a particular direction for me to have wound up committing political violence in the early 1970s instead of becoming a teacher & writer. One charismatic imam / professor, one financial setback, one disappointment . . . Some boys will always "go for soldiers," in the broad sense of that term, & some small number of those will commit atrocities. Because it is in our interests in the secular West to reduce that number, we ought to become more interested in providing economic & imaginative hope for young people around the world. And I include members of the US military: listen to any group of enlisted men & women in the US & compare their social attitudes (bred of cultural isolation & indoctrination) with those of young men on the concrete soccer pitch in Tetouan -- you will find equally offensive prejudices in both groups. It's pretty clear this would be more cost effective than an endless "war on terror," which cripples our own abilities to think straight while at the same time engendering increased violence & hatred in those who set themselves against us. Just pragmatically, I mean. There is another set of moral arguments that might be made.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

1 thought on “Jihadis from Morocco”

  1. well said, joseph. it could be printed on those fans banks, the search engine ask.com, and book marketers give away. then when you need something to wave the air around you just might look at what’s written. ed

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