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A new approach to ending terrorism

Asserting peace

In a TV speech, Morocco’s king appeals to the millions of Moroccans living in the West to counter the false arguments of Islamic State that might appeal to disaffected young Muslims and lead them to violent acts.

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A Moroccan Muslim in Rabat holds a banner which reads "Islam is a religion of peace and not terror " as people gather in solidarity with French people after terror attacks in France last November.

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The primary threat to the United States, says FBI director James Comey, is the effort of Islamic State to inspire people via the internet to engage in acts of violence inside the US. European officials worry even more about such terrorist acts. Reaching potential IS recruits, however, has been difficult on both continents. Now one Arab leader has offered some help with a novel outreach to those from his country, and their children, living in the West.

“I wish to call on Moroccans living abroad,” said King Mohammed VI in a televised speech Aug. 20, “to remain firmly committed to their religious values and to their time-honored traditions as they face up to this phenomenon which has nothing to do with their culture or background.”

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The monarch of the North African nation was not speaking to a small crowd. Some five million Moroccans or their direct descendants live abroad, mostly in Europe. Many have been responsible for recent acts of violence in France and Belgium, either inspired or directed by IS. In addition, an estimated 1,500 Moroccans have joined IS to fight in Syria or Iraq.

The king asked Moroccans abroad to close ranks with Muslims, Christians, and Jews in order to be “staunch advocates of peace, concord and co-existence in their country of residence.”He asked them to help prevent terrorists from taking advantage of young Muslims who may not speak Arabic well and could fall for the “distorted messages” of IS.

“Is it conceivable that God...” he said, “could order someone to blow himself up or kill innocent people?” Islam is a religion of peace, he added, and Muslims, according to the Quran, must “enter into peace whole-heartedly.”

Morocco has a long history of working with the West in counterterrorism efforts, especially in the intellectual struggle against the ideology of violent jihadists. But now its king is appealing directly to the Moroccan diaspora.

In July, the king chided other Arab leaders for not being at the “forefront” of the strategy against IS and for not “refuting” the group’s false arguments about Islam. One of those arguments is that young Muslims in the West, who may feel marginalized, can find an identity and purpose through violence by helping create an Islamic state that is intolerant of other faiths. The West, said the king, is “profoundly committed to the ideals of freedom, openness and tolerance.” Muslims living in it should be, too.

If other Muslim leaders in the Middle East now follow the king’s example, the FBI and other Western security agencies could find it much easier to reduce the threat of further terrorist attacks.