- By Paul BonicelliPaul J. Bonicelli is Professor of Government at Regent University, and served as the Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United States Agency for International Development.
King Mohammed VI of Morocco has done his countrymen, his co-religionists, and the world a favor with his recent speech on the 63rd anniversary of the “Revolution of the King and the People.” During what is normally an annual event unlikely to garner much attention outside the kingdom or the region, the king took a risk by articulating in no uncertain terms what he thought of jihadists who use Islam as a pretext for murder and terrorism. It is a shame the speech has received little attention in the Western media.
The king opened his remarks with what one might expect from the ruler of a former European colony still struggling to develop. He talked much of the importance of Africa and his nation’s concern for its neighbors, and he places the blame for Africa’s problems on the misdeeds of the colonial powers.
But the colonial rulers have been gone for decades and were followed by indigenous rulers equally uninterested in the development of the people they ruled, ruling usually as dictators and very often as kleptocrats and human rights abusers. The king does not acknowledge this fact, but because he is a reformer himself and has accomplished more than most in the region to bring development to his country, Mohammed VI gets a little leeway for placing most of the blame for the backwardness of the region on Europe.
What is most striking in the speech is the king’s attention to the conflicts roiling the Middle East and the refugee flows causing turmoil in Europe, problems that are being exploited, he says, by radical jihadists using Islam to justify their deeds. He spends almost a third of his remarks rebuking and condemning the jihadists, and warning Muslims the world over that the path of the terrorists leads directly to Hell — a point her repeats over and over in his speech.
He speaks specifically to Muslims living in Europe, encouraging them to adhere to the value of peaceful coexistence and to eschew the ideology and crimes of those who destroy peace and harm the image of Islam as a religion that one can adhere to and at the same time live in peace with people who follow other faiths. He says, “Terrorists and extremists use all means to convince young people to join them in order to attack societies profoundly committed to the ideals of freedom, openness and tolerance.” The king lashes out at terrorists for duping young Muslims in Europe, and for taking advantage of their ignorance of the Arabic language to confuse them. He excoriates murderers for making up fantasies about virgins in paradise for terrorists, and for killing people for listening to popular music.
He takes specific aim at the murders of innocents and people of other religions. In a reference to the Islamic State’s killing of a French priest in a rural parish, he says, “Killing a priest is forbidden by religion; murdering him inside a church is unforgivable madness, for he is a human being and a religious man—even if he is not a Muslim. Islam commands us to take good care of the people of the Book.’” In condemning the attack in Rouen, France, he is saying that those who do these things or support them are not Muslims and have no right to use Islam to justify their terror. And then he calls on all Christians, Jews, and Muslims to join together to “tackle all forms of extremism, hatred and reclusiveness.” He refers to the “countless examples, in human civilization, of success stories which show that religious interaction and coexistence produce open societies in which love, harmony and prosperity prevail.”
I am not scholar of Islam; I can offer no textual criticism or attempt to judge the exegetical accuracy of the king’s comments. But I can, as an observer who wishes to see a peaceful understanding of Islam be the dominant understanding of Islam among its followers, applaud the king’s words.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly for a ruler of a Muslim country, Mohammed argues that now is a time for choosing between what he considers true Islam and the false version put out by those who attack innocent people. Noting his own pedigree as a descendent of the Prophet Mohammed versus men who simply claim to be caliphs and leaders, King Mohammed VI says those who agree with him should understand that they will be targets just as he is.
The king calls on Muslims to make a choice just as he has made a choice. It is well nigh time that someone of his stature and influence did that. It is also time for Western leaders to applaud him loudly and encourage him, and to encourage other Muslim leaders to speak out as Mohammed has done. Countless Christians and Jews are more than ready to respond positively to a Muslim king’s call for unity against terrorists, and they are most encouraged by an Islamic leader not only arguing that Islam can be at peace with other faiths but also boldly demanding that of his co-religionists.
Photo credit: ALEXANDER SCHIPPERS/AFP/Getty Images