John Thorne in The Liberal:
Moroccans often say their country, on the cusp of the Arab world, is different. They argue that Islamic extremism is an alien Middle Eastern disease. They are wrong. On 16 May 2003, a date that rings in Morocco as September 11th does in the West, fourteen young Casablancans proved them so.
It was a Friday night. The fourteen boys left their homes in a poor suburb and headed downtown, where they quickly dispersed. Some proceeded to fine restaurants, some to a fancy hotel, some to a Jewish community centre, one to the Belgian consulate and one to a Jewish cemetery. There they blew themselves up. The twelve dead bombers – two were arrested in the nick of time – murdered 33 civilians and injured over a hundred.
Religious intolerance is relatively rare in today’s Morocco, but draws on a long tradition. For centuries, Muslim pirates operated out of ports to Libya, claiming divine right to attack Western ships and enslave the crews. Their grip on the high seas was broken only by American military campaigns in the early 19th-century, and as late as 1883, the French explorer Charles de Foucauld was obliged to visit Morocco disguised as a Russian Jew, accompanied by an aging Algerian rabbi seeking the philosopher’s stone. Morocco remained off-limits to Christians until the French took it over in 1911. Jews were marginally tolerated, but often forced to live in closed ghettos and pay special tribute in accordance with Islamic law; most later emigrated to Israel.