Cablegate: Under Secretary Glassman's Visit to Morocco

DE RUEHRB #1143/01 3471216
P 121216Z DEC 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: During his November 20-22 visit
to Morocco, Under Secretary of State for Public
Diplomacy and Public Affairs James Glassman
conducted a variety of activities focused on
providing support and productive alternatives to
young people vulnerable to radicalization. The
visit succeeded in conveying U.S. concerns about
extremist violence in a way that generated
thoughtful discourse with government officials on
ways forward. In separate meetings, Moroccan
Minister of Endowments and Islamic Affairs Ahmed
Taufiq and the head of the "Mohammedia League of the
Ulemas," Dr. Mohammed Al Abbadi, discussed religion,
foreign policy, youth extremism and public diplomacy
with U/S Glassman. The Minister stressed the
importance of the concept of justice in Islam, and
emphasized the role of U.S. foreign policy in
shaping opinion. Dr. Al Abbadi engaged readily with
the Under Secretary in a discussion of the power of
ideas, historic "paradigm wars" in both the West and
the Muslim world, and the efforts of the 'Mohammedia
League' to interpret Islam for the modern era. The
Under Secretary invited Dr. Al Abbadi to participate
in an upcoming conference to launch the new
publication "Problems of Extremism," and Al Abbadi

2. (U) During his Morocco stop, the Under Secretary
also visited the impoverished Casablanca
neighborhood where the English Access
Microscholarship Program ("Access") began, and met
with some of the original Access students and
teachers. He also visited a Dar Chebab (youth
center) to see how Peace Corps and Public Diplomacy
are collaborating on youth outreach. Through
representational events, Under Secretary Glassman
heard from Moroccan leaders in local government,
non-governmental organizations, and media, who
welcomed the Under Secretary's clarification of key
elements of U.S. policy in the region. Press
coverage focused on the site visits, and highlighted
the Under Secretary's praise of Moroccan civic and
human rights reforms. End summary.

3. (SBU) Minister of Endowments and Islamic Affairs
Ahmed Toufiq, a professor of African history, writer
and novelist, welcomed the visit of U/S Glassman as
an opportunity "to hear his views and ask some
questions." The U/S explained his interest in
helping prevent young people from going down the
path of extremism and violence, and his hope that
the U.S. and Morocco can expand cooperation in this
area, as the two countries have been cooperating for
over 200 years. He asked to learn more about what
the Ministry is doing, in this area that is so
important to both countries.

--------------------------------------------- -
Minister: Integrating Religion and Development
--------------------------------------------- -

4. (SBU) According to Minister Toufiq, the events
of September 11, 2001 and the May 16, 2003 bombings
in Casablanca spurred an effort by the Government of
Morocco to integrate religious affairs in the
overall process of Moroccan development. He cited
concerns about the "stability of the community, and
a lagging-behind in the evolution of the religious
mindset," and mentioned television as another source
of confusion. In his view, extremism results from
several factors, including perceptions of injustice
between states, for which he sees the U.S. as partly
responsible, and the turning over of religious
affairs to certain groups. He said Morocco is
trying to maintain the customs of its religious
heritage in political life, parliament, and society.
Moroccans do not consider that terrorism or violence
should be a solution to injustice; yet there is a
kind of Islamic fever or "flu" that is prevalent.
He asserted that Morocco is a Muslim country, guided
by Islamic law (Shari'a), but that the new
integrative approach will make Morocco a model, in
which there is no separation of state and religion,
yet one is not allowed to "spoil" the other. In
order to do achieve this, the Ministry wants to
improve the social status of imams, and is training
1,600 religious scholars to spread out across the
country to conduct training seminars for imams.

5. (SBU) The U/S asked about the influence of

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private religious schools, and the Minister agreed
that some of these private establishments have been
teaching that Morocco isn't following Islam
properly. On the other hand, for the vast majority
of students trained in the state system, the modern
schools were not meeting the students' religious
needs. The Minister explained that some people try
to talk about "Moroccan Islam," but Morocco does not
have any special Islam but rather has a particular
political context, which is the view that Islamic
guidance can adapt to the development of the

6. (SBU) The Minister said that "everyone is trying
to exploit religion" and that therefore maintaining
a kind of neutrality doesn't help political leaders
[in grappling with the problem of religious
extremism and its causes]. The Minister sees
religion as the unifying or "gathering" element,
with the King as Commander of the Faithful, the
reference point. He noted that it was the King who
mediated differences of religious opinion in order
to put the new, liberal family code (Moudawana) in

U.S. Policy vs. Perceptions

7. (SBU) The U/S expressed concern about
misperceptions of American society and western
intentions that create problems beyond just
differences of opinion on U.S. policy. The
Minister agreed that efforts to show the U.S. more
positively will help. Moroccans tend to see the
U.S. as a pinnacle of freedom, but at the same time,
they do not know much about the U.S. When he
visited the U.S., he himself found Americans to be
much more like Moroccans, for example in their
family life, than he expected.

8. (SBU) He opined, however, that the U.S. has not
done enough to explain U.S. policy on Israel, for
example U.S. Security Council vetoes. Everyone
agrees that Israel has a right to exist, he said,
but there is no reason for Israel to oppress
Palestinians and violate agreements. And,
therefore, U.S. efforts to talk about values and
principles alone will not be very effective when
they are muddied by reality, i.e., by U.S. support
for injustice. In response, the U/S Glassman noted
that U.S. support for the Palestinian Authority and
the Palestinian people is not well-enough
understood, and mentioned that the U.S. is providing
USD 700 million this year in support to the
Palestinian people. He also described opening a new
U.S.-funded youth center in the West Bank during
this trip to the region. The Minister responded
that helping people was not sufficient. The U.S.
needed to address the root problems.

9. (SBU) When the U/S asked if the Minister felt it
was important for religious scholars to visit the
U.S., Minister Taufiq circled back to his earlier
point about American policy. Speaking as an
ordinary person, he said, the U.S. needs to show
leadership towards a political solution [to the
Arab-Israeli conflict] that is just and fair.
Exchanges are fine, and people will come away with a
better impression, but it is not enough. The U.S.
is the only country with the power to bring peace.
He added that Morocco suffers somewhat from its
traditional alliance with the U.S. In reponse, U/S
Glassman pointed out that the U.S. gets criticism
from around the globe for pursuing a solution the
world wants, i.e., the two-state solution. He
reiterated that misperception of U.S. values and
intentions is an issue. The Minister politely
disagreed, saying that Moroccans always thought of
the U.S. as different and better than, for example,
France on the issue of religious freedom and
tolerance. Lately, however, with the slanders
against Islam that are increasingly current in U.S.
society and media, the U.S. image here is becoming
more negative.

10. (SBU) After listening to the Under Secretary's
description of a terrorist retraining/re-education
program that he visited in Saudi Arabia, the
Minister asserted that the situation in Morocco is

RABAT 00001143 003 OF 005

completely different. The Government of Morocco is
not opening a dialogue with terrorists, and does not
believe this problem is a matter of religion. It is
a matter of criminal acts. Morocco does not want to
acknowledge that any ideology could justify such
acts, he said. Listening to the U/S's comments
about his visit to Colombia, the Minister
emphatically agreed that religion does not imply

--------------------------------------------- -
Scholars Promote Reinterpretation and Outreach
--------------------------------------------- -

11. (SBU) The meeting with Dr. Ahmed Al Abbadi,
Secretary General of the Mohammedia League of the
Ulemas, a scholar of Comparative Religion and
Islamic Thought who has taught at the University of
Chicago and is a former Fulbright Fellow at DePaul
University, had a different tone. Prior to his
current position, Abbadi was Director of Islamic
Affairs at the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic
Affairs. He welcomed U/S Glassman and explained
that the work of the Mohammedia League is to re-
explore, intellectually, the 1400-year legacy of
Islam. The League is working to re-clarify the main
themes of Islam, in terms of jurisprudence, laws of
interpretation, and how to deal with the texts. The
League is involved with issues concerning women, and
works closely with Moroccan women to find modern
approaches that are nevertheless rooted in Moroccan
tradition. The League has a research center and is
working on funding and building a think tank. It
publishes books and other materials.

12. (SBU) The U/S asked if Abbadi felt there had
been a kind of vacuum in the past that extremist
thinkers moved in and filled. Al Abbadi agreed that
this had happened but noted that the pace of change
in modern life is so quick that it would have been
impossible for Muslim societies to anticipate and
design a system for the younger generation without
trying to control their thinking, which is wrong and
not even possible. He agreed that Islam is
adaptable, but said that, like the West, the Muslim
World has experienced "paradigmatic wars." He said
Islam today is struggling with two main paradigms,
one that sees religion and its laws as designed to
create a good society on earth in which people can
live a happy life and another that sees them as a
mechanism enabling the religious faithful to reach

13. (SBU) To explain why extremist views are
currently popular, he described overlapping "wounds"
that affect Muslim society today, starting with the
collapse of the Ottoman empire and historic regional
conflicts, and moving through western double
standards, the Iraqi-Afghani "cocktail" of
conflicts, and wealth disparity. All these
overlapping items need to be addressed and fixed, he
said. We need both reconciliation and equity.

14. (SBU) On the subject of Saudi King Abdallah's
interfaith dialogue initiative, Al Abbadi described
it as a wonderful first step. People can say it's
exploitative, but there are many ways to perceive
such dialogues, ranging from the most negative
(studying "the other" to undermine him) to the most
positive (for mutual recognition, "to enjoy the
wisdom of the other.?" Unfortunately, he noted, the
budgets in both Morocco and the U.S. that support
this kind of dialogue are "skinny." We need chairs
in our universities to do serious studies, not just
look at exotic topics. In terms of curricula, he
said, we need to see Americans represented in
Moroccan and Saudi textbooks, as we ourselves would
like to be seen represented in American texts.

15. (SBU) Under Secretary Glassman and Dr. Al
Abbadi discussed with interest and enthusiasm
various "new media" initiatives that each side is
exploring. The U/S specifically mentioned the new
academic journal "Problems of Extremism," modeled
after old "Problems of Communism," and invited Al
Abbadi to the launch conference in the first quarter
of next year -- an invitation that Al Abbadi
graciously accepted.

16. (SBU) At the end of the meeting, Al Abbadi

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spoke movingly about the global impact of the recent
U.S. elections. Once again, he said, the U.S.
showed that "yes we can," and that big things are
both feasible and possible. "Is Barack Obama
himself perfect, the only one who can lead America?
No, of course not, that's not the point. The point
is that humans are flexible and can transcend the
past, which is something that America has once again
demonstrated to the rest of the world."

Where "Access" Was Born

17. (U) In Casablanca, Under Secretary Glassman
visited Sidi Moumen, the impoverished suburb that
was home to Morocco's May 2003 suicide bombers.
While there, he met with several of the original
students and teachers in the first-ever English
Access Microscholarship Program ("Access"), which
then-Ambassador Margaret Tutwiler put in place to
help provide economically disadvantaged students
with essential job skills and intercultural
understanding. All spoke movingly and with
enthusiasm of the difference Access had made in
their own lives and in their communities. Since
2003, the program has grown to include 1,500
students currently enrolled in Morocco, and similar
programs in 54 other countries around the globe.
The U/S also watched a play performed by girls and
boys about the social and economic pressures that
can drive young people to extremist groups. The
Idmaj Cultural Center is a beneficiary of support
from the Casablanca-Chicago Sister Cities linkage.
U/S Glassman presented the Center with an additional
collection of Arabic language books and some soccer

PAS and Peace Corps Collaboration

18. (U) In Tiflet, a town of about 60,000 residents
located between Rabat and Meknes, the Under
Secretary visited one of the youth centers (Dar
Chebabs) staffed by Peace Corps Volunteers. A
husband-and-wife Peace Corps team has been helping
local boys and girls with English, life skills, and
afterschool clubs and activities for the past two
years, and this visit turned into an occasion for
the entire community to celebrate their efforts as
they prepare to return to the U.S. Some of the
young people (as well as both Volunteers) had
participated in one of the PAS-funded Peace Corps
summer camps and spoke enthusiastically of that
experience. They also presented a play on the risk
of AIDS, showed off the products of the journalism
club, and engaged in a lively and fun Q&A with the
Under Secretary. The Under Secretary presented a
PAS English language teaching kit to the Dar Chebab,
along with books and posters in English, Arabic, and

19. (U) Two local TV stations (semi-private 2M and
government SNRT) plus Al Hurra covered U/S
Glassman's visit to Sidi Moumen, highlighting
comments by local residents about the positive
impact of Access and other U.S.-Moroccan partnership
efforts such as Sister Cities. Print media focused
largely on the Tiflet stop, drawing on a Moroccan
Press Agency report highlighting the Under
Secretary's comment that Moroccan civic reforms in
recent years have made it a pioneer in the region,
notably through its new family code that exemplifies
the enlargement of civic freedoms. Print media also
noted the now-global "Access" English language
program and its origins in Sidi Moumen, Casasblanca;
the "Yes" exchange program; Peace Corps youth
outreach efforts; and other U.S. public diplomacy

20. (U) Rounding out the Under Secretary's visit
were two representational events for key public
diplomacy interlocutors, one hosted by Ambassador
Riley in Rabat and one by Consul General Millard in
Casablanca. Among others, guests included the young
editor of Morocco's Islamist newspaper (and a former
Fulbright fellow); the director of a major NGO that
promotes education through information technology;
the host of a daily radio program on Islam and

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women's health issues within an Islamic framework;
the mayor of Sidi Moumen; the founder of a very
popular arts and culture center; the producer of a
hugely popular TV competition to select and train
Morocco's best young soccer players; and the
Secretary General of the Ministry of Youth and
Sports. These influential men and women appreciated
the Under Secretary's clear, nuanced, and positive
discussion of U.S. foreign policy in the region, as
well as his evident interest in their own efforts to
engage Moroccan young people and provide them with a
better and more hopeful future.

21. (U) U/S Glassman has cleared this cable.


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