The date is Aug. 20.
In Tangier, King Mohammed VI is giving a speech, as he does every year, to mark the revolution of Morocco’s king and people.
And, lo and behold, after anodyne remarks on the evils of underdevelopment, on Africa’s destiny and on the contribution of the Moroccan resistance to the Algerian revolution, he launches into an all-out attack against radical Islam and the dark string of murders recently committed in its name, leading off with the July 26 killing of a Catholic priest inside a Normandy church as an act of “unforgivable madness.”
A little thing? Yes and no.
To begin with, I am not aware of any other head of state in that part of the world who has spoken out with such a strong voice. But more important, Mohammed VI is not just any head of state. His very special standing in the Sunni Arab world, his titles of “Sharifian Monarch” and “Commander of the Faithful,” and especially his status as a “descendant of the Prophet,” give the least of his declarations a weight that they would not have in the mouth of another.
On the day of his speech, he is not content to declare war on the jihadis. He tells them that the war will be waged on Earth and in heaven. He places them outside the law, not only of men, but also of God.
He will meet them, he says, on the field of their belief and challenge the meaning that they give to this or that verse of the Koran. Relying on other verses, on commentary on the verses they cite, or simply on the sovereign authority of his own reading and interpretation, he will unmask them as imposters.
He could have refused to get into any sort of argument with the jihadis.
Like nearly all heads of state, Muslim and non-Muslim, he could have been content to intone, over and over, that there was “no link” between Islamic radicalism and Islam writ large.
Mohammed VI is doing the opposite. He is acknowledging the link and cutting it.
He has taken note of the leverage these bandits have acquired through their self-conferred right to speak in the name of God and, to undermine their leverage, he is disputing and denying that right.
In short, he has intruded into the theologico-political mechanism that gives the new terrorists their influence and effectiveness. And, by subverting that mechanism, by playing it against itself and snaring it in its own trap, he is drying up the spring of legitimacy on which the fundamentalists have been relying. He is isolating them within the community of believers, a community in which they are nothing more than dismal outgrowths. And, in so doing, he is breaking their fearsome religious grip on credulous souls.
As when, at the beginning of his reign, he launched his great reform to promote equality of the sexes, fighting gender privilege with exegesis and consulting women’s organizations as well as religious scholars, with the result that, two years later, Morocco had a family code that was equally consistent with the precepts of Islam and the modern principles of human rights.
It was in just this way, too, that the emancipation of the Enlightenment began in Western Christendom, with the God of natural rights posed against that of the Inquisitors, and, once the new movement had taken root, with Locke’s and Bodin’s recognition that each of us contains a share of transcendence, the strongest guarantee of our inviolability and our rights.
For how long have we been hearing that, in Islam, there are no constraints and no privileged point of view?
You have a choice, Mohammed VI is saying to his subjects and to all Sunnis who recognize his discernment.
A self-proclaimed emir in Mosul – or the descendant of Ali.
A flimsy caliphate without memory or wisdom, propped up by fire and the sword – or a Sharifian dynasty that has stood the test of time, including the time of the Ottoman Empire, without renunciation.
But hold on; that’s not all! In the name of the order of the faithful whose lieutenant he is, Mohammed VI adds this: If you choose the first, if you rally to the black flag of the would-be caliphs who “interpret the Koran and the Sunnah to suit their purposes” and who “excommunicate people without a legitimate reason,” you are excommunicating yourself, sinking into “misbelief,” and, far from gaining access to paradise and its virgins, as the charlatans promise, taking your “place in hell.” That is the meaning of the king’s speech in Tangier.
That is the bold, beautiful gesture of the grandson of the sultan who, in 1942, shamed the French state by siding with the Jews of the protectorate.
May his present-day allies take full measure of the event. May they grasp fully the personal risk the King is running by taking on a criminal sect. And may God grant that they not withhold the moral support or the economic and political backing that he will need in the upcoming battle.
Morocco is on the front line. We must help her hold it.