MAN AT PARTY: And you say that the family Bush has shares in the society with bin Laden's family.

REPORTER: Do you believe something like that?

MAN: I believe this. I believe because...

MERIEM: Why not? It's not questions, I believe.

YOUNG WOMAN #2: No, I'm sorry.

VOICEOVER: When young professionals in Morocco get together for a party, the talk inevitably turns to politics and religion. Nothing wrong with that, but it's the middle of Ramadan and drinking alcohol and smoking hashish is strictly forbidden.

ZSU ZSU (Translation): When Islamists denounce those who don't agree with them, who drink during Ramadan, go out at night, smoke and party, they say they've been corrupted by the American culture, by Western culture. But that's wrong. We're simply open to the world thanks to our education.

VOICEOVER: For these partygoers defying Islamic law is not unusual, even though they, like most of the population, are Muslim.

MERIEM: Everybody's cheating, we know that everybody's cheating.

YOUNG WOMAN #2: Everywhere, everywhere.

MERIEM: We know that everybody is cheating because OK, we know that there's one month you don't have to drink, you don't go to clubs, you don't do this, you don't do this, OK, fine, but then after Ramadan, if we are really Muslim people, then we shouldn't go to clubs, we shouldn't' drink, we shouldn't do that.

YOUNG WOMAN #2; We shouldn’t be buying alcohol.

MERIEM: So there is a little cheating thing going on, but I mean, that's the way it is.

VOICEOVER: Nothing is quite what it seems in Morocco. This moderate Islamic society is a good friend to the West, and Western influence is evident everywhere. But a clash is brewing between the ideals of the West and preserving Islamic tradition. And as the tensions surface, radical Islamists are gaining ground in the political debate.

NADIA YASSINE (Translation): Our youth is, how shall I put it? They go to school all year and learn nothing. There's nothing in their heads.

VOICEOVER: Nadia Yassine is unimpressed with the youth of Morocco. She is the public face of Morocco's most popular social political group - Justice and Spirituality.

NADIA YASSINE (Translation): We want change, yes. But within our culture, with Moroccan choices, within our Islamic history.

VOICEOVER: The Justice and Spirituality movement was founded by Nadia's father, Sheikh Abdessalam Yassine, an outspoken Islamic scholar who remains its leader. For years, the Moroccan government considered Sheikh Yassine enemy number one, even now he remains under de facto house arrest, unable to travel or speak at public gatherings. Despite that, his organisation is growing in popularity, and his daughter Nadia continues to talk out against the government and the ruling royal family.

NADIA YASSINE (Translation): We've spoken out, we've been to jail, I've been regularly summoned to the police with my little girls. I was harassed and threatened, but I just kept talking. And I believe that after 20 years, a tiny bit of our message is beginning to be heard.

VOICEOVER: Nadia Yassine says she's utterly opposed to violence. Nevertheless, she does want an Islamic revolution in Morocco. In a country which has been ruled by a succession of kings for 300 years, that's enough to land you in deep trouble.

NADIA YASSINE (Translation): We'll never resort to violent action. But we have the right to speak out and say that the monarchy is anti-Islamic. It's an anti-Islamic system. It has no legitimacy. Legitimacy comes only from the people. And the people never chose these monarchs.

VOICEOVER: He was once considered an irresponsible playboy, but now, at 39, King Mohammed VI, seen here at his wedding, is the absolute ruler of Morocco. His father, King Hassan II, was a leader the West could do business with, but at home, he had little patience for opposition. Morocco has a parliament and regular elections, but King Hassan had a habit of fixing the results. Anxious to shake off the old image, the new king last year insisted that Morocco should have free and fair elections. As a result, Islamic parties cornered nearly half of the vote. But despite their massive electoral gains, the young monarch appointed no Islamists to his cabinet. For Nadia Yassine and these women at a prayer meeting, the exclusion of Islamists from the government is not surprising. Despite the claim of free elections, the Justice and Spirituality movement were even banned from taking part. That's mainly due to their anti-monarchist stance. Their opposition has a long history. As far back as 1973, Sheikh Yassine wrote an open letter to the old king criticising him for the Westernisation and moral decay of Morocco.

NADIA YASSINE (Translation): He wrote an open letter to the king, "Islam or the Deluge". That earned him four years in a mental asylum. He was persecuted, and you can imagine, we lost all our friends. So yes, we had a rather eventful adolescence. Then he got two years in jail. Then 10 years under house arrest. The whole family was harassed and our phones were tapped. Wherever I go, I'm under surveillance. I've been taken for questioning, my husband did two years in jail.

VOICEOVER: Just across the river from Morocco's well-to-do capital, Rabat, lies the city of Sale, its poor cousin. This is where the Justice and Spirituality movement has its base and it's growing fast. In this part of town, most houses don't even have running water, let alone a Western hamburger outlet. Here there are no benefits of the West, nor an interest in appeasing them. There's virtually no government support for these people, and so it's left to groups like Justice and Spirituality to provide a security net, supplying food and clothing. Unofficially, the group is known by the name of Justice and Charity, another sign of the deep respect many Moroccans have for them. As in other Muslim societies, it's fundamentalist Islamic groups, rather than the government, that are leading the fight against poverty. And in bitterly poor communities like this, Nadia believes the tide is turning against the royal family.

NADIA YASSINE (Translation): Is there a risk of unpopular unrest? Yes, there is. It's not so long ago that Hassan II savagely repressed the hunger riots in Marrakesh, Casablanca, the risk is there. Morocco is getting poorer, unemployment is rising, young people risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean, because they're fed up. The pressure is building up.

VOICEOVER: And since September 11, the pressure to crack down on fundamentalist Islamic groups has intensified.

GEORGE W. BUSH, US PRESIDENT: The Arab world has responsibilities and we will work with them to delineate those responsibilities and to encourage them to accept those responsibilities.

VOICEOVER: On the international stage, Morocco's king is keen to be seen as an important ally of the West. This is a family relationship which spans the generations and like his father, Mohammed VI has continued to crack down on those with anti-Western views.

NABIL BENABDALLAH, COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER (Translation): Some people think it's possible to take advantage of this democratisation process and at the same time to use it to further authoritarian ends which may deny Morocco its democracy tomorrow. That's dangerous.

VOICEOVER: Morocco's official government spokesman, Communications Minister, Nabil Benabdallah, insists that fundamentalist groups like Justice and Spirituality do present a threat to Western democratic values.

NABIL BENABDALLAH (Translation): That's why any individual, whatever their beliefs, who do not respect the law and all of its rules will be sanctioned according to the laws. That's how democracy works everywhere.

VOICEOVER: Nadia Yassine says the Justice and Spirituality movement advocates a stricter Islamic society, but that shouldn't be an excuse for repression. She says the organisation is open and has no secrets, but that doesn't seem to stop the Moroccan secret police, who regularly recruit members as spies.

NADIA YASSINE: Sometimes they propose to them money to make them secret police.

REPORTER: Like spies?

NADIA YASSINE: Spies, yes, it's the word.

VOICEOVER: Under constant surveillance, Sheikh Yassine was unable to meet us for an interview. From a balcony just a few doors away from his home, Nadia points out the secret police.

NADIA YASSINE (Translation): Behind me, at the end of the street, is my father's house. He was under house arrest for 10 years. Now it's been lifted, but the police are still there.

VOICEOVER: It's not only the police who are concerned about the growth of the Justice and Spirituality movement. Nabila Mounibi is a left-wing women's rights activist and a Muslim who says Nadia and her father's brand of Islam are dangerous.

NABILA MOUNIBI (Translation): For the time being, as they're not in power, they present her friendly face, pretty, very polished. Even with her veil, she's beautiful, articulate, convincing. She's her movement's spokesperson. But what does she offer Moroccan women, Moroccan society? What's her plan? What's her movement's plan? Those people are against everything.

VOICEOVER: Two years ago, Nabila was instrumental in organising a large rally in the capital in defence of women's rights. Unlike men, women in Morocco need permission to marry and have no rights to divorce, their civil rights remain restricted.

NABILA MOUNIBI (Translation): When a woman lodges a complaint against her husband who beats her, for instance, the judge asks her to provide 12 witnesses. What if he beats her at 3am? If she can't provide witnesses, the judge won't consider her complaint. The women's movement is fighting this.

VOICEOVER: The demonstration in Rabat called for more rights and freedom for women, but their protest was usurped. 200km away in Casablanca, a protest organised by the Justice and Spirituality movement was calling for women to live by an even stricter Islamic code. The protest by traditional Islamists drew a far greater crowd than the women in Rabat, demonstrating that the Islamists' message was proving popular with the masses.

NABILA MOUNIBI (Translation): Unfortunately, the march in Casablanca and these very people recognise this, was aimed at challenging the current regime, at showing their strength and how much support they have. It was a display of muscle and strength in the streets. They were saying "We're here, and you'll have to deal with us."

VOICEOVER: That muscle on the streets is not new in Morocco. During the first Gulf War, hundreds of thousands demonstrated against the Western coalition attack on Iraq. But does anti-Western feeling amount to terrorism? Are there fundamentalist groups in Morocco using terror to pursue an Islamic agenda?
With the first interrogations from Guantanamo Bay came the evidence that terrorists were active in Morocco. In May last year, police made their swoop, arresting three Saudis and seven Moroccans for plotting attacks throughout the country. It was a small win in the war on terror, but Moroccan police were already investigating scores of unsolved murders that appeared to be linked to Islamic vigilantes, executions as punishment for being bad Muslims. In July last year, the people of Casablanca awoke to the news that the body of a teenage girl had been found, violently stabbed to death. Within days, the body of another girl turned up, both her arms hacked off by the killers, and a week after that, the decapitated remains of a third girl were discovered. Police had few doubts that it was the work of Islamist extremists. Chief amongst the suspects were members of an underground fundamentalist group known as Al-Hiyra ua Takfir or “divine judgment for infidels”. By late August, a police task force had detained 30 members of the shadowy group, linking them to many of the murders.

HAMID BELGHIH, BROTHER OF VICTIM (Translation): She was a liberated girl, like all teenage girls. Normal. You know how teenage girls follow the trends and go out wearing tight clothes. It's not a big deal. She always came home on time and if she was a bit late, we knew she'd be back. But on the 10th, she didn't come back.

VOICEOVER: Hamid's sister was one of the vigilante gang's alleged victims. Her badly mutilated body discovered near this beach last June. He says her death has frightened many residents in the close-knit Casablanca community where they lived.

HAMID BELGHIH (Translation): I can look like an Islamist with my beard. You can't judge. But all the people in the neighbourhood say it was the Islamists who punished the girls for wearing make-up and miniskirts. But all Moroccan girls dress like that. Some of the ones who believe it was the Islamists who did it have started - they've taken to wearing the veil. Even the ones who used to bring her make-up, they're wearing the veil now.

VOICEOVER: This pressure for stricter Islamic observance is relatively new in Morocco and is a sign that the fundamentalists have been emboldened by the clash with Western values.

ABU HAFS (Translation): The issue of religious extremism is a broad topic. The West tries to label as extremist anyone who doesn't agree with its approach. And needless to say, our identity doesn't conform with that of the West. We proclaim this. We see the clash as inevitable, without any doubt.

VOICEOVER: Abu Hafs is a member of another fundamentalist group - Salifi Jihadia - which his father introduced to Morocco in response to the first Gulf War. After delivering anti-Western sermons in the mosque, he was arrested and banned from speaking publicly. But Abu Hafs says he's not a terrorist, he simply wants to establish a more rigid Islamic state.

ABU HAFS (Translation): No matter what is said about the democratic system, regardless of the merit of its characteristics or the freedom, rights and so on that it offers, we say that we don't care whether it's good or not.

VOICEOVER: On the hills above Fez, leather tanners dry their skins, a tradition unchanged for centuries. Fez is Morocco's historical centre of religious learning, and here, support for Abu Hafs runs deep. Moroccans are proud of their history and their religion, and America's campaign against Islamic fundamentalism is viewed with deep suspicion.

ABU HAFS (Translation): Despite his later apology, Bush declared that this war was a crusade war, a crusade. Berlusconi also stated that they will fight this backward civilisation, these backward people, that this was a conflict between advanced and backward civilisations. But whether the conflict is of a military or cultural nature, Muslims and the Muslim identity are always attacked. This is what Muslims suffer from the West.

VOICEOVER: This is the core dilemma for the government of Morocco. Fundamentalism is on the rise, and pressure from the West to clamp down only produces more support for the fundamentalists.

ABU HAFS (Translation): Many of the recent arrests and abductions and actions by the state, undoubtedly involve some element of appeasing America.

VOICEOVER: In Morocco, as in much of the West after September 11, anti-Western rhetoric from fundamentalists is automatically linked to terrorism. There is no clear distinction between words and action.

ABU HAFS (Translation): We're an academic movement, focused on education. But the authorities may see our movement, or may try to portray it, as a threat to the State's existence. And so pressure has been exerted on us.

NABIL BENABDALLAH (Translation): I think it's extremely harsh with regard to a country like Morocco to speak of human rights abuse. And it's fair to recognise today the human rights abuses, human rights violations, belong more to Morocco's past than to its present.

VOICEOVER: It's late afternoon and at the Justice and Spirituality headquarters, male members of the group prepare for the end of the daily Ramadan fast. According to the government, prayer sessions like this are little more than dangerous subversion. The worshippers here say they're simply being persecuted because of their deep devotion to Islam, and that American pressure is ultimately responsible.

NADIA YASSINE (Translation): Look at the US. They're trampling on everyone. There's no longer a sense of humanism. Humanism, human rights-ism, to coin a neologism. It only exists in charts, in speeches. But in reality, men oppress men. And that's what bothers us.

VOICEOVER: Other Islamists warn that as repression of their freedom of speech continues, their anger is growing.

ABU HAFS (Translation): I think Muslims totally resent - all Muslims totally resent the American policy towards Islamic countries. As a consequence, any country allied to America will be equally resented.

VOICEOVER: This resentment should sound warning bells in the West. If the people of moderate Islamic countries like Morocco are feeling it, then America's war on terror, or an invasion of Iraq may well provoke a dangerous backlash from the broader Muslim world.
© 2019 Journeyman Pictures
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