By Rudroneel Ghosh
September 23, 2015
Over the last weekend, French President Francois Hollande undertook a friendship visit to the North African nation of Morocco that had greater significance than one would imagine. Apart from historical and cultural ties, the France-Morocco relationship assumes importance at a time when Europe is witnessing waves of refugees knocking on its doors. Understandably, this is a huge test for EU. A deal to distribute 120,000 refugees among EU member states has already witnessed bad blood with several central and eastern European states vowing to challenge the move.
Against this backdrop, there are now security concerns that Islamists could be recruiting among the incoming refugees. There have already been some reports of sectarian clashes breaking out among migrants in European refugee camps. This means Middle East’s sectarian strife, which is at the root of the conflict in Syria and Iraq, has the potential of being imported to Europe. Germany has already said that it’s keeping a close watch on suspected Islamists who may be trying to recruit refugees to their cause under the cover of humanitarian assistance.
Of course, this problem will not be unique to Germany and other European nations that take in refugees would also have to maintain strict vigil. It’s in this context that deepening of France-Morocco ties becomes imperative. France has realised that Morocco is uniquely placed to address some of the root causes of Islamic radicalization being witnessed in the Middle East and Africa. Since France and other European countries will now have to figure out how best to rehabilitate the refugees, it must redouble its de-radicalisation efforts.
Towards this end, French imams are to be sent to Morocco where they will be instructed in the values of openness and tolerance. Morocco has been championing a moderate version of Islam that is in consonance with the principles of twenty first century democracy. Under the guidance of monarch King Mohammed VI, the initiative is part of a well thought-out strategy to fight the scourge of Islamic extremism. For this purpose, the Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams, Morchidines, and Morchidates – an 18 million euro facility – was opened in March this year. French imams will receive their training here.
In fact, it’s not just France but several countries in North and Sub-Saharan Africa – such as Mali, Libya, Tunisia, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon and Guinea – have agreed to send their imams for training in Morocco. Increasing international appreciation for this unique Moroccan programme must not go unnoticed in New Delhi. The latter also faces challenges from Islamic extremism – as exemplified by recent revelations of Islamic State recruits from India – and could seek cooperation with Rabat in de-radicalisation efforts.
In fact, given that New Delhi is to host a big ticket India-Africa summit next month, such India-Morocco cooperation in fighting extremism could lay the foundation of layered engagement not just between the two countries but also between India and Africa as a whole. Morocco can be India’s partner in Francophone Africa and help open up a new channel between India, Africa and Europe.