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Johns Hopkins U's Islamist Fellowship By: Olivier Guitta
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A 32-YEAR-OLD MOROCCAN INTELLECTUAL has been selected by John Hopkins University to study political science for one year at the university's prestigious School of Advanced International Studies, after which he will receive further training at the U.S. Congress and the Canadian Parliament. Mustafa El Khalfi was chosen from a pool of hundreds of candidates from more than 20 countries and, interestingly enough, he is the first Moroccan so honored since Hopkins began this program in 1953. (He is also a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.)

El Khalfi's background is colorful. At the age of 15 he joined the Islamist party Jama Islamiya. He was a brilliant student, earning an undergraduate degree in physics and a masters in political science. In 2003 he attended a program in Oxford similar to the one he is now part of at Hopkins. Before being chosen by the Hopkins program, he was the editor-in-chief of the main Islamist Moroccan publication At-Tajdid – which means “renewal.” At-Tajdid is the paper of the largest Moroccan Islamist party, the PJD (Parti de la Justice et du Developement) and has a certain measure of notoriety. For instance, At-Tajdid was among the first papers in the world to explain last year's horrific tsunami by pointing out that the affected Asian countries were corrupt and that the tsunami was a consequence not following the true course of Islam. Later in the piece, At-Tajdid implied that the same punishment might be in the works Morocco because of the lack of respect Islam was shown by Moroccan society. When later pressed about this line of analysis, El Khalfi answered, “Regarding the tsunami, only God knows the truth.”

It is also worth noting that At-Tajdid takes a fairly hard line against Jews. The paper never speaks of Israel, but rather of the “Zionist entity.” After the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, At-Tajdid's editorial read: “Congratulations to the Palestinian resistance for this great victory which announces an even greater victory that of the recovery of Al Quds and all stolen Palestinian territories.” In light of this one should not be surprised that At-Tajdid and El Khalfi were opposed to any kind of peace process in the between the Israelis and the Palestinians – and even the normalization of relations between Morocco and Israel. In 1999, during a period of relative quiet between Israelis and Palestinians, the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram ran an article quoting El Khalfi:

“Mustafa Al-Khalfi, a writer who opposes Arab-Israeli normalization, criticizes this group's (Moroccan Jews) economic power because it “aims to influence decision-making [in Morocco].” Moroccan Jews have worked constantly since the early 1970s to arrange dialogue between Arab and Israeli leaders.”

Mohamed Brini is the editor of the daily Al Ahdath Al Maghribia and has studied At-Tajdid closely. Brini says that At-Tajdid has never fully condemned a terrorist act, and instead often attempted to downplay terrorist incidents while making excuses for the perpetrators. “Re at-Tajdid, these are people who have never condemned a terrorist act. On the contrary. Each time, after a terrorist attack, At Tajdid uses every means possible to decriminalize it, by finding reasons and excuses to justify the unjustifiable.”

For instance, on May 16, 2005, the second anniversary of the 2003 terror attacks on Western and Jewish targets in Casablanca, the whole of the Moroccan press – except At-Tajdid – commemorated the day. Instead, At-Tajdid went as far as to claim that the attacks were “a conspiracy against the Islamist movement.” At-Tajdid has even expressed doubts about the existence of the Salafiya Jihadia, one of the main terrorist organizations behind the 2003 bombings in Morocco, referring to the group cryptically as “what some call the Salafiya Jihadia.”

In fact, after the May 2003 terrorist attacks, there was a large consensus to ban the PJD, including Morocco’s king Mohammed VI, but the U.S. through its Ambassador pressured him successfully to give up this idea. Still it does not mean that At-Tajdid would be grateful to the U.S. for that. And Mustafa El Khalfi isn't wild about the United States, either. After President Bush's reelection, in an editorial dated November 5, 2004, El Khalfi wrote that the Arab and Muslim world was in for another four years of instability, insecurity, and increasing dominance of the “Zionist Right.” He added: “The Arab and Islamic world must prepare for a very difficult stage which demands the strengthening of a common action and the reconciliation between the regimes and their peoples.”

After the assassination of Lebanon's Rafiq Al-Hariri, El Khalfi saw another conspiracy in America's “arrogant colonial project.” He wrote:

Despite the difficulty of identifying those who were behind the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, reactions have demonstrated that the assassination is part of a project that began with the mapping out of Iraqi election results, with the resumption of normalization with the Zionist Entity, the partial European support for the U.S. position vis-à-vis Iran and the threats of NATO military intervention in the Sudan. The assassination has come amidst mounting international pressure against the Syrian presence in Lebanon, thus tightening the noose of arrogant colonial aims in the Middle East.

According to the French newsmagazine L'Express, Mustapha El Khalfi's party, the PJD, is very close to the Muslim Brotherhood and that's why it is not surprising that it toes a typical islamist line. It has criticized: making peace with Israel; the new Moroccan family law giving more freedom to women; arts festivals (which it contends corrupt Moroccan youths); and even the presence of foreign schools and cultural centers in Morocco (it wants them all closed down). During the PJD's last convention, one of the main speakers, a Palestinian journalist who often writes for At-Tajdid, declared that Hurricane Katrina was a “gift from Heaven.” He added, “If the neocons were to see your enthusiasm and determination, they would realize that they will never win against our Ummah.”

In a way, the Hopkins’ choice should not really come as a surprise since lots of “moderate” Islamists (if that exists) have been quite welcome on our shores. Coincidentally, there have been lots of contacts between the Bush administration and the PJD. This fits perfectly in the new strategy of speaking and making friends with “moderate” Islamists in case they get to power someday. And Morocco through the PJD is no exception, especially since they are favored to win the 2007 legislative elections.

Olivier Guitta is a Washington DC based consultant on European, Middle Eastern affairs, and terrorism. 

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Olivier Guitta is a Washington DC based foreign affairs consultant.

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