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Hassan attacks 'plague' of fanaticism

KING Hassan II of Morocco, Emir il Muminin (Commander of the Faithful), a descendant of the Prophet Mohamed's family, will have no truck with the wave of militant Islam sweeping north Africa. The politicisation of religious radicalism is a deviation from Islam, he believes.

In an interview with the London-based, Arabic-language daily newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, published today, the monarch says forms of religious extremism and usuliyya (return to the roots of religion) have existed throughout history. 'Fanaticism in the past plagued ritual practices. Nowadays it is the whole range of political and social life that is succumbing to this plague,' he says.

'I consider it blasphemy or, to put it more accurately, it is a new duality, an encroachment against the concept of the unity of God . . . We should resort to what the Christians say: Render unto God the things which are God's and unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's. Political manipulation of Islam has wreaked havoc.'

Morocco is largely free from the kind of political movements that agitate under the banner of resurgent Islam elsewhere in the region. In addition, with the exception of a few horrific human rights abuses, Morocco is a relatively free place to live, compared with its neighbours. Opposition is minimal - and carefully monitored.

King Hassan says in the interview that he has proposed to a senior official of the Iranian Foreign Ministry that a Sunni-Shia dialogue be initiated to discuss a reconciliation between the existing regimes in the Arab world and Islamic movements.

Differences between Sunnis and Shias are exaggerated, he says: 'All Muslims commit themselves to jihad (holy struggle) and it is false to suggest that we Sunnis are passive.'

He says the West does not fully understand the Islamic impulse. And he says Western European states would have served their own interests if they had not taken such a hostile view of their resident Muslim communities.

'Had these nations managed to accommodate Muslim communities, they would have reaped great benefits, notably in combating moral decadence, narcotics, killings, and other social evils. A disciplined Muslim may serve as a moral vaccine against juvenile delinquency.'

(Photograph omitted)