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Moroccans shun violent extremism

Between Afghanistan and America, situated at the crossroads of Eastern and Western civilizations, lies a low-key ally in the fight against religious intolerance and extremism: Morocco.
Despite the headlines painting this region as the new front on terror, Moroccans object to their country becoming a base for western-focused extremism and are determined to prevent Al Qaeda from securing a foothold in this corner of the Maghreb.
Although the country has witnessed a rise in violent extremism over the last few years - from the 2004 Moroccan-perpetrated train bombings in Madrid to the repeated suicide attacks in Casablanca - the public remains vigilant. In February, government authorities successfully dismantled an international network that had plotted to assassinate Cabinet ministers, army officers and members of the Moroccan Jewish community.
In addition to shunning violence strictly on religious grounds, Moroccans proudly embrace their unique culture of diversity - built on a long tradition of Arab, Berber, Muslim and Jewish co-existence.
Furthermore, Morocco has few qualms regarding its robust, historic ties to the West, having been the first country to recognize US independence in 1777. The feeling is mutual; Americans also have proven a commitment to promoting religious tolerance, economic development and solidarity between the two nations. Today, citizens on both sides continue to take an active role in furthering constructive, collaborative dialogue across the Atlantic.
One such initiative, the American-Moroccan Institute (AMI), was founded in 2003 to advance cultural, academic and economic ties between the United States and Morocco. AMI expands on traditional diplomatic efforts by facilitating discourse amongst academics, policymakers and civil society on a range of issues highlighting how Morocco - with its diverse traditions drawn from African, Amazigh, Arab and European cultures - shares values and common challenges with multicultural America.
Eradicating ideological-based violence is but one such shared concern; promoting pluralistic societies based on religious tolerance is yet another. In stark contrast to last year s Holocaust denial conference in Iran - which increased tensions between Jews and Muslims worldwide - another reaffirming message of Moroccan-American solidarity against hate-driven ideologies and a renewed commitment toward respecting human dignity transpired last month.
In March, the AMI facilitated a partnership between the National Library of Morocco and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) for an exchange of archives related to Morocco s reaction to the Holocaust. The exchange marks the first such formal accord between the USHM Museum and an institution in an Arab, Muslim-majority country.
In addition to granting public access to historical documents in universities and libraries across Morocco, the exchange also provides content to future USHMM exhibitions and promises to shed light on the positive role that Morocco played during World War II. Unbeknownst to many, King Mohammed V actively protected the kingdom s Jewish population from Nazi-led calls of discrimination and deportation.
The 11 March signing ceremony, held at Morocco s National Library in Rabat, was attended by the USHMM Director, Sara Bloomfield, the Moroccan National Library Director, Driss Khrouz, US Ambassador to Morocco, Thomas Riley, and Senior Advisor to King Mohammed V, André Azoulay.
Azoulay - a high-ranking Moroccan official who has spent decades promoting interfaith co-existence - publicly acknowledged that, though a Jew by faith, he deeply identifies with his country s Muslim traditions. He went on to note that the same is true in reverse: namely, that Muslim Moroccan society has and will continue to embrace its Jewish legacy.
Amongst an often discouraging framework through which the world views interfaith relations, exchanges of this nature offer a glimpse into a mainstream Moroccan culture which celebrates its diversity, and in doing so, bridges the so-called East-West divide.
Vanessa Noël Brownis a David L. Boren Fellow in Morocco and graduate student at the Institute for Conflict Analysis & Resolution at George Mason University. Andrew Kessinger works for Search for Common Ground. Both are American Moroccan Institute members. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and originally appeared in Washington Post/Newsweek s On Faith.

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