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After the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last month, France looked abroad and almost immediately began bombing ISIS strongholds in Syria and Iraq. When suicide bombers blew themselves up in Casablanca, Morocco, in 2003 and 2007, that country looked at itself. Nearly all of the Casablanca bombers were from one of the city’s biggest slums: Sidi Moumen.
And so a local man, Boubker Mazoz, started to look for ways to help marginalized kids out of poverty, and become less vulnerable to extremism. He went into Sidi Moumen and built a neighborhood association and cultural center. Nearly a decade later, it’s thriving.
Here & Now’s Eric Westervelt talks with Mazoz about what he’s doing in Casablanca, and how his approach might translate to other communities looking to counter violent extremism.
Describe the Casablanca slum where this cultural center is
“Before 2003, there were big slums there with no running water, no electricity, no sewages, people living in extreme poverty. Most of them didn’t have jobs, most of them were not going to school or dropping out of school, a lot of people were attracted by drug dealers, delinquency, extremism, unfortunately. And that’s why we decided to create this first cultural center in order to try to do what is possible to save these kids.”
On the name of the organization, Idmaj, which means integration in Arabic
“I feel that this category of people were excluded from the city, they were marginalized. So the word integration is to actually try to help these people regain their dignity and be part of the whole city, and feel like full citizens, which is a feeling they didn’t have before.”
What kind of programs does the organization offer?
“We have languages, we have tutoring, to help keep them in school because it’s one of the major objectives of our association is to encourage schooling, and offer tutoring, and offer educational support to decrease school dropouts, and we also teach them civic education and civic awareness, through action and of course to fight against delinquency, drug addiction, marginalization and extremism. We discover their talents, we have music, sports, theater, choir, and we’ve discovered amazing kids in this neighborhood who just needed someone to guide them, to accompany them, to frame them, to empower them. To be given an opportunity is number one.”
Do you feel like you’re making progress?
“I think we do. We measure it by the success of the students that have been through the program. We have now students who were almost going to be jail, or some who were in real trouble, or some who quit school, and some who went into drugs and now they are back and they got their high school diplomas, many of them are employed, some got to important universities. So we can see all the kids that were on the street, and people who were close to becoming delinquents who are now back and we see the change in their behavior and their attitude and the way they look at life.”
Could your program be used as a model in other Middle Eastern cities?
“It could be used anywhere. As you know, fanatic, fundamentalism, extremism, is the same everywhere. Please allow me to say it has nothing to do with the religion. Any organization could have gotten to them, because they wanted to revolt against a situation which mainly is economic, cultural, social, and they claim it’s because they believe in God and believe in Muhammad, which is out of the reality. This program can be implemented anywhere in the world, even in Europe, even Brussels, Paris. The frustrations, problems of youth all over the world is the same. They need an opportunity, they want to become full citizens, they want to succeed in life, they want to live in dignity. We have to empower them, look after them, listen to their needs. And of course let them dream, but give them an opportunity to realize their dreams. That’s the most important everywhere. We can do it, and it will be successful anywhere in the world.”