Notes From the Margins…

Bombing in Marrakesh

  • April 28, 2011
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The Place Djmaa al Fna in Marrakesh is one of my favourite places in the world. Despite the constant flow of tourists in and around the square, it has remained stubbornly resistant to consumerism and still retains the vibrant and utterly beguiling pre-modern character of a desert festival and medieval fair.

From a distance in the early morning it looks like a carpark.  From the late afternoon onwards it’s filled with  snakecharmers, storytellers, transvestite comedians, child boxers, dancers, gamblers playing games of chance,  monkey trainers and a whole range of extraordinary sights.

To sit on a rooftop terrace and watch the sun go down on the pink buildings, with the Katoubia mosque and the Atlas mountains in the background, and the constant sound of drums beating down below, is to be reminded not just of the mysterious beauty of the world we live in, but of the grandeur and creativity of the civilisation that built this magical city.  Only last summer I did just that, on various occasions.

I want to recall those moments now, because a gross act of violence has been perpetrated in Marrakesh.  Someone has bombed the Argana Cafe, killing fourteen people and wounding many others.   The Moroccan authorities are talking about a ‘suicide bomber’,  possibly equipped with a nailbomb in order to hurt as many people as possible.

It is too early to speculate who carried out this attack  or what ‘message’ it was intended to convey and to whom.  To some extent an event like this is at odds with the political currents now prevailing  in the Maghreb and the Arab world.   The tumultuous events of the last three months have made such ‘tactics’ – assuming this gratuitous slaughter has any tactical purpose – irrelevant.

Mass political movements pressing for democratic reform and revolution do not need terrorists or jihadists indulging in acts of homicidal martyrdom and are more likely to be undermined by such actions.

The bombing will damage the Moroccan elite only peripherally – but the potential damage to the tourist industry will do more harm to the many poor Moroccans who depend on it to make a living.  The fact that many of the murdered tourists were French raises the possibility that this atrocity may have some Libyan connection and may be intended as revenge or retaliation for the French intervention in Libya.

It is not inconceivable that it was a ‘false flag’ operation, carried out by elements of the Moroccan security forces, aimed at slowing down the pressure for democratic reform inside Morocco.

Whatever the motives behind it, it is a sickening and brutal crime – yet another random and merciless attack on a group of strangers whose lives were dismissed by its perpetrators as worthless.

I am sorry for the victims and their families, and also for the good people of Marrakesh, who deserve much better than this.

And for the people who carried out this attack I have nothing but contempt.


Featured photo by: Jerzy Strzeleck



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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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