Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Moroccan model

Evangelical Christians and Muslims are two groups rarely mentioned in the same sentence, but Monday night, Ahmed Abaddi, official in charge of Islamic affairs in Morocco, addressed a dozen evangelicals during a private dinner in Fairfax.

Joel C. Rosenberg, a writer whose three thrillers involving terrorists, Middle East politics and biblical prophecy have become best-sellers, and his wife, Lynn, hosted the gathering, our correspondent Julia Duin reports.

Mr. Abaddi, a senior adviser to King Mohammed VI, oversees about 33,000 mosques. He told a collection of government officials, journalists and their spouses at the dinner that the Moroccan government perceives America’s 50 million evangelicals as “the real builders of America.”

“Historically,” he added, “it has been the Christians who have held America together. Anyone who traces the history of America knows that evangelicals are behind it.”

Since 2003, Moroccan leaders have been quietly forging ties with the National Association of Evangelicals and other Washington-area evangelicals. In response to evangelicals’ complaint that Muslim-majority Morocco doesn’t allow its citizens information on other religions, much less permit them to convert from Islam, the Moroccans announced that they would begin interfaith dialogues. After several delays and false starts, an evangelical Christian-Muslim summit is slated for November in Morocco.

Last May in Marrakech, Morocco hosted a Christian rock music festival, the first of its kind in the Arab world. It attracted 85,000 Moroccans and featured performers such as the Newsboys, Delirious, Phil Keaggy and others.

“We need our people to know the real West,” Mr. Abaddi said, adding that the king has a strategy to expose Moroccans to different faiths. Another Marrakech festival is slated for next month.

He also revealed that last year, he co-authored a book, published in Lebanon, arguing for the right of Muslims to change their religion.

Morocco, he argued, is a prime example of tolerant Islam.

“The Moroccan model is a totally different conception of Islam compared to the rest of the world,” Mr. Abaddi said.

Referring to the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and their aftermath, he added: “To be mute in the face of all that has happened is a sin. We needed to speak out.”

Diplomat sent home

Russia recalled one of its diplomats at the United Nations to avoid having him expelled from the United States, after he was accused of drunken driving and hitting a New York police officer, a top U.S. official said yesterday.

John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Ilya Morozov, a 28-year-old attache at the Russian diplomatic mission, was sent home on Tuesday. Mr. Bolton earlier tried to persuade Moscow to revoke Mr. Morozov’s diplomatic immunity so the United States could bring charges against him.

“Our preference would have been to prosecute him for the serious offense that he committed, but that requires the Russians to waive his diplomatic immunity,” he said.

Police said Mr. Morozov’s car ran over a curb and struck a police officer who was directing traffic Saturday night. The policeman was treated at a hospital for a knee injury and released.

Police issued seven citations against the Russian diplomat, including “felony assault on a police officer and operating a vehicle with abilities impaired by alcohol,” Mr. Bolton said.

The accident was the most serious involving a foreign diplomat since 1997, when Gueorgui Makharadze, the second-highest official at the Embassy of Georgia in Washington, was convicted of killing a 16-year-old suburban Maryland girl in a drunken-driving accident.

Georgia stripped Makharadze of his diplomatic immunity, and he was sentenced to seven to 21 years in prison. In 2000, the United States transferred him to Georgia to serve out his prison term, but he was released there in February 2002.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@

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