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The Trouble with Tunisian Values

Protesters march on Avenue Habib Bourguiba in downtown Tunis on January 14, 2011. After the revolution, the Islamist party Al Nahda (or Ennahda) won 40% of the Constituent Assembly.

Protesters march on Avenue Habib Bourguiba in downtown Tunis on January 14, 2011. After the revolution, the Islamist party Al Nahda (or Ennahda) won 40% of the Constituent Assembly.
Photo Credit: L. Bryant / VOA Photo

Like millions of people around the world, Jamel Gharbi marked the end of summer by taking his family to the beach. Gharbi, a French Socialist regional councilor, had taken his wife and 12 year old daughter back to the Tunisian city where he had been born and had lived until the 1970s before moving to France.

The tide of the Arab Spring had washed over Tunisia and left Gharbi’s homeland a very different place. Furious Salafi Islamists attacked them for wearing shorts, offending Islamic values. When Gharbi tried to defend his family, he barely escaped with his life.

Bertrand Delanoe, the Socialist mayor of Paris, condemned the attack as the work of an “extremist minority” in contradiction to “Tunisian values.” “The Tunisian people I know,” he said, “are committed to tolerance, democracy, pluralism and human rights.”

Secretary-General Jean-Francois Cope, of the French conservative UMP opposition, agreed that the Tunisian people were not to blame. The perpetrators, he said, only “pretend to be animated by religious convictions,” and dubbed them fanatics and extremists who “do not represent the people of Tunisia.”

The peculiar phenomenon of Bertrand Delanoe and Jean-Francois Cope telling the Tunisian people what their values are is not limited to Gallic shores. As the tides follow the moon, Muslim terrorist attacks are followed by Western leaders asserting that the terrorists do not represent Islam and its tolerant values.

When Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber, appeared for sentencing, he declared, “If I am given a thousand lives, I will sacrifice them all for the sake of Allah, fighting this cause, defending our lands, making the word of Allah supreme over any religion or system.”

Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum told Faisal Shahzad that he needed to “spend some of the time in prison thinking carefully about whether the Koran wants you to kill lots of people.” The trouble was that Faisal Shahzad had already decided what his religion had to say about killing lots of people. Similarly the Tunisian people had already decided what their values are.

The Arab Spring began in Tunisia when a male vendor shamed at being struck by a female police officer set himself on fire. It ended with the election of an Islamist party and murderous violence at the sight of a 12-year-old girl wearing shorts.

The Islamist Al-Nahda Party won a landslide victory in 2011 with more votes than every major party combined. It was the only party to cross the one-million vote mark and its popularity is undeniable. Tunisian values, which may not be pluralistic or democratic after all, are the secret to its success.

In an Al-Jazeera poll, nearly half of Tunisians identified strongly with Islamism, while less than 20 percent identified with either Arab nationalism or liberalism. Numbers like these have made the outcome of the Arab Spring inevitable, along with the accompanying attacks on 12-year-old girls and expat Socialists.

The Al-Nahda Party, described with the obligatory “moderate” soubriquet in news articles, has proposed blasphemy laws that come with harsh prison sentences, and one of its constitutional articles defines women as inferior to men. Al-Nahda’s view of women can be gleaned from Rachid Ghannouchi, the intellectual leader of the movement, who praised the mothers of suicide bombers as “a new model of woman.”

Democracy is the truest test of a nation’s values. The Secretary-General of the UMP may be convinced of the moderate values of the Tunisian people, but the Secretary-General of Al-Nahda, Hamadi Jebali, was equally convinced that Al-Nahda’s victory was a harbinger of the Sixth Caliphate.

The values of the Tunisian people turned Hamadi Jebali from a prisoner into the leader of the dominant Tunisian political party and from there into the Prime Minister of Tunisia. The Arab Spring’s democratic elections have been the acid test of whether Tunisian values and Egyptian values are truly those of “Tolerance, democracy, pluralism and human rights.” And the verdict is in.

It took official protests from French leaders for the new Tunisian Islamist government to condemn the attack on Jamel Gharbi. The actual attackers are still not in custody, and the inaction of the police is becoming routine in a country where Islamist thugs dispensing vigilante Sharia justice are swiftly becoming the law.

About the Author: Daniel Greenfield is an Israeli born blogger and columnist, and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. His work covers American, European and Israeli politics as well as the War on Terror. His writing can be found at http://sultanknish.blogspot.com/. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press.


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7 Responses to “The Trouble with Tunisian Values”

  1. Khouloud Soula says:

    Funny coincidence, I am a Tunisian 27-year old girl, and I was wearing shorts all day yesterday. Not at a hotel or resort but first where I live in the Marsa neighborhood, then downtown, and in the bustling streets of the medina. I wasn't beat up, or insulted. I didn' t hear comments about my outfit. Another funny coincidence is that I am from Bizerte, the town where M. Gharbi was unjustifiably attacked by those salafi Islamists. I wore shorts there too, albeit only on the beach. I also swam in the beach in my bikini. This is not to say what happened should be tolerated or that it could even be justified. On the contrary, those people should be arrested (and they actually might have been. I don't have an exact report). Now that that incident and similar ones should be used to write such a summary article that questions "Tunisian values" altogether and as such, that's also a problem. Contrary to the writer, Bertrand Delanoe, the mayor of Paris whom he quotes here only to criticize is also a native of Bizerte. He comes here every summer, and when he speaks about Tunisian values and foreign, non-representative values, he knows what he is talking about. Although Al Nahdha won the elections, it was not on a platform of religious extremism. It was thanks to dubious campaign resources and by promoting moderate, progressive islamic values precisely. There are currently more and more signs that people are gradually alienated by the government's lenience with the perpetrators of such acts, especially that Tunisians never identified with them, or for that matter with non-Tunisian terrorists the writer cites in parallel as a facile shortcut, whereby Tunisia is denounced as a Salafi hell that the "socialist French" are helplessly trying to mask, and where Tunisian values are epitomized by intolerance and violence. As much as a sympathize with Mr. Gharbi, the statement quoted in this article is simply not truthful. Now how about an article about the recent lynching of an Arab boy in Zion square by a group of Israeli young people? You might give it "The Problem with Israeli Values" as a title. Perhaps we'dl see some of the insight and truthfulness lacking in this article.

  2. Khouloud Soula says:

    Funny coincidence, I am a Tunisian 27-year old girl, and I was wearing shorts all day yesterday. Not at a hotel or resort but first where I live in the Marsa neighborhood, then downtown, and in the bustling streets of the medina. I wasn't beat up, or insulted. I didn' t hear comments about my outfit. Another funny coincidence is that I am from Bizerte, the town where M. Gharbi was unjustifiably attacked by those salafi Islamists. I wore shorts there too, albeit only on the beach. I also swam in the beach in my bikini. This is not to say what happened should be tolerated or that it could even be justified. On the contrary, those people should be arrested (and they actually might have been. I don't have an exact report). Now that that incident and similar ones should be used to write such a summary article that questions "Tunisian values" altogether and as such, that's also a problem. Contrary to the writer, Bertrand Delanoe, the mayor of Paris whom he quotes here only to criticize is also a native of Bizerte. He comes here every summer, and when he speaks about Tunisian values and foreign, non-representative values, he knows what he is talking about. Although Al Nahdha won the elections, it was not on a platform of religious extremism. It was thanks to dubious campaign resources and by promoting moderate, progressive islamic values precisely. There are currently more and more signs that people are gradually alienated by the government's lenience with the perpetrators of such acts, especially that Tunisians never identified with them, or for that matter with non-Tunisian terrorists the writer cites in parallel as a facile shortcut, whereby Tunisia is denounced as a Salafi hell that the "socialist French" are helplessly trying to mask, and where Tunisian values are epitomized by intolerance and violence. As much as a sympathize with Mr. Gharbi, the statement quoted in this article is simply not truthful. Now how about an article about the recent lynching of an Arab boy in Zion square by a group of Israeli young people? You might give it "The Problem with Israeli Values" as a title. Perhaps we'dl see some of the insight and truthfulness lacking in this article.

  3. Micah B. Goldwater says:

    "half the country identifies as Islamic, thus attacks on children are inevitable." identifying which acts of a country's citizens are implementations of a country's values

  4. Inès Soula says:

    Totally agree!!

  5. Chaiya Eitan says:

    Khouloud – I hope you will be able to continue to dress as you wish. If you live in Tunisia, why is it that your location is identified as University of Illinois at Chicago? BTW, my husband was born in Tunisia.

  6. Khouloud Soula says:

    @Chaiya Nice to meet you. I've just moved back to Tunisia and haven't updated my info yet. I don't think it's about dress code, at least not for now. The problems are real, but they're more problems of free press and social justice. From what I see people are rejecting the few elements of extremism that are developing because they've never been part of our long history and therefore cannot be transplanted that easily. People have also realized it is the same dictatorship, this time in a pious garb. Micah I don't usually go there but it popped out on google news and considering the title I had to take a look.

  7. Chaiya Eitan says:

    Nice to meet you, too. My husband told me many stories about Tunisia that he was told by his father. He's too young to remember – he was five when they came to Israel. I hope you're right. What brouoght you back to Tunisia?

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