The time has come to rebel against religious fanaticism in Tunisia. Hardline Islamism has become more visible and threatening in recent weeks starting from targeting the two Tunisian Olympic medalists Habiba Ghribi and Oussama Mellouli on social media networks for inappropriate clothing and anti-Islam behaviour.
A group affiliated with the Salafi current managed on Wednesday to cancel a stand-up comedy performance by the Tunisian humourist Lotfi Abdelli in the northern town of Menzel Bourguiba. Another cultural event was disrupted on Thursday when a group of radical Islamists blocked an Iranian group from performing at a Sufi festival in Kairouan (Tunisia's holiest city). On Thursday, a cultural night dedicated for Palestine in Bizerte, also north of Tunisia, turned into a bloody rout when a bunch of Salafists attacked the audience and smashed up the equipment of La Maison Des Jeunes (the House of Youth) where the event took place.
Tunisia‘s hardcore Salafists emerged only after the popular uprising that resulted in toppling the dictator Ben Ali. This culture of Salafism was nurtured in Tunisia by a great influx of Wahhabi preachers welcome to Tunisia with the blessings and welcome of the Tunisian government. Early this month Abdel Fattah Mourou, a founding member of the ruling party Ennahda was attacked and injured in a conference on religion and tolerance. Apparently the Association of Religion and Tolerance offended the sensitivities of the ultra-conservative Muslims whose ears have recently become accustomed to an intolerant discourse imported from the Gulf and orchestrated in order to generate hatred and violence in Tunisia.
The real problem in Tunisia for the ordinary people is to provide for a living especially in this time of economic stagnation. But those basic demands are overlooked in the midst of the turmoil triggered by religious fanatics who aspire to impose their vision of the Tunisian society through propagating their ideas in mosques and conferences, even through violence.
‘The religious police” in Menzel Bourguiba decided that Lotfi Abdelli’s show to be ‘not halal enough’ to be given the green light. The Tunisian authorities and the Tunisian Ministry of Culture appeared helpless to defend freedom of expression and art was once again the victim of governmental indifference coupled with orthodox intolerance.
An insult to what is sacred seems to be the same rationale that motivates those Salafists who interpreted the performance of Iranian singers in Kairouan as offensive to Islam. In the absence of the rule of law they managed to prevent the performance from taking place. The rhetoric of Sunni versus Shiite which has been introduced into Tunisian society very recently seems to threaten the tolerant fabric of our society where religious differences have always been accepted and been a part of the Tunisian history of intercultural and interreligious coexistence.
Tunisians have always been characterized by a moderate and tolerant attachment to religion as can be seen in their celebration of the New Year although the majority of the population is Muslim. They go to the mosque to pray and you find the same people queuing to attend the performances of international artists in the International Festival of Carthage. Religious affiliations in Tunisia should not lose this liberal mood.