Last week, before the war in Gaza broke out, I wrote an op-ed on Tunisia's Salafis for The National. It looks at how the Islamist perception of the legacy of Habib Bourguiba's authoritarian secularism fuels much of the rage of the Salafi movement, and explains why they attract so much attention in the media.
In conversations with Tunisian Islamists over the last two years, I came to understand their view of the history of their country. Their problem was not just with the former Ben Ali regime, but with the legacy of Bourguiba: not just the repression, torture and prohibition from political life, but a disdain for religion in public life.
For Bourguiba, this went beyond bans of veiled women on state television and other measures to curtail visible appearances of religiosity. It was also state intimidation of religious people, the domestication of traditional religious authorities, and sometimes gratuitous insults on religious sentiment. Bourguiba, for instance, was in the habit of appearing on state television during Ramadan drinking during daytime, and urged others to do the same.
The capital crime of the Bourguiba regime in the Islamists' eyes was to estrange people from their religion, drive them away from their traditions and usurp their identity for something borrowed from Europe.
A lot of this, in other words, is about a sentiment that Bourguiba and his successor uprooted Tunisian society from its roots, as well as all the other causes: the spread of fundamentalism, foreign funding, etc. I think that this is a special aspect of Tunisian Salafism, and more generally Islamism, that is worth taking note of in understanding Tunisia's culture wars. Read the rest here.
Also, here are a few links on this subject to stories from the past month or so.
- Tunisia's young Salafis claim they are being persecuted - The National
- Tunisia's revolution and the Salafi effect - The National
- Second man dies after clashes between Tunisian Salafis, police | Reuters
- Who are Tunisia’s Salafis? - By Monica Marks | The Middle East Channel
- Tunisian Salafis attack alcohol sellers in capital - Yahoo! News
- The Emergence of Salafism in Tunisia
- PressTV - Salafi leader declares war on Tunisia's ruling party
- Exclusive: Tunisia licenses first Islamist Salafi party | Reuters
- Salafism in Tunisia: A brief history Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English)
- Who Is Jabhat al-Islah? - The Washington Institute for Near East Policy