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Tunisia’s democracy is a deterrent to terrorism

April 1, 2016 at 9:34 am

It is not rocket science to claim that terrorism thrives because of oppression, dictatorship, marginalisation and all forms of social exclusion.

During the last few weeks, Tunisia has demonstrated an amazing determination to stand up against Daesh (ISIS) at a time when this terror group has managed to gain ground in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

The town of Ben Guerdan (South of Tunisia and bordering Libya) has been partly turned into a battlefield between the Tunisian army and civilians against a group of heavily armed Daesh members coming from Libya (though all of them were Tunisians).

This resilience has totally defied political analysts’ anticipation that the Arab region is doomed to fall under Daesh’s influence and that it can lead to a fragmentation of the region into small entities based on ethnic groupings.

Daesh has miscalculated its strategies in Tunisia. In fighting terrorism, Tunisians have yet again shown immense solidarity, clear vision, strong awareness regarding their strategic interests and adherence to democratic values (aims of the revolution).

The Daesh epidemic is not an Islamic product, but a fruit of any environment where injustice prevails. The decades of dictatorial rule in Tunisia of the Ben Ali Regime and before Habib Bourguiba were the breading ground of disenfranchised youth and extremist groups.

Also one may argue that the reasons such a group may find a fertile ground for instance in Tunisia are twofold: Firstly, the total media control under the regimes of Habib Bourguiba and Ben Ali which aimed at homogenizing the Tunisian political thought. Through the centralization of the religious establishment, President Habib Bourguiba, also called Al Mujahid Al Akbar (greatest mujahid) had total monopoly over media output relating to modernism, educational reform, womens’ emancipation, religious and political discourse and every other aspect of governance.

Secondly, being the leader of the country, who claimed to be elected for life, Bourguiba ruthlessly excluded every potential competitor for the country’s leadership, including the religious leadership/authorities of Al Zaytouna Mosque and the Tunisian National Union of Workers.

Al Zaytouna educational and religious institutions had served for centuries as a centre of learning and as a multi-disciplinary university, offering religious as well as secular subjects such as mathematics, chemistry and astronomy in addition to fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), history and Quranic studies.

More importantly, ‘Karaouine (in Morocco) and Al Zaytouna (in Tunisia) sat at the crossroads of the medieval Islamic, Christian, and Jewish worlds, and they were instrumental not only in transmitting advanced scientific knowledge to Europe but also in promoting Maliki Islam.

The era of Bourguiba’s rule meant a complete subjugation of all forms of political, intellectual and religious dissent and the suppressive containment of all forms of diversity. The continued total absence of a well-informed religious authority during the reign of Ben Ali who succeeded him has led to an evident vacuum in the country which was ultimately occupied during the 1990s onward by preachers from abroad via satellite TV channels.

Thirdly, one may also argue that the violent tendency of such groups (sometimes called the Al Salafiya Al Jehadya) is due to the failure of the ruling regimes over the last few decades to partly contain them, but also their deficiency in building a multi-cultural society,

A multi-party political system and promoting the rights of minority groups to thrive. In fact the state media since the independence of Tunisia in 1956 have been solely in the service of the regime and its political elite. Both Bourguiba and Ben Ali (the only two presidents who ruled Tunisia from 1956-2011) have exploited all mass media outlets to advance their parties’ ideologies and they ruthlessly marginalised any religious or political groups which may potentially have influence in society.

Their version of cultural, political as well as economic development is solely based upon channelling all media outlets into promoting the only official ideology of the ruling regime. This type of governance has obviously proven deficient since the beginning of the 1970s. Yet the country has had to wait until the revolution of 14 January 2011 for a regime change to take place.

However, most importantly,now it is evidently that the Daesh terrorists have nothing to do with Islam. Their actions point to a criminal mind that cannot be condoned by any faith group. A few of the identified attackers on the town of Ben Guerdan in Tunisia are reported to be ex- drug addicts and criminals. So were scores of those who joined Daesh in Libya and Iraq.

In a TV programme entitled: ‘Reality Check: How religious are so-called “Islamic terrorists”?’ Mehdi Hasan challenges the common view that ISIL or Al Qaeda attackers are devout Muslims. He reveals that:

“Islam for dummies” was the reference book used by Charlie Hebdo attackers they “couldn’t differentiate between Islam and Catholicism” they “Went to strip clubs and drank alcohol before their attacks”

Finally it is worth-noting that the post-revolution democratically elected governments in Tunisia have been waging fierce wars against extremism. The troika government led by Al Nahda party declared since 2013 that Ansar Al Sharia for instance was a terrorist group given its violent tendency in social change.

Today, and after five years of the revolution in Tunisia, Al Nahda party stands not only as a stumbling block against the country’s escalation into a chaotic scene, but it is emerging as a key pillar in the country’s political landscape in this period of democratic transition. The democratic transition that the country is witnessing seems to have become a deterrent against the flourishing of Daesh.

Terrorism is not the fate of the region. This contagion is a symptom of corruption, dictatorship and unjust rule in any society. Therefore the solution to the eradication of such terrorist groups as Daesh is not only military but a multi-dimensional strategy. It is a combination of providing education, job opportunities, youth empowerment, freedom and power-sharing.

The writer is Professor of Media and Communication. He can be reached via e-mail: [email protected].

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.