Outlawed Tunisian Islamist Party Al-Tahrir: A Tunisian Reporter’s Ethnographic Investigation

Analysis, posted 10.04.2011, from Tunis, Tunisia, in:
Outlawed Tunisian Islamist Party Al-Tahrir: A Tunisian Reporter’s Ethnographic Investigation (Photo: LeTemps.tn)

Summary: Journalist Hager Arjoudi opens her article evoking the numerous Tunisians who, she writes, have for a certain time “shouted about and warned against these new bearded and veiled faces that are ‘invading’ Tunisian society.” She continues, “Years of dictatorship and of the mediatization of a single model of Tunisian society, in the image of European men and women, have unconsciously ‘imposed’ a single way of thinking.”

Arjoudi continues, “we have forgotten or almost, at least for a number of us, that the other is free from the moment that he does not harm us. This phenomena, vestimentary and ideological, judged to be new and extremist in our society, seems to thus surprise, if not disturb…”

She goes on: “It is true that from one side, a certain radical category of Islamists push the limits by invading a basilica as was the case in Le Kef or by attacking other individuals or non-Muslim places of worship, or even mausoleums, but is that a reason to judge all of those who choose to let their bears grow, or all of those who decide to cover their hair?”

Arjoudi reminds readers of the goals of the January 2011 revolution, writing, “And even if we didn’t know that Jesus is always represented as a bearded man and that the veil exists in all monotheistic religions, do we have the right to forget that the revolution was made to acquire liberty and justice and that the freedom of religion is part of that?”

Arjoudi writes that she chose to visit the El Manar II university campus in Tunis so that she could see in that microcosm “of the new generation of functionaries and parents” if the trend of Islamization appeared as widespread there as popularly imagined.

Upon entering the campus, Arjoudi and her accompanying friend, also a female, are handed flyers by male students, members of the outlawed Islamic party Al-Tahrir. Arjoudi writes that the male students keep their heads bowed, and she attributes their averted eyes to the subject of the flyers: a call for the application of Shariah law in Tunisia.

Arjoudi cites several female students that she interviews during her visit. The first, a veiled student, identified as A.M., tells Arjoudi: “seeing you are veiled, people expect you to be perfect and [they] exert a certain pressure by judging the smallest detail – such as seeing you discussing [something] with a boy – what is essential to understand is that Islam is a set of duties and that no one is perfect in their application. I can wear the veil, pray, but not fast and another woman can not wear the veil and pray and fast. Each of us would apply certain duties or precepts within the limits of our knowledge of religion and of our power and even our temptations, we are all human and we should no longer judge each other.”

Another veiled interviewee, M.T. suggests that Europe allows veiled women (voilées) and bearded men (barbus) a freedom of religious expression that Tunisia does not yet allow them. Yet M.T. hesitates to sanction the niqab (face veil), evoking “security reasons especially in this moment, or simply because a man can disguise himself [that way].”

Arjoudi’s last interviewee, Aymen Chbil, one member of a “bearded-veiled couple” (as Arjoudi puts it), asks Arjoudi and her friend to step off the main path for the interview because, “Islam is civism before anything else, and if we want to talk about it [Islam], we should in no way bother the others!”

Arjoudi concludes, based on her interviews with students and her observation of numerous “mixed groups” (of veiled/non-veiled and bearded/non-bearded students), that “tolerance seems still to exist on campus more than it exists outside [of campus].”

Original Language Text: 

Depuis un certain temps, beaucoup sont nombreux parmi ceux qui crient et mettent en garde contre “ces nouvelles têtes de barbus et de voilées” qui “envahissent” la société tunisienne. Des années de dictature et de médiatisation d’un modèle unique de la société tunisienne, à l’image de la femme et de l’homme européen, ont inconsciemment “imposé” un seul modèle de penser.

On a oublié ou presque, du moins pour nombre d’entre nous, que l’autre est libre du moment qu’il ne nous nuise pas. Ce phénomène, vestimentaire et idéologique, jugé nouveau et extrémiste dans notre société semble alors surprendre, si ce n’est déranger…

Il est vrai que d’un côté, une certaine catégorie radicale des islamistes pousse les limites en envahissant une basilique comme ce fut le cas au Kef ou en attaquant d’autres individus ou lieux de cultes outre musulmans, ou même des mausolées, mais est-ce une raison pour juger tous ceux qui choisissent de laisser pousser leur barbe ou de celles qui décident de se couvrir les cheveux? Pourquoi nous-inspirent ils la peur, et même de la phobie? Un 11 septembre qui a marqué la mémoire mondiale? A-t-on oublié ou ignorons nous que les nones portent le voile et inspirent la confiance et l’amour de Dieu ou que les juifs orthodoxes portent également la barbe? Pourquoi refuse-t-on ce qui ne nous dérange pas ou n’attire même pas notre attention dans d’autres sociétés? Et même si l’on ne savait pas que Jésus est toujours représenté dans l’image d’un barbu et que le voile existe dans toutes les religions monothéistes, avons-nous le droit d’oublier que la révolution a été faite pour acquérir la liberté et la justice et que la liberté de culte en fait partie?

Nous avons alors décidé de faire un reportage dans le campus, nid de la nouvelle génération de fonctionnaires et de parents, et qui représente en soi une micro société, pour savoir si le mouvement “d’islamisation” est si étendu que cela et si cela fait vraiment peur. Un nouveau paysage nous a alors été dévoilé, et sous le voile de certaines, nous ont parlé des filles dont le seul désir est d’être membre active dans cette société, sans préjugé, sans regard agressif, simplement dans une société qui comporterait le musulman et le non musulman…

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[Excerpt—See accompanying URL for full original text]