Culture War May Evolve for Tunisian Islamists
It’s always painted as an assault on religion when people just try to live normal lives. That’s just too much for religious busybodies anywhere to bear.
On Friday, hundreds of bearded men and veiled women converged on the public television building accusing it of “sanitizing figures of the old regime” and calling for a purging of staff members who still promote the ideas of the old ruling party.
Caught between the Salafis and the secularists are the moderate Islamists who won Tunisia’s first free elections and are trying to build a democratic model for countries that followed Tunisia down this still uncertain revolutionary path.
The Salafis say they are just reclaiming rights long denied.
“Tunisians are thirsty for religious knowledge,” said Mohammed Bedoui, a young adherent of the Hizb al-Tahrir, or Liberation party, which calls for the return of the Islamic caliphate. “The regime of Ben Ali neglected the religious universities and the Tunisian imams just can’t answer to the demand.”
The war of words is taking place against a backdrop of armed radical movements just over the porous borders in neighboring Algeria and Libya, and there are worries that Tunisia’s aggressive demonstrations could evolve into an armed struggle if the competing demands are not handled carefully.
Secular intellectuals describe the Salafis as backward and engaging in a wholesale assault against freedom of expression and Tunisia’s progressive traditions. The religious conservatives — distinctive with their mustache-less beards, short robes and sneakers — counter that their religion is under daily attack.
“The demonstrations are a response to the provocations of the secularists and the leftists, particularly the polemic against the niqab (face-covering veil) in universities,” said Bedoui.