Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Tunisia: 9/11 in an Islamic Nation

Spending the five year anniversary of 9/11 in Tunisia, a secular Islamic nation opened me up for even deeper reflection about the direction the world is heading in. I am here visiting a friend I met while visiting Afghanistan. We have spent many hours thinking about the fundamentalism that is spreading around the world and how the failures in US foreign policy are only making things worse.

Tunisia is a model Islamic nation. At the time of their colonial independence from France, their first president set out to Westernise and modernise the country. He saw Islam as a force that was holding the country back, so he set about reducing the role religion had in society. He outlawed religious schools, thus cutting off religious leaders power. He also abolished sharia'a (conservative Quranic laws) courts. He importantly also gave women rights. He ended polygamy and gave women the right to divorce. He banned the veil in schools and started a serious campaign to end the wearing of a garment he regarded as demeaning.

Today the changes are very visible. Women in Tunis, the capital city, largely go without veils and look empowered and down right glamorous! (Of course the French have a way of making everyone glam or as my mom says "swish"!) The girls have all the strength of NY girls. Around the rest of the country more women are veiled but few are fully covered which has become the norm in much of the Arab world.

But even here there is evidence of growing conservatism. My friends say many more women are veiling. They are not sure why but think that the Lebanon war may be contributing along with the no veils in school policy in France where many Tunisians spend time. Also it is said that the government has a zero tolerance policy for fundamentalism and if an iman speaks too conservatively he tends to disappear.

This country has one strong advantage to the other islamic nations in the world. I was told it was 65% middle class. With so little poverty people just aren't as angry. They have a benevolant authoritarian leader who makes good decisions on behalf of his people.

The saddest part of 9/11 is that many Islamic nations have used it and the US's reaction to it to deflect the anger of their people to their own governments. We have been raised as an even worse bad guy and that makes us all less safe.

Can't handle this French keyboard anymore so I must sign off.

1 comment:

Jayna said...

Great post! I'm looking forward to reading more insights.