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Ed Webb

Tunisia's Dying Jazz | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Bidali is one of the last living practitioners of stambeli, a uniquely Tunisian hybrid of musical genre, healing practice, and religious ceremony. It’s deeply rooted in the history of a specific community: the descendants of slaves brought to the region from sub-Saharan Africa during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It also has close links to Sufism, an ancient form of Islamic mysticism that uses music, dance, and rhythm to induce trance-like states that are supposed to bring listeners closer to the essence of the divine
  • President Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first postcolonial leader, gave state support to many forms of art, but stambeli wasn’t among them; it didn’t fit the modern image of the country he was trying to shape
  • while subsequent police crackdowns have landed Salafists of all stripes in jail, some of the trends they promoted, such as moral self-policing and austere interpretations of Islamic cultural heritage, have taken root in society. With its unorthodox religious associations, stambeli has found itself in the firing line
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  • because of the rising influence of orthodox interpretations of the faith, stambeli artists are careful to stress the monotheistic, Islamic essence of their practice
  • The origins of stambeli music resemble those of American jazz (even though the two genres don’t sound alike). In both cases, the musical traditions of former slaves combined with the diverse cultural influences of their new environments to create something radically new. Whereas slaves arriving in Louisiana mixed their music and practices with European, Caribbean, and American ingredients, slaves arriving in Tunis during the same period fused their animist practices with North African versions of mystical Sufism and orthodox Islam. Mounir Argui, a theater director and music producer who works with Bidali, says that the metal castanets that play such a prominent role in stambeli performances evoke “the sounds of chains and shackles” that the slaves once wore, while the chanting recalls the “moaning.”
  • the Tunisian state never prioritized the preservation of stambeli, focusing instead on the art and culture it considered highbrow
  • Many Tunisians see stambeli as an alien phenomenon associated with blacks, who are already widely viewed as not quite Tunisian. In post-revolutionary Tunisia, where asserting the Islamic character of the country has become an important political symbol for some, the pagan origins of stambeli also cause suspicion
  • As long as some Tunisians continue to see freedom of religion and freedom of art as mutually exclusive, the rare traditions like stambeli that manage to straddle both will find little space
Ed Webb

Constitution Calls for 'Neutralilty' of Mosques, but Meaning Unclear - Tunisia Live - 0 views

  • Rumors circulated this weekend that the Friday sermon in Tunisian mosques would soon be standardized by the government, meaning all preachers would read the same text to their congregations, and that political figures would be prohibited from delivering sermons. Officials at the Ministry of Religious Affairs, however, denied that these policies were being implemented.
  • The newly-adopted Tunisian constitution, which was formally adopted last week, not only “protects religion” and “guarantees freedom of belief and conscience,” but also guarantees the political neutrality of the roughly 5,000 mosques in Tunisia. “The state [...] ensures the neutrality of mosques and places of worship away from partisan instrumentalization,” according to Article 6 of the new constitution. This constitutionalized political neutralization of mosques is meant to “limit the interference of strangers in mosques,” Fadhel Achour, president of the National Union of Religious Officials, told Tunisia Live. His union represents clergy working in Tunisia’s mosques.
  • Mghiri oversees the Ministry of Religious Affairs’ Monitoring and Following Commission, which monitors Tunisian mosques. The commission receives petitions from citizens, follows up with them, and collaborates with the Ministry of Interior to curb what Mghiri deemed the “Salafist exploitation” of mosques and to prevent calls for violence in mosques. He also said that imams cannot directly tell those in attendance whom to vote for. Mghiri told Tunisia Live that different people from varied backgrounds gather in mosques and that telling these people for whom they should vote is not only illegal, but also not wise and does not comply with the canonical laws of Islam.
Ed Webb

Campaign to Defend Artists Accused of Disturbing Public Order : Tunisia Live - News, Ec... - 0 views

  • It is unbelievable, we never thought that charges would be brought against an artist for being creative, that’s what we do we express ourselves, we do it through our art. I don’t even get what s the crime she is being accused of[…] It is certainly a first. For this to happen after the so-called revolution, it is just shocking
Ed Webb

Human Rights Watch Condemns Controversial Defamation Bill : Tunisia Live - News, Econom... - 0 views

  • a new bill that would ban blasphemy in Tunisia. The draft bill, proposed to the Constituent Assembly on Wednesday by Tunisia’s ruling moderate Islamist party Ennahdha, would criminalize “insults, profanity, derision, and representation of Allah and Mohammed.”
  • ” If passed, the draft law would punish such violations of “sacred values” with prison terms of up to two years and fines of up to 2,000 dinars (U.S. $1,236) through an additional article to the Tunisian Penal Code.
  • Mrad justified the bill’s proposal by explaining that the protection of religious symbols does not inherently represent an attack on freedom of expression. “In all societies, you will always find limits and things that you cannot say,” he said, adding, “We [Ennahdha] are committed to granting freedom of expression, but this law is just to set limits for this freedom.”
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  • General Comment 34, a statement issued by the UN Human Rights Committee in July of 2011 stating that defamation of religion is not an acceptable reason for limiting freedoms of speech. According to paragraph 48 of the declaration, “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant, except in specific circumstances…” Such “specific circumstances” include cases in which national or individual security is deemed to be threatened.
  • Although the country lacks laws criminalizing blasphemy, Article 121.3 of Tunisia’s penal code – which criminalizes disruptions that “harm public order or morality” – has been used to convict individuals found guilty of acts that could be perceived as attacks against Islam.
  • A prosecutor in Tunisia can prosecute on the basis of these two laws together and can add to the sentence. We have seen this in other countries, in other contexts.
Ed Webb

Tunisian Ministry of Religious Affairs to Increase Control of Mosque Activites : Tunisi... - 0 views

  • There are four different positions in Tunisian mosques assigned by the ministry: a daily prayer imam, a Friday imam, a person to perform the call to prayer, and someone who maintains the building
  • some parties have attempted to assign imams affiliated with their parties in order to influence masses. “Our ministry chose to remain silent over such issues in the beginning. Now we are taking a more strict approach,” he added. The ministry will closely monitor sermons at mosques and will be swift and fair in their punishment of offenders, he said.
Ed Webb

Thug violence vs. Salafist violence - do definitions really matter? | Kefteji - 0 views

  • The government has said that it will take steps to control violent movements on many occasions, but oftentimes this has felt like lip-service. While a planned secular protest against violence was called off by the interior ministry, a jihadist one was allowed. The government ordered the art gallery in La Marsa to be closed after last week’s events but  had allowed an illegal sit-in by conservatives to go on for almost three months at the state television station. A conflict at the Manouba university over niqabs has been left to fester for an entire academic year because the government has decided not to intervene – leaving the university to solve the problem.
  • When a preacher at Zitouna mosque, an important mosque and center of Islamic theology called on the assasination of the artists responsible for the offending artwork, the Ministry of Religious Affairs called for his sacking. Yet just today reports have said that the preacher will not in fact be sacked. The government has yet to release a clear statement on the matter.
  • While physical violence has been rare, and the country remains comparatively safe, an environment of threats of violence has been left to fester while the intimidation has been met with little challenge from the state, and sometimes denial of well-documented events.
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  • an intellectual space has been opened in Tunisia for those hoping to instill their conservative values on society. This space allows sexist thugs to harass women, violent gangs to team up with religious extremists, and preachers to foster hatred among their followers – no matter whether their theological beliefs correspond to one of the many Salafist worldviews
  • I appreciate the efforts of those who have called out the press for their wanton use of the term Salafist. The use of specific theological terminology for a heterogeneous group does little to clarify the situation. Nevertheless, in order to be intellectually honest, one must also admit that extremist violence is not always committed by extremists. Where hateful ideas are allowed to fester (and sometimes encouraged), hateful actions will follow – regardless of the actors’ beliefs.
Ed Webb

Tunisia Navigates a Democratic Path Tinged With Religion - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • “We’re surrendering our right to think and speak differently,”
  • The popular revolts that began to sweep across the Middle East one year ago have forced societies like Tunisia’s, removed from the grip of authoritarian leaders and celebrating an imagined unity, to confront their own complexity.
  • “It’s like a war of attrition,” said Said Ferjani, a member of Ennahda’s political bureau, who complained that his party was trapped between two extremes, the most ardently secular and the religious. “They’re trying not to let us focus on the real issues.”
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  • debates in Tunisia often echo similar confrontations in Turkey, another country with a long history of secular authoritarian rule now governed by a party inspired by political Islam. In both, secular elites long considered themselves a majority and were treated as such by the state. In both, those elites now recognize themselves as minorities and are often mobilized more by the threat than the reality of religious intolerance
  • secular Tunisians might soon retreat to enclaves. “We’ve become the ahl al-dhimma,” he said, offering a term in Islamic law to denote protected minorities in a Muslim state. “It’s like the Middle Ages.”
  • Others insisted that Ennahda take a stronger stand against the Salafis before society became even more polarized. “I don’t see either action or reaction — where is the government?” asked Ahmed Ounaïes, a former diplomat who briefly served as foreign minister after the revolution. “What is Ennahda’s concept of Tunisia of tomorrow? It hasn’t made that clear.”
  • He complained that the case had been “blown out of proportion,” that media were recklessly fueling the debate and that the forces of the old government were inciting Salafis to tarnish Ennahda. But he conceded that the line between freedom of expression and religious sensitivity would not be drawn soon. “The struggle is philosophical,” he said, “and it will go on and on and on.”
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