2006-03-20

50 years on..

In the middle of the 19th century, Tunisia was still ruled by the Husseinite dynasty which has Turkish roots. The Ottoman Empire had controlled, to different degrees, the political life in Tunisia for about 3 centuries and the similarities between the Turkish and the Tunisian flags are not accidental.

As the Ottoman Empire started to wane and the colonial mouvement was at it's highest, the Italians and the French started to eye Tunisia as a potential colony. The foreign debt started to weigh heavy on the Bey's Government and they had to give in to French pressures and sign the Bardo Treaty which established the French protectorate.

On 20 March 1956 a delegation of Tunisians signed the Protocol of Independence with France after 18 days of negociations. France recognised the right of Tunisia to manage its own foreign affairs, security and defense, effectively ending 75 years of French protectorate.

The country prides itself with a relatively high standard of living, a very wide middle-class base, pioneering women status and impressive economic achievements. An utmost priority was given to Education since the establishment of the republic in 1957. Tunisia has done a pretty good job at maintaining an identity shaped by 3000 years of history while embracing modernity and this does reflect in a very welcoming and open attitude of most Tunisians. Some work still needs to be done for a more efficient press and a more active political life, but we're almost there.

Today, with fellow Tunisians, I celebrate the 50th anniversary of the independence. An independence which we all owe to a few brave men who conducted a continuous Jihad in all its forms: political, cultural, unioninst and, to a lesser extent, military. The Government launched a website with a nice summary about the event.

Names like Habib Bourguiba, Farhat Hached, Mongi Slim, Habib Thamer, Mohammed Daghbagi, Hedi Ben Jaballah, Abu Al-Kassim Al-Chabbi, Moncef Bey and others will be remembered as heros..

2006-03-05

A Dream Deferred

Roheet Shah of the American Islamic Congress commented on a previous article with a note about an event organised by the Hands Across the Middle East Alliance (HAMSA).

The event is called The Dream Deferred Contest which calls for American and Middle Eastern youth to write an essay about what they think of the civil freedoms situation in the Middle East. I don't know of the motivations of this contest, but I think it's going to be an interesting opportunity to see how the situation is seen from different standpoints.

Unfortunately I don't qualify because of my age: I'm not a "youth" anymore. I wished I could contribute, but I will try to put some thoughts about the subject here.

First off, it's not very clear to me why Americans, or the West in general, are so concerned about freedoms in the Middle East: is it because some think that the lack of freedoms is causing trouble back home? is it by pure compassion? Then, what freedoms are we talking about here? Is it the freedom of speech? the freedom to live in peace? the equality between genders? and what's the "Middle East"?

I am very excited about this event because I'm sure that what the American youth will write is going to be very interesting; interesting, not only because the latest American attempt to bring freedom to the Middle East has been desasterous so far, but also because the image of the Middle East displayed by US media is so distorted and, in my opinion, amounts to lies at times.

It's interesting also to see what the other side of the river thinks. Many in the Middle East are reluctant to take the West for an example of freedom because they don't think that they really need a freedom that makes 42% of British babies born to single mothers, that makes 600,000 people in Europe die from Alcohol-related causes per year and that makes 40% of all registered marriages in a German city take place between gay couples. Wasn't it the same freedom of press and speech that established an anti-semetic atmosphere in Germany in the early 30's which led to an attempt to exterminate a whole People?

It's hard to imagine that someone sane can reject freedom and democracy, but on a second thought, one may question whether they are really worth the price. The French Revolution, a symbol for the modern, free and democratic republics, has rampaged through France behading people for pronouncing the word "King". Some bright minds of France were lost victims of an excessive quest for freedom. The United States had to exterminate the native Indians, fight a bloody war against the British rule and another bloody civil war to build a "free and democratic America".

Obviously all this comes in a global situation where it seems common sense to regard the West as the beacon of freedom and the Middle East as a hole of darkness. Although I don't agree to this black-and-white classification, I think that, generally speaking, it's a lot easier to communicate one's ideas in the West than it is in the Middle East.

I also believe that it's the freedom to express difering views that guarantees a reasonably good governance. Without a trusted justice system, there's very little room for any economic, social and technical development. I'm almost sure that the wide-spread corruption in many Middle Eastern countries is holding back development. In the 12th century, Abdu Ar-Rahman Ibn Khaldun (عبد الرحمان إبن خلدون) said that "العدل أساس العمران", that is "justice is the foundation of urban life".

In my opinion, the Western attempt to "bring freedom to the Middle East" are mostly making the situation worse. For some, it's enough reason to reject an idea because it comes from America.

In my humble opinion, I think that if the motivation America is to bring democracy, then I would beg them to leave their tanks home: help people get jobs and democracy will follow. If the intention is to keep the extremists from attacking America, then the fix is even easier: "if you want to fight terrorism, then just stop bombing people".

At times I just think that maybe it was better to just leave the Middle East alone. Muhandas Gandhi once said: "What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?"