Several political parties have recently invoked the “Arab Muslim identity” of Tunisians, usually promising to preserve it. But what exactly this phrase means, and how to preserve it, is not well defined.
According to M. Amri Laroussi, a sociology professor at the University of El Manar in Tunis, Tunisian history was marked mainly with two ethnic groups that are Arabs and Berbers. Tunisian identity has been influenced by Islam and Arabism. The Tunisian majority is therefore Muslim and Arab. However, Berbers, who represent a minority in Tunisia, got mixed together with Arabs.
The Arab Muslim identity is also related to our culture and our traditions. For example, during Ramadan the way of life differs from the rest of the year, through working and dinner hours and the behavior of people, including the Ramadan fast. The Muslim Arab identity is a Tunisian specificity that is related to the language Arabic but also to the religion of Islam.
According to a Tunisian taxi driver and to Amel, a student, the Arab Muslim identity is to respect and to protect Islam rules like prohibiting alcohol in Tunisia and wearing modest clothing. They also insisted that Islam is a guide for Tunisians and that Tunisian mentality is related to religion.
Samir, interviewed in downtown Tunis, said that it’s important to protect Islam. Individual freedom should not break with Arab Muslim traditions. It’s true that there are few Tunisians who are not Muslim or Arab, but these groups, such as Berbers and Jews, represent a minority.
Religion and the language are enmeshed in the mind of Tunisians. However, identity does not only represent religion and language but also culture and tradition. The culture is the inherited legacy of the civilization.
The movie “Persepolis,” recently aired on Nessma TV offended the beliefs of many Tunisians because of the depiction of God in human form.
Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, leader of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) argued against public expression that provokes the religious feelings of Tunisians, but he also condemned the violent protests that followed the film.
According to Rached Gannouchi, leader of moderate Islamist party Ennahda, Nessma crossed a line by airing the movie. He thinks that Nessma TV is destroying the Arab Maghreb identity of all nations and the channel programs are suspicious.
Identity is at the core of the political discourse in Tunisia today, and the Persepolis issue shows that Tunisians are divided on how to balance open expression with their religious beliefs.
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