What is the Arab Muslim Identity?

By Salma Zouari | Oct 19 2011 Share on Linkedin Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Share on pinterest Print

Tags: Amri Laroussi ,Arab Muslim identity ,Ennahdha ,Nessma TV ,Persepolis

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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    “I do think it’s the giddyness of the evil [US spsrnooed, as they are often referred as] dictators being taken down by revolution that makes journalists blind to what these new powers actually stand for.”For several decades we were presented with something of a Hobson’s choice. Either we could sponsor’ the dictators, (some of them anyway) or we could stand back and watch as the region was entirely taken over by Soviet spsrnooed dictators. Sponsoring an evolving ‘democratic’ society wasn’t a real option. The locals simply weren’t used to the idea of consensual, representative government. Wasn’t gonna happen. Soviet sponsorship evaporated with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and what remained was a group of dictators either who were either pro’ or anti’ American, depending on whether or not we’d gotten them on our side or not during the Cold War.It’s taking a little while to rearrange our relationship to the governments and the people in the region. I think we’re well on our way though.In the meantime, our erstwhile European allies immediately forgot that they were fully onboard with our sponsorship of friendly’ Arab dictators whilst the Soviets still constituted a threat to Europe. Suddenly ya’ll were all idealistic and moral and above that sort of thing and always had been.That may change again, and rapidly, if an aggressive Islamist government arises in Egypt, just short boat ride from southern Europe. Then we’ll be hearing crap bout how stupid and shortsighted we were to abandon’ Mubarak and how we let our European allies down.