“People are often intimidated and don’t dare confront them”
People here have been so deprived of freedom for so many years that, today, they have a poor understanding of freedom of expression and how to express this, sometimes confusing it with anarchy. But being free doesn’t mean having the right to say anything you want to say, wherever and whichever way you want!These practices are being encouraged by the wave of preachers visiting Tunisia from the Gulf or the Middle East. Even though some of them have extremist views, these foreign imams often come to Tunisia with the blessing of the government or the Islamist party Ennahda, the party in power, which accommodate and welcome them.
On the other hand, regular citizens are not always aware of their rights. In the video of the bus, for example, no one had the reflex to tell this man that his speech may disturb the passengers, no doubt because they felt intimidated. Tunisians quite often think of religious proselytism as a form of extremism. Therefore, they avoid interfering for fear of provoking them.
We have tried several times to warn the authorities against the spread of this practice in the country because we think it could have adverse consequences for our society. The imams split the society [Editor’s note: in several speeches, the preachers pit believers against “laymen”] by advocating, for example, that men and women be separated in learning institutions, or encouraging people to make four-year-old girls wear veils. Some speak to young people, who are more easily influenced, and can thus be enticed towards extremist religious practices. This doesn’t encourage harmony; instead, it spreads a message of hate.The authorities have not reacted to our warnings, and no concrete measure has been taken to stop these practices. However, civil society organisations also have a duty to act. People need to be aware of the dangers of this type of preaching and understand that they have the right to challenge the preachers’ presence. It’s every citizen’s role to ensure public spaces are protected. Unfortunately, civil society organisations don’t have the same presence on the ground as the imams.