Tunisian intellectuals debate role in fight against terror
Tunis - Hundreds of Tunisian scholars and artists issued a manifesto on August 12th empahisising the need for a more active role by intellectuals in the fight against terrorism.
The conference was part of an initiative entitled Intellectuals against Terrorism, which reflected the deep-seated anxieties of many segments of the Tunisian population since the Bardo and Sousse attacks.
The manifesto issued by Intellectuals against Terrorism purported to identify the risks ahead and to defend the major values and principles deemed to be key to defeating terrorism.
While expressing support for the security measures announced recently by Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, the manifesto called for “other decisive steps” that “encompass cultural, educational, social and economic aspects so as to provide the country with the tools and conditions of facing the threats of terrorism”.
It also noted that “fighting terrorism requires setting up an integrated strategy aimed at eradicating the cultural and intellectual roots of terror”.
One of the leading members of the initiative is Habib Kazdaghli, dean of the University of Humanities and Arts of Manouba. He gained international attention after his daring rejection of attempts by radical Salafists to impose their way of life at his university campus.
“Every society needs its intellectuals but sometimes intellectuals do not fulfill their rightful roles. That is why we held this conference,” Kazdaghli explained.
A fundamental task, he added, is to make the right diagnosis of the roots of the problem. “The country is in a war and when the country is in a war it is not just the army fighting,” he said. “The whole society and intellectuals must also take part in the war, by asking their right questions and analysing the weaknesses that draw us back.”
Karima Bannoun, an Algerian intellectual who spoke at the conference, concurred, saying: “We need scientific analysis of the causes of terrorism and consequences. We need to look at what has happened in other countries, the best strategies, the best practices, to be able to objectively draw lessons from all and also to be a voice of the conscious in society.
“We can both support the state when appropriate and criticise it when it is needed.”
One of the key speakers during the one-day event was Basma Khalfaoui, the widow of leftist politician Chokri Belaid, who was assassinated in 2013 by jihadists.
Khalfaoui says Tunisian society is frustrated about the shortcomings of the fight against terror. “Elections were held thinking we will find ways to fight terrorism in the following months, only to find ourselves facing more dangerous attacks afterwards,” Khalfaoui told The Arab Weekly.
But she says the intellectuals’ initiative is timely. “This conference comes at a crucial time to send a reassuring message to people that the civil society is quite dynamic and that the society can also protect itself,” she explains. Khalfaoui says intellectuals should help shed light on the process of radicalisation among youth. The need for attention to youth was emphasised by most speakers. “Young people are at the centre of our concern, especially with the growing disinterest of youth in politics as opposed to their alarming involvement in terrorist groups,” said rights activist Professor Raja Ben Slama.
For Hamadi Redissi, a jurist and leftist intellectual, there was value in the conference itself in the fight against extremism. “The support by Tunisian and foreign intellectuals is a message to terrorists that Tunisians are mobilised against terrorism,” he said.
A major national conference expected to be attended by senior government officials, political parties and civil society leaders will be held in Tunis next September.