Tunisian intellectuals debate role in fight against terror

Friday 21/08/2015
Habib Kazdaghli speaking at the conference.

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.