Tunisian minister sees culture as ‘buffer’ to radicalisation

“A society in which the arts shape people’s feelings and thoughts will have no room in it for extremists or killers.” - Tunisian Minister of Cultural Affairs Mohamed Zine-Abidine
Sunday 21/10/2018
Tunisian Minister of Cultural Affairs Mohamed Zine el-Abidine.                            (AFP)
By the power of culture. Tunisian Minister of Cultural Affairs Mohamed Zine el-Abidine. (AFP)

Tunisian Minister of Cultural Affairs Mohamed Zine el-Abidine said culture offered a solution to most of the problems faced by the Arab region at present. Culture, he said, was instrumental in building human capacities and establishing correct mentalities.

“This is why we in the Arab region need to view culture as a requirement for development,” Zine el-Abidine said. “Culture is a preventive work, which means that cultural action is necessary if we want to prevent many of the problems we are facing at present.”

Zine el-Abidine spoke to The Arab Weekly on the sidelines of the biennial meeting of the Arab ministers of culture in Cairo. Tunisia has held the rotating presidency of the group the past two years.

Discussions between Arab culture ministers focused on integrating cultural policies of Arab countries and upgrading policies to make them instrumental in social and economic development.

The meeting occurred at a time of great change and major challenges in the Arab region, with the rising threat of extremism putting the very existence of some Arab states at risk.

In threatening nation-states, extremists depend on brainwashing, disinformation and the misinterpretation of religion. Zine el-Abidine said cultural activities can create the necessary “buffer” against those threats.

“In fighting extremism and terrorism, culture is probably equally important to the security measures that can be taken against extremism,” he said.

“Culture can protect us against terrorism and extremism. There is an urgent need for states to create an atmosphere in them that allows culture to turn into a right of the public and the arts a basic component of the life of every member of this public.”

Zine el-Abidine took over the cultural affairs portfolio in Tunisia in August 2016, a sensitive time for the North African nation that, in 2011, set off the series of “Arab spring” uprisings that rocked the Arab world.

Tunisia, a cultural and political trendsetter in the Arab region, faces fallout from strife and instability in neighbouring Libya, internal rivalries between Islamist and secularist forces and the risk of jihadists returning from Iraqi and Syrian battlefields.

Zine el-Abidine has been trying to put forward his vision of how culture could improve and safeguard society. His ministry has promoted cultural events, making them indispensable components of Tunisians’ lives. This included encouraging the country’s disillusioned young people to become involved in the cultural scene.

“My country is blessed to be a hub of talent, a fertile soil for cultural innovation,” he said. “We are doing our best to make this talent grow by providing talented people in all fields of culture with what they need to maintain their activities and improve their work. “We are also doing our best to make the world know and hear about this talent.”

He said it was past time that Arab governments formulated a unified strategy to protect their culture, language and their own people by turning culture into a basic defence mechanism.

He said education, the incorporation of the arts and music into people’s lives and encouraging cultural talents can immunise Arab societies against terrorism and extremism.

“A society in which the arts shape people’s feelings and thoughts will have no room in it for extremists or killers,” Zine el-Abidine said. “Governments have to empower their peoples by giving them access to cultural output and this will carry out the mission of the protection of society against dangers.”