Return of Islamic leader worries Islamophobes Tunisian women

Famous last words for a free society, or even one less beset by Sharia than it might be: “Oh, that can’t happen here.”

Reports on the role of Islamic movements in the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings have placed considerable faith in the “secular” elements of those societies to resist Sharia’s regressive influence on human rights. But one cannot passively invoke as protection the institutions that Sharia’s proponents will attack and destroy once they are strong enough to go on the offensive, especially not when recalling how flimsy the veneer of a modern, secular society turned out to be in Iraq.

More on this story. “Return of Islamic Leader Worries Some Tunisian Women,” by Cecily Hilleary for VOA News, February 4:

Last week, Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi and other members of the Islamic al-Nahda Party returned to Tunisia after more than two decades in exile. Ghannouchi’s return–and the warm welcome he received at the Tunis airport–touched off concerns about a resurgence of political Islam in the North African country.

No one is more concerned than Tunisia’s women, who have enjoyed more than half a century of political, legal and personal freedoms unprecedented in the Arab world. The 1956 Personal Status Code gave women a key role in Tunisian society; it abolished polygamy, allowed women the right to divorce and gave them access to birth control and abortion.

Today, 99% of Tunisian women are educated. Women participate actively in politics, law, medicine, academia, media and business.

Mariam Saari, a Tunisian women’s rights activist, told VOA she was surprised by how many women supporters turned up to welcome Ghannouchi.

“Tunisian women, we have freedom, we get paid the same as men. We can vote. We can divorce. We can make our own businesses, for years now,” Saari said.

She wonders how women, in light of their hard-won gains in Tunisia, could support a religious figure who has publically declared his commitment to Sharia–or Islamic law–under which women have fewer rights and liberties than men.

In the biography, Rachid Ghannouchi: Democrat within Islam, Azzam Tamimi describes Ghannouchi as supporting a balance of democracy and what he calls the “moral authority” of Islam. Critical of the Personal Status Code and anti-polygamy laws at first, Tamimi writes that by the 1980s, Ghannouchi had decided the code was “acceptable” to his al-Nahda movement.

“What Rachid Ghannouchi advocates,” Tamimi told VOA, “is a democratic system that gives the people the ultimate choice of freedom. They choose their government, government is accountable to the people, and he doesn’t see any incompatibility between the democratic procedure and Islamic values.

The “democratic procedure” will be a means to an end. As long as it is good for the cause of Islam, there is no “incompatibility.” When its usefulness has been exhausted, it will be discarded.

“And I have him on the record saying that if the Tunisian people were to choose Communism as a system of governments or liberalism as a system of government, we have no choice but to accept that and respect it and try to change it through democratic means in the following election.” […]

Yes, a democracy is only as good as the values that inform its participants, and lacking constitutional protections, people can willingly vote themselves into tyranny. But they would delude themselves by thinking an Islamic regime will be as easy to dislodge as it will be to vote into power. It is much easier to submit to tyranny than to overthrow it. Just look at Iran.

Tunisia has been strongly secular ever since it won independence from France in 1956. Both Presidents Habib Bourguiba and Zine al Abeddin Ben Ali suppressed the Islamic veil on women or beards on men. Tunisia’s legal system is based both on French civil and Islamic codes. Sharia courts were abolished in 1956, but the constitution declares Islam the state religion and stipulates that the President of the Republic must be a Muslim. Ghannouchi has, in the past, gone on record as saying that the Quran and Sunna are the “ultimate law.” […]

[Larbi] Sadiki paused for just a moment and then added, “It’s just not the time for that. He won’t do that.”

“It’s just not the time for that.” Gee, that’s reassuring.

Though elections will not take place in Tunisia for several months, women’s groups in Tunisia will likely remain vigilant. Miriam Saari said she is not terribly worried. The fight for women’s rights is part of the fight for democracy, she said. “Tunisian women love their freedom too much to give it up.”

Don’t underestimate the battle ahead.

Canada: Newly arrived Muslim families demand exemption from music and mixed-gender physical ed classes
UK: Islamic supremacist protesters call for Sharia in Egypt
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Comments

  1. says

    In the biography, Rachid Ghannouchi: Democrat within Islam, Azzam Tamimi describes Ghannouchi as supporting a balance of democracy and what he calls the “moral authority” of Islam.

    In the light of the linked article above, anyone with a modicum of common sense would be hard pressed to believe that Tamimi’s words ought to give him the status of “pundit” or “scholar”, rather than the status of a runaway patient from a mental institution.

  2. says

    The Gaza Strip had democratic elections and got Hamas. I see Hamas as a threat to the Egyptian government as much as it threatens Israel. When do the Cairo riots escalate from rocks and Molitov cocktails to Uzis and Qassam rockets? The border of Gaza with Egypt is very porous, due to the network of smuggling tunnels.

  3. says

    Tunisia has been strongly secular ever since it won independence from France in 1956. Both Presidents Habib Bourguiba and Zine al Abeddin Ben Ali suppressed the Islamic veil on women or beards on men. Tunisia’s legal system is based both on French civil and Islamic codes. Sharia courts were abolished in 1956, but the constitution declares Islam the state religion and stipulates that the President of the Republic must be a Muslim. Ghannouchi has, in the past, gone on record as saying that the Quran and Sunna are the “ultimate law.” […]

    [Larbi] Sadiki paused for just a moment and then added, “It’s just not the time for that. He won’t do that.”
    ………………………………

    Ghannouchi takes a similar stance when it comes to the Hijab. Here he is, in an interview with Al-Jazeera:

    AJ: How popular do you think your movement is now? It’s a long time since you were here, a long time since you took part in an election…

    RG: There were tens of thousands who came to the airport, mostly young women and men – some of the women not wearing head-scarves…

    AJ: It’s very interesting that you said that some women who came to the airport had no head scarves. There have been women protesting, concerned about perhaps your movement and what it would mean for them, whether you would want women in this country to wear head scarves, to cover up their heads. Can you just explain what your feelings are on this issue?

    RG: We have continuously defended the right of women and men to choose their own lifestyle, and we are against the imposition of the headscarf in the name of Islam and we are against the banning of the headscarf in the name of secularism or modernity.
    ………………………………

    Presumably Ghannouchi’s first reference to the women without headscarves was meant to imply that his support is broad-based. The latter part *sounds* good, especially to those in the West, but it will likely result in the same sort of creeping Shari’ah you find in Turkey”in fact, the Al-Jazeera interviewer compares the Tunisian situation to Turkey several times.

    http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/02/2011233464273624.html

  4. says

    “Mariam Saari, a Tunisian women’s rights activist, told VOA she was surprised by how many women supporters turned up to welcome Ghannouchi.

    Evidently the Tunisian women are educated beyond their intelligence…

  5. says

    Now you know why I don’t feel very chivalrous.

    In the immediate wake of 9/11, I recall all these Afghan feminists coming out of the woodwork to tell those of us on college campuses (I was a non-trad Ph.D. student then) how mean the Taliban were. My guess is that the multicultie Left was gearing up to support a crusade that would uncover secret social democrats everywhere from the Indus and Tarim to the Niger and the Atlantic. The day after, however, they woke up and realized that Mr. Bush would get a lot of credit had this crusade ever gotten near success.

  6. says

    “G: We have continuously defended the right of women and men to choose their own lifestyle, and we are against the imposition of the headscarf in the name of Islam and we are against the banning of the headscarf in the name of secularism or modernity.”

    I remember an interview with a woman parliamentarian in Turkey years ago. She supported the ban on hijabs in public in Turkey. She was asked why it could not be an individual choice, and she replied “Once some women begin wearing the hijab, we’ll all be wearing the hijab.”

    In other words, at best, women will be subjected to peer and community pressures to wear Islamic dress. At worse, they will be physically pressured by the possibility of harassment, or acid in the face by radical Islamists.

    If the government has imperfect powers of assuring the safety of people, it is better to err on the side of freedom. That is why one can be in favor of freedom for women to choose for themselves, and yet support a ban on such religious garb in public. The French have it exactly right by banning religious dress in public. Muslims criticize the legislation on the grounds of suppressing individual liberties, of all things, but the fact is, such laws interfere with creeping Islamization.

    By the way, I do believe that Ghannouchi is a democrat. Khomeini, during his exile in France, consciously lied, as he admitted later, in claiming that he supported democratic choice. In fact, he supported an Islamic theocracy, vetted by religious authority, and that is he put into effect, in spite of what he had had. I don’t think Ghannouchi is another Khomeini, but I don’t think it matters. If he supports individual choice, then why have a political movement in the first place?

    Of course Sharia law is incompatible with democracy. For example, Sharia forbids non-Muslims from ruling Muslims. Once you have Sharia instituted within a democracy, it would then be illegal for people to elect a non-Muslim. Not that Muslims would elect a non-Muslim.

    The question is, can it be legal for a constitutionally-democratic government to change itself into a form of government which is inherently undemocratic? I think not. Under a constitutional government, people are guaranteed rights outside of the electoral process, and do not have the right nor the power to remove those rights.

    This, by the way, is the constitutional reason for excluding Muslims as Muslims from immigration. Even a Muslim who advocates changing the government to sharia through electoral means is advocating an entirely unconstitutional form of government. In other words, it is impossible for a Muslim to be naturalized by vowing truthfully to support the constitution. The constitution cannot be replaced by a lesser constitution legally. It has to be through revolution. The US has every right to exclude those who wish to institute a revolution. If they want a revolution, they can stay where they came from, and revolt to their heart’s content.