The Tiny Minority of Extremists again turns out to be less tiny than advertised. A few months ago, the stock answer to concerns along these lines would likely have been that Tunisia is a modern, moderate Muslim country, and even if there a few whackos, this sort of thing can’t happen.
The foreign policy of the last two administrations has had a consistent track record of confusing conditions that exist in spite of Sharia as existing because of it. “Tunisia: Radical Imams looking to conquer mosques,” from ANSAmed, November 3:
(ANSAmed) – TUNIS – Tunis is already in the midst of fierce debate over its future, after the unexpected victory – at least in its scale – of the Islamist party Ennadha in elections for the country’s Constituent Assembly, but the country now finds itself facing a problem whose seriousness remains undefined but that does not appear to have a solution, namely the gradual conquest by the most hardline Islamists of the country’s mosques, which are hugely important from a theological point of view as well as for the number of worshippers who attend them.
What to Djemel Oueslati, the head of the Department of Religious Affairs, appears to be a simple statistic (hardliners control between 150 and 200 mosques throughout a country that has around 5,000, he told Reuters) is in fact a matter open to serious concern. Indeed, the advance of “pure” Muslims appears unstoppable, not least because of the speed at which it is occurring and, especially, with the state seemingly devoid of instruments with which to tackle it, if indeed it were to decide to do so.
We tried to tell you.
This situation has not cemented itself in the last few weeks.
The phenomenon had already begun in the days following the dramatic fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The toppling of the dictator created a power vacuum that was attended to only in theory by the appointment of a provisional government, with utmost confusion regarding roles and jurisdiction, while the situation paved the way for an aggressive strategy by hardliners who, after being opposed and repressed in the 23 years of Ben Ali’s regime, took advantage of the flight of the hated dictator and moved to take control of as many mosques as possible, a manifestation of real power, not only in the religious sense.
Slowly but surely, therefore, the fundamentalists, who are close to Salafist ideology began to “conquer” mosques controlled by moderate imams, who were forced to sneak out amid pressure of the most hardline groups, who used religious but also more “concrete” tactics to achieve their goal.
Mosques are officially controlled by the state, through the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which has the final say in the supervision of places of worship and of the behaviour of imams.
But, with the revolution and the elimination of one of the regime’s raisons d’etre – the state’s prevalence over religion, upholding the country’s secularity), this control has disintegrated and is now restricted to a handful of formal acts.
Whether or not this is admitted, the real problem is that controlling mosques also means controlling its worshippers, the majority of whom observe all rites and prayers and can be influenced by the aggressive preaching of the most fanatical clerics. (ANSAmed).