A hoax? Evidence of social blight? A legitimate form of jihad? In Tunisia, the controversy is still roiling. One noteworthy aspect of this study is that when the reports of this initially came out, many Muslim spokesmen in the West denounced the whole idea as an “Islamophobic” hoax. But unless “Islamophobes” have thoroughly infiltrated the Tunisian media, there is no way that could be the case. “Tunisian Daily Al-Shurouq’s Campaign Against ‘Sexual Jihad,'” by B. Chernitsky and R. Goldberg for MEMRI, January 31:
At the close of 2012, a tweet attributed to Saudi cleric Muhammad Al-‘Arifi, a member of the Association of Muslim Clerics, in which he allegedly permitted young Muslim women to journey to Syria to have sexual relations with mujahideen fighting the Syrian regime, was circulated on the Internet. The tweet (see below) was construed by many in the media as a religious ruling (fatwa). Al-‘Arifi himself repeatedly denied issuing the tweet, adding that ‘sexual jihad’ was equivalent to prostitution. Regardless of its authenticity, the tweet sparked a lively debate in the Arab media on the phenomenon called ‘jihad al-nikah’ or ‘jihad al-monakaha’ – literally, jihad via sexual relations (henceforth, sexual jihad) – in which girls ostensibly travel to jihad fronts to provide sexual services to jihad fighters as a way of contributing to the war effort and earning a divine reward.
The tweet sparked an uproar in Tunisia as well, which reawakened last September after Tunisian Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou said that young Tunisian girls traveled to Syria to perform sexual jihad and returned pregnant after “having sexual relations with 30, 40 and even 100 men.” Following his statement, other Tunisian officials criticized the phenomenon as well: Grand Mufti Hamda Sa’id claimed that sexual jihad is “alien to Islam and we never heard about it even in the Prophet Muhammad’s era when he embarked on jihad.” The Ministry of Women and Family Affairs said that sexual jihad “contradicts the religious and ethical values upon which Tunisian society is based as well as international conventions on human rights to which Tunisia is signed.” The ministry also announced that it would launch “information campaigns” to explain to young women and their families the dangers inherent in such actions, in order to prevent this from becoming a social phenomenon.” The Minister of Women and Family Affairs, Sihem Badi, said that her office was preparing a plan for handling “victims of sexual jihad”. The Ministry of Interior spokesman, Muhammad ‘Ali Al’Araoui, noted that the ministry was working to prevent young women from traveling to Syria for sexual jihad purposes.
Conversely, other senior officials in the Tunisian regime, including the prime minister and an advisor to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, denied that the sexual jihad phenomenon existed and said that Al-‘Arifi’s fatwa had been fabricated by Syrian intelligence in order to blacken the image of the Syrian and Tunisian revolutions. Some Tunisian Salafis also argued that this was a Syrian fabrication intended to distort the image of the regime’s adversaries.
Stormy responses in the Tunisian media ranged from denying the existence of the phenomenon to the charge that the government was responsible for this social blight. Among those who denied the phenomenon was journalist ‘Adel Al-Sam’ali, who repeated the claim that the fatwa story had been fabricated by Syrian intelligence, and added that pro-Syrian channels had circulated false testimonies by young women who claimed to have participated in sexual jihad. Many Arab columnists from other countries, as well as Western journalists, took a similar stance.
Prominent among those who maintained that the phenomenon was real and blamed the government for it was the Tunisian daily Al-Shurouq, which claims to be Tunisia’s most widely circulated independent daily, and prior to the Tunisian revolution it was identified with the regime of former president Zin Al-‘Abidin Bin ‘Ali. In a series of reports and articles, Al-Shurouq described the severity of the phenomenon, which it termed “a disaster,” and quoted religious clerics as saying that Wahhabi ideology was the source of it. The daily accused the regime of causing the problem by allowing the spread of this brand of Islam.
It should be noted that the backdrop to the uproar over this issue in Tunisia is the acute tension between the secularists and Islamists in the country. After winning the largest block of parliamentary seats in the elections following the revolution (89 seats out of 217), the Al-Nahda movement, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, formed a coalition with two secular parties. However, sharp criticism by the opposition and the public of this coalition’s management of the country led, following a national dialogue, to an agreement to form a new nonpartisan government that is expected to be headed by independent MP Mehdi Jomaa, the current minister of industry. The articles on the phenomenon of sexual jihad were tinged with criticism of the Al-Nahda government and apparent nostalgia for the regime of former president Al-Habib Bourguiba, who founded the secular state and viewed the family and women’s status as the foundation for transforming society.
This report will focus on the Al-Shurouq’s article series criticizing the phenomenon of sexual jihad and on ‘Adel Al-Sam’ali’s article in the portal Babnet denying the phenomenon’s existence.
‘Al-Shurouq’ Series Charges: Sexual Jihad Is A Psychological, Social And Economic “Disaster”
In September 2013, following reports that many young Tunisian girls had performed sexual jihad in Syria, the Tunisian daily Al-Shurouq published a series of reports warning about the phenomenon and its implications. The daily claimed that about 100 young girls had traveled to Syria and returned pregnant, and that they and their children now constitute “ticking time bombs,” due to the severe psychological, social and economic implications of this “disaster.” It also claimed that a third of the girls had committed suicide while others had been cast out by their families, and that the authorities were responsibile for this.
On November 21, 2013, the daily published an additional report criticizing those who had denied the phenomenon, stressing once again the claims and testimonies it had presented in its article series.
The Tunisian Authorities Are Responsible For The Sexual Jihad Phenomenon
In its September 2013 reports, Al-Shurouq claimed that the interior ministry was already aware of the sexual jihad phenomenon a year ago, after the family of a 15-year-old girl who had returned from Syria pregnant filed a complaint against several radical Salafis accusing them of pressuring their daughter into traveling to Syria. The daily quoted Tunisian clerics who accused the regime of causing the phenomenon by spreading the Wahhabi ideology that engendered fatwas like Al-‘Arifi’s. For example, Fadel ‘Ashour, a member of the Tunisian Imams Union, said that he intended to file two suits against Religious Affairs Minister Noureddine Al-Khademi, because the latter had defended some clerics who had allowed young Tunisian women to perform sexual jihad and they had returned from Syria pregnant. ‘Ashour claimed to have warned Khademi that Wahhabi ideology was spreading in Tunisian mosques, and added that he intended to launch a “No to Wahhabism” campaign in the mosques. According to the daily, Tunisia’s former grand mufti, ‘Othman Battikh, also warned about the sexual jihad phenomenon and blamed Wahhabi ideology for it, and this was the reason for his dismissal from his position.
The Jihadis Have Reduced Tunisian Women To A Commodity For Satisfying Their Bestial Impulses
The daily charged Salafi-jihadis, such as Ansar Al-Shari’a in Tunisia, with responsibility for recruiting the young women. It described them as “forces of darkness” and “preachers of backwardness” that exploited the young women’s ignorance on religious matters and their deficient education to recruit them for sexual jihad, in an attempt to tarnish the Tunisian woman’s status – hitherto considered a symbol of progress – and reduce her to a commodity designed to satisfy their bestial impulses. Citing government and security sources, Al-Shurouq claimed that the girls seduced into traveling to Syria were persuaded that they were doing an act of charity for which they would be rewarded in paradise, and added that the Salafi recruiters received a cash bounty of 20,000 dinars if they managed to recruit a group of young people to fight the “infidels” in Syria and a group of young women to provide them with sexual services.…
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