Defeating the extremists
Tunisia, the bright spot of the Arab Spring, has seen dark days in recent weeks. That guests holidaying in our country were subject to a horrific attack is a matter of terrible anguish for Tunisians.
It is the latest illustration of the battle of ideas occurring across the Arab world. Attacking Tunisia was no random act.After decades of stifling oppression and corruption, we have held free and fair
elections, ratified the most progressive constitution in the Arab world and begun to rebuild our economy. Even in this moment of sadness,
we must ask the urgent question of how to stop violent extremists such as the so-called Islamic State, whom we prefer to call Daesh. Their goal is to make democracy in the Arab world untenable. The attack in Sousse in June is part of their plan to damage Tunisia’s economy,
make people lose hope and undermine Tunisia’s fragile progress.
Stopping the spread of their poisonous vision requires an all-encompassing strategy that addresses security, economic, social and intellectual measures simultaneously. As Tunisia’s party of Islamic democrats and part of the coalition government, Ennahdha supports a dual approach which advances a positive interpretation of our faith and limits the influence of extremists. We must engage in a battle of ideas to discredit their dangerous views and bring forward our openminded,
inclusive interpretation of Islam, which views Islam, democracy
and freedom as fully compatible. Pitting secular groups against those
labelled as ‘Islamists’ will not stop Daesh; it will simply imply that all supporters of Islam are extreme and promote Daesh’s worldview. Rather, we can come together, regardless of faith, in support of freedom, human rights and democracy, and show that these values are the basis for a better future.
The authoritarian Ben Ali regime marginalized Tunisia’s religious leader
so we must develop new programmes to train thousands of moderate imams,
reducing the reach of extremists. We also need to enhance the capacity of Tunisia’s
religious institutions to conduct balanced scholarship and ensure this reaches
young people. The solution is not to close down mosques, but to make them spaces
for spreading positive values. We also should increase support for NGOs that
will strengthen communities, particularly in marginalized regions.
Because terrorism is a global challenge we also need greater international
collaboration. Closer coordination on security, including intelligence,
technology and border controls, will help identify threats earlier. However, that is
not sufficient. Economic growth is also
essential because extremist movements
flourish in times of high unemployment.
The Tunisian government, the private
sector, foreign investors and
international partners must come
together and send a strong message
by continuing to invest in Tunisia.
This latest attack is a setback for our
economy, but Tunisia’s potential is stillintact – its position as a bridge between
Europe and Africa is unchanged, as is its
abundant supply of highly skilled young
people, our greatest natural resource.
Tunisians have deeply valued the support
shown by Britain since the Sousse attack.
As we turn our grief into actions, we hope
to continue to work together closely.
Tunisia’s continued success is vital for
the region but we face an unprecedented
challenge. Few other countries have
made the journey to democracy amid
this level of regional and global
instability, with such aggressive efforts
to disrupt their progress. This only
makes it more vital that Tunisia succeed,
to prove that greater openness and
improved governance are the solutions,
not extremism. Our success depends not
just on closing down extremist networks
that lure young men to their death but
also on building something for young
people to live for.
Rached Ghannouchi is the founder