By Hajer Naili
Friday, December 2, 2011
A secular-Islamist confrontation overtakes a Tunisian campus and a month ago a woman wearing a full-face veil was banned at another university. Hajer Naili criticizes both sides of a social conflict constricting the hopes of the revolution.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Tensions between secularists and Islamists are rising daily in Tunisia.
A flashpoint right now is in the capital, Tunis, home to Manouba University. On Nov. 28, the dean of humanities and literature at Manouba, along with some students and professors, were held by a group of men--so-called Salafists--who seek to implement a purist interpretation of Islam and overturn secularist laws.
Clashes continued on Wednesday as classes were cancelled. The Islamist protesters blocked all accesses to the campus. Yesterday, many students and representatives of UGET, the students' union, gathered in Bardo, a suburb of Tunis, to establish a camp to protest against the violence and the attempts at imposing religious beliefs at the university.
These hardliners are not associated with Ennahda, the so-called moderate Islamist party that recently won the elections in Tunisia. But they may have been emboldened by Ennahda's victory.
They are demanding admission for female students wearing the niqab (a full-face veil), a campus prayer room and single-sex classrooms. The niqab was totally banned from the country under the previous regime and headscarf was not allowed in public spaces, including universities.
The group was apparently provoked by the refusal, a month ago, of a university in the city of Sousse to enroll a woman wearing a niqab.
"The niqab prevents the process of conveying the academic message and neither professors nor students are able to communicate properly when the niqab is involved," an administrator at that school said at the time.
This story turns me two ways.
I strongly condemn this and other actions by those seeking to popularize a puritanical form of Islam that is alien to Tunisia.
With a rigid interpretation of the Quran, they aim for the introduction of their reading of Sharia as state law. I am not saying that the presence of Salafists is a problem, but it becomes an issue when they use violence and intimidation to impose their mindset. They have stormed several campuses since the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to pressure female students and teachers to cover their hair.
Such actions have nothing to do with the Tunisian revolution and I am extremely angry and worried to see a minority of people trying to hijack it. Friends and relatives involved with the revolution have told me that extremists were not on the frontline in January and didn't put their lives at risk when thousands of Tunisians were ready to take bullets to free the country from Ben Ali's dictatorship.
At the same time, the university in Sousse was wrong. Female students should be allowed to attend class wearing their clothing choices.
Tunisia has the highest female literacy rate in North Africa and women make up 61 percent of students. If universities in Tunisia ban women from wearing the niqab, they will lose a chance at education, with little choice but to stay home. And keeping women who wear the niqab on the fringe of the society will only widen the gap between secularists and Islamists.
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