I visited Tunisia recently. [Note: I will refer to Tunisia as ‘Tunis’ because that it is its name in Arabic.] Tunis el-Khadra’ – Green Tunis. I expected to like it; I didn’t expect to love it, to feel at home amidst its people and amidst the calm, relaxing natural beauty of the country.
For the five days I was there, I awoke (with one exception) quite early to walk on the beach. I walked from the hotel (Ramada Plaze, in Gammarth) to the beach. There was no fence separating one part of the beach from the other.
I shared the beauty of the sunrise, every morning, with a few local fishermen (who were looking, quite unsuccessfully, for salmon), and a young man who played with his dogs, and two joyful independent stray dogs.
The hotel was a good distance away from the coast. No house claimed the coast. No fence. No fee. Rather, the beach, the sea, the coast line were – and are – clearly for all, for the public, for the people.
During the time that I was there, a woman was raped by the police. She was found in a car with her boyfriend when the police apprehended her and raped her while in custody. The judge then charged with indecent behavior (due to her actions in the car with her boyfriend). Appalling. Yes.
Yet – the response from the Tunisian society was beautiful! All the media stood with her. No one claimed she had asked for it, or brought it on herself. No one attempted to justify the acts of the police. No one attempted to justify the action of the judge. There in lies the beauty, the hope, the inspiration. I am no longer shocked by crimes of the police or judicial system; is it the response of the people that I look to.
On a Tunisian talk show, the female and male hosts had four guests, two men and two female. All of them were consistent in their objection to violence against women. The discussion was not a debate, a presentation of different perspectives. Rather, it was a logical, rational, and passionate discussion about what to do now, why did the police behave this way, how the girl – and others – can be protected, what people should do… It was inspirational!
I remembered a Lebanese talk show. (Unfortunately, I don’t remember the particular tv show). The topic was domestic violence. The host had invited two men and two women – to discuss the issue. The women, quite pathetically, argued that domestic violence was wrong, and the men, with the encouragement of the host, argued that domestic violence was fine, that they beat their wives and they were right to do so. Domestic violence – for that show – becamse a perspective, a viewpoint!
Tunis remains the Arab country with strong legislation for women – and thus for society as a whole.
Even now, with people agitating against Tunis being pushed into the hands of the “Muslim Brotherhood,” even now, with difficult struggles for economic justice, I see in Tunis what I dream of for Lebanon, for all the Arab countries.
Yes, perhaps my eyes and heart are clouded with the beauty of the country, the wonderful warmth and easy-nature of the people, the sweet sound of the Tunisian accent, the rich food. Perhaps I am romanticizing the country. Allow me that romance. Allow it for a moment.
Coming from Lebanon, I realize that the most basic of rights — the right to the commons, the right to be safe from harm, the right to be treated as a full human being — are not that pervasive. Coming from my childhood in Bahrain, and my youth in North Carolina, the same applies.
The struggle for equality continues in Tunis, yes. May the Left in Tunis continue to grow in strength. May Tunis continue to inspire us all. May we all continue to inspire each other.