By Houda Trabelsi
A Salafist sheikh’s call for young people to “kill Jews” sparked outrage in Tunisia last month, with leaders roundly condemning the extremist speech.
An unknown sheikh made the exclamation at a March 25th rally in Tunis held in support of Sharia law. Video of the incident on Bourguiba Avenue has gone viral but the identity of the sheikh and where he came from remain unknown.
“The call to fight against the Jews is absurd,” the religious affairs ministry said in a statement. “The ministry rejects this attack against all Tunisian citizens,” stressing that “Tunisian Jews are full citizens.”
Roger Bismuth, president of Tunisia’s Jewish community, denounced the speech. “We resent this, and Tunisia is not accustomed to a mentality such as this,” he said.
“I have met Constituent Assembly Speaker Mostafa Ben Jafaar and President of the Republic Moncef Marzouki, and both condemned what this Salafi sheikh put forth,” Bismuth told Magharebia.
“What this sheikh did is not part of our customs in Tunisia and he cannot be Tunisian,” he added. “We now have to be one hand, more than ever, to save the country’s economy and bring in foreign investment and tourists.”
Roughly two thousand Jews live in Tunisia, residing mostly on the island of Djerba.
Human rights activist Saida Garrache said the Salafist sheikh was “a literal translation of ignorance of religion, history, geography and of course politics and law, as he forgot that the Prophet Mohamed married a Jewish woman as a form of concluding peace with the Jews.”
“Judaism is a divine religion recognised in Islam, like Christianity,” she added. “Further, this sheikh is ignorant about Tunisia’s history, because in Tunisia the Jews are above all else Tunisian citizens just like him and have the right in this country equally and in the same capacity as him.”
She said Jews had a history of contributing to building Tunisia, adding that it was a bad message to send to associate Tunisian Jews with the Palestinian issue.
Garacche added that “the incitement to hatred between members of the same society and incitement to murder is punishable by law. And it is a blow to the country’s economy and cuts off the livelihood of Tunisian men and women.”
The call for killing also sparked condemnation among many users of social networking sites, with some demanding that the Tunisian government take the necessary measures and arrest this sheikh.
“Frankly I’m surprised at the silence of the Tunisian government and surprised at leaving these ignorant people to organise demonstrations and giving them license to call for killing,” Mourad Louati, 40, told Magharebia. “We do not want democracy in this form, rather, we want a codified and rational democracy.”
Bouthaina Bouzid, 33, warned of the economic impact, saying that “such anomalous calls that do not reflect the peaceful spirit of the Tunisian people and harm the economy and security of the country at a time when we need stability and more investment opportunities.”
“It is strange that many people with closed minds do not differentiate between Judaism and Zionism, or indeed between the State of Israel and Judaism as a divine religion,” commented Mostafa Riahi.
Jewish Tunisian Masouda Matilde Milan told Magharebia, “Frankly, such calls, alien to our country, threaten our security and our stability and contribute to division between one people.”
“Despite these calls to kills Jews by this Salafi sheikh, we found tremendous solidarity and support from some Muslim friends and loved ones in Tunisia, whom we have lived with for decades in total love and respect,” she said.
“We, as Jews, will not abandon our country, and we will contribute to the country’s development with our Muslim brothers,” she added.