By Jamel Arfaoui
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki recently issued a call to the Constituent Assembly to adopt a law incriminating takfir, or accusations of apostasy.
“The use of this dangerous style in the expression of intellectual differences is a threat to peace among the citizens of one country and spreads sedition among them,” Marzouki said in a February 25th statement.
The measure would help “preserve the co-existence of Tunisians”, according to the president. He hinted at some groups that “deliberately” exercise takfir against others.
“No one has the right to lay such accusation against fellow citizens, given that it could lead to violence, which is repressible in principle,” Marzouki wrote.
Most Tunisians welcomed the call.
“I wish a clause would be added in the constitution explicitly criminalising takfir, the pace of which has increased in recent times,” specialist in Islamic groups Alia Allani told Magharebia.
According to Allani, “takfir is one of the ways of negating ‘the other’ politically and was used during the eras of decadence”.
A number of attacks against journalists and intellectuals occurred in Tunis recently. Some of them were attributed to Salafists. Al-Maghreb editor Zied Krichen, academics Abdelhalim Messaoudi and Hamadi Redissi were among victims of assaults. The interim government denounced the acts and vowed to prosecute the perpetrators.
Last month, Interior Minister Ali Larayedh announced that security forces had uncovered a terrorist cell seeking to “establish an Islamic emirate in Tunisia”. He pointed out the terrorist threat was “still present in Tunisia” and called for addressing it with ” education, religious advocacy, the media, culture, justice, security and by providing social and economic responses”.
Political activist Abou El Alaa Ghawar agreed that the initiative “came belatedly” but supported the call.
Allegations of apostasy are foreign to Tunisian society and “marginalise the legitimate demands of Tunisian people”, according to the activist.
“We hope the National Constituent Assembly takes on the responsibility to reinstate the debate on the issues of concern to public opinion in Tunisia, such as unemployment and the marginalisation of the interior regions,” college student Tarek Messidi said.
“We have been experiencing this violence and assault on freedom of expression since January 14th, 2011, and the interim president did not comprehend it until it affected his party,” human rights activist Bochra Bel Haj Hmida told Magharebia.
“All that is needed now is a clear position on all sides, from the entire government and the Constituent Assembly, against this phenomenon and against the use of mosques for political propaganda and advocacy of violence, cursing, insulting and harming the people,” she added. “Otherwise we can’t build a democracy in Tunisia.”