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» 06/18/2012
TUNISIA - ISLAM
The Arab revolution could fail, Islam must modernise
by Bernardo Cervellera
During the first session of the Oasis meeting in Tunis, the country's transition is the main topic of discussion. In a country recently freed from dictatorship, Salafist groups are trying to impose Sharia. Leftwing and atheist parties, which took part in the revolution, are instead trying to ensure freedom for everybody. It is urgent for Islam to be receptive to the principle of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience and protect the rights of those who do not believe. Card Scola addresses the conference. Tunisia's revolution does not depend on the West.

Tunis (AsiaNews) - The Jasmine Revolution, whose initial spark came in Tunisia, could "fail". A solution lies in the "modernisation of Islam" and the "Islamisation of the revolution". This means that the future of Arab revolutions will depend on the room Islam will take and whether it has any place for religious minorities or atheists.

The first session of the scientific committee of Oasis began this morning in Tunis on such a serious note. This year's topic is Religion in a society in transition. How Tunisia challenges the West.

The word "transition" best describes what is happening in that country. After the fall of the dictator, Ben Ali, and the elections won by the Islamist party Ennahda and Salafists, Tunisians are trying to find a common path towards freedom.

Prof Yadh Ben Achour sounded the alarm though. "If Tunisia does not meet the challenge of modernity, the revolution might fail," leading to a new dictatorship, not one based on personal power, but rather on ideology and religion.

For Ben Achour, who is president of Tunisia's High Authority to Achieve the Revolution's Goals, the country's coalition government is split between two tendencies, a radical Islamic wing that wants to introduce Sharia, and a second one that is more open and modern.

For instance, a few days ago, the authorities moved against some radical imams who in their sermons called for the application of Islamic rules in courts (cutting off legs, feet and more) in the case of common crimes. By contrast, they did nothing to stop Salafists when they attacked an art exhibit and burnt some "blasphemous" works by self-styled "atheist" painters and artists.

In Tunisia, civil society can play an important role in countering radical trends. This is especially true for leftwing opposition groups and trade unions, which led the resistance to the Ben Ali's regime, and carried out the revolution, along with the Ennahda.

In his address, Prof Ben Achour noted that during a 2005 hunger strike organised by Ennahda and the left, the two sides agreed on a number of issues concerning the state, women's rights and citizenship. This allowed Ennahda to move "towards democracy" and helped leftwing parties to accept some demands made about Islam.

The strength of civil society explains why Islam will be recognised as "state religion" in Tunisia's constitution, but the country's legal system will not be based on the Sharia (a point Ennahda Chief Rachid Gannouchi also accepts). This is not the case in almost all other Middle Eastern countries.

According to Tunisian-born Harvard Prof Malika Zeghal, coexistence can be based on a balance and the country's past is a source for such optimism.

During the rule of Tunisia's first president, Habib Bourghiba, Islam was a point of reference, but personal freedoms were protected in law and equal rights guaranteed for men and women. Such a balance could be favoured by a "pragmatic compromise" that might lower current tensions. However, more work needs to be done on its foundations.

For Ben Achour, something is needed before all else. Islam must defend freedom of religion, especially freedom of conscience, and this means the possibility for anyone to have no religion (atheism) or change religion.

Without it, Tunisia could slide towards a theocratic state that limits personal freedoms and cuts itself off from its own rich culture, which includes poets and philosophers critical of an Islamic religion reduced to a collection of codified laws.

Card Angelo Scola, president of the Oasis Foundation, opened the morning session with his greetings and address via video linkup since he could not be in Tunis.

In his speech, the archbishop of Milan said that the West must consider the failures of secularisation. In fact, the sacred is making a comeback and this has made it necessary to revitalise freedom of religion, which is the foundation of all freedoms. For Card Scola, space for religions, as a basis for individual dignity, is an area in which Christians and Muslims can work together.   

Modern society defined by openness to man and religion is not the same as today's society. Indeed, Ben Achour and Zeghal criticised the West for holding back the "Jasmine Revolution" and backing the ruling dictator whilst making noises about "Western democracy".

Tunisia's revolution was not influenced by the West, Ben Achour noted. It is an entirely "indigenous" phenomenon. It shows that human beings were created for freedom and that they can sacrifice themselves in their struggle against dictatorships that humiliate and corrupt.

"There is no American plot" behind the Tunisian revolution, Zeghal said, "only the work of Tunisians. For this reason, a compromise among the revolution's various strands will succeed because that is what Tunisians want."


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See also
06/19/2012 TUNISIA - ISLAM
Marzouki at Oasis: Christians, Muslims, Jews and atheists, all brothers in Tunisia
by Bernardo Cervellera
06/22/2009 VATICAN – ISLAM
Progress between Christians and Muslims but problems in Saudi Arabia, says Cardinal Tauran
by Bernardo Cervellera
06/22/2006 ISLAM – EGYPT
Islam, the West, human rights and democracy
by Bernardo Cervellera
06/16/2012 TUNISIA - ISLAM
Oasis in Tunisia: the unfinished revolution and its future
by Bernardo Cervellera
11/16/2005 INTERNET
Summit on the Information Society: internet to remain in US hands

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