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Geopolitics

Why The Jihadists Fear Tunisia

The biggest threat to murderous Islamists are Muslims who believe in democracy.

In a file photo, Tunisians rally for freedom of expression.
In a file photo, Tunisians rally for freedom of expression.

-Editorial-

PARIS — Tunisia represents everything jihadists hate. Without a doubt, this is what drove the attack Wednesday in the heart of the capital that killed 19 people, 17 of them foreign tourists, and wounded 40 others.

No, Tunisia is not just any target. Its exemplary nature is simply intolerable for the followers of this bloodthirsty totalitarianism that we call jihadism.

The country and what it represents are a threat to them. It’s the “counter-model” that must be brought down. Tunisia proves that democracy and Islamic culture are perfectly compatible — a concept that is completely unacceptable for jihadists.

It shows that a Muslim country can adopt a modern Constitution that grants women the same rights as men — unbearable for those barbarians, whose manliness is so easily threatened.

Tunisia embodies an ancient kind of humanism it inherited through a history that dates back to antiquity, and mixes a multitude of cultural influences to the best effect — unthinkable for the terrorists who claim to act in the name of Islam but are actually incapable of expressing themselves differently than by squeezing the trigger of a Kalashnikov, preferably aimed at civilians.

Together with the economy, which relies heavily on tourism, those are the values that were targeted (knowingly or not) in Tunis’ Bardo neighborhood, when two terrorists opened fire on tourists getting off of a bus at the city's main archeological museum.

Symbolically, the Bardo area is home to both Tunisia’s best-known museum and the country's parliament. The killers chased down the tourists even inside the museum. “They were shooting at anything that moved,” a witness later said. The terror lasted four hours, before police officers killed the two attackers and arrested a third one.

In Tunisia there is an Islamist circle that is becoming increasingly active in the shape of a guerilla in the mountains of Western Tunisia, along the border with Algeria. But these men usually target the army; Tunisia had never witnessed a terrorist attack of this scope against civilians.

According to the police, the two assailants were 20-year-old Tunisians. Part of Tunisia’s youth is attracted to jihadism and its deadly rhetoric: several thousands of young Tunisians are believed to be currently fighting with ISIS or other Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq, and 500 more are thought to have returned.

The country’s unrest also comes from the East, where Tunisia is feeling the blast of the chaos that is tearing Libya apart.

In this troubled environment, Tunisians have all the more merit for pushing ahead with a democratic transition that remains unique in the Arab world. They are the ones who in 2011 triggered the movement we ended up calling the “Arab Spring.” They overthrew a corrupt autocrat, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, and since then, one free election at a time, have been instilling the values of democracy in their institutions.

Tunisians are a clear rebuttal to those who swear that Arabs can only ever have the choice between two types of governments: military dictatorship or Islamist tyranny. We need to help them. One way to do that is to not cancel our holiday trips to Tunisia.

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