Islam Is No Threat To Democracy - Tunisia’s Newly Anointed Islamist Leader Speaks

An exclusive interview with Rached Ghannouchi, whose Islamist party Ennahda was the big winner in Tunisia’s recent landmark election. He vows to work with secularist rivals, promote women's rights and let far more radical Islamists have their say

Islamist party leader Rached Ghannouchi
Islamist party leader Rached Ghannouchi

TUNIS - Rached Ghannouchi heads the Islamist party, the big winner in Tunisia's first post-dictatorship elections. In the 1980s, Mr. Ghannouchi co-founded the Movement of the Islamic Tendency, which later became Ennahda, or Renaissance. Sentenced to life in prison, he fled to Algiers before heading to London, where he'd been living in exile since 1991. After the fall earlier this year of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali he returned to Tunisia.

His party fell short, however, of an outright majority, meaning Ghannouchi will have to form a coalition with his secularist rivals. Just before his party was officially declared the winner Thursday, he sat down for an exclusive interview with Le Monde. The following are excerpts:

Le Monde: You've said you are aiming for a broad-based coalition, but are there any secular parties you refuse to negotiate with?
Rached Ghannouchi:
We are willing to form a coalition with all the parties that were against Ben Ali's regime, no matter what their ideologies are. We can discuss anything. But we refuse to talk to Hachmi Hamdi because he was an ally of the dictatorship. (Hamdi's Popular Petition party came in fourth in Sunday's elections)

Will the Tunis liaison bureau with Israel remain closed?
That's up to the new government. But we are against any normalization of relations with Israel because it is an occupying State that couldn't even reach an agreement with the more moderate Palestinian Liberation Organization, or with Arafat or Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas).

Will you make changes to the personal status laws that protect Tunisian women?
No we won't. But we could strengthen women's rights, regarding salary inequalities for example or setting up child care in the workplace. There's also a lot to do regarding the issue of sexual harassment. We want to take care of that.

How will you deal with your base, which is often said to be more radical? And what about the Salafists?
There's no proof that Ennahda's base is more radical than its leadership. If that were the case, we would have been aware of it and we would have changed our positions. These accusations come from our political rivals, who also accused us baselessly of doublespeak.

Regarding the Salafists, well, they're here. We tried to talk to them and change their vision of Islam, which includes ideas like saying democracy is "haram" (forbidden) or "kafir" (miscreant.) We believe there is no contradiction between Islam and democracy, Islam and modernity, Islam and gender equality. The Salafists are entitled to their own opinion. Even if it's wrong, the state should not intervene unless they turn to violence.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that French aid would hinge upon the protection of human rights . What do you have to say about that?
We don't need such comments to respect human rights. These issues are at the heart of our values and our religion, and Tunisians don't take conditional aid. Agreements between Ben Ali and the European Union also mentioned respect for human rights, but Europe turned a blind eye. We hope this time they'll be paying close attention.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - Wikipedia

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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