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Tunisia: Salafis Run Amok over ‘Blasphemous’ Art Works

A group of Salafists attacked an art exhibition, Le Printemps des Arts, in La Marsa, (north suburb of Tunis) destroying some of the art works deemed blasphemous to Islam. The small, yet grave incident, soon grew in proportion when hundreds of Salafists – or thugs – attacked a police station in La Marsa, burnt a tribunal in Sidi Hussein (south of Tunis) and stopped police and firefighters from intervening. Clashes with police were reported in two neighborhoods throughout metropolitan Tunis and coastal city Sousse.

The aftermath led to a curfew, starting from Monday, June 12th, after the escalation of violence, in Metropolitan Tunis, Sousse, Monastir, Tabarka, and in other inland regions, including Gabes and Ben Guerdane.

An Interior Ministry official was quoted by the media as saying 162 people had been detained and 65 members of the security forces wounded in the incident.

Since a photography exhibition started such unprecedented hatred and upheaval in the country, the course of the events will be reported in photographs as well. Dozens of pictures were shared among Tunisian citizens who couldn't hide their astonishment – or perhaps amusement – regarding this strange incident.

The controversial photos

Netizens shared the photographs, deemed both blasphemous and insulting to Muslims in Tunisia, on social networks. Their exhibition permitted some hardline Islamists to call for the murder of the young artists who created them. Another fatwa (religious edict) was also issued to murder prominent politicians.

The Aftermath

Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni captured the damages created by the Salafi riot on two police stations in La Marsa and Carthage Byrsa.

The government condoned the allegations against the artists, fueling more tension and division among the Tunisian society. The minister of culture reiterated that there were indeed art works, offensive to Islam, and criticized the artists “lack of knowledge” and “amateurishness”. He publicly undermined the meaningfulness and beauty of the photos at the exhibitions. Meanwhile, calls for more protests and violence did not stop.

Netizen Reaction

The government's reaction triggered the outcry of Tunisian netizens who preferred to express themselves with caricatures and photos.

Willis Fromtunis, shared caricatures to stress the irony of the situation:

Cat n°1: What are the charges against the exposition?
Cat n°2: Disturbing public order

The irony in these two lines is while artists – or writers – accused of blasphemy in the Muslim world are often tried under charges such as disturbing public order, it is usually other people who cause this trouble to the public order and who go unpunished.

Man Cat: I knew that there was a catch in 40 euros for Hotel + airfare + food for two persons!

Other citizens couldn't hide their frustration with the government, the current situation, and the increasing Salafi phenomena.

Photo courtesy to Caroline Law

Mehdi Mabrouk: Minster of non-Culture and Ignorance.

Photo courtesy to the Facebook page “United Pages for Gossip.”

We wish a safe trip to he/she, that wishes for the Saudi/Afghan model. We are in Tunisia here.

Photo courtesy Ghaith Jelassi

Have you ever seen…? Wait, you're Tunisian. You've seen it all.

The image is in reference to the French show, have you ever seen..?.

Photo courtesy to the Facebook page Flask.

Salafi n°1: AAA, How ugly! This painting hurts my feelings! Destroy it now!
Salafi n°2: Boss, it's a mirror..

Photo courtesy to the Facebook page VTV Villains TV

Reconciliation

The tension escalated over a couple of days, until netizens spreadheaded a new message of reconciliation entitled “There aren't two Tunisias.”

A new flash mob has reappeared in social media. The flash mob was originally made some months before by two Tunisian civil society associations, Engagement Citoyens and ACTIF.


Il n'y a pas "deux" Tunisie (flash mob) by mirelle67

There are not two Tunisias; One for the rich and one for the poor.
There are no two Tunisias; One for the youth and the other for the elderly.
There are no two Tunisias; One for the university graduates and another for those who don't have university degrees.
There aren't two Tunisias; One of the coastal regions and another of the inland regions.
There aren't two Tunisias; One for the liberals and another for the conservatives.
There aren't two Tunisias; One for the employed and another for the unemployed.
One for those who live in Tunisia and another for those who live abroad.
One for the governors and another for the governed.
There aren't two Tunisias; One for Men and one for women.
Women's rights in Tunisia is a prerequisite.
Halt to division.
Today, we need to fight for the right of employment, freedom and dignity.

The video exists in both French and Arabic.

Other photos have appeared to reunite Tunisians, those who are religious and those who aren't.

If you pray, good for you. If you don't, then may God help you. However, don't forget; Tunisia is for me and you.

The curfew was lifted on Friday, June 15th, and the situation is now under control.

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