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Thursday, 5 July 2012

Timbuktu's Islamophobic Islamists (and don't forget Tunisia)

Tragic to read that historic Muslim shrines in Timbuktu, in Mali, are being destroyed by Islamists. Yes, Islamists destroying Islamic shrines. Yet more proof that being a political Islamist and being a pious Muslim are not one and the same thing. As one British former Islamist, Maajid Nawaz, put it recently (following his recent trip to the Middle East on a Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel fact-finding trip): 
I became an Islamist without ever having read the Koran...People may not know but Islamists often come from educated, liberal backgrounds, in fact many of them are irreligious. Disillusionment with what they see around them, coupled with a powerful ideological narrative, leads to their political conversion. The ritual aspect of Islam, things like praying and fasting, I have noticed, comes as an afterthought.
Meanwhile, given that the Arab Spring began in Tunisia, is anyone paying attention to what has happened there in recent weeks? I appreciate that we've been all been busy watching urgent sport, but it would be nice if somebody cared. Apart from some genuinely commendable anti-terror co-operation, I am ignorant of what the UK is doing re:- Tunisia, and our embassy's website leaves me little the wiser. 

I don't mean to sound cynical or critical of individuals, as there is doubtless lots of great work being done - besides, when did it become our job to solve all the problems of the world? Having said that, I blogged previously about the UK's tremendous efforts to bolster good governance, free media and the open society across the Middle East and North Africa, as highlighted in an excellent speech by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg

As a British taxpayer, I am genuinely very pleased that the UK is spending £40 million on the Arab Partnership Participation Fund "for political reform, supporting free and fair elections, stronger parliaments, media and judiciaries". In Tunisia in 2011/12, this UK fund paid for projects with such titles as "Supporting the media to develop a code of conduct for reporting on elections", "Transforming National Tunisian Television into a Public Service Broadcaster" and "Protection of freedom of expression" - and I'm all for that. 

But it is highly dispiriting, particularly in light of these great British endeavours, to read today on the BBC that: 
The Tunisian commission tasked with reforming the country's media has resigned, citing government censorship.
Kamel Labidi, head of The National Authority for the Reform of Information and Communication, said it "does not see the point in continuing its work"..."The body warns of the gravity of the situation in the realm of information and accuses the government of reverting to forms of censorship and disinformation," Mr Labidi said.
What is there to say?  


  1. Important to separate different types of Islamism - the Ennahda brand which is political, fairly soft, but still a long way from Western secular values, and Salafism, which is not necessarily violent, but has a core violence of ideology. Of course, muzzling the media is something that happens all over the world, particularly in countries with fragile democracy. It may not be a specifically Islamist activity.

  2. Lots of different kinds of Islamists, from the fairly soft Ennahda guys in power in Tunisia to the Salafists rioting (whose ideology is no different to the vandals of Timbuktu - but they have varied methods). I make this point as it's important to understand these distinctions. I wonder if muzzling the press is not an Islamist trait but associated with insecure governments in fairly weak democracies?

  3. Thanks for both comments, the first of which for some reason went into spam, from where I have just retrieved it.