La revolution est morte, vive la revolution!

The results of the first elections held in post-Ben Ali`s Tunisia are  finally official. The ISIE announced few hours ago the final numbers which confirm the majority of seats (90) -over 217 composing the future Constituent Assembly- to be assigned to Ennahdha party. 

So, Ennahdha  has won, as expected. There is no surprise in this. We have been talking about these elections for months and the victory of Ennahdha was largely predicted by analysts.

Nevertheless, it seems there are at least two categories of people who are surprised (even shocked).

The first category is made up by some Western press, led by the French. It is such a big scandal for the civilized republique to see the “Jasmine revolution” hijacked by a bunch of “barbus”! How is it possible that the gentle, the soft, the “bloodless” “Facebook and Twitter revolution”, the revolution led by this globalized tech-savvy youth has been taken over by a bunch of Islamists who are now ready to turn the Jasmine country into an Islamic-inspired state where Westerners would possibly not be able to enjoy the beauty of the “carte postale” they have fabricated for the eyes of Club Med lovers only… How is it possible to have betrayed the “real spirit” of this “peaceful”, “secular”, “electronic” revolution?

We should rather ask ourselves: how is it possible that the same West -US, Europe, and particularly France- that has supported financially and militarily Tunisia`s neighbor Libya`s revolution -clearly marked by an “Islamic” flavor- are now feeling so “offended” by Ennahdha`s victory  in the first post-Ben Ali`s elections?

Is it possible for us to accept such a double standard? The financial and military interest behind Western support to Libya`s armed revolution is so clear that it`s even not worthy to spend more time discussing it. The disgusting part, however, is that we are still fearing for an Islamic caliphate to be established in Tunisia at the same time we are thinking to oil revenues to be generated in the future shariaa ruled free Libya.

Don`t you think that we have been discussing Ennahdha`s victory for too many months now and maybe, the mere fact that we have been so much discussing it has even contributed to their success? Sometimes demonizing “the enemy” does result in raising his popularity. A strategy based on acting against something instead of acting pro-something has never led to positive results.

The other category of surprised people are Tunisian elites, mostly leftists, progressive, secularized. The sentence I`ve been hearing the most in their circles and cafes and lounges is: “who are we, the Tunisians?We thought we were educated, open minded, progressive whereas we are backward, populist and against modernity”. Tunisian elites are under shock. As if they are up after a nightmare and they can`t believe it wasn`t actually a nightmare but it is the reality that they have to face.

Frankly, I can understand the shock but not the surprise. The only real surprise to me was to see this Mr Hemshi Hemdi, leader of the new formed movement Arida Chaabia, to gain so many seats by sitting comfortably in London where he has been residing for years and years. He is the probably the only one who really made an “Internet revolution”: he has built his political movement virtually, from scratch, gaining 19 seats . And not by chance, the majority of his supporters are in the place which has give “birth” to the 14 Janvi revolution, Sidi bouzid.

Why these fierce people, who have first revolted against Ben Ali`s regime and inspired so many others to do the same, why should they vote for a guy like Hemdi? Hemdi is the founder of the TV channel al Moustaqilla (the independent) which was the first TV channel to oppose the former regime, broadcasting from London since 1999. But apparently a deal between Hemdi and Ben Ali took place, and the channel  has lowered its opposition voice becoming a sort of populist and even Islamic-flavored pro-regime channel.

Why the fierce population of Sidi bouzid should have voted for this guy? and not only voted: few hours ago protests erupted in town and Ennahdha office there was set to fire, as a response to the ISIE`s decision to invalidate 19 seats gained by Hemchi`s Aridha Chaabia.

I believe the key of Hemchi`s success are in a couple of things that should let us to some more in-depth considerations.

First, “The People’s Petition party includes three broad popular ideas and key demands: the formation of a democratic constitution, the adoption of a system of free health care, and the dispensation of grants to the  unemployed”. Words like free, health care, grants, unemployed should have sound as honey for the Sidi bouzid`s people, especially the youth. They have felt neglected after 14 janvi. Despite being  praised and glorified by everybody, none of the interim governments in the post-Ben Ali has really adopted any concrete move towards them -even the simplest, but with the highest symbolic value: paying a visit to the place where the revolution has started-. It is a kind of revenge: you have ignored us, we will ignore you.

Second, breaking any possible bond with the former (and classical) party-structure, even the one of opposition parties like the PDP, seems to be a reason  behind this vote. It is a vote of protest, a vote which says “enough” with the past. Ironically enough, none of these people has thought that Hemchi himself is indeed the past, by having been former opposition and then, all of a sudden, very friendly to the Ben Ali`s regime. Moreover, many of former RCDs members have joined Arida Chaabia, representing a continuity more than a rupture with the past.

Third, Hemchi comes from Sidi bouzid. He is “one of them”, despite having been living for years abroad and despite the fact that he didnt even come back to his birth place for the elections campaign. Sidi bouzid rarely had its “sons” joining central power and its instances were never heard in a structure of power mostly made by a ruling elite coming from the Sahel part of Tunisia (like Ben Ali himself). Voting for him is a parochial choice at the best, a “tribal” choice at the worst.

Ignoring all these aspects and not working on them is like playing with fire in future Tunisia.

Just as an example, how to ignore what  this vote seems to show, i.e. Tunisian society is still very much shaped around a tribal family structure culture rather than a nuclear family one? How to ignore that the gap between central Tunisia on the one hand and coastal Tunisia (including the capital) on the other hand are world apart?

Whilst the elite used to think that almost everybody had a “urban culture” background in Tunisia, this vote could show instead that there is a wide gap still in place between the city and the countryside as opposite cultures.

The communication gap between the elites and the sha3b (people) has been existing for decades, but maybe overshadowed by dictatorship. The heavy burden of Ben Ali`s regime has prevented Tunisians to see that there was a lack of communication hence a lack of cooperation between the two sides.

The fact itself that the PDP and many other leftist coalitions`s campaigns were designed around issues like secularism, maintaining civil rights, etc proves that they missed the point. Talking about secularism to people who want to listen about jobs, houses and hope does not sound as the right choice. And then religion has worked out its role too.

Having witnessed Ennahdha supporters` spontaneous celebrations two days ago was very instructive. People, mostly women, were chanting with energy and passion: “as-sha3b yurid al-nahdha min jedid” (the people want a new re-birth). They were so clever to build on the most important slogan of the Arab Springs: “as-sha3b yurid” (il popolo vuole). Then the name of the party itself -Ennahdha- means “re-birth”, so it suits pretty much to this idea of a new future of hope.

Les jeux sont faits for now. Tunisians really need to work to reduce this gap between Tunisians and Tunisians that Ben Ali has alimented and at the same time kept hidden for decades.

Are the Arab Springs an Islamic Renaissance? Random thoughts after a busy election day..

Since the very morning of this first “after-election” day, the atmosphere in Avenue Bourghiba has been “worried”. Even without official numbers and with results not released yet, the majority of journalists, artists and intellectuals that overcrowd the beautiful outdoor cafes and “terrasse” all along the Avenue have been very worried by the rumors that circulated since yesterday night. Ennahdha, the Islamist party, has probably won the elections, reporting the majority of votes, hence the most representatives at the soon-to-be first Tunisian Constituent Assembly.

I have spent all the morning sitting with these people, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and discussing about the future of Tunisia. Different people, whom I met in different cafes along the Avenue, repeating the same sentence as a broken disc: “I `ve never thought Tunisian people could be like that”.. “It`s like looking at yourself in the mirror and discovering a side that was always hidden” ..”We didnt know our own people. It`s just like having to get up after a nightmare”..”Is this the feeling we were hiding behind  decades of dictatorship?”…”I really dont know who my fellow Tunisian citizens are”..

I remember to have felt exactly this way some years ago (and more than once) in my own country. “How can my own people be like that? Didnt` I know them? what`s wrong with them?”..Maybe, a better question after so many years of “Berlusconism” would be: “what`s wrong with me? and why I didnt understand what was going on?”.

I spared this question to myself and to my poor interlocutors and took a cab for another meeting in a different area of town. Speaking with the driver in Tunisian dialect only (which I force myself to understand, even if I`m too used to “bilad as-Sham”) I discovered that he didnt vote. I asked him why and he answered “kullu kif kif” (they are all the same) “I dont know for whom I should have`s so confusing,there are  too many parties” and, again, they are “kullu kif kif”. Then he added:” the youth did the revolution..we watched..let them vote..let us watch the results of their vote”.

At the meeting, again sitting with journalists and intellectuals working for a famous local radio station, same situation as Avenue Bourghiba. Maybe, with a better sense of humor: some of them started to address to the female presenters -all gorgeously dressed and beautiful- that “in a very close future you will have to wear hijab (the veil) or maybe niqab (the integral veil)”. The males were exorcising the “Islamists` treat” by saying: “at least, I will marry four of you!”. Melted with the humor there was a certain feeling of defeat, indeed. A bad feeling of misunderstanding, as if your own child had done something completely wrong, completely against your beliefs.

Another taxi, driving me to another area of town. This time, the taxi driver, knowing when I was heading to – Nessma, the TV station which few days before the elections broadcasted the French movie “Persepolis”, consequently generating street protests (see my previous post on it)– shouted at me:” why are you going there? they are against our religion, they have offended  Islam!”. Then added :” I voted for Ennahda, I am a Muslim and my identity is Islamic. I want this to be acknowledged by our new democratic country”. The guy was struggling to make his life: feeding children, sending them to school. He just wanted a simple life, and his Islamic identity to be reflected by the new Constitution.

After the Tunisian-dialect-only cab ride I`ve  finally reached the studios of the “incriminated” TV station. Here, lots of young people, I would describe them not exactly as intellectuals but basically a globalized youth, was commenting the elections (partial) results, again with a mixed feeling of irony and defeat. All secularized Muslims, all fearing an “Islamic state” to erase their “secular culture” (I will here translate with “secular” something which in Arabic sounded more as “civic culture”, thaqafa madaniyya).

Then the first guests came. They were supposed to join a live debate on the elections. None of them was from Ennahda, they were all coming from defeated parties or from parties which gained something, but not in “pole position”. I asked the show producer why Ennahda was not there, and he replied that they had invited them, but hadnt heard back, probably as a “counter-reaction” to the “Persepolis” issue.

A lady from Takattoul, one of the parties which actually did not (apparently) go bad at the elections, started to challenge the other guests on the Ennahda identity issue. “What did the Tunisian people choose? did they choose a model of society or a political party?“. Then she added: “The old distinction between we (the secularists or leftists) being more “pro-West” and them (the Islamists) being more sharqiyyn (Oriental) has been proven wrong. All the “Westernized” Tunisians, those who live in Europe (particularly in France) have voted for Ennahda”. And then: “We have been defeated cause we do not know how to work with the people, we do not know how to reach out to them. Ennahda knew how to do this, and had social links with the more disadvantaged classes. They exploited this knowledge. But they are a party, just a political party which has learnt how to use this skill”. “They are not a movement, not a model for society, they are just a party like the others”.

The live show after this first one was more interesting, as it featured some high level intellectuals as the sociologist Hamadi Redissi. He was very outspoken vis-a`-vis Nessma TV itself and said: “The Persepolis affair could have lowered the Islamists` appeal or actually helped them to gain more. The latter is what actually happened. There was a popular counter-reaction to a channel which was trying to “show the people the possible bad consequences of choosing Islam as the fundamental of the state”. The people felt offended and this ended up to raise Ennahda popularity”.

But when some of the other guests started with the “self-pity” phase, Redissi was very rational in reminding everybody that: “the independents failed..the marxists failed..the nationalists failed…even the constitutional parties failed..but the reasons for which Ennahda is winning are not only related to religion.There is a refusal of the past in the popular vote, there is the frustration for the financial crisis, too..there is the identity issue, whereas Islam becomes an identity mark. Then there is the Nessma factor, which has a marginal role but, still, it`s a part of this chain”.

One of the guests echoes: “yes, and there is the huge gap between the countryside and the city..the gap between hundreds of intellectuals and millions of people. Religion ended up to be a culture among cultures”.

This sentence -“the gap between hundreds of intellectuals and millions of people” – resonates in my head as I reach my hotel, back to Avenue Bourghiba. There is a festive atmosphere and I cannot prevent myself from asking to the hotel staff -in Arabic only- if they are happy for the elections results (still temporary even now at 1am). Yes, sure they are. “The entire hotel staff voted for Ennahda” says the concierge and adds “my neighborhood -in the banlieu of Tunis- has all voted for Ennahda, so everybody is celebrating”. The situation is so surreal, if I only think of all these (hundreds of) people, sitting here outside, discussing politics, sipping their beers and blaming on their fellow Tunisians who did not understand how civilized the country was supposed to be. I`m trying to count how many hotels are here in town, and picturing myself a scene where all the staff in each hotel in town is celebrating while all the intellectuals that are sitting in all the cafes are actually complaining (and I`m wondering: what about the cafes staff, will they all be like the hotels staff?).

The concierge smiles at me as for calming down an hypothetical fear that I should have -as a Westerner- :” we wont oblige everybody to wear the veil! We just want a little bit of order and of dignity, we want respect for our traditions, family, religion..”.

I`m not scared at all and I trust his words completely. But I cannot prevent myself from thinking that his discourse towards order and security and tradition resembles so much to a discourse that I`ve been hearing for years in my country, and it was not coming from an Islamist party. They all resemble each other, it is a small world  and even people who seem not to have anything in common might have tons of stuff indeed.

But then I contradict myself again and think: if we have let somebody as the weirdest mix ever -a separatist party, a former Fascist party and a self-declared liberal party which is indeed protecting their “little club” interests- govern together, despite the conflict of interest, the legal issues, the unveiled corruption etc why should we be scared of a party that has been banned for years and has not done anything yet? Let them govern, then let the people decide again..That`s the bitter-sweet rule of “Democracy”.

Then I cannot prevent myself from thinking, as a leftist, as a secularist: there is something wrong not in them, but in us. We have moved away from the streets, retired in our comfortable lounges where we had talked philosophy, watched arty movies, discussed fine intellectual questions..and what`s left? somebody else has taken the streets. This should not lead to a complain, rather to a reaction. Dear fellow Tunisians, please do not complain. please be aware of what you have done, you have run the first democratic elections in your country. This is a hell of a lot.

We cannot pretend, us who were on the ground, not to have been aware of the fact that the Arab springs will be the Islamic Renaissance (Nadha, in Arabic..and it`s not by chance). We cannot pretend not to have known that a democratic Middle East is gonna be an Islamic Middle East, at least at a first stage.

And, in the very moment I`m writing this, I get a news alert from Al Jazeera saying that Ennahda is prepared to make an alliance with some of the other parties, even if secular.At the end of the day, politics is politics, no matter if  we are in Ennahda`s new Tunisia or in Berlusconi`s  old Italy.   

Cronaca dalle prime elezioni libere in Tunisia

“Tunisi vota” , dice il manifesto che e` affisso ovunque per le strade…

e pare cosi sia stato…gli ultimi dati danno il 90% di affluenza sul totale dei registrati al voto (circa 4.100.000 Tunisini, su un totale di 11.000 (dati Isie) -ma e` da non dimenticare che la maggioranza della popolazione tunisina e` fra i 15 e i 25 anni).

Altri cartelloni colorati come questi












ricoprono i seggi, spiegando come si vota e come si fa l`ormai famoso “dito blu” di cui tutti i Tunisini vanno fieri, che dimostra di aver partecipato al voto.






Infatti tutti appena usciti dal seggio lo esibiscono come un trofeo, alcuni con un personale messaggio al precedente regime di Ben Ali.

La cosa veramente rimarchevole e` la compostezza e la pazienza con cui -almeno nei seggi che ho potuto visitare di persona- la gente ha affrontato ore e ore di code sotto al caldo..e pensare che in mezzo al traffico di Tunisi basta un minuto in piu di attesa per far schiamazzare tutti i clacson. Vederli ora questi Tunisini, cosi` composti, pazienti, e orgogliosi di loro stessi, dare una lezione di civilta` al mondo intero..e` uno spettacolo che fa veramente venire i brividi a noi Italiani ormai lucidi e -putroppo- disincantati rispetto alla sacralita del gesto di votare.

Mi colpisce non solo la compostezza e la fierezza di questi Tunisini in fila, ma anche la “rilassatezza” ai seggi (che puo` essere anche intepretata di segno negativo), la spontaneita con cui ci lasciano filmare, fotografare, dentro al seggio

e poi fuori, addirittura con la polizia, che forse non ha letto quello che c`e scritto sulla maglietta del mio amico ” Il popolo ha liberato la polizia”

In ogni caso, come mi dice Mounir -che parla perfetto italiano, come tantissimi Tunisini- “non importa chi vincera`, il popolo tunisino ha gia vinto, perche si e` ripreso in mano il suo destino”.

il parco adiacente la casa di Ben Ali, a Sidi Dhrif, “liberato” e aperto al pubblico


#15 ott: dimenticare i 500 e concentrarsi sui 495.500

Il #15ott e` andato e quello che sembra restare e` una polemica infinita sulle violenze di uno sparuto gruppo di persone, per i quali si e` dovuta riesumare la vecchia definizione di “black bloc” gia` in voga all`epoca di Genova 2001.

Alle persone e ai media italiani impegnati oggi a discutere l`uso della violenza che ha devastato Roma e la sconfitta del movimento degli “indignados” che ieri avrebbe dovuto fare il suo debutto in Italia vorrei ricordare un paio di concetti importanti.

Uno: ieri ci sono state manifestazioni in tutta Europa e in tutto il mondo, tutte generate dal “movimento” dal basso “occupy”, quello che cerca di riprendersi citta` e istituzioni schiacchiate dalla dittatura capricciosa della finanza globale e da stati inermi e soggiogati. Mi risulta che in nessun posto ci fossero 500.000 persone, come si sono viste a Roma. Perche` non proviamo a parlare di quei 495.500, invece di parlare di quei 500 che si sono dati da fare a devastare la citta? Perche` dobbiamo sempre sminuirci, quando quella di ieri a Roma e` stata una sfilata di forze nuove in campo, 495.500 persone scese in piazza senza un`organizzazione, senza un partito, ma con una causa comune? Roma e` stata la citta che ha registrato piu presenze, e questo non si puo perdere nel chiacchiericcio mediatico del post manifestazione, preso dall`orrore perbenista per le devastazioni di ieri. L`argomento principale non e` e non deve essere quei 500. L`argomento principale sono i 495.500 scesi in piazza ieri, senza partiti e senza organizzazione…

Due: ..e senza servizi d`ordine. Chi e` un “habitue” delle manifestazioni, sa che scendere in piazza con l`allora fu Rifondazione comunista o con il PD o con i Cobas o qualsiasi realta organizzata significa anche garantire un certo tipo di ordine dentro al corteo. Il partito o il sindacato ha il suo servizio d`ordine, organizzato, e ha molte piu probabilita di individuare ed isolare persone intenzionate a creare caos e violenza. Ma in una manifestazione come quella di ieri, dal basso per l`appunto, i servizi d`ordine organizzati erano pochissimi, come scarse le aderenze ufficiali di partiti, sindacati, e realta “istituzionali”. Gli “indignados” e quelli degli “occupy” movements sono realta dal basso, decentrate, “disorganizzate”. Una lettura intelligente del movimento da parte delle forze dell`ordine responsabili di tenere, appunto, l`ordine, avrebbe dovuto capire questo, e regolarsi di conseguenza. I 500 invece, organizzatissimi, lo sapevano benissimo e hanno giocato su questo. La loro tattica e` appunto disperdersi fra queste persone per usarle da scudo e fare guerriglia urbana. Possibile che le forze dell`ordine non lo sapessero? possibile che non l`avessero previsto? perche` dovrebbe essere colpa dei 495.500, che pure hanno fatto di tutto, come anche documentato da alcuni giornali, per isolare i 500?

il carro del teatro Valle occupato -cinema Palazzo occupato

Tre: ignorare il fatto che in Italia la protesta “indignados” e “occupy” non fosse anche una protesta direttamente rivolta contro il governo Berlusconi e` da ingenui. Questo va assolutamente preso in considerazione. Quella di ieri, quella dei 495.500, e` una protesta contro la finanza globale e il governo Berlusconi e la sua corruzione, e le sue ingiustizie..non e` una protesta qualunquista di 500 che mettono a ferro e fuoco la citta..non dimentichiamolo

scontri a San Giovanni

Quattro: Non dimentichiamo che le richieste di queste 495.500 persone -come di tutte le altre riunite a manifestare in Europa e nel mondo, come di quelli che ancora non sono scesi ma dalle loro case si rodono dentro per le ingiustizie e i soprusi di questo sistema globale- sono richieste legittime. Il dibattito del post #15ott deve essere concentrato su questo e non sui 500. Sara` anche compito degli indignados -o non so come vogliamo chiamare questi 495.500 che ieri erano in piazza- costruire il dissenso giorno per giorno , e non lasciare che la loro marcia di ieri sia offuscata da quei 500 e che tutto cada nel dimenticatoio. La marcia pacifica di ieri e` soltanto un passaggio di un processo iniziato gia da mesi -per esempio con le numerose occupazioni che ci sono in giro in tutta Italia, la piu significativa quella del teatro Valle a Roma- e continua oggi e la prossima settimana. Non saranno certo i 500 di ieri ad arrestarlo.

In Italia c`e molta piu gente di quanto noi stessi pensiamo che capisce e condivide le ragioni di questo movimento.

Ieri, quando sono andata in Piazza San Giovanni per dare una mano, insieme ad altri volontari, ai ragazzi dell`Ama che stavano pulendo il delirio creato dalla violenza dei 500, sono rimasta sorpresa quando, cercando di scusarmi con questi lavoratori che devono passare la notte a ripulire il “post-dissenso”, mi hanno detto:

“siamo contro la violenza, e quello che e` successo ad opera di pochi e` sbagliato. Ma la manifestazione e` giusta, le richieste sono giuste e sacrosante, e noi siamo d`accordo”.

Nessun risentimento nelle loro parole. Se quei 495.500 non sono il capro espiatorio di lavoratori che sono costretti tutta la notte a ripulire dall`incivilta`, perche` dovrebbero esserlo per i media o per altri cittadini?

Penso che dovremmo prendere tutti ad esempio l`umilta e l`apertura di queste persone e andare avanti, nel modo corretto, anche per loro.

con i volontari e i ragazzi dell`Ama a ripulire San Giovanni

Nessma TV: the Tunisians` “Danish cartoon crisis”

It seems that the Arab world finally finally got its “Danish cartoon crisis”.  And it is coming from liberated Tunisia.

Some background: last Friday October 7th the Tunisian channel Nessma TV broadcasted  “Persepolis”, a cartoon movie by well known French-Iranian illustrator Marjane Satrapi. The movie contains a scene where God is depicted, something that is largely rejected amongst Sunni Muslims (whereas in Shiia-majority Iran this would widely accepted, as Yves Gonzales-Quijano points out in his blog).

Nessma TV `s decision to broadcast a movie that was already supposed to be controversial on paper was questioned on Facebook days before the actual broadcast happened, as pointed out here:

“When Nessma’s plan to broadcast Persepolis became known, comments began to appear on Facebook denouncing Nessma and calling for protesters to march on the station’s headquarters on October 9. Police were at the building that morning. They prevented most of the protesters from reaching the building and made some arrests”.

 Mehdi M’ribah -who was preparing an article for discussing the Facebook polemics revolving around “Persepolis”- also remarks that the heated debate started on the social network before the actual broadcast of the movie. Had it not been dubbed into Tunisian dialect (classical Arabic or “fusha” is the official language of Tunisia but Tunisian “3ammiah” is the daily language and the one which goes directly to the hearth of the people) it wouldn`t probably have generated such a controversy. M`ribah stresses that the film had gone “unnoticed for the majority of Tunisians when it was released”, most probably because it was in fusha. The linguistic argument is also remarked by the above mentioned article of Yves Gonzales-Quijano.

So, the premises for an heated debate, probably turning into something even more complicated, were already there. Despite this, and despite the very delicate political moment (elections happening on October 23rd), Nessma TV  broadcasted the movie October 7th.

In response to that, on October 9th a group of people that has widely been labelled as “islamists” or “salafists” by the international press -like the majority of French press and even the BBC– gathered in front of the TV station to protest.

“Three hundred people attacked our offices and tried to set fire to them,” Nessma TV chairman Nebil Karoui told AFP.

After this episode, Nessma TV has become the favorite topic of discussion amongst many international news outlets and, unfortunately, amongst many Tunisians,too, as Sophie-Alexandra Aiachi has noted in her article on Nawaat.

A group of people, which includes 131 lawyers, has been reported to have filed a complaint against Nessma TV and its director Nebil Karoui.

“The press code says in articles 44 and 48 that a person found guilty of inciting hatred among religions or insulting a religion can be sentenced to prison. Penal code article 226bissays that a person found guilty of undermining public morals by “intentionally disturbing other persons in a way that offends the sense of public decency” can be sentenced to prison”.

As a response, Human Rights Watch and many international media have raised up and asked  Tunisia`s  interim authorities to “respect free expression and approve pending amendments to abolish the “defaming of religion” law”.

The verbal fights continue whilst today other anti-Nessma protests were held in central Tunis. Blogger Malek Khadhraoui remarked on Twitter that “the demonstration has passed by my office, the non-veiled women and non-bearded men are by far more than the bearded and the veiled” (original tweet in French). Tunisia-Live also reports that, according to residents, the protesters were ordinary youth who felt that their religion had been offended whilst the police decided to react by throwing tear-gas and even rubber bullets against them.

While the Nessma TV affairs continues and the election day approaches, I feel that few remarks have to be made.

First of all, the Islamist party Ennahda -which is reported to be at pole position in the electoral competition- has officially condemned the use of violence against Nessma through the words of  Noureddine El Bhiri, Head of the Political Office of Ennahda, interviewed by Tunisia Live.

“On the other hand, Mr. Bhiri stated clearly that Ennahda does not encourage violence against Nessma and considered the attack attempt against the channel “unacceptable.” “We are completely against the use of violence for any reason, and we don’t see violence as the solution for any sort any sort of issue,” commented Bhiri”.

At the same time, Bihri points out something that should be investigated further by international and Tunisian journalists. Apparently, there are electoral campaign rules set by the Inependent High Authority for the Elections (ISIE) that ban political advertisement. According to Bhri, broadcasting such a movie was a political move in an attempt to undermine Islamic religion and, consequently, the Ennhada party.

I am not enough aware of Tunisian laws to judge if Bihri`s statement is correct or not, but I think Tunisians should do this work and investigate more.

More generally, whether if what Nessma TV has done is formally against the law or not, this is not the core issue, because what the station has done is surely against the rules of respect and good taste. In such a delicate period for the country, why raising such a useless polemic? Why not focusing on real issues instead of using a movie -which is so far away from Tunisia and its situation- to hurt the religious feelings of Tunisians right now?

Why are we supposed to read such a gratuitous provocation as freedom of expression? Freedom of expression is not an abstract concept and does not exist in absolute terms. It should be framed in a context of ethics and respect. This is exactly what happened with the Danish cartoon crisis. Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten was claiming the right to publish whatever in the name of absolute freedom of expression but, in doing so, it was hurting the religious feelings of millions of Muslims.

It was a bad idea to broadcast that movie on that evening, in this historical moment. Provocation does not mean freedom.

We as European should note salute everything that comes in the name of “freedom of expression” as a good thing. W as European should not just judge “secularism” or “laicite`” as an absolute concept and absolutely beneficial for every society.

I invite everybody who reads French to have a look at this very interesting paper by one of the most active Tunisian blogger and lawyer, “Astrubal de Tunisie”.

His article  “L`Islam religion d`Etat, disposition constitutionnelle garante du processus seculariste de la democratie tunisienne” is enlightening.

Although, as he points out very well in the introduction, it becomes very difficult in another language rather than French to make the distinction between “laicite`” and “secularism”, I`ll try to translate a few sentences. Like the following, which refers to Western democracies like Greece, Denmark or Finland that have succeeded in achieving a secularization process without forcing any kind of “laicite`” a`la francaise.

“Furthermore, we are not talking about laic countries, in the French meaning of the term,  but, without doubt, about nations that have achieved a high degree of secularization of their institutions. In other terms, recognizing a religious foundation of the State did not represent an obstacle to the separation of civic power from the influence of religion”.

In other terms: why four of the “most democratic countries” of the world (Democracy Index 2010) -Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden- declare officially to have State religion and can still be considered “democratic”, whereas the same cannot happen in the case of Tunisia, or any other Non-Western country?

Why should we provoke the anger of people by offending their religion and insinuating that the fact to be religious and respect religion can eventually lead to obscurantism?

And why should we do this only few days before the elections, just to show Western powers that the “Islamic threat” is there, still alive?

And why don`t  you recall to your memory the protests that happened in the “civilized” Western world when “Passion” of Mel Gibson was out in theaters  or, even before, when “The Last Temptation of Christ” was screened in a cinema in Paris -that very same France obsessed by “laicite”- and 13 people were injured?

I am a staunch secularist and I cannot believe that offending Christianity should be condemned whereas offending Islam can be ok if done in the name of “laicite”.

Plus, to be honest, Martin Scorsese is by far better than Marjane Satrapi.

Waiting for the #15oct in Rome…

Today was a very (in)tense day in Rome. I first left my place to go to Teatro Valle Occupato, a wonderful ancient theater in Rome which has been occupied by actors, intellectuals, creative crews for more than 4 months now.

Since last June, each single day has been filled up by artistic performances, theater plays, video screenings, political debates, all public and all for free. It is a wonderful experience of civic participation in the actual making of culture, which has registered an incredible amount of consensus among citizens. Valle Occupato not only hosts performances but also daily training seminars for free. They are all the result of volunteer work done by professionals and amateurs working in media, culture, creativity.

Today I was hosting a workshop on social media and the use of web 2.0 tools to produce original content, spread information, participate directly in political life.

Not only there was a great audience attending the workshop, but at the same time I had a great example to test instant live tools. #OccupiamoBankItalia is the #OccupyWallStreet kind of protest that has just spread into Italy, particularly in Rome. Activists have taken the control of the very central location of Palazzo delle Esposizioni staircase, in the hearth of Rome, and very close to the Central Bank and to many Ministries.

They have spent the night there yesterday, creating an “indignados” style  of camp, and they are ready to do the same tonight and tomorrow, in preparation of the #15oct protests that have been planned all across Europe for next saturday.

We tried to move our social media training there, at the very hearth of the protests, but many people preferred to stay inside the theater, in order to test the tools and learn how to use them (some of them even find Twitter difficult and too complicate to use). But once the course was over, I went at Palazzo delle Esposizioni and found a very lively situation, a public assembly made by citizens discussing the over-control of banks and global finance over people`s life and the effects of global crisis on basic human and workers` rights.

our course on social media

the dragon of global finance

the dragon of global finance tries to leave Palazzo delle Esposizioni…

When the assembly was over, people suggested to create a march headed by the “dragon of global finance”. The idea was to have people walking on the sidewalks and never on the actual streets, in order not to prevent the normal flow of traffic to happen. The activists would have had just to march on the sidewalks, following the “dragon”, distributing posters and talking to the random people they would have jumped into about the reason of the protest.

So, a very “civilized” way to protest and manifest dissent. But, of course, even in an alleged “democratic” country like Italy, doing such a thing in the very center of the city becomes problematic. The dragon has tried many times to walk on Via Nazionale sidewalks, on every single side surrounding Palazzo delle Esposizioni, but the response of police has been a clear “no”.

People have been trying and trying, always in a pacific way, to walk and go up and down in Via Nazionale but the response of the police till now has been a “no”.

A concert and many other activities are planned for tonight to happen in front of Palazzo delle Esposizioni and activitsts have started to camp there, determined to stay overnight. Police will stay too, and we`ll see what happens.

In any case, this is the first time since many years ago that we have been witnessing such a global connected protest to happen in Italy (maybe since the horrible crackdown of Genova 2001) and this is only the beginning. More planned for #15oct. Stay tuned.

Produrre informazione/Produrre azione

Oggi e domani al Valle Occupato, uno degli spazi di discussione artistica e politica piu interessanti dell`ultimo decennio a Roma, terro` un seminario dal titolo “Produrre informazione/Produrre azione” sull`uso dei social media a scopo informativo ma anche di attivismo. Il seminario e` aperto a tutti e libero.

Ulteriori informazioni sulla pagina del Valle.