Opinion: Tunisians are more than ‘some kind of child’

After this week’s violent protests in Tunisia which (as of this writing) climaxed in the torching of the US Embassy and the American Cooperative School of Tunis (ACST), it’s important that we realize the tragedy caused by this senseless destruction and defend the innocent Tunisians who oppose it.  I attended ACST for my Grade 10 year.  My time in Tunisia felt safe, and the people were unfailingly kind and welcoming.

This made it particularly jarring to see photos and videos first of the US embassy, and then my old high school, ablaze.  What made the horror of such an attack on a school sink in was seeing the school bus that many of my friends took to school every day burning in what used to be the school’s lush courtyard.  My aunt, the middle and high-school music teacher, has her classroom immediately next to the area with the burning bus.  Dozens of her precious instruments were stolen or destroyed.  In one photo on Facebook, a looter is shown carrying off one of her West African drums and a pair of amplifiers while people make crude jokes in the comments.  To think that this is the result of one poorly-made video posted on YouTube boggles the mind.

Most Tunisians are good people.  Most Tunisians support freedom of speech.  Most Tunisians support democracy, and many support religious freedoms for their Christian neighbours.  The perpetrators of these attacks aren’t “most Tunisians.”  They are a violent minority.  These atrocities are the result of purposeful actions.  They aren’t mistakes.  A Muslim is not some kind of child reduced to Pavlovian impulses (which is, unfortunately, how they are often treated by Western media).  The depiction of Muhammad doesn’t summon a crowd of angry extremists in the same way that breaching a dam causes a flood.  They — and no one else — are responsible for these attacks.  What saddened me almost as much as the attacks was the craven surrender of the American government, which threw freedom of speech under the bus in a futile attempt to placate a rabid mob.

The task of counteracting these extremists falls to the great majority of Muslims who don’t feel drawn to burn schools when they’re offended.  I was wary of the Arab Spring everywhere it emerged except for Tunisia because my experience with the Tunisian people assured me that they would not consent to being used as extremist puppets.  During the revolution and even today, Tunisians approach my aunt (who was evacuated from the school before the attack) to apologize for the mob on behalf of the great majority of upstanding citizens.  This is not who they are, and this is not how they treat guests in their country.  I still have hope for Tunisia, but they will need to search their country’s soul and decide whether they want to realize the dream of democracy, prosperity, freedom, and peace or whether they want to slide towards extremism and a worse oppression than they experienced under Ben Ali.

 

Chris Tomalty,

Third-year public affairs and policy management