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Culture fights back in Tunisia

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Maha Malluh, Food for Thought 7200 (2012)

Sufi-inspired exhibition aims to rescue Islam from the extremists

Seifeddine Rezgui, the young man who massacred 38 holidaymakers on a Tunisian beach in June, loved to breakdance. Then the dance classes shut down and he was left with nothing but the fundamentalist teachings of the Salafists, which gave him a community of brothers and an all-embracing mind set.

The desolation of the lives of young people in the Middle East and North Africa is little understood in the West. These are countries where 45% of the 400 million people are under 20 years of age, where the education is rigid and usually not fit for modern purposes, where there is no work so no money, and without money, no marriage, and without marriage, no sex or even courtship. All considered, it is surprising that not more of them are seduced into the murderous cult of Isil that promises to give meaning to their lives, money and a woman.

To fight back against this, economic development is vital, but also every kind of measure to enrich their lives—let’s call it culture. But what kind of culture? The Gulf rulers are offering their rich public very expensive museum projects, but in the populous “old Arab” nations, there is self-generated culture, such as electro chaabi, the hip hop of the slums of Cairo, in which the lyrics express all the disgust they feel for fat cat authorities as much as for religion. The graffiti art movement has the same roots, and in Saudi Arabia there are the satirical skits on YouTube by the group of young men calling themselves Telfaz11, watched by many millions….


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