The below statement has been initiated by Djemila Benhabib and Caroline Fourest and supported by myself, Mina Ahadi, Boualem Sansal, Taslima Nasreen, Shoukria Haïdar, Elisabeth Badinter, Elisabeth Roudinesco, Nadia Geerts and many others. Please sign on to it in the comments section below and I can forward it to Djemila:
The entire Tunisian university community has been living under grave tension since the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic year. Serious incidents have taken place at the College of Humanities and Sciences in Sousse, the College of Commerce in La Manouba, the Institute of Applied Science and Technology in Kairouan, and the College of Theology in Tunis.
The worst attacks have occurred at the College of Arts and Letters in La Manouba, where Salafist militias are demanding that a prayer room be opened and that full veils be worn during all pedagogical activities, including exams!
Ever since November 28, 2011 this College has seen guerrilla warfare, led by a small group of female students (twelve at most) dressed in niqabs and supported by militant Salafists, who for the most part are not associated with the College. They are led by Mohamed Bakhti, a 27 year-old in his first year of history studies, a former member of an armed group of Tunisian Jihadists linked to Al-Qaïda and directly implicated in terrorist attacks on Tunisian soil in 2007.
The ultra-minority group has injected fear into the heart of the university community through the deceptive and perverse nature of their demands, actions and motives. Why insist that a prayer room be opened when a place of worship is available just a stone’s throw away from the campus? Why not respect the decision of the College’s Scientific Board, who has determined that wearing a full veil is incompatible with the basic requirements of personal safety and also contradictory to educational requirements?
The college’s dean, Habib Kazdaghli, has refused to give in to Salafist pressure. As a result of his decision and given the great solidarity within the university community, this small group has not hesitated to use extremely violent methods: paralyzing the college for nearly a month, occupying administrative sites, ousting the dean from his own office, holding him for several hours and threatening him with death; physically abusing teachers, students, employees and reporters.
Instead of assuring the safety of those within the academic establishment, Tunisian authorities turn a blind eye, thus allowing a deleterious climate to continue, a climate in which the arbitrary and the tyranny of totalitarian thought flourishes. Worse yet, the Department of Education and Scientific Research, directed by Moncef Ben Salem, a deputy of the Islamist Party Ennahda, has severely criticized the dean by affirming that Kazdaghli “has not done what he should have to resolve the problem peacefully and, furthermore, has political ambitions.”
We cannot remain silent in the face of this untenable situation. This is why we women, democrats working in different professional and paraprofessional realms, commend the heroic resistance of the teachers, students and employees of the academic institutions of Tunisia, and particularly pay tribute to the College of Arts and Letters in La Manouba and to Dean Habib Kazdaghli. We urge you to join us in expressing our steadfast solidarity with the Tunisian Committee for the Defense of University Values (Comité Tunisien de Défense des Valeurs Universitaires).