The Ummah Curtain: Tunisia’s “Moderate Islamist Party Ennahda” is Coming to Power

So long, secularism in Tunisia.

Concerning the Tunisian elections, AP reports today that secularism appears to be in retreat there:

[A] once-banned Islamist party is leading in many constituencies in the country that unleashed uprisings across the Arab world.

But, AP assures us, Tunisia’s Islamist party is “moderate.” But isn’t a moderate Islamist party an oxymoron? According to AP, it’s not:

Tunisia was known for decades for its repressive leadership but also for its progressive legislation on women and families, which secular-leaning Tunisians fear the moderate Islamist party Ennahda would roll back.

In other words, the Arab Spring narrative is all fouled up. We want to believe that, in the Arab world, secular-supported authoritarianism, because it is antidemocratic, is bad while democracy—the will of the people expressed in elections—is good. But, when democracy actually kicks in, we find that what the masses of Arab people actually want is collective conformity to Islam. Then we are shocked to discover that this is quite atrocious for things like, well, women’s rights (and individualism of any sort, for that matter). The will of the ummah (the Islamic community) is not the will of the individual—especially the wills of feminists, non-Muslims, or secular individuals.

I don’t think this bodes well for where Egyptian elections are likely to trend, and what they’ll mean for the 9% of Egyptian society that is Christian (or the half that is female, or those who want to think freely in general). What we’re witnessing is a new Iron Curtain going up against Western Enlightenment secular values. I suppose we might call this Iron Curtain the Ummah Curtain.

File:World Muslim Population Map.png


Map source: Wikipedia Commons.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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8 Responses to The Ummah Curtain: Tunisia’s “Moderate Islamist Party Ennahda” is Coming to Power

  1. andrewclunn says:

    Wow. I’m impressed. I really thought you were buying into that narrative. It’s really tough not hating people who are Islam, while simultaneously holding the view that Islam is largely a force for evil in the world. An unpopular position for sure, but sadly probably a true one.

    • andrewclunn says:

      That should be “who are Islamic” or “who follow Islam”.

    • santitafarella says:

      My old view of Islam was kumbaya: we can all get along if we stop demonizing one another and keep church and state (or mosque and state) separate. I still think it’s very, very important not to demonize people.

      But my views on Islam have evolved since I started actually trying to get to know Muslims personally and learn a bit more about their religion.

      My current position is that Islam is a form of anti-modern Herderianism. It’s both less dangerous and more dangerous for being anti-modern. It’s less dangerous in the sense that, if you reject modernity—especially the science and free thought university cultures that accompany it—you are unlikely to develop highly sophisticated and wealthy societies that can make a serious bid for global domination.

      Nazi Germany was a Herderian society that embraced science and modernist ideas of progress, and this made it a rather unusual threat. The Islamic world is not like that. Its danger to the world is using oil money to buy the West’s expertise for the development of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. So, oil is artificially propping up a failed ideology. When the oil money runs out a century from now, Islam won’t be able to have it both ways with Western modernism.

      Muslims, interpersonally, are fine. A city like Los Angeles is ideal for them. They do their thing, and the rest of us do ours. We really can all get along here. But the dynamic changes when a Herderian culture asserts itself as the majority.

      In my view, the Muslim world is this century’s Iron Curtain culture. I wasn’t being gratuitous. Huntington is right. Islam is an insular and anti-modern Herderian civilization and it’s clashing with the Western Enlightenment. My view is that the West, as it did with Soviet communism, will simply have to wait Islam out—enact a containment policy and let Islamic revolutionary experiments fail. People will get fed up and try something non-Islamic again. Western modernism is simply too attractive and successful to be resisted for more than another century or so. Islamists are like hunter-gatherers resisting the agricultural revolution. Their longing for the old ways of acting in the world is misplaced nostalgia, and when they try to return to it it’s unsatisfying.

      Look how unstable the Islamic revolution in Iran is. It occurred in 1979. Just 32 years later, it’s in crisis. The young people there nearly toppled the government last summer. But Islam’s full existential crisis will only come when Arab oil money runs out. Hopefully, Islamic nuclear terrorism won’t wreck the world before that time arrives.


  2. concerned christian says:

    Santi, I totally agree with everything you said, but I want to add few points.
    Currently we are dealing with three revolutions all of them are adopting Sharia at different degrees; Tunisia is relatively moderate since the Islamist did not win an outright majority, so they are forced to form a political coalition with secular parties. Those in charge of Libya have already rolled back existing Qaddafi’s laws that forbid polygamy and give equality to women. Egypt is a cesspool of Islamic intolerance and most likely the Salafi/Muslim Brotherhood/Military Cabal will rule the country, one way or another, with or without the election. The power to be in all three countries adopted Islamic Sharia as their legal reference, but with different degrees of strictness.
    In terms of the secular forces, they are the largest and most organized in Tunsia, large but disorganized in Egypt, and almost non existent in Libya. They are not happy with the changes around them, they lost in Tunisia’s election and most likely they will lose in Egypt. BTW as I follow the news in Egypt I am moved by the courageous actions and humane attitudes of this group, especially the Muslims who spoke forcefully defending the Christians, I wish they will succeed in fighting the Islamist but I am not sure that this will happen.
    One unusual twist is the position of the Gulf States, especially Qatar, which is the home of Al-Jazeera. This broadcast was responsible for agitating the crowds in the Arab World and based on their messages I consider them kind of an Arab-Islamo-Anarchist outfit. These Gulf countries are supporting the Arab revolutions, but it is hard to figure out what is their motivation. One theory is that they are helping the establishment of hard line Islamic governments in these countries to guarantee the failure of these revolutions and discourage their own people from following in this revolutionary path.
    We still have to wait and see what will happen in Syria and Yemen, also watch out for Morocco, Algeria, and Jordan, they are not as stable as you may think. All these by the way are Sunni-majority countries. We have also the Shiites in Iran, Iraq, and some Gulf States, and the original trouble spot, Afghanistan and the rest of the “stan” Countries. Sadly we may end up with what you called “the Ummah Curtain”, with some infighting between the Sunni Ummah and Shiites Ummah. That will definitely be as bad as it could get, God help us.

  3. concerned christian says:

    And that’s what we got by spending more than a billion dollar to get rid of Qaddafi. These lunatics are destroying 450 cases of beer while shouting Allah Akbar.

  4. concerned christian says:

    Actually they are boxes of all kind of alcoholic drinks including wine and whiskey, that they found in a house, most of what they say is Allah Akbar and reporting the name of the drinks they found.

    • santitafarella says:


      Thanks for the fascinating video find—I’ll make a separate posting of it later today or tomorrow.


  5. Pingback: Post-Gaddafi Tunisian Muslims Destroy Cases of Demon Liquor | Prometheus Unbound

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