The attack on the United States embassy in Tunisia on Sept. 14 killed two people, wounded nearly 30, and shocked countless more.
The overwhelmingly Muslim nation has traditionally had a good relationship with the U.S., but that did not stop hundreds of protesters from ransacking the building in Tunisia in demonstrated fury over a film made in the U.S. that denigrates the Prophet Mohammad.
Was the mob action an aberration, or a harbinger of the future?
Experts leaned toward the former interpretation during a Sept. 28 lecture at the Columbus School of Law, “Notes from Tunisia: Life in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring.”
Co-sponsored by the American Constitution Society and the Law and Public Policy Program, the event presented Richard Winchester, Associate Professor of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego; Ahmed Meziou, a Tunisian attorney who is a 2012 recipient of the American Studies Grant sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia and the Center for Maghrib Studies in Tunis; and Dr. Saloua Saidane, a native Tunisian who is now an assistant professor of Introductory and General Chemistry, San Diego Mesa College.
The three agreed that mob rule in the streets is not typical of highly-civilized Tunisians.
“I was shocked. That’s not the way we do things in our country. The [rioters] did not represent Tunisia,” said Meziou.
Dr. Saidane was in the country in mid-September and personally viewed the attack on the embassy. She described how police escorted the rioters to the scene, then pulled back and melted away, leaving the mob unchallenged.
The speakers concurred that a fundamentalist strain of Islam seems to be gaining strength in Tunisia, and it’s unclear what will become of its attempts to gain power and control.
“Is this about Tunisians hating the U.S.?” asked Winchester. “No, it’s about theocrats trying to impose their way on a country that probably doesn’t want that.”
Meanwhile, Tunisians struggle with unsolicited cultural changes, such as the attempted downgrade in the status of women in society. Tunisian-American relations aside, the country must resist those trying to turn back the clock, the speakers said.
“Tunisia can’t afford to fail,” said Meziou.