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This month marks ten years since the series of events that set off revolutionary change in Tunisia.
As Tunisians reflect on what has transpired since then, conversations nationwide are focused on the country’s future. As a contribution to these discussions, the Baha’is of the country recently hosted a gathering, coinciding with UN Human Rights Day, to explore new conceptions of citizenship.
“When our society rapidly underwent dramatic change in 2011, the population did not have experience in dealing with the emerging reality,” says Mohamed ben Mousa of the Tunisian Baha’i community’s Office of External Affairs. “The country has had to learn about a new level of responsibility and engagement. Unity is essential in this process—solidarity and empathy have to be built across the whole population. Although progress has been made, this is not yet a reality, and many people feel a sense of dislocation.”
The gathering brought together distinguished guests including Member of Parliament Jamila Ksiksi, Omar Fassatoui from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as academics and representatives of religious communities. In addition to participants who attended in person—while maintaining safety measures put in place by the government—thousands more were connected to the discussions through a live stream of the event.
There was consensus among the gathering’s participants on the importance of promoting coexistence, if all Tunisians are to contribute to their collective future.
Jamila Ksiksi, MP, said at the meeting, “The world—not just Tunisia—is experiencing an escalation of discrimination. The goal is to learn to accept diversity and live it together. Legislation exists, what is needed is implementation. To do this, we need a joint effort of both state institutions and civil society. The Tunisian constitution includes diversity. Our challenge would be to enshrine this in our daily reality.”
Mr. Ben Moussa expanded on this idea and explained that addressing prejudice and discrimination will require a new mindset about notions of citizenship. “Although as Tunisians we are all proud that diverse groups exist side by side, discrimination is still a part of our reality. If people are not troubled by discrimination, how can our society achieve greater change?
“We must learn to truly live as one, see each other as one. Society is as one body. If one part is suffering or in need, then every other part must come together to help.”
Mr. Fassatoui spoke about institutional efforts underway that seek to promote coexistence, particularly among children from an early age. “Tunisia has ratified all of the international conventions related to human rights and religious freedoms. As part of this, the country is on a path to ensure that religious diversity is taught in schools.”
Other participants at the gathering offered further comments about the importance of education, including Daniel Cohen, a prominent Jewish Rabbi. “School is where children come to know one another and can learn about other religions. This is where they first learn to live together.”
Conversations at the gathering also touched on notions of cooperation in different religious traditions. Speaking about this theme, Karim Chniba, an Imam representing the country’s Sunni community, said “In Islam, it is unacceptable that we do to others what we would not have done to ourselves. There is no basis for discriminating between people because of their faith or beliefs.”
Mr. Ben Moussa of the Baha’i Office of External Affairs further explained that new notions of citizenship must be based on inclusivity and not exclusivity, stating: “Societies have historically been built hierarchically: believer and nonbeliever, free person and slave, man and women. As a result, many segments of society have not been able to contribute to public life. In such an environment, a society is not able to reach its potential.
“The conception of citizenship needed for this time would have at its heart the spiritual principles of equality and justice.”