On September 11, when terrorists reduced the twin towers in New York to a gigantic pile of rubble, burying some 5,000 people in the process, the world finally woke up to the full dangers posed by religious extremism. The ferocity, determination and utter ruthlessness with which the terrorists carried out their mission shocked and horrified the West. "This is a battle like no other," said United States of America's President George Bush as he declared a 'War on Terrorism'. He was quick to concede that this 'asymmetric' war would nor be won by conventional means. The United Kingdom's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, added that the world would have to be reordered if the fight against terrorism is to be won.
But while the terror assault on this scale is a new phenomenon for the West, particularly for the US, it has been an old and deadly battle in several Muslim states, particularly the north African countries. Extremist groups with political agendas, hiding their true motives under the cloak of religion, have unleashed horrific reigns of terror on innocent civilians -- slaughtering thousands, blowing up and burning property and carrying out spates of assassinations. Their aim has always been to create chaos and panic in order to overthrow legitimate governments through the use of force.
Few countries in the Maghreb have been spared the deadly attentions of the extremists. Most are still locked in combat with this dangerous enemy. Only one can say that the war against extremist-inspired terror has been won. That country is Tunisia.
When you visit Tunisia today and see a modern, thriving, progressive and very stable country you might find it difficult to believe that only two decades ago, Tunisia was on the brink of being swept under an extremist flood, In the mid 1980s, a weak and disunited government, high rates of unemployment, a growing sense of marginalisation among the masses, a lack of direction and a feeling of betrayal among the people created the ideal conditions for extremism to flourish.
The outlawed radical fundamentalists were quick to take advantage of the public disaffection and mounted a series of terror campaigns, particularly in Sousse and Monastir. They targeted institutions, including mosques, and people, both local and foreign. They set out to undertake a campaign of armed subversion, destroy the economy through fear and impose their will on the populace through intimidation. By claiming that their movement was based on religion, they tried to lure the gullible and the ignorant into their ranks. They tried to silence opposition by claiming that attacks on them were tantamount to attacks on Islam.
Iron grip on population
With the government, which had lost touch with the people, floundering out of its depth, it seemed that Tunisia would slide into anarchy and that the extremists would impose an iron grip on the population--much in the same way as the Taliban were to do in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
Tunisia in the late 1 980s was crying out for a saviour--someone who could fight and win this 'asymmetric' war on terrorism and also change the direction of the country politically, economically and socially.
At the eleventh hour and fortunately for Tunisia, somebody heeded that call. In 1987, Zinc El Abidine Ben Ali took over the leadership of the country from the ageing Habib Bourguiba and the era of
The Change was set into motion.
This was Tunisia's own war against terrorism. History shows us that the campaign against fundamentalist extremism was a resounding success and the war was won on all fronts.
How Tunisia won the war against terror and...