Tunis – Nébil Zaghdoud
Tunisian actress and playwright Jalela Bakkar condemned the acts of violence and vandalism seen in Tunisia last week, led by Salafist militant groups protesting about an exhibition at an art gallery in Tunis which they claimed was "offensive to holy values."
In an interview with Arabstoday, Bakkar described the extremist movements as "threatening everyone, but particularly artists" and appealed to the government to take appropriate action to protect citizens from violent clashes and to save the lives of intellectuals and artists.
She also criticised the decision made by the minister of culture to file lawsuits against artists who participated in the Al-Abdelya exhibition, from June 1-10 which offended the Salafists who sparked off violence and vandalism in Tunisia in reaction to what they believed was an abuse of their sacred beliefs.
The playwright made comparisons between the former regime and that of the post revolution: "We suffered under Ben Ali's political taboos and now we are suffering from prohibitions due to religion. The battle in Tunisia today is a political battle with a veneer of religion. Tunisian artists must not be made scapegoats.”
She also accused the minister of culture Mehdi Mabrouk, of repressing artists by playing second fiddle to the minister for religious affairs who put the onus on Mabrouk to crackdown on artists with different religious orientations.
"The word ‘art’ has become synonymous with 'heretic' and artists have become the target of the clergy and Salafi extremists. Artists’ lives are in danger", Bakkar warned, adding that a number of imams have called for their followers to take revenge on those who exhibited their work at the Al-Abdelya exhibition.
She explained that the state of fear under which artists and intellectuals in Tunisia are now living, is clear evidence that the threats faced by the educated class are real and dangerous. She asked where the boundary line lay between artist and art, adding the question: “Who determines what is Holy? The cleric or the educated class or the Tunisian society as a whole?