Carthage Burning: Salafists Attack Contemporary Art Exhibition معرض للفنون التشكيلية & مستقبل حرية التعبير في تونس
Art show Spurs Salafist Rage in Tunisia
Angered by an art exhibition they say insults Islam, thousands of ultraconservative rampaged through parts of Tunis and other cities, posing one of the biggest threats yet to Tunisia.
In the northern suburb of La Marsa, attackers tried to enter a gallery where salafists had slashed several paintings. The display at the Palais Abdellia (قصر العبدلية ) infuriated ultraconservative Islamists, sparking riots that began Monday evening (June 11th) and ultimately forced authorities to declare an overnight curfew in several Tunisian cities. Protesters hurled rocks and gasoline bombs at police stations, a courthouse and the offices of secular political parties raising concerns about the prospects for freedom of expression in Tunisia.
The work that appears to have caused the most fury spelled out the name of God using insects, while some paintings caricatured Mecca, portrayed a nude woman and ridiculed salafists.
The ministries of interior, justice, culture, religious affairs, and human rights (who did not see the paintings at the time) issued a cowardly joint statement denouncing the assaults: “These extremist groups are themselves penetrated by criminals and are funded by those who fear accountability and rule of law, i.e. the remnants of former regime, and their goal here is to confuse authorities and sow panic among citizens and thwart the current transition.” But the ministers also condemned the artists saying that their works violated freedom of opinion and expression, and that the goal was to provoke and incite strife and exploit the sensitive and inflammable situation.
The Secretary-General of the Fine Arts Union, said that the violence was “part of repeated attempts to impose a social and cultural pattern based on takfir and criminalisation. Art has nothing to do with what is sacred or religion.”
Artist Ismat Ben Moussa defended his work: “My painting is critical of the salafists and has nothing to do with sanctities or the Prophet.”
The art gallery has since been closed by the government, and Minister of Culture Mehdi Mabrouk has said that while they support freedom of expression, they are opposed to any insults to religion.