Tunisia has been understood by many as the sole success story of the Arab Spring, but it’s not without complications. As The New York Times reports, large numbers of Tunisians are flocking to ISIS:
Nearly four years after the Arab Spring revolt, Tunisia remains its lone success as chaos engulfs much of the region. But that is not its only distinction: Tunisia has sent more foreign fighters than any other country to Iraq and Syria to join the extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State…Although Tunisia’s steps toward democracy have enabled young people to express their dissident views, impatience and skepticism have evidently led a disgruntled minority to embrace the Islamic State’s radically theocratic alternative. Tunisian officials say that at least 2,400 Tunisians have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the group — other studies say as many as 3,000 — while thousands more have been blocked in the attempt.
For the most part, the Western media met the Arab Spring with unbridled enthusiasm, envisioning a sudden joining of the path to development, democracy, and peace that much of the world has been on since 1991, or sooner. But whether in 17th century England or late 19th-early 20th century Eastern Europe, the path to prosperity and modernity has been anything but smooth and easy, and democracy and religious extremism have often gone hand in hand. Contrary to the facile understanding of the world which seemed to undergird a lot of the reporting on the Arab Spring, not all violence is the result of misunderstandings, repression, or poverty, not all poverty is the result of just having the ‘wrong’ political system in place, and sometimes, especially for religious reasons, people really and earnestly want to kill each other. As the U.S. moves to reengage with the Middle East, this prominent story comes as a troubling reminder of the failure of the simple success narrative—and the need for better answers.