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After the Arab Spring
Tunisia Is Fertile Recruiting Ground For ISIS

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.

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  • Fat_Man

    The good news is that many of these violent young men will obtain the martyrdom they so devoutly wish, thus reducing their volatile presence in Tunisia. It is sort of like cooking off the alcohol when you boil wine.

  • lukelea

    Let’s face it. Islam is fertile ground. Which is why the only good Muslim is one who doesn’t taken his religion too seriously — or, if you prefer, too literally. Mohammad originally modeled himself on Moses the warlord, the big difference being that the whole world was to be his promised land (and we are the Cannanites).

    • Pete

      “Which is why, for Westerners, the only good Muslim is one who doesn’t taken his religion too seriously — or, if you prefer, too literally.”

      I can think of another type of ‘good’ muslim.

    • Curious Mayhem

      Moses wasn’t a warlord — prophet and politcal leader, yes, warload, no.

      Religious authority in Judaism was divided from the start, prophet (Moses) from priest (Aaron). Moses’ military and political successor, Joshua, was not a prophet or priest. Later, prophet, priest, and king were almost always distinct people. Most of Jewish history did not feature a king. And of course, Judaism doesn’t require the rest of the world to be Jewish. There’s no motive for forcing conversion on anyone. Later Jewish authorities came to view the war to displace the Canaanites as of historical interest only, a dead letter otherwise.

      As Bernard Lewis so perfectly put it, Moses never entered the Promised Land, while Jesus’s promised land is another world. The Christian world achieved a fusion of political and religious authority in the East but never did in the West. By the 17th century, the West began to abandon the fusion even in principle. The difference with Islam is that Mohammed’s promised land was political, military, and spiritual victory, in this world, and he tasted that, at least to an extent. His later followers tasted it far more.

      The practical problem today is that there is no single legitimate “kaliph” (successor) to Mohammed, except perhaps the kings of Morocco and Jordan who claim descent from him. Everyone else, from a traditional Islamic point of view, questionable at best, a usurper at worst. So the contenders and their followers spend their oil wealth violdently contesting each other’s legitimacy as successors.

  • DirtyJobsGuy

    Tunisia’s original strong man pushed education and tourism since they have no oil. The mixture worked (there are some excellent Tunisian wines) but flooded the market for university graduates. Nothing is worse than an overeducated young man with no where to go (they all try to get to France). A good fraction are easy prey for ISIS recruiters just the same as in UK, Germany and France.

  • Pete

    The entire Muslim Middle East is rotten to the core.

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