Who struck Tunis?
Was it the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attack?
Was it an infiltrated cell belonging to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and aligned with the hundred fighters of the Okba Ibn Nafaa brigade in the Jebel ech Chambi region of western Tunisia, near the Algerian border?
Was it the extreme Salafist Ansar al-Sharia organization, whose sermons, supposedly charitable organizations, and militants (who, no sooner are they released from jail than they begin fomenting radical Islamist counterrevolution) have been tolerated for too long by the government that emerged from the revolution against Zine El Abidine Ben Ali?
The question may not be all that important.
Because these related rival groups, which—when they are not killing, engage in a sordid mimetic competition focused solely on laying claim, via the media, to that rare but precious asset, a major terrorist attack in the age of the integrated spectacle—ultimately appear to be no more than different hats on the head of the same hideous Medusa.
But what is certain, by contrast, is that the scoundrels targeted the only country in the region that has not betrayed the promises of the Arab Spring, which it also happens to have initiated.
What is sure is that in choosing the Bardo museum, they, like the fundamentalists of Timbuktu or of Bamiyan, were also going after the beauty and the memory of this world.
And what is equally sure is that by targeting the foreign visitors who had come that day to admire the world’s most famous collection of Roman mosaics, by targeting the tourists who, over the past few months, had begun to return to this historically cosmopolitan country that drew a share of its wealth from mass tourism, by attempting to terrorize a city that was the birthplace of Abdelwahab Meddeb and his cross-border mission of blending Greek and Arab voices, mingling the language of Dante with that of Ibn Arabi, they sent a clear but terrifying message: “Leave and don’t come back; leave Tunisia to itself and to the bloody fate that we intend for it; the Ummah is its destiny; the West is its enemy; and, between the two, between the community of believers and the community of those who believe in the intermingling of communities and of ideas, war has been declared. It is a war of civilizations, and it will be merciless.”
We know that the attack did not come as a complete surprise.
President Beji Caid Essebsi said so, revealing that intelligence agencies had, for several weeks, been expecting an action of this sort.
The Tunisians know it, remembering, as they do, the suicide bombing of the synagogue on Djerba island by a French-Tunisian, an attack that, strangely, claimed the same number of lives as the Bardo assault on March 18.
And, finally, no friend of Tunisia can be unaware that the country of jasmine, the model of a democratic transition on its way to succeeding, a land of freedom that was, even before its revolution, in the forefront of the emancipation of women (which is, here as elsewhere, one of the major markers of modernity), has also supplied the largest contingent of fanatics to the jihadist campaigns of Syria, Iraq, and Libya.
Close to 3,000 Tunisian fighters have been counted, to which apparently must be added the hundreds of “candidates” arrested before being able to leave the country and hundreds more “repenters” who have returned to the country without the police, short of leadership and disorganized since the fall of the old regime, being able to monitor them. No doubt the one explains the other: Perhaps the passion of inventing democracy always had as its shadow and opposite reaction a no less ardent passion for enslavement and death. But 3,000 is still a lot of volunteers for a great people in a small nation of no more than eleven million souls.
All the more reason, then, to lend to valiant but grief-stricken Tunisia the immediate political support urged by French president François Hollande.
All the more reason to extend to the people of Tunis that solidarity of the shaken that stretches from the survivors of September 11 to those of Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher market in Paris, encompassing, too, those who survived the massacres of Copenhagen, Oslo, and Nairobi.
And all the more reason to support the solidarity movements that sprang up spontaneously in social networks and elsewhere on the following theme: So the terrorists want to discourage us from loving Tunisia and visiting the country? They want to quarantine one of the most open countries in the region? They want to turn Tunisia into some grating postmodern caricature of the Fichtian closed commercial state?
Well, sorry. No. We’re going to maintain contact, increase our presence and our ties, and, by confirming our vacation and travel plans, by opposing the wind of panic that is blowing through the offices of European tour operators, by being even more eager to take in the galleries of the Bardo and of the museums in Sousse, Carthage, and Raqqada, we will show to the worshippers of the new sect of assassins that we are not afraid. We will remind them once more than they are strong only when we are weak.
Je suis Charlie? Yes, indeed. And for the same reason, I am Tunis.
Translated by Steven B. Kennedy