The Paradox of Fundamentalism: Tunisia's Two Extremisms

By Alessandra Bonci
Submitted to Session P5147 (Reconsidering Tunisia: Revolutionary and Post Revolutionary Politics, Society, and Religion, 2018 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Tunisia;
Maghreb Studies;
The paradox of fundamentalism: Tunisia’s two extremisms


As Charles Taylor brilliantly highlighted in A Secular Age, the phenomenon of secularization presents a twofold enigma: firstly, is secularization a Western specificity? And secondly, can secularization be considered an extremism? (Taylor, 2007).
It seems interesting to address these two questions since we can observe that extremism today comes from the secular-right-wing, the populist trends, and religious sects, indiscriminately. How can we make distinctions and find analogies?
As John Keane highlights, the Western-born-concept of secularism became “an insult” to many Muslims. In fact, the twenty-first-century view of Muslim societies has led to the belief that the latter is hopelessly opposed to the Secular, building on a stereotyped division between a secular, modernized West versus a religious and backward Islamic world. “Secular Europeans - supposedly open to the world and open to openness itself - normally harbored anti-Muslim prejudices” (Keane, 2000).
Scholars shed light on the US paradox, according to which one of the so-called most secular countries, is not that secular. In fact, lobbies’ influence on US politics (especially evangelical Christians) and American rhetoric appear strongly steeped in religion (Bernstein and Jakobsen, 2010). By observing Tunisia, we can find deep social divisions on the “secular issue” across the Muslim world as well. On the one hand, a strong religious conscience permeates society; on the other hand, strong secular values detach the Tunisian élite from the rest of the country. As the Ennahda member Abdelkrim Harouni said in a recent conference in Québec, Tunisia nowadays faces the phenomenon of double extremism, the clash between radical Islamists and radical seculars. Building on fieldwork carried out in the country and survey data the paper attempts to measure whether the secular and religious fundamentalisms actually exists in daily practices and institutional politics.
The analysis of the two Tunisian extremisms is an attempt to read two ‘fundamentalisms in a new light’.