With Tunisian Sheikh Rached Ghannoushi

10 February, 1998












Welcome to IntraView.

In this edition we interview Sheikh Rached Ghannoushi.

Rached Ghannoushi is the exiled leader of the Tunisian Islamist an-Nahda (Renaissance) Movement.

Born in 1941, a philosophy professor by training, Sheikh Ghannoushi has been a major participant in the politics of his native Tunisia over the span of two decades. Jailed on account of his political views during the reign of former President Bourguiba, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987. The sentence was appealed and a re-trial, on orders from Bourguiba, ended with a death sentence for him and three other Islamist leaders. Following the rocking events of that year, Bourguiba was dethroned, on grounds of senility, and Ghannoushi released. In 1989, he left Tunis, in self-exile, not coming to terms with new President Ben Ali. A subsequent ruthless campaign against Nahda brought the movement to its knees, sentencing the top brass to various prison terms, and Mr. Ghannoushi, in absentia, to life-imprisonment. He now lives in London. [KL] [S]

Sheikh Ghannoushi authored many books (all in Arabic) including : We and the West, The Destiny of Man in Ibn Taymiyah's Thought, The Rights of Non-Muslims in the Islamic State, Women Between Qur'an and Society, Our Road to Civilization, Islam Between Idealism and Realism and Civil Liberties in the Islamic State (the proposed theme of his Ph.D. thesis, an English version of which is forthcoming).

Sheikh Ghannoushi presents himself as a protagonist of reconciliation: between tradition and modernity, Islam and democracy, Islamism and Arab nationalism, Islam and the West. [H] [E]

His critics within the Tunisian government and intellectual circles advocate Sheikh Ghannoushi upheld controversial, antagonist views on a variety of issues. [C]

In the words of a former associate, "Sheikh Ghannoushi is primarily a politician who has different audiences to please, both inside and outside his party. Many of his critics think that he has failed to be coherent in his views on many important issues, including his stance toward the West, the way in which to change the Tunisian regime, the status of women, and democracy itself." [L]

In his intelligent analysis, Moroccan sociologist Abdou Filali-Ansary cast him, in contrast to Iranian scholar Soroush, as a face of traditionalism, using "western" tools such as democracy and freedom of thought to show Muslims "[how] to achieve their community goals and defend its interests." His commitment to this line of thought, in this light, is only a "concession" and "community [the Ummah] remains the ultimate reality and objective," hence, again in the understanding of Filali-Ansary, watering all talk about individuality and the question of civil liberties and their protection under an Islamic governance. [F]

In this IntraView, Sheikh Ghannoushi answers these contentions and sheds light on questions of human rights, freedom of thought and apostasy, America and the "new world order," his home Tunisia, and of course Israel and the Palestine question. He also addresses the dichotomy between reason and revelation and puts a framework for a universalist approach to answer the world's problems without recourse to fundamentalisms.

As usual, dear reader, your candid critique of this important tract is both welcome and encouraged.


Q. In a celebrated interview, you praised `aqlanah (rationality) which you defined as a "balance between holy text and reality." Is this an authentic Islamic legal concept (shar`i) upon which you are basing your thesis, say the (classical) concept called "tahqiq al-mana`at" (provision to safeguard holy law) or a matter of philosophy you are infusing by way of stretch? Can you expand on this definition you introduced, it is new for most? [A]

Although rationality in the Islamic theory, as I perceive it, does meet with its Greek and modern Western counterparts on the level of its recognition of the existence of an objective reality, which reason is capable of discerning if it is properly employed, it parts company with it in its rejection of the principle of reason's independence of knowledge as a whole. Instead, the Islamic perspective insists upon the dualism of reason and revelation as sources of knowledge, and upon the harmony that exists between the two, in such a way as to render any contradiction between the two illusory, erronous, ficticious, and liable to be eliminated, through the adoption of the ultimate as a fundamental to which reason must refer in a process of interpretation.

Both revelation and reason remain vital and efficient in the evolution of reality, so long as they remain intimate and interactive with it. With separation, reason expatiates in the deserts of abstraction, while legislation stagnates and corrodes. This dialogue between reason and revelation on the one hand, and revelation and reality on the other, is essential to the life of both reason and religion. In fact, religion had been driven to the margins of life, when man's own exegisis of religion substituted it, and became looked upon as religion itself. As such, it became powerless to keep abreast of life's evolution, compelling people, thus, to repudiate it for other doctrines. Because divine texts alone possess the capacity of interaction with all conditions, if united with enlightened minds, minds [are then] endowed with such serenity as to be a recepient of the lights of revelation... For "revelation's relation to reason is like that of the eye to light" -as expressed by Abu Hamid al-Ghazali [Ghazales]- Neither may exist without the other... Such is Islamic rationality, it has as its foundation stone the principle of recognition of the dualism of reason and revelation and the insistence upon the need of each for the other, for mutual rejuvenation.

Anyhow, the role performed by reason in diagnosing reality, is shouldered by religion and, is indeed a crucial stage in the work of the latter. Because reality is mutable, legislation varies accordingly. However, this evolution, in normal conditions, does not transgress God's limits, that is, the ultimates of religion, which constitute a general religious and moral framework, within which life and the activity of reason evolve. Time and time again, that framework had been constricted, as a result of Muslims treatment of an ever renascent reality with a worn, decrept Fiqh (jurisprudence). As if Fiqh were equivalent to Shari'a, although Shari`a is unalterable, while Fiqh is inconstant. Every age constructs its proper Fiqh (jurisprudence), in other words, it devises its Islamic solutions, to the arising political and economic problems. To conceive the much sought after Islamic state, for example, as a duplicate of the state of khilafat, as witnessed by history, would indeed be outragously demeaning to Islam. It would be preposterous to attempt turning a blind eye to human reason's accomplishments in elaborating political thought, on the level of regulating and limiting the power of the ruler, enforcing the rule of the law and the promulgation of mechanisms governing the state.

In this context , the reform movement has endeavoured to liberate and exculpate religion, -being the supreme authority- from the practices and credences that Muslims impute to religion, reverting to the fundamentals, in order to open up ample opportunities for dialogue between itself, reason and reality, in the hope of generating a rejuvenated fiq'h (juisprudence), apt to digest modern sciences and skills, to position Muslims back unto the path of civilisation.

Q. Ghannoushi, a philosopher by training, calls for the reformation of humanities, economy, political science, etc. Along which lines are you proposing this program. Is this culture-dependent, that is a reform valid only for the Islamic world, within the bounds of Islamic injunctions, or a universal call to revise these established disciplines? In case it is the latter, What type of overhaul do you propose?

Islam since its birth came as a message for humanity, it did not acquire this quality on the way as was the case of Christianity, which in the beginning was a national message. Since its inception, Islam has not been a nationalistic religion, nor has it been a class ideology as is Marxism. For, God in Islam, is the Lord and Sustainer of the worlds, and Mohammed has been sent as a mercy for all creatures "We sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all creatures" (Surat al-Anbiya, 21).

The Muslim thinker, while enmeshed in his nation's problems primarily, is still deeply aware of these humane dimensions. This is given prominence by technological development especially that realised in the field of communications, which has given rise to increasing interrelations between nations and peoples, in a way compatible with the Q'uranic humane understanding of universalism, This has the effect of rendering many problems, such as those concerning the environment and the combat of criminality and drug dealing, unresolvable except in the context of a general humane vision, making the organistion of human life within the framework of today's nation-states an osolescence inept to reponding to developments in the fields of media and economy which are characteristically universal. Accordingly, what preoccupies me -although it is primarily concerned with the state of Muslims- is open to the vast human field, serving it, not resolving its problems to its detriment or by disregarding it. Indeed, Islam does not give validity to nationalistic, or sectarian values, but solely to human ones. Justice, for instance is a requisit for all humans, even for enemies. "O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well- acquainted whith all that ye do."

Q. Sayyid Qutb ideologized Islam and Shariati islamized Communist lexicon. Where does Ghannoushi strike his balance? What is new that he brings to the Islamic discourse?

I prefer the term renovation or revival of Islam to its ideologisation, because what preoccupies me, is not the transformation of Islam into an ideological weapon in the hands of a particular social or political group, as denotes the term ideology in the Marxist sense of the word, but the revitalisation of the state of Islam, so that it interacts with contemprorary concerns and issues. This presses for internal reforms , capable of putting an end to the stagnation that has inflicted Islamic thought for the last centuries; and calls for the adoption of modernity and its accomplishments into the moral and spiritual system of Islam. Since the last century, the Islamic reformist school, has played a vital part in defending Islam and refuting the falsehoods and accusations of which it is a victim. It also demonstrated Islam's validity for organising life and society, thus reducing much of the work of radical secularists, who sought to utterly eliminate Islam from the realms of the private and the public alike, into a heap of ruins. Nevertheless, significant as they were, these reformist efforts, often emanated from a position of defense in the form of reactions; as a result of their development within an acutely complex and abstruse historical context, characterised with the prodigious rise of the West in opposition to the execrable decadence of Islam on the level of the intellectual and political equation particularily at the aftermath of the Western invasion of the Islamic world. The reform movement, since Jamal Eddine Alafghani has made prominent efforts to safeguard Islam and shield its culture and values, which were confronted with an abundance of internal and external challenges. Their intellectual discourse was, however, dominated by a compromising tone, which was at times even congruous, as it was staggering under the influence and ascendancy of the Western cultural and social model. Said Qutb's theory of social and intellectual preeminence and alienation came to counteract a predominent nationalistic secular ideology bred by a climate of repression of and hostility towards the Islamic movement, introducing the dualism of the Godly elite and the Islamic model as an alternative to that of the pagan society and the secular example. Today's Islamic movement appears to be more self- assured and, hence, more capable of renovation and interaction with the culture of the age, without fear of disintegration or pulverisation. Contemporary Islamic thought is certainly more capable of responding to and resolving the challenges with which it is presented. In spite of the many appearances of tension and rigidity associated with certain wings of the Islamic movement, as a result of internal and external pressure, the general tendency is one of openness and moderation.

What we require today is to pursue the renovative efforts of the founding fathers of Islamic reform, in our quest, not after the assertion of Islam's compatibility with Western modernity, but after the demonstration of its active presence in the world, and its capacity for insightful interaction with humanity's modern concerns. The principal challenge before the Islamic reform movement remains the following: How is it possible for Muslims to venture into modernity in their own way, using their language and rich cultural-capital, without forsaking their cultural and ethical identity, or indeed disregarding modern culture and its accoplishments, calling, as such, for a reconstruction and renovation of Islam and modernity. Accordingly, my intellectual efforts may be seen as a continuation with and enrichment of the heritage of Islamic reform, - not an overcoming or recision of its achievements-, in spite of the few reservations I have pertaining its approaches and solutions.


Q. Your home country recognizes in Islam a value of heritage, one to cherish as an element contributing to the formation of personality but not the sole one. Where do they err (if any)?

Islam represents the principal constituent of the Tunisian identity, and not merely a faint general influence amongst other influences as claimed by extremist secularists. Tunisia has entered a period of total Arabisation and Islamisation since the Islamic conquest in the first century after the Hijrah (7th century CE) and thus there occurred a new amalgamation of the various previous cultural constituents including Phoenician, Berber and other influences within the comprehensive Islamic identity, in such a manner that all that remains of the previous identities is a few perished traces whose residuals are found in some touristic Tunisian cities, whereas the Islamic identity is still entrenched in the depths of the Tunisian personality over fourteen successive centuries and still consciously and unconsciously influences the individual and communal character of Tunisians even those who reject it. Bourguiba sought to revive the lifeless/extinct ancient Phoenician civilisation in order to weaken Arab and Islamic culture and rupture Tunisia's Arab and Islamic relations for the interest of the western European environment. French colonialism had attempted before him to eliminate Tunisia's Arab and Islamic civilisation in order to renew its links to the remains of the Roman era so as to justify its subordination to its French mother land. These endeavours are renewed once again by symbols of secular extremism in Tunisia, but there is no indicator of its success chances despite the enormous violence, implicit and explicit, that accompanied them, for the simple reason that peoples' cultural identities are firmer than any individual will and any political interests. The late Communist camp's experience is a clear evidence for what we have mentioned, wherein the cultural identities of those peoples were resurrected from under the ruins of whole decades of repression and tyranny. The calls claiming the 'toranity' of Egypt, the 'Phoenicity' of Syria, Lebanon and Tunisia, and the 'Berberity' of Algeria and Morocco are in fact evil calls for the fragmentation of the region and fracturing it into sects, ethnic groups and national entities that are fragile and weak with no unifying cultural and linguistic bonds and no common history, while the Arab and Islamic factors in their vast civilisational dimension/sense, constitute the principal basis for the region's unity and harmony.

The emphasis on Tunisia's Islamic and Arab identity does not imply the elimination/denial of other historical and cultural constituents contained by Islam and re-amalgamated in its unifying system, for the Islamic identity is by nature a space open to horizons of pluralism and variety, and the Islamic historical experience depicted a state of cultural and linguistic pluralism and a climate of intellectual and religious tolerance, unequalled even in the current age. The Islamic identity, as I perceive it, is not a strict and closed definition since that is contradictory to Islam's nature that is open to the vast horizons of universality and the whole of humanity without submission to ethnic or linguistic obstacles.

Q. Ghannoushi has argued a few years back on the pages of Jeune Afrique in a column titled 'si j'etais president' that if he were a president, he will not forbid alcohol and will not ban topless beaches, say in Hammamet? Is this still your position?

I do not believe that Islam calls for the establishment of a closed society, wherein people are gathered behind an iron curtain. On the contrary, Islam insists upon acquainticeship, dialogue and exchange of goods and services between nations and cultures. History's testimony substantiates the fact that Muslim societies in Baghdad, Cordova, Samarkand and Ishbilia...ect. had been spaces open for the acquaintance of people of different races, religions and languages, who in fact have all had a hand in the formulation of the Islamic civilisation through the expression of their creative powers. Islamic jurisprudence has layed the proper ground in its conferring of citizenship for all, muslims and non- muslims alike, and offering refuge -that is residence- for all the nonlanders who claim it.. Sighting the non- Muslim and the foreigner in Muslim society was not uncommon or in the least galling; in a society whose culture acknowledged the other and cohabitated with him in a spirit of tolerance, to which ancient cultures and even modern ones are unaccustomed. This is so, in spite of secularity's accomplishments in the field of disenthralling Western societies from the seclusion and stagnation of the rule of the Church, whose imprints are still perceptible up to the present day.

Islamic tolerance of the other stipulates not imposing its ethical norms regarding food, dress or drink. That which is lawful in the culture of the non-Muslim, concerning his food, dress or drink and way of life, such as the consumption of intoxicating beverages or pork, or the exposing of certain parts of the female body, is not debarred by Islam even if its values interdict it. Instead, Islam accepts such differences on the basis of its recognition of the other's fundamental rights of belief and expression, so long as they are not found to be offensive to the general character or public norms of Muslim society, such as aberring from demure dress in public, for that is what the general conscensus repells, in Muslim society and in all the societies that have maintained a certain degree of respect for religious values, for the value of modesty and for innate ethics. Islam wields these phenomena, if exacerbate and customary amongst people, through adopting the method of gradualism, conviction and education in reducing their proliferation.

Q. What about bordellos? Are they any different? They form an integral part of the medina of major Tunisian cities, including its political capital (Tunis), its economic capital (Sfax) and its religious capital ('holy' Qayrawan). The one in Tunis is just around the corner from the Tableeghi headquarters, but they never targeted it. They are also a product of Turkish naval legacy pre-dating the coming of 'la legion francaise' and the construction of French quarters in North African cities. What is your position with respect to this phenomenon? How do you understand it with respect to the Islamicity of the Ottoman order that brought them to existence?

One feels ashamed to discuss this phenomenon which depicts the state of decay, disgrace and degradation of women who have been brought down from the level of divine ennobling to being used as rubbish dumps.

It is unjust to attribute this degradation to the Turkish Ottomans who came to Tunisia in order to liberate it from Spanish transgression and to renew the glory of Islam in Tunisia. This decay is part of the heritage of the French colonisation. The independence state, which claimed its adherence and advocation of the emancipation of women, was required to bring this disgraceful phenomenon to an end. The state, however, maintained it, and even spread it, defying Islamic feelings, general human values and the respect of women's dignity, thus differentiating itself not only from Islamic countries but also from numerous western countries which continue to fight against public prostitution, such as England. It is not possible for any Muslim respectful of his faith, or any Christian or Jew, or supporter of any human cause, to tolerate this phenomenon which is a residue from the times of slave trading.

Q. How does this reflect on the Tunisian personality? For instance some have used it to argue that Tunisia has never and will never succumb to a 'fundamentalist drive' due to this established 'openness'?

This disgraceful phenomenon is very alien to Tunisian society, and in no way represents its identity. It is rather one of the poisoned fruits of a despotic secular modernity that has been imposed on Tunisian society by force. It is a defiance of the most basic values of the religion to which adhere all Tunisians, as well as a flagrant attack on Tunisian women and a debasing of their dignity. So how could this disgraceful phenomenon be used as evidence that the Tunisian society has reached such a high degree of 'openness' that it would not accept the fundamentalist tendency? In fact, such extreme secularist phenomena are among the (reasons) calling for a return to Islam; in the same way as Bourguiba's drinking during the day in the holy month of Ramadhan openly defying the feelings of the Muslim Tunisian people, and similarly his tearing of a woman's veil in public, his closing down of the Zeytouna Mosque, a fortress of Islamic education, and his ridiculing of the Quran and of heaven and hell, were all acts which Bourguiba thought would eliminate all remaining traces of Islam. On the contrary, he was surprised to witness, in less than two decades, the emergence of an Islamic resurgence emanating not from rural areas and not from amongst the older generation, but from cities and centres of modernity, in universities, trade unions, centres of industry, administration and culture.

Bourguiba's successor followed on the same path, only in a more severe and violent manner. He transformed the state into a secular police body/apparatus repressing society's identity, in a complete ferocious attack on all elements of this identity and its symbols, wherein it used a group of opportunists from the fascist left. In the age of decadence of secularities and the rise of religious values in general and Islam in particular, in the world, it is expected that the Tunisian society's reaction to this attack would be stronger and more radical. What is worth noting here is that, if what is denoted by the term 'fundamentalism' is a trend that is extremist, withdrawn, violent, one that rejects "the other", and appeals to force in order to impose its will on the other, then we denounce describing us by such a term, which was used to defame us, and the Islamic movement in general. For if there exists fundamentalism, in this sense of the word, in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt or Turkey, then it would certainly not be the Islamic movement which has been striving for a democratic change, one that emanates from the respect of the people's will expressed through the ballots, but would rather be secularity represented in the state, its ruling parties, and its allies from the right and the left, which is shielded from the people's will to change by the power of army tanks, police batons and western support.

Q. Many people, notably the former head of the Human Rights Committee Moncef Marzouki, declared the end of politics in Tunisia since 1991. [M] Do you agree with their assessment?

Ibrahim Haydar, spokesman of the movement of popular union, might have been the first to use this slogan since 1992. Also, the withdrawal of Ahmed Mistiri, former leader of the Democratic Socialists from the leadership of his party and from all political life; the withdrawal of the historical syndicalist leader Habib Aachour, and the (compelling) of Ahmed Ben Salah, Mohamed Mzali, Mohamed Masmoudi and Rached Ghannouchi to remain in exile, are all a result of such an evaluation. They all judged that the language of politics, negotiation and peaceful pressure between political forces in the quest for common solutions were all destroyed by the results of the 1989 elections. Those were a critical test of the real democratic life Ben Ali had pledged on the day of his coup d'�tat against Bourguiba on November 7th 1987. Those elections, in which the president announced his party's winning all parliamentary seats, revealed the fact that the slogans of change were all falsehood, and that the language of politics had no place now that it was replaced by the language of security. Since Tunisians did not have among their political traditions the tradition of carrying arms to face the state's violence, they had no method left for them except that of passive resistance, of patience and perseverance, and awaiting of opportunities to express their rejection of the state's policies in its monstrosity and devouring of all popular institutions including parties, trade unions, associations and press. In this context, one uses the slogan of the death of politics. It is not so much a declaration of defeat, as it is a truthful diagnosis of reality on one hand, and a deprivation of the repressive regime from its false crowns on the other. Marzouki himself is the last of people to consider surrender, as he has been known for his perseverance, determination and tireless resistance of powers of repression and hegemony, and his unshaken commitment to the principles of democracy and human rights.

The experience of the few last years, since the 1989 elections which distinguished the dreams of democracy from the reality of a Mafioso police, proved that the Tunisian people have not surrendered, despite the severe local and international situations which offered the most favourable circumstances and the greatest financial and other western aid, under the pretext of eliminating the fundamentalist threat, in order to entrench deeper state repression. This resistance of the Tunisian people manifested itself in various forms, most importantly in the endurance of the thousands of political prisoners (Islamists and leftists), and their families under the most violent of modern systematised repression machines, alongside the protest petitions by the intellectual elite and human rights defenders. The resistance forces have been strengthened in the last year as a result of the Movement of Democratic Socialists' joining the ranks of genuine opposition, after having supported the repressive regime being misled by its promises, and by the hundreds of trade unionists who united with these forces of resistance opposing the policies of containment which the government has used against Islamists and syndicalists, in an attempt to weaken the resistance against International capital engulfing Tunisia and the transforming of Tunisia into an American base as a means to infiltrate into North Africa and the whole of the Arab world. We believe that the years of relative rest that the repressive regime has enjoyed are heading to a close, and that the Tunisian people are at the beginning of a new stage of popular resistance through strikes, marches and public actions, as repression would only lead to further rebellion and explosion, which would necessitate that politics be brought back to existence. When the government is unable to escape the necessity of admitting that the Tunisian people have not perished, that they are rejecting its policies of repression, destruction and pillage, and that they are determined to establish a new balance in the relationship between the state and society, then the government would have no option other than to enter in negotiation with the people and to recognise its social strengths, all its tendencies striving for a rupture with the era of a single leader, a single party, and a central authority suppressing and devouring society. This implies that politics in Tunisia is being revived in order to create a genuine equilibrium in the balance of power to the interest of society. And if the government deafens its ears to the rising calls for change and insists on continuing the policies of Caeusescu and Moboto, then Tunisia's stability which has been a source of pride for the government and a principal resource on which foreign forces have relied, would be gone with the wind.

Q. Some argue that your movement has become a liability for Tunisia as it has become totally unable to influence the events in Tunisia while it has been consistently used as an alibi to suppress democracy and human rights, reduce the role of religion and its education and get continuous foreign support. What do you think?

It is true that the Tunisian government has and still is exploiting the 'fundamentalist threat' with a considerable success for:

    1. suppressing the secular elite's demands of democracy and human rights under the pretext of concentrating its efforts on the priority of eliminating the common fundamentalist threat;

    2. drying up of the sources of religion through the programmes of education and culture and the propagation of a culture of secularity and immorality, justifying its policies by the belief that any service to Islam would be sooner or later a service to fundamentalism;

    3. suffocating the voices of human rights organisations and democratic forces abroad which are protesting against repression in Tunisia, through the government's accusing them of serving the interest of extremism and of being infiltrated by extremists;

    4. extorting economic and political support under the same pretext of preserving Tunisia as an oasis of security and peace in a fiery desert of extremism.

It is true that the Tunisian regime has achieved quite a considerable success in this plan, but there is an Arabic saying that "A lie's lifetime is short", and an American one which highlights that "You can fool some people some time but you can't fool all the people all the time." Among the evidence supporting this view is the disintegration of the alliance which hitherto existed between the government and the official opposition, as a result of the withdrawal of the main group: the Democratic Socialists, and their joining of the non-contained opposition, and similarly the disintegration of the relationship between the government and the secular elite, the majority of leftist forces and the trade unions, rendering it a difficult task to convince anyone of the so-called fundamentalist threat. The same applies to the most prominent international human rights organisations whose protest against repression in Tunisia through individual and joint communiqu�s has become higher in tone, and to the European Union which had expressed through its parliament its dissatisfaction with the genuineness of the so-called fundamentalist threat exploited by the government as a pretext for pursuing its repression and widening its circle to include other than Islamists. The European parliament has published last year a declaration condemning repression in Tunisia. Recently, the same parliament has held a parliamentary session on Tunisia after which it declared its insistence on linking the economic accord between the EU and Tunisia to the situation of human rights in Tunisia, all asserting the truth of the traditional saying that the lifetime of a lie is short, that the government's intentions have been exposed to everyone, leading it to become hysterical and commit further errors and to widen the circle of its victims, which would constitute a real threat for stability in the country promising the return of politics.

Q. You championed the cause of freedom of expression. What would your close supporters do to someone who might publish an article strongly criticizing you?

That is among what I praise Allah for, for guiding me to the reveration of the freedom of expression, since it is a right acknowledged by Islam which elevated it to the level of duty and proscribed reward and punishment in relation to it. Enjoining good and forbidding evil, which is the mechanism of action in Islam, is none other than an expression of this right and duty, and whenever it is inhibited by repression and the stifling of the freedom of expression, it is an inhibition of the mechanism of defence and attack in Islam, and an end of the mission of the call to Islam which constitutes the holiest of duties of the Islamic Ummah which has been chosen by Allah for the role of vicegerency after the end of prophet hood to carry this trust. If Muslims come to be induced by their feeling of zeal for their religion to repress the freedom of others who oppose them and call to their own tendencies, they would then be offering their opponents justification to repress them and exclude them, whereas the Quranic discourse prohibits us from harming others so as not to incite them to harm us: "Revile not ye those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they out of spite revile Allah in their ignorance"(Al- Anaam 108), or to revile their fathers lest they would revile our fathers. Justice requires that we treat others as we wish them to treat us, which implies that we respect their right of freedom of belief and expression so that we can expect them to respect ours, and that holds whether we or they are in a state of strength or weakness. I personally have not heard that any of my brothers or supporters have denied anyone the freedom of criticising or holding different views from myself, and should they do so, they would be erring and iniquitting their religion, their movement and the thought of the person whom they claim defending, for he is innocent of their actions.

Q. Has your political message changed for the past 7 year in light of the change in the Tunisian situation. If so, could you give an example?

I cannot recall an example of radical change in my political discourse as a result of the calamities my dear country Tunisia has been subjected to during the last seven years, except possibly my discourse concerning the repressive regime in Tunisia. I had announced in February 1990, during an interview with the French Press Agency, my withdrawing my trust in Ben Ali which had been given to him following his coup d'�tat against Bourguiba since his 7th of November declaration carried promises of democracy and the release of thousands of political prisoners. My disappointment in him was great, in April 1989, when he was completely absorbed in a swamp of total falsification of the people's will, destroying the last of his project and his promises, and allowing the renewal of his party's absolute hegemony of political, social and media life. He followed on his predecessor's step attacking all resources of society one after the other, starting from student unions which were repressed by sending hundreds of students to detention centres in the middle of the desert. I was feeling the weight of responsibility on my shoulders and the gravity of the trust I had given to Ben Ali and thus had to enlighten my load and withdraw that undeserved trust. Since that day, our discourse concerning the government has remained fixed, varying between instigating attack (during the times of confrontation) and radical criticism of the government policies without any (personification) or instigation, since the movement's conference in 1995. I do not believe that the disastrous evolution of political life in the few last years has caused any considerable change in my political thought concerning the principal issues, in particular those concerning democracy; human rights; the choice of peaceful striving for change; seeking the creation of national and Arab reconciliations; the importance of dialogue between cultures, tendencies and civilisations; the position of women and the active role of the people in change. These principal issues, from the moment I had come to be convinced of them during my first stay in prison (81-84) have not undergone any considerable change, apart from my being further convinced of their credibility, and the maturing of their formulation. This has been acknowledged by just Arab and western researchers such as the American researcher Davies; and those who hold a different view need to prove their conviction s through an objective scientific research, far from the methods of secret security services.

Q. Leaders provide vision to their followers. What vision do you offer to your followers and to Tunisians at large and how to achieve this vision.

I say to them that the future brings glad tidings for them, so they need to be patient, persevere in fighting against injustice, and chase away the spectre of despair and surrender. They should not be alarmed by the repressive regime's power for it is pretentious power hiding its extreme weakness, lack of confidence in itself and in people, terror of the effective methods of resistance and rejection that could spring from the people's awareness and refusal of submission, and a similar terror of the democratic changes occurring in the region and in the world enlarging the scope of democracy and Islam in the world. The undeclared emergency state by which the state tightens its grip on every citizen, its suppression of all voices, spreading of its forces of repression in every corner in every village and city, random arrests, savage torture, and unjust trials are all a clear expression of the state of paranoia from which suffers the regime. You, Tunisians, were pioneers in initiating the great changes in the region, both during colonisation and during the fictitious independence. Your country, despite all deceiving appearances, is among the Arab countries most disposed to achieve a sound democratic change that could turn the balance of power to the benefit of society, re conciliate the state with society as well as with its Arab environment which it had previously neglected, treading on the path of hastening towards Zionists, ignoring the most basic requirements of Arab solidarity to which it has signed its adherence in the last Arab summit, while it continues violating it through its intimate relationship with the Zionist state, even at the time when Zionists are tearing the Holy Quran and (mutilating) the Holy Prophet's image. I say to Tunisia's heroic people, Allah is on our side, so do not despair. The future is for freedom, justice, for the people, for democracy, and for Islam, so do not lose hope, and look forward to a close prosperous future, and do not spare any effort, however small, in supporting the family of a prisoner, or acquitting he who has been wronged. Do not spare a just word, an advice, arousing people's spirits and their determination, bringing glad tidings of God's promise of victory to his believers, enlightening minds, enjoining good and forbidding evil, setting the appropriate climate for the coming of the day of deliverance, when the rays of freedom shine upon Tunisia, through the mobilisation of all capacities of vast sections of society in a peaceful effective rising resistance movement, which has been previously experienced by our people on more than one occasion, compelling the government to retreat. What is to come is even greater by God's will.

"O ye who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and prayer, for God is with those who patiently persevere" (Al-Baqara, 153)

Q. It is a tradition in the West that leaders of defeated parties resign. This could allow for a new leadership that can make some major changes and win like what happened to the English labor party or what is happening now in the conservative party. Would you consider resigning for this cause?

1. What you have said only holds in the political heritage of some western democracies such as Britain, where the leader of a defeated party resigns. It is not a known tradition in western democracies such as in France, where Mitterand, for instance, remained in his position as leader of the Socialist Party for two decades before his party won any elections, as did Chirac and other leaders of French parties, as is the tradition followed in most democracies, in view of the fact that the leader of a party is one of its resources that should not easily be relinquished, since there does not exist a machine producing leaders by order. For that reason, a leader remains as head of his party for as long as he enjoys the support of the party's elite and supporters, for the defeat of a party is not necessarily caused by the incompetence of its leader, especially if the party is a new one and has not been in power, and in particular if it is in state of continuous evolution. Then the criteria for success should not be solely winning by a majority. Rather, simply maintaining its resources and developing them is a success in itself. Necmettin Erbakan, after a third of a century's political activity, did not win a majority in Turkey, but his party is still pursuing its march towards occupying the highest position, despite occasional setbacks. Moreover his party was dissolved and he was imprisoned, but his companions saw no benefit to be obtained from his resignation simply because his party won no more than 10% of votes in most stages of its history, or because he was imprisoned and his party was dissolved as a result of the army's control of political life in Turkey, for can anyone say that it is Erbakan's fault? Erbakan remains a powerful resource of his party and the Islamist experience in Turkey, and as long as that is the conviction of his companions, Erbakan not only has the right, but the duty, religiously and politically, to lead his party. One could only accuse him if he inhibits the mechanism of Shura that is elections, implying his duty to consult his supporters as required by the government, in order to convey its demands and test the extent of their trust in him and their support of his policies, leaving the door open for other competitors for leadership. For if the elective masses express their continuous support for him, and their greater trust in him rather than his competitors, what benefit is to be gained by the party and the project through the resignation of Erbakan, for the sole reason that an exterior force has excluded his party and could imprison him as it had previously done? We conclude that the British tradition is not a rule of democracy, but one specific to the British heritage, whereas non-British politicians, whether western or other, have a different heritage. Even in the British experience, this tradition applies only to the ruling party and the main opposition (the shadow government), and does not hold for other parties, such as the third party- the Liberal Democrats, for instance. Its leader, Mr. Ashdown, has no obligation to follow this tradition since he has not been to power, and for as long as he enjoys the support of his party's majority, he shall lead it, and remain a candidate for the position of prime minister, as his resources grow year by year. This is the tradition followed by parties who have not ruled, which maintain their leaders, investing their assets and strengthening their popular support year after year, for as long as they do not prove to be incompetent and as long as there does not emerge new leaders who may be more qualified for achieving the party's objectives.

2. This tradition is very rare and is peculiar to a few long established democracies, while parties in the third world are mostly in a state of confrontation being engaged in a war similar to that of national liberation, that is a battle aiming at creating radical changes in society. Such parties need leaders who are able to appeal to the largest section of people to partake in crucial battles such as the ones led by our peoples for democratic change, for liberation from the state of subordination, for the transition of authority from the hands of an imposed elite possessing foreign allegiance to the masses to whom authority lawfully belongs. Struggles of such a nature necessitate popular leaders and not merely competent administrative directors.

3. An-Nahdha is a young party, ruled by genuine institutions elected once every three years. Since its founding conference in 1979, the position of president has been occupied by ten leaders, most of them currently in prison. An-Nahdha does not possess eternal leaders that exist above criticism and election, and the relationship between the president and the movement's members is far from the one that exists between a Sufi sheikh and his disciples. Indicators of this fact include the fact that during the movement's latest conference in 1995, the difference between the first and second candidates was only a small number of votes, the first candidate winning no more than 52% of votes.

4. However what I would like to draw attention to is the fact that I find myself more suited to the domain of thought and dawah, rather than that of politics and organisation, but my brothers in an-Nahdha see a greater benefit for the movement in my dedicating a greater part of my time and effort to the leadership of the movement, in view of the special circumstances experienced by our movement and our country. I pray to Allah for guiding my brothers to one who is more competent for achieving the goals of Islam than myself, and to grant me strength and blessing to carry out the responsibility I have been entrusted and tested with.

Q. The former foreign minister Mohamed Masmoudi is back in Tunis. Do you foresee any possibility for a path of reconciliation between the Islamic movement and the Tunisian government through Masmoudi given his previous 'private' intervention on behalf of the Islamists with president Ben Ali in the last dual. Do you see any possible 'national' reconciliation path with Ben Ali and the current power? [T]

One of the strategic objectives of the programme that was agreed upon at the end of the 1995 conference, was to seek bringing about a total national reconciliation which would put an end to injustice and to the imprisonment of political prisoners, and acknowledge the right of everyone to participate equally in the making of the country's future without excluding anyone. As such the state of total immobility that reigns in the country transforming it into a large-scale prison that induces the concern of humanitarian organisations in the world, is not a result of an-Nahdha's programme of instigating a radical change and kindling a revolution. It is in fact the regime that is to blame, for its insistence on suppressing the voice of any opponent, Islamist or secular; its monopoly of authority and decision making, and its granting total freedom and power to the police and the Mafia, thus murdering politics and eliminating all possibilities, driving the country through all means towards growing disenchantment that would undoubdtedly lead to radicalism, explosion and an unknown fate. Tunisia's problem is then not the opposition as all its constituents, including an-Nahdha, have accepted even partial democracy. The problem is the authoritarian police mentality that dominates the thinking of decision makers, or maker, in Tunisia, who would not be induced to abandon that mentality which has driven the country into a catastrophic state threatening even the last positive element that is a source of pride to them- stability, even if it is more like that of graves, and convince them of the fact that it is a disastrous choice for the country and the regime itself. We are ready for reconciliation, and moreover consider it the only option that could achieve the interest of all parties. We call for a reconciliation between the state and society, a reconciliation between the state and religion, a reconciliation between all tendencies, a reconciliation between Tunisia and its Arab and Muslim environment. We shall continue striving for achieving this strategic objective, and should we find that the current government is willing to achieve it, we shall be content, for we do not hold a personal grudge against anyone in particular, but rather wish prosperity for our country, that shall be brought about by an ending of the state of war that exists between the people and their state, by everyone recognising the other, in order to open a new page in Tunisia's modern history, one of dialogue, reconciliation, solidarity and justice, as a substitute for the continuation of repression, exclusion, rancour, revenge and the (circulation) of the position of victim. We have not eliminated anyone, but instead wish for reconciliation with everyone, starting with the government, without excluding any party. However, we are sceptical of the other side, that is the government's welcome of such wishes, the government that has inherited eras of repression and exclusion that it has elaborated and used for transforming the state as a whole into a terrifying repression machine that does not acknowledge politics, human rights or democracy except as slogans or as a decor to cover its beastly claws. Facing such a state, what could a prominent historical leader such as Masmoudi, Mistiri, Habib Aachour, Ahmed Ben Salah, Mohamed Mzali, Moncef Marzouki, Mostapha Ben Jaafar, Mohamed Moaada, Abdelfettah Mourou or Rached Ghannouchi, what could they do when they have been excluded one after the other, following the 7th of November coup d'�tat which monopolised the decision of the country's destiny, while they had all declared, at the time of the so-called 'new era of change', their willingness to serve the project announced in that declaration, but with no avail?

Comprehensive national reconciliation is our unchanging choice, and is a principal need for Tunisia whose wounds have deepened, its social structure destroyed, and the wailing of its women and children risen, as a result of the widening blind repression. This reconciliation which would revive the opportunity of establishing a distinguished democratic change that Tunisia was and still is among the Arab countries most disposed to achieve. This reconciliation, however long it is delayed by the force of the police, is to come, by God's will, be it through the current government's unexpected approval which is an unforeseen wish, or against its will, which is unfortunately what we judge more probable, and "With Allah is the command in the past and in the future: On that day shall the believers rejoice with the help of Allah. He gives victory to whom He wills, and He is exalted in might, Most Merciful." (Ar-Rum, 4-5)


Q. Talking about the West, you called for "hiwar" or "dialogue between Islam and the West," particularly with the US. Former Assistant Secretary of State and Ambassador Djerejian, in his official and non-official capabilities (and others) said that the US was willing to enter in such a dialogue to maintain its "interests" and "stability" in the Muslim world. With such a declared objective on their side, what kind of dialogue is Ghannoushi seeking? What does Ghannoushi (and the world of Islam) have to offer to the West?

My letter to Edward Djerijian was the first letter I had written to an American official of any position, following what he declared during a speech at the Meridian in January 1992. I was greatly pleased with the respect he expressed for Islam, which was the first of its kind, as far as I know, by an American official of any rank. His declaration was a response to what Jewish communities in the West and in Israel were propagating, as well as extremist forces and arms trading lobbies which were fearing for their trade as a consequence of the end of the cold war, inciting them to search hysterically for a new enemy against which western nations will be mobilised allowing defence ministries to preserve their budgets. That was chosen to be Islam, which the president and the prime minister of the Zionist state had pronounced the greatest threat for the West, asserting that Israel is the only guarantee that could face it as it had previously faced Communism, on condition that the West is conscious of that threat and that it maintains Israel's special position and its financial aid. My concern with this fire kindled by the Zionists to fight Islam and incite the West to engage in a war against it, was enormous, and thus I wrote an article entitled "The American strategy and Islam" which the Observer refused to publish and which was published elsewhere, in which I brought attention to the danger of the Zionist strategy in exploiting the West as a repression tool against Islam and the Islamic movement. In that context, Edward Djerijian's speech was extremely comforting, as he clearly asserted that America is not an enemy of Islam, and that it acknowledges this great religion's eminent contributions in the making of the history of civilisation. He brought attention to the fact that millions of Americans are Muslims, that America is not at all an enemy to the Islamic movement and that it does not believe in the so-called Islamic threat as a substitute of the Communist threat, but is in fact an enemy of extremism whatever its source. These declarations were sufficient for me to applaud Djerijian, and hasten to write to him expressing, on behalf of the Islamic movement, our great appreciation of this stand which constitutes in our view a sufficient basis for entering in a new relationship of friendship between Islam and the West, on condition that America confirms this stand. My letter was then a homage that Djerijian justly deserved.

Unfortunately though, Djerijian and the like among the American national tendency who have an concern for the Middle East, such as Robert Pelletrau, were all encircled and excluded by the Zionist lobby that tightens its grip on positions of decision making and power in the American establishment, in particular those concerned with Arab and Muslim issues. Those are the enemy, and the obstacle facing any reconciliation or serious/genuine dialogue or friendship between Islam and America. Pelletrau might have been the last among such men, as he persisted on the same discourse as that of Djerijian, insisting on the same principles, acquitting America of the charge of enmity to Islam and the Islamic movement, denying the American establishment's knowledge of a united structure of the so-called internationale fundamentalism , asserting the American establishment's acknowledgement of the distinction between moderate Islam and extremist Islamism, mentioning Abbassi Madani in Algeria and Rached Ghannouchi in Tunisia as models of moderate Islam. To Djerijian, Pelletrau, Sebastian and the like of brave men in the American establishment, despite their scarcity, I express my unreserved respect and admiration.

Q. Do you still think that the US is hapless victim of a Jewish conspiracy to use it/push it to fight Islam?

Unfortunately, it is the case that, particularly since the end of the cold war, the American establishment has been leading a front engaged in a war against Islam, through its obstruction of attempts to bring about an Islamic resurgence, its prevention of Muslims from possessing sufficient power for protecting their lands and entering the modern age, even if that is attempted by its allies, as has happened with Pakistan. America continued to oppose fervently and effectively, even using sanctions, in order to prevent Pakistan from acquiring the nuclear bomb so as to cause a change in the balance of power that is currently to the benefit of its neighbouring country India, which possesses a greater army, and more modern defence systems including the nuclear bomb.

On another front, the United States uses its position for the service of the enemies of Islam, as it effectively supports the Zionist gangs usurping Palestine, turning a blind eye to the Jewish nuclear arsenal, and to the crimes committed daily against the peoples of the region and even against institutions of the United Nations. The US has used its veto against sanctioning Israel a sum of a million and a half dollars for the construction of the refugee site in Qana which was destroyed by Israeli shelling murdering over a hundred women and children, backing Israel refusal to compensate for the buildings it had destroyed, which are a property of the UN, let alone compensating for the lost lives, since they are merely Muslim lives which have no value within the new world order led by the US.

It is indeed distressful to see that the US places its friends in the region facing a difficult choice: between their allegiance to their countries desecrated by the US, and between their believing America's declared adherence to the respect of freedom and human rights in the world, while it continuously violates them, especially with respect to Arabs and Muslims. What is the justification of this American enmity towards Arabs and Muslims? Is it a colonial and crusades heritage from among the thought, culture, relations of friendship and enmity and leadership of the Western Camp inherited from Europe, despite the fact that the United States is a modern nation that had no part in the Crusades or the colonisation of Arab and Muslim lands, and moreover shares with the Muslim world the experience of colonisation and liberation war? Or is it the effect of exterior elements such as the Zionist influence inside the American establishment, on the general public, on the intellectual and economic American elite, and on American life in general? This influence has satanised Islam and Muslims and Arabs in the American mentality, and imposed the weight of the Jewish element that can no longer be ignored in the election process, and in the making of critical decisions, in particular those concerning the Arab and Muslim world. What supports this view is the fact that the United States' attitude towards Muslims and liberation movements in general, before the rise of this destructive influence, was not as negative and hostile as it is today, and was tending towards friendship. After the First World War, during Wilson's presidency, the US endorsed the principle of peoples' right to choose their destiny. The US supported liberation movements in the third world including the Muslim world, as it did in the fifties supporting Egypt's Canal war against the British-French alliance. Those liberating attitudes have faded towards extinction, to be replaced by a strategy of absolute support of the Zionist state, without reaching the level of total war against Islam. But since the Palestinian issue represents the centre of conflict between the Muslim Ummah and its enemies, and since the Zionist project aims at starting from Palestine to control the whole of the region and attack the spirit of the Arab and Islamic strategy of revival and unification, the United States' total support of the monopolising Zionist strategy can only have one interpretation: that the US has dedicated itself, by choice or by force, to serving the Zionist project, mobilising all its powers against Islam and Muslims, allying itself with all their enemies, headed by the Zionist project. Conversely one sees that Europe, which originally fostered the Zionist project, through France during Napoleon's rule or after it, or Britain which renewed its adoption of the project in 1840, as part of its policies of destroying Egypt's dream to establish an Arab empire during Mohamed Ali's rule, the same Europe today does not express the same enthusiasm for the Zionist project, which it had originated, that the United States expresses. Why is this the case? Is it that the Western Camp's leadership and its heritage of aspirations and hostility towards Islam have been transferred to the US? Or is it due to the Jewish factor which cannot be resisted, especially after the end of the cold war, and the Western mind's seeking a new enemy towards which it would direct its arms so that they do not rust, and develop them so as to prevent the arms industry's bankruptcy? At that point, the Jewish element intervened to invoke Islam as a candidate, satanised by the Jewish media, so as to appear as a genuine enemy, whereas if one seriously investigates, it does not possess the least of requirements for being one. The Muslim world is fragmented, weak and backward, subordinated to the West in everything, weakened by its internal conflicts between its various sects and states, and between its peoples and their rulers, so what danger could a nation in such a state represent? Despite all that, the Zionist media succeeded, together with arms lobbies and other parties with various interests, in inflating this void to create a terrifying enemy, worthy of mobilising all powers against it, maintaining the high budgets of armament, expanding the NATO, organising numerous conferences and creating new laws in order to face this Islamic terrorism. Hostility towards Islam had never extinguished in the West, but Zionists have succeeded in kindling it further.

The American people have nothing to do with this hostility towards Islam and Muslims, in view of its distance from the Muslim world, the richness of its resources, the absence of any enmity or revenge in its relation with the Muslim world, and the fact that its interests in the Muslim world are not threatened except by its engagement in a war for the interest of others. The American people, which was forced to be in a position of hostility towards Islam, its nation and its renaissance, is a victim of two forms of assault: the first was imposing the European Crusade and colonial heritage including hostility to Islam and its nation on the American people while it is was not involved in that heritage of wars and enmities; the second is its falling victim to a brutal Zionist deception which had misled, and still is, the American people into linking Zionist interests to their own interests, convincing them of the claim that any interest of the Zionist hegemony in the region and in the world is in turn an American interest, thus engaging Americans in wars that are in fact not their wars but those of others, and which are moreover contradictory to their principles, values and interests. For what kind of logic justifies the American people's engagement in a war against a religion to which adheres the fifth of humanity who occupy a quarter of the globe possessing the most important resources and passages, and who are spread in all continents attracting tens of thousands of converts daily, and who are in a state of resurgence and renaissance.? What justifies entering in a war against them for the interest of the insane dreams of a few millions who were used by the colonial British establishment as part of its plans, and were led by their illusions into believing that they have become masters working for their own interest, able to eliminate Islam and inherit its possessions as well as those of the West in the region by competing with it and finally excluding it from that region, as they did before with the British, as they murdered their representative in Palestine Lord Caradon forgetting the fact that they are a British creation, and that is what they intend to do with respect to Americans, because they are a people with no gratitude and whose greedy dreams have no end, who would harm the person who had benefited them. Due to these facts, their Talmudic dreams will induce the scorn of all peoples which had aided them, starting from Muslims which had for a long time granted them, as well as Christians, refuge, as their greed would induce them to insane aspirations, leading them to monopolising all resources and interests, and eradicating all other cultures and religions, and what the spy Pollard did is but an example of what Zionists could do with respect to Americans. Would Americans realise this truth? and if they did, are they able to do anything?

Unfortunately, most Americans are not conscious of all this, and those who are, are just full of resentment and bitterness and are not capable of doing anything. For many opportunities were wasted, when Americans did not follow their wise leader Franklin's advice when he warned them of what Jews could do in America if they were left to their wishes. However, Peoples are similar to giant trees, they lean when faced with wind but soon regain their posture. The American people and the rest of peoples whose dignity is degraded today by the Zionists while they are silent, shall one day rise and reject this nuisance, that of marginal groups which had climbed to authority, monopolising almost all power, without possessing any popular support. One fears for them (Jews) a fate similar to that of Al-Baramikah in Muslim history, but they do not realise any of this. They continue injuring the victim, provoking it, degrading it, attacking its dignity, until the victim one day revolts and destroys all their satanic dreams and Talmudic illusions. Would not the wise among the Jews who are a people of knowledge/science, philosophy and culture, realise the destructive fate of what the actions of Jewish Masonic Zionist atheistic gangs would lead to, so that they rebuke them and save the fate of their people from the dangerous destruction that awaits them, so that they put an end to their oppression of the peoples of the world, their humiliation and their exploitation, instead of recognising the other and his dignity, and choosing the path of understanding and coexistence with Islam. The world is vast enough to accommodate for everyone, so why this egoism and arrogance? Indeed entering into the lion's den, to Palestine, the heart of the Muslim Ummah, and aiming at eliminating the Muslim and Christian heritage and constructing the alleged temple on the remains of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and transform it into a base for the Jewish monopoly of the region is a satanic dream which has dominated the minds of extremist Jews and towards which they are striving, which would only render every Jew in the world a target of hostility, as well as any American if America continues on the same path of protecting the Talmudic satanic project that today reigns in Israel, embarking with a blind force full of historical hostilities and illusions. Would the wise among the Jews and Americans be aware of this destructive fate towards which they are led by Zionist mobs in Palestine, whether headed by Netanyahu, Barak or Sharon, for their strategy is one: use Palestine as a new centre of the Zionist monopoly of the region and the world, and exploit the West and in particular America as a tool for repressing the peoples of the region and their heritage, and eventually eliminating American and Western interests in the region through controlling oil reserves and all resources and announcing a new Jewish world order on the ruins of the American Western world order. These are not illusions or paranoia, it is a strategy conducted by a state possessing the nuclear bomb and power basis that spread as the arms of an octopus throughput the world, and supported by the most powerful state in the world which is on the verge of being transformed from the position of (actor) to that of the subject.


Q. Quoting Eric Rouleau, Elie Chalala argued for a Nazi influence on the creation of Arab nationalism. [N] How do you read this statement? Does this influence have reflections in traces of anti-Semitism existing in the Arab world?

I do not perceive a clear connection between the two. For the birth of Arab nationalism preceded historically the emergence of the Nazi project, which was a reaction to the humiliation Germany had undergone during the 1st world war, whereas the emergence of Arab nationalism was primarily linked to that of (Toranic) nationalism in Turkey and a reaction to it. The religious bond was the common link between all nationalities united under the Ottoman empire. However, the Khilafah's despondency and inability to create the required evolution in its internal structures with the required speed in order to keep in pace with the modern age and be able to face the rising western challenge, led the Turkish elite to embrace western concepts amongst which was the concept of nationalism with its secular baggage as it was perceived in the West, as a substitute to religious bonds, hoping that it would deliver the Khilafah from its crisis. The higher the rise of this secular elite within the Khilafah in its army and administration, the weaker the religious bond became between Turks and Arabs and other nationalities, in such a way that the relationship between them became similar to a colonial relationship, principally one of oppression and tyranny. Meanwhile, the Arab elite was under the influence of the same western winds coming from the west bringing new concepts including that of the "nation state". The Arab elite was also close to the modern tendencies merging in the Khilafah in the same direction. All that encouraged the demand for an Arab state separate from the Khilafah, with a western intellectual background. A number of those who demanded that were working within the Ottoman establishment or close to it, such as Sataa Al-Husari, alongside a number of Christian Arabs such as Najib Aazouri and Al Al- Bustani. The concept of an Arab state was not so much a secular creation as it was an evolution of a concept springing from within the Islamic reform movement since the eighteenth century, by the initiator of the first renaissance and reform movement that took place in the furthest region in the Arab world from any western influence, Najd in the depths of the Arab desert. That man was the scholar Mohamed Ben Abdelwahhab, who called for the transfer of the Khilafah to the Arab world, and whose movement engaged in a fierce war against the Khilafah. Despite the fact that the power which repressed this movement on behalf of the Khilafah was Mohamed Ali's rule in Egypt, the latter did not hesitate to mobilise a great modern army for the same mission, and he was only prevented from entering the gates of Istanbul by the intervention of western armies which destroyed Mohamed Ali's army and his project, and dedicated its powers for the protection of the Khilafah against any revival attempt, leading it towards its foreseen fate as a prelude to its inheritance of its lands. Muslims reformers continued calling for the transfer of the Khilafah to the Arab world, as did the scholar Abderrahman Al-Kawakibi. However, the negative evolution undergone by the Khilafah state on one hand, and the evolution of Arab elite educated in Western institutions towards adopting the Western model of the state on the other, transformed the concept of Arab nationalism from a concept rooted in the Islamic reform movement, to being an Arab duplicate of the concept of nationalism as it was conceived in Germany, before the birth of Nazism, and in France and Italy, as a superior linguistic and cultural identity aspiring to unification, separate from any religious origin/dimension of that nationality. As such, where can you perceive a connection between Arab and Nazi nationalism, while historical investigation proves that the formation of Arab nationalism predated the birth of Nazism, and is closer to being a reflection or consequence of the Ottoman issue and western nationalisms? If one is to talk of a connection between Nazism and nationalism, it would be between it and Zionist nationalism whose project was realised under close co-ordination and aid of the Nazis who had decided to relieve themselves of the Jews, and the prospect of assisting them to emigrate to Palestine was the cheapest method.

Q. Is there an inherent element of anti-Semitism (that is a racism against Jews) in Islamic discourse? Can you elucidate, in your opinion, the Islamic point of view?

The anti-Semitic feelings amongst Arabs that you have mentioned is a confusion created in your minds by the Zionist media which exploited your ignorance. For the simplest anthropological analysis of Eastern peoples reveals the fact that Arabs and Hebrews originate from the same Semitic lineage, rendering any attack on this lineage an attack on Arabs as well as on Jews, assuming that Jews existing today are the ancient Hebrew sons of Abraham (peace be upon him), and that they are indeed Semiotics. The least that could be said concerning the last point is that it is challenged by researchers.

If what you implied is the existence of a hostility towards Jews because of their religion that is enshrined in Arab and Islamic culture, then your suggestion is rejected both theoretically and practically. For on the theoretical level, Islam, which is the principal constituent of Arab culture, recognised Jews as a religious group of divine origin. Islam ennobled symbols of this religion and included them amongst the sacred articles of its faith, as the belief in Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Aaron and the Torah is part of the Islamic beliefs and whoever rejects that belief has committed apostasy. Moreover, Islam prescribes special laws with respect to the group of people adhering to that religion (Jews are seen as a religious group), authorising the sharing of their food, intermarriage, and other matters which it did not allow for polytheistic groups, and has secured their lives as "people of the book". As to the practical side, Jews constituted a founding element of the first society formed in Islam, under the leadership of the Islamic mission leader himself, the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him). The constitutional document, which was the first of its kind in tolerating religious pluralism within a single society, granting them citizenship rights and regarding them as part of the Ummah and the state. All through Islamic history, Jews have lived securely in al Muslim societies, and their culture thrived under Islam, as philosophers emerged from amongst them such as Ibn Maymoun (Maimonide), as well as doctors, translators, owners of high capitals, ministers and writers, to such a degree that it induced the envy of Muslim scholars due to the high position Jews occupied in Muslim rulers' palaces. As Jews at that time put their trust in Islam and Muslims, when they had undergone oppression alongside Muslims in Muslim Spain following the fall of Islamic rule due to Crusaders' savagery and their Inquisition, Jews did not choose to emigrate towards Christian or polytheistic societies in the world, but instead chose to emigrate towards Muslim societies in North Africa and the urban centre of the Ottoman Khilafah. Even when the evil intentions of ingratitude to Muslims were revealed in usurping Palestine and committing the most execrable atrocities against its people, that did not incite Muslims in any Muslim or Arab country to direct their reaction towards Jews living there, who remained safe without the need of surrounding them with security fences to protect them against public anger, since the latter was cultivated within the school of Islamic tolerance to respect the freedom of belief of others, and to consider responsibility as individual "no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of others" (An-Najm 38). For those reasons, the history of Jews under Muslim rule, despite its alternation between advance and retardation, between freedom and tyranny, did not register the occurrence of any mass slaughter against Jews, neither on a small nor large scale, in contrast to what occurred in Christian societies. Jews committed terrifying atrocities against the Palestinian people in a record time, desecrated its holy symbols, and their hatred and fanatism are growing as they are preparing for a new stage of final total destruction of the remaining Islamic symbols including Al-Aqsa Mosque which has been encircled and is tending towards collapse, a catastrophe which would inflict a deep wound in Muslim conscience unmendable except by the eradication of this foundling colonial body which has been inflicted by the hostile West on Islam and Muslims under the leadership of the British, and currently cared for, protected and enormously aided by the US, so that it persists on its attack and hostilities, defying all international accords and all human values and principles, creating a huge barrier between the Muslim Ummah and Americans. The wound that was afflicted by the British and deepened by Americans in the heart of the Muslim Ummah by implanting the Jewish body at its centre and supporting its evil tendencies, will not be mended unless an end is put to that aid, and an implicit apology is addressed to Muslims as was done towards Jews, and as did the Portuguese president when he apologised for the eradication wars committed by his predecessors against Muslims in Spain, and as Japan did with respect to its former crimes.

Q. What about the _Protocols of the Elders of Zion_? It was translated early in the century by a Tunisian [Khelifa Ettounsi with an introduction by, the then most eminent Arab literary critic, Abbas Mahmoud al-Aqqad]. Sheikh Abdelfattah Mourou, before he severed his ties with your movement introduced a modern, abridged and accessible edition? Was this an endorsement, at least intellecutally, of its message, by your movement?

Our movement does not usually publish books, but rather stands with respect to the issues posed on the political arena. Our movement published numerous communiqu�s and analyses denouncing the Zionist attack on Palestine, the Muslim Ummah and on international law. Despite the great distance separating Tunisia from the Zionist body, we have not been safe from its hostility and violations of our borders on more than one occasion, and its murder of tens of innocent Tunisians for the sole charge that their country had granted refuge to individuals outcast by the Zionist attack on their country and its neighbouring countries, since they are regarded as terrorists! What is peculiar is that those same 'terrorists' have been finally recognised by Zionists.

Our stand as 'enemies of Zionists' does not emanate from their being Jews, for we have no problem with Judaism as a religion or Jews as a religious group, and does not have its origin in the document entitled "Protocols of the elders of Zion", regardless of its genuineness, but springs from principles and unchanging religious and human values rejecting hostility and oppression, recognising the sacred right of peoples whose lands are occupied to fight against that oppression using any possible means, regarding Zionism as a nationalistic discriminatory colonialist settler movement residual of the long gone colonial period, and that it is an arm of colonial nations to impose fragmentation in the Arab region and encircle Egypt in particular and prevent it from playing its natural role in unifying the region and reviving it. Whether we are Muslims, Christians or secularists, it is our national, human and religious right and duty to resist foreign occupation regardless of the nature of its raised banners. As our Ummah resisted Western and Eastern occupation, Italian, French, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, Indian or Philippeanian, and expelled it out of its lands after tens or even hundreds of years of occupation, as it did with the Crusaders, our generations will continue resisting the Zionist occupation and eliminating this cancerous protrusion that the West had implanted at the heart of our world, dispossessing millions of our children, elderly people and women to be sheltered in tents in the bitter cold, while they see their homes populated, their fields cultivated and their sacred symbols violated by a group of people driven from the extremities of the world by a western plot which had and still is offering them tremendous aid to deepen further our wound and trample on our dignity and destroy the holy place of our Prophet's Night Journey and construct on its ruins a temple springing from Talmudic myths as a cover for the original colonial intentions in demolishing our Ummah's aspirations for unity and renaissance. One day will come, and symptoms suggest its closeness, when the Zionist state makes a transition from the stage of working for western and American interests to a stage of working for its own interests, of amputating the hand that was lent to it and still is generously aiding it, as it previously did with the high British representative who facilitated the establishment of that state, but was nonetheless eliminated by Zionists, and so will Western and American interests in the region be eliminated, aspiring for its inheritance.


Q. What is Sheikh Ghannoushi's position with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? How do you perceive the solution given that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is so entangled, and that their world is so small, geographically and politically?

You ask me about the solution: it is resistance, resistance generation after generation. If you do not know much about our Ummah, then you should know that it is the Ummah of perseverance, and that it is preparing to awaken and deal with the residual of its decadence and the heritage of the colonial period. Indeed the Zionist state plays an important role assisting in mobilising our forces and hastening our step towards our renaissance and liberation. Amidst the conflict with this infliction to extract it from our body, the fate will only be one of two: that this sate will entrench itself deeper in our body to destroy and inherit it, or our Ummah will succeed in gathering strength for resistance, (extracting) from the sources of its great religion and its historical experience in resistance, its geographical depth, the size of its population, and the phenomena of renovation and growth it is experiencing which will cause the withering/falling of worn ideas and empty structures to be replaced by authentic ideas and effective popular institutions. All these factors constitute elements of resistance and awakening that do not require more than the flame of challenge to be activated, and Israel is that flame, and it is the challenge.

Islamists do not call for a war of destruction against Jews in the world, nor against Jews in Palestine to throw them in the sea and murder their children and women as they did in Deir Yassin, Kafr Qacem, Al-Khalil, Sabra and Shatila, Qana. Wars of our nation were not characterised by such Nazi Talmudic savagery, for it is a nation of principles and humane values which it does not abandon whether in peace or war, including the prohibition of killing innocent people including children, women, elderly people and monks. It is a resistance that will continue even if it lasts hundreds of years 'til we purify our nation's body and the region from the Zionist state implanted in the heart of our nation. After that, Jews can enjoy, under the Islamic Ummah, the rights of citizenship and security of their lives and possessions which they had previously enjoyed.

We do not consider the proposed solutions as liable for survival, be it with respect to its lack of the minimum of justice or to its unrealism. It is an exploitation of the time of disequilibrium in the balance of power, a consequence of the period of change and power transition between the traditional westernised elite whose influence is declining and the new rising Islamist elite, and it is a period which will not last eternally. Similarly, the solution of surrender proposed to our nation under the name of agreement/compromise will not last long, for it is unjust and unrealistic because of its ignoring the real issues which constitute the minimal demands of the established states and of the PLO, such as sovereignty over the land, Jerusalem and the return of refugees. It is also unjust because it degrades the nobility of this nation extended in history, (geography) and civilisation, and merely expresses the deeply rooted Zionist arrogance, infinite greed and Talmudic illusions. Otherwise how could it be imagined that these solutions which ignore the minimal demands of the main Arab states concerned (Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) imposing on a whole people the choice between a life of exodus and eternal exile, and living in a ghetto as Nazis did with the Jews. The geographical space itself where this agreement is taking place is so narrow that it does not suffice for one state let alone three (Palestine, Israel and Jordan). For these reasons, we call for a radical solution which would establish one democratic state in the region, one that is religiously pluralistic, where everyone participates in governing on the basis of citizenship and free elections, preserving for every group its religious and cultural particularities. This solution was previously a programme of the PLO before it lost equilibrium and started hastening towards surrender solutions, after it was inflicted by old age and fear of time dynamism which would one day reach it, following the Gulf war -especially after the emergence of Hamas- so it hastened and threw itself in the American Israeli arms hoping to gain something before it is too late.

The proposed agreement does not realise the minimum of Arab interests as demanded by the principal Arab states: Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia, simply because it does not only lead to competition with Egypt with a new leadership of the region, but aims at excluding Egypt and the main Arab centres to the side and marginalising them through dealing with small states (Qatar, Oman, Tunisia) in order to place Israel as the new leadership of Arabs and Muslims. This was declared by the "wisest" man amongst what is known as Israel's (pigeons): Perez whose arrogance reached such a high level that he dared to declare during the Casa Blanca economic conference addressing Arabs: You have tried Egypt's leadership for half a century, so why not try Israel's leadership?!!

Jews' insane aspirations of the Torah will only turn against them not only all Arabs and not only all Muslims but will also turn against them western countries themselves which were involved in implanting them in the heart of our nation, because they will undoubtedly become a threat for western interests in the region and aspire to inherit them. Jews in the whole world including all denominations only number around 16 million, and even if they all gather as a whole, and they never come together, and even if they dominate positions of decision making in the world and come to control all gold reserves and all the media markets, it is absolutely illogical, as says the Palestinian priest from Jerusalem, (Kabudjy), that nations will accept their domination, especially the nation of Islam. Jews' surrender to the Zionist extremist religious minority will only turn nations and peoples against them, provoke them and incite them to gather their strength and renew their determination to face them. They would not find in the end, despite all the suffering they inflicted on our nation, anyone more merciful towards them than Muslims. What interest will this small nation obtain by surrendering to the satanic Zionist aspirations, and entering in enmity with other nations and peoples, and in particular with the Muslim nation, while they enjoyed a recognised position within that nation which preceded all nations in admitting ethnic, religious and cultural pluralism, and granted them refuge when other nations chased them.

Q. Are suicide bombs justified? religiously? politically?

I do not regard myself as someone to issue fatwas, and those liable to do that have permitted it, such as Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qardhawi, the main contemporary Muslim scholar, who distinguished between someone who is psychologically destroyed, with no hope in life, disenchanted with his existence who therefore finds no escape from reality other than to commit suicide, which is prohibited by Islam since God is the One who grants life and hence it is not a personal possession whose owner can deal with it in any way he wishes, but rather a trust to be treated following the will of who has granted it, so that the person who commits suicide has transgressed over the right of God and thus deserves punishment. On the contrary, he who finds that everything around him call him to surrender, and that the balance of power is to the benefit of his enemy, and nonetheless refuses to surrender and remains determined to resist and sacrifice his life for his beliefs and his country, and enters his enemy's territory and cast terror into their hearts and demoralises them, thus creating a new balance of power, such a person is the furthest of people from the state of hopelessness, submission and desolation, but is rather at the highest level of spirituality, strength of personality, courage and continuous determination to draw nearer to God through what he cherishes most: his self, his soul and life pleasures. Are the two equal?: one who has no hope in life, spiritually destroyed, and one who rejects a life of submission and degradation and aspires to a noble life, defying the dominating powers, earnestly striving with a shining spirit towards a higher and more lasting life, are they equal?


Q. Some see in Islamism an extension of nationalism whose Islamic dimension has just been highlighted. What is your answer to this assertion?

They are not far from the truth, if they meant the object/role and not the content, since Arab nationalism as all nationalisms aims at gathering a nation in one state in order to achieve an internal renaissance and face the external enemy. We had previously asserted that the concept of the unity of Arabs and their aspiration to recuperate the leadership of the Muslim Ummah was originally one of the consequences of Islamic reform which emerged far from any western influence as a revival of the thought of Ibn Taymiyyah. Due to other factors, this concept was secularised, and that was the cause of its failure. However, it still carried the same political Islamic goals in gathering the Ummah in order to achieve renaissance and face the external enemy. As a result of this unity in the main objectives, the Islamic and nationalist tendencies were able to bridge the temporary gap that occurred between the two leading to the return to dialogue and co-operation to achieve their common objectives within one organisation which is the National Islamic Council.

Q. Some Islamists argue that an alliance with nationalism will not create the Islamic state. They in fact argue that such an alliance re-tailor Islam and the Islamic universal ideal to narrow tribal themes and it being the finalized message from God. You called them "ill-mannered" on the pages of al-Mujtama (in '89) if they thought otherwise of, say, democracy or projects that would include nationalists as part of the Islamic state. What is wrong with their analysis? Would such an alliance destroy the Islamic project?

Co-operation with moderate nationalists is an important strategic achievement for the Ummah regardless of gain or loss for this tendency or the other, and it is still in its start and has not attained the level of alliance to which we all aspire. When it was achieved, none of the two tendencies abandoned the essence of its mission, but just liberated itself from some of the concepts that it came to be identified with, while it is not really part of it. For instance, enmity to the Arab nationality or to Arab unity is not an original element in the mission of Islam as the Quran was revealed in the Arabic language to a man from that nation which was the recipient and carrier of that mission, nor is secularity or enmity towards the Muslim environment the essence of the nationalist mission, but those are just marginal ideas that became confused with it on the way. The two tendencies are today on the verge of completing a historical reconciliation that would preserve the principal essence of each mission and concentrates on what is common between the two, most importantly to face the danger that threatens everyone and which has gone past the stage of combating Islam with Arab nationalism or combating Arab nationalism with Islam as what happened during the cold war, as they are both targeted today through linking Islam to terrorism as is done by the western media in general, and has (exceeded) the level of media war to the judicial one as is done currently by the ministry of Justice in Quebec in Canada where a Tunisian asylum seeker called Mohamed Zrig was rejected on the basis of his being accused of committing crimes against humanity! simply for belonging to an Islamist movement believing in the Islamic law, which is an-Nahdha movement. That was enough to support the charge mentioned according to that ministry of justice, and the case is currently at the court of appeal. The Canadian ministry of justice has spent up to this day more than 400 thousand dollars in gathering documents and getting the help of experts in Islamism in order to prove that charge. The Islamic Sharia being an integral part of Islam, the powerful western influenced by Zionists is tending towards regarding simply belonging to Islam as a crime against humanity. As to Arab nationalism, it is less targeted by crimination, exclusion and justification of its destruction, in such a way that the term 'Arab world' is no more used in the western media and politics within the context of the United Nations to be replaced by that of the Middle East and North Africa. This has incited us, Islamists, who used to look suspiciously at Arab nationalism, to reconsider this concept targeted by the enemies of Islam and (elevate) ourselves over being integrated even for one instant within the strategy of our common enemy, realising that what is plotted against our nation today does not only target the Islamic project or the Arab project, but also threatens the established national states with further splitting and partition, which incites us to hold on to these states which we had long ridiculed, because the alternative will be worse: further partition. That is not permitted in our religion which admits the principle of choosing the lesser of two evils, and prohibits fighting against an evil to replace it by a greater evil. Today the choice is not between an Islamic state ruled by Sharia and a secular Arab nationalist state, but rather the choice proposed to our Ummah is between resistance in order to preserve the minimum of what we possess including the independence of our states and in addition demand greater freedom, openness and co- operation between them, or else using us against each other and our decline towards further partition as a prelude to what some call the Israeli era(!) leading to the loss of the national independence and the limited level of development, solidarity and renaissance achieved by our Ummah. However, despite all the dangers we are facing, we are certain that this nation will not perish, and that all the forms of international transgression and all the repression inflicted upon its peoples by their governments encouraged by the dominating powers, are all temporary phenomena preparing for a renaissance, and are merely desperate attempts to drive time backwards. The Muslim genie has escaped from the bottle and will never return to it. It gains new territory and new supporting forces day after day due to what Islam, the spirit of our Ummah, possesses: a huge power of resistance, high spirituality, amazing balance and an irresistible attraction, which enables our Ummah to face great terrifying powers which are bankrupt on the level of spirit, values and principles, with simple methods, bare chests and high strong determination. And since civilisation is not a great machine as much as it is the elevation of man over necessity, and the power which gives people, and youth in particular, meaning to their lives and brings equilibrium back to their personalities between the demands of men and women, those of the spirit and the body, the individual and society, and the nation and humanity, and since Islam is the only remaining system which has not lost its resources on that level, and on the contrary the bankruptcy of the civilisation of the one-dimensional individual, the civilisation of the hamburger, Coke, Rock, drugs, sexual deviance, pollution of the environment and organised crime, Islam is coming and the future is for Islam. The future is that of dialogue, justice, co-operation between peoples, equilibrium between man and the environment. Within this context, we called for a reconciliation with nationalists, reconciliation between peoples and governments, and between Islam and the West, for dialogue, co-operation and interaction between civilisations instead of conflict and rejection predicted by ideologists of the Pentagon.

Q. Nationalists do not trust you either. They see in your alliance as one of convenience. They point to Khomeini and what he did with his allies at the helm of revolution. What guarentees do you offer them?

Trust is acquired through the agreement on a vision and a work plan and then through common work in order to realise the two. Common meetings have led to an agreement on that vision and we are currently co-operating in order to execute it. Considerable steps have been taken towards increasing retrospective trust on the ruins of rupture and conflict. The two parties/sides are conscious of the fact that their enemy is common and that they are equally targets so that when one of them is addressed/targeted the other side is implied too.

Q. You quote in your earlier work, in the celebrated 'Maqalat' for instance, Ibn Khaldun arguing that only religious polity can work for the Arabs [and by stretch many traditional Islamic societies]. Yet the same Ibn Khaldun says that religious men are the least to understand the matters of politics. He argued that a view of politics through the prism of religion is faulted historically. He even went on to reject a famous quotable hadith about the three generations following prophethood and the return of the rightly-guided caliphate after the third generation (the hadith on "a rightly guided-caliphate", lasting thirty years, then a "forced kingship" then a "kingship held up with teeth (for a long time)", the so called al-mulk al-jabri and al-mulk al-adhudh). In essence, based on the proof of history, he argued for the "secular state". How do you reconcile his views in light of your own convictions and in light of his respected position both among the ranks of lawyers and statesmen?

This interpretation of the Khaldunian text contains much distort, for Ibn Khaldun did not accord legitimacy to the separation between the religious and the political, to secularity in other words. On the contrary, the Khaldunian articulation of the theory of `Ilm al-`Umran (sociology), is dominated by a spirit of religious and political reform, which aspires to rejuvenating the bond between political wordly interests with those of a religious nature. In the bottom of his stratification of the types of political rule, lies the rule of nature, founded upon the power of blind kinship (`Assabiah), with all the coercion and violence with which it is associated. A higher position is accorded to the rule of reason, based on the rational insightful arrangement of political affairs in accordance with wordly political interests, but the morally and politically unpareil status according to Ibn Khaldun is that of the rule of khilafat, which Ibn Khaldun judges to be the ideal system which alone is capable of subduing the inclinations to coercion and violence that are entrenched within the rule of nature.

Q. Sheikh Ghannoushi lamented the death of the communist block. You also loathed the "New World Order." Do you feel sorry that communism is dead?

I did not applaud the fall of the Communist camp nor was I distressed by it. I recall that the Algerian newspaper "Horizon" interviewed me following the coup d'�tat against Gorbechev and the declaration of the return of communism, and I expressed my reservation and my fear of the return of dictatorship of the proletariat, despite my previously warning against a (unique) world leadership. I did however, during a lecture at Georgetown in February 1990 consider the fall of the Soviet Union as a factor that could bring Islam to the limelight and thrust it into the heart of international conflict after a long period of marginalisation and obscurity. Although that would be a great test, it would prepare it for the stage of world leadership, for creeds/doctrines are not revived by marginalisation and repose but through struggle, conflict and trials. As such the fall of the Soviet Union is not in any way something to be lamented by Muslims: for on the level of doctrines, it was the fall of the greatest atheism fortress ever known in the world history which represented the greatest challenge to believers, while on the level of politics, the Soviet's Union's record of attitudes towards our principal issues has not been so positive if one studied the matter objectively, for it was amongst the first to hasten to recognise the Zionist state, for instance, and to send an interminable flow of emigrants. This is in addition to the eradication wars of which Muslims afflicted by Communist rule in Central Asia and the Balkans were victims, as well as its creation of elites and parties in the Muslim Ummah whose contempt of Islam exceeds their contempt of capitalism, in such a way that it co-operated with it and even worked as an agent to it after the fall of their Soviet masters, in order to pursue their war against Islam, placing itself at the service of police, military and Mafioso regimes. In this context, the decline of communism was a great acquisition for Islam and freedom, despite its appearance as a victory of capitalism at first, for it was the opposite. The collapse of communism will only be a prelude to the collapse of the other face of the concept of capitalist secularity. It is in all cases the collapse of the illusions of western rational modernity founded on arrogance and the claim of reason's ability to independently organise life and attain happiness in total isolation and with no need of Divine guidance.

Q. Your movement and numerous Islamist movement have been spared heavy blows thanks to the action of various human rights organizations. Yet you are on record analysing the "New World Order" saying that: "This New World Order, from the point of view of its intellectual content, its ideology and its religion, isn't new. It is simply American hegemony over the world, clothed in the ideology of human rights." [K] What ideology are you referring to? Would your movement, if in power, agree to international laws and conventions on human rights to which the Tunisian state is already committed?

I repeatedly expressed in my books and speeches our gratitude to human rights organisations for the great efforts they made and are making in fighting against dictatorship in my country and elsewhere in the world and acquitting victims of repression even if they are Islamists. Human rights organisations were also among whom I had dedicated my book "Civil Freedoms" to. I had also mentioned that the international declaration of human rights represents in my view a considerable gain for freedom, and the crowning of humanity's struggle for the recognition of man qua non possessing equal established rights, which agrees with Islam's objectives and mission as a comprehensive call for humanity: "O mankind! We created you from a single pair, of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous of you." (Al-Hujurat 13). Thus Islam welcomes with this development/evolution, and all that diminishes its pleasure is the daily trampling of western media and leaders of the world order on the content of this declaration. Despite that they do not feel ashamed to regard themselves as the standard of those rights and as their guardians to such a degree that they do not hesitate to violate other states' sovereignty and to lead armies to impose embargoes on them and starve their children under the pretext of protecting those rights. Although we welcomed the content of that declaration in general, we do not totally agree with the secular philosophical foundations of these rights, nor do we approve of the denial of the rights of other civilisations such as the Islamic civilisation in preserving its peculiarities if they contradict some details of the declaration such as the importance of the religious factor in marriage.

Governments in Arab and Muslim countries which signed human rights international accords acknowledged these peculiarities, including the Tunisian government, as far as I know. We take the same stand: General approval of the rights declared in those accords with the right to difference in some of its few details, as a preservation of our peculiarities as Muslims belonging to a different civilisational climate where religion is not separate from others sectors of life.


Q. In various statements you endorsed the concept of "civil liberties." Do liberties include the "right to apostasy", that is the rejection of say an Islamic ideal that was once adopted. How does this stand with traditional Islamic laws which sanction to death one who rejects the faith or one who quits the daily prayers?

1. Muslims all recognise the freedom of everyone whether or not to embrace Islam, but differ about movement in the opposite direction, that is quitting Islam after having embraced it. The majority of scholars agree on its prohibition and regarding it as a crime that whoever commits is to be legally penalised by execution, despite the fact that Quranic texts only (abominate) it and warn of its punishment on the day of judgement, without specifying a punishment in this world similar to that specified for grave sins such as theft, adultery and hiraba (armed robbery). In the prophet's Sunnah however, there are authentic hadiths ordering the execution of whomever renounces his religion. The most prominent practical example on which the punishment for apostasy was established was what occurred after the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him), when most of the Arab tribes renounced Islam refusing to pay Zakat, inducing the Khalifah to fight them, because they made a distinction between prayer and almsgiving. Thus Islamic jurisprudence established the consideration of apostasy as a crime to be sanctioned.

2. Facing this majority view, there exists a different opinion that judges that the available evidence concerning apostasy do not attain the level of certainty required for it to be included in the legal (shari') sanctions (Hudud) that the Muslim ruler is obliged to effectuate in all cases. This view is based on examples of situations during and after the Prophet's life where the apostate was not executed but was forgiven, rendering the first Caliph's proclamation of war on apostates closer to being a political than a religious action that is part of his authority to judge for the interest of the nation and not an obligatory religious command, otherwise neither the Prophet nor his Caliphates would have been able to forgive the offender. The reason behind confusion with respect to the evidence on which was based the judgement of apostasy as a compulsory legal hadd (sanction), might have been the disagreement of Fiqh schools on the matter of execution of the female apostate , since Hanafis judge that she should not be executed since she is not expected to carry arms, which supports the view that apostasy is a political crime left for the leader to judge the most appropriate method for its treatment. Jurists also differed on the time of execution of the apostate: should it be instant, or is it to be postponed? and for how long? Some were of the opinion that he should be granted delay for life in prison. In contrast, hudud have not been differed about in such a way. Thus we personally give preponderance to the second opinion since it more in harmony with Quranic evidence which all assert the principles of freedom of belief and forbidding of compulsion, and satisfaction with delivering the message whilst leaving the matter of judging what is hidden within hearts solely to Allah: "and you are not one to compel them by force" (Qaf 45), "Will you then compel mankind against their will, to believe." (Yunus) 99)

3. However, the recognition of the freedom of belief within the Islamic state should not deceive us into assigning religion in the Islamic state the same status as that assigned to it in a secular state. The Islamic state in no way takes a neutral stand with respect to beliefs, for it is founded on creed, and exists for its service and the provision of the appropriate climate so as to enable the greatest number of people to be acquainted with it, to embrace it and live according to it. That does not however extend to denying other creeds and the right of others to hold them, express them and even call to them, and protects their equal rights to citizenship, in condition that it does not infringe public order that it the Islamic religious reigning character, and that it does not impair the stability of society's order and its general moral standards, which include retrospective respect between believers of different creeds. "Revile not ye those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they out of spite revile Allah in their ignorance." (Al-Anaam 108). We defend the islamism (Islamic character) of our state as the choice of the majority of its people, as do the promoters of republican, royal or secular states, but without denying the rights of others. And should the majority of people reject us, we would have no option but to transfer to the opposition and elaborate our methods of (invitation) and education so as to create a public opinion demanding the Islamic project for state and society.

Q. What about the "Rushdie Affair?" Your name appears on the signatories of a 1994 Le Pen Club documents which condemns "acts of violence or appeals to violence." How do you propose dealing with those who attack symbols of Islam with their pen, or say for instance the case of Egyptian Prof. Nasr who did not attack Islam per say but argued for a non-canonical interpretation? How do you propose dealing with such men and women?

I was indeed honoured to attend the founding conference of "Le Pen international organisation" in 1994 in Denmark, and contributed a paper on the relation of Islam to the West, and was honoured to have been acquainted with respectable writers from various countries. I was amongst the guests chosen to initiate/inaugurate and conclude the conference at the parliament, and was invited by the president of the conference to sign a declaration condemning the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie which I refused to do, objecting to the restriction of that priviledge to that particular writer, while his situation as living under the protection of a "great nation" is not worse than hundreds of writers and journalists subjected to slow murder in tyrants' prisons as is the case of many in Tunisia such as Hamadi Jebali, Ali Laarayidh, Dr. Ahmed Labyadh, Abdallah Zouari, Laajmi Lourimi, Habib Ellouz, and many others. Why should Salman Rushdie enjoy such concern/protection and not those and hundreds like them who are victims of repression in numerous countries? I am ready to sign a general declaration defending the freedom of writers of any tendency and condemning the repression they are subjected to, without mentioning any particular names. Otherwise if names are to be mentioned, let them all be mentioned or the prominent from amongst them without privileging one particular writer, the concentration on whom might probably have been transformed into a weapon against a particular religion or a particular state, not for any political reasons or any (pure) principles As to the appropriate method of dealing with those who possess views (attacking) Islam or deviating from its path, or those suspected to be of the like, I believe that they should be argued with "in ways that are best and most gracious", and faced with serious arguments that demolish their claims and assert the strength of Islamic argument and our deserved elevation to the level of that challenge. "Say: produce your proof if you are truthful." (Al-Baqarah 111)

Part of the secret behind the eternity of Islam is its flexibility and infinite liability to evolution and ability to comprehend all the facts and achievements of reason. That flexibility however does not render it a surreal text liable to tolerate everything as is the heart of Ibn Arabi when he said "My heart has become tolerant of any (way), for it is a monastery of monks, a temple of idols, or a kaabah of a worshipper; I follow the creed of love whatever its direction." There exist within the essence of Islam and its great (truths) something that rejects plying, modelling and falsification, which makes me unconcerned about the deviant interpretations which aim at secularising Islam and inhibiting its law (Shari`a), for they would all be eliminated by Islam in its eternal successful march in the same way as the bellows eliminates iron and the wind eliminates clouds. It is protected by Allah's divine protection and by the efforts of its scholars and Muslims in general, which constitute the (reserve) of the Islamic truth.


Q. Sheikh Ghannoushi are the Islamists out to "establish the Kingdom of God" on earth?

Islamists do not aspire to establish God's kingdom on earth, but that of man, which is attached to God, on behalf of Whom he is vicegerent on earth. Man in the Islamic view is the object of God's ennoblement, he is the chosen of God, his representative on earth. The hindmost, concluding message of Islam came to subtilize and exhort human presence on earth and bind it with its most exalted Creator, not for the purpose of submerging or subduing it. This is truly inharmonious with the Greek understanding of man, that depicts him as a strayed withering instant in the closed cosmological order, and with medieval theological thought wherein man is crushed under the weight of divine presence. Every corroboration of divine presence is parallelled with a pulverisation and dibility of man. Although Christianity like other monotheistic religions emenating from the Abrahamic root, does not ratify this relationship of conflict, the ancient Greek and Roman pagan heritage, as well as the official clerical nature of Christianity, have bemired and distorted the liberal spirit of of the message of Christ (peace be upon him). In fact, the emergence of the religious reform movement was for the purpose of acknowledging human presence and efficiency in this world, from which he had been alienated to the "other"; insisting, thus, upon the value of activity, worldly work and individual responsibility, as sources of religious salvation. It, nevertheless, was incapable of regulating the methodology of interpretation of the sacred text, and as such, was- unconsciously- a contributing factor in the fortification of the process of secularisation, which has been reigning over the modern Western historical context particularly since the last three centuries.

The theory of vicegerency in its authentic Islamic meaning, does not recognize this spirit of conflict and antagonism ruling the relationship between God and man, for, the objective of divine presence, is to guide man's onward march and forfend his freedom not hinder or suffocate it.. Hence, we may assume that God the Creator of the world and His sustainer has designed this world to be a dual sceptre wielded by Himself and this creature whom He ennobled with the bestowal of freedom and freewill, a realm wherein human will with its yearnings for freedom unthwarted by relative and historical limitations, opens up to the ultimate will of God, Who shepherds his march and enlightens it through the guidance of revelation and legislation . Indeed if God's kingdom were one of ultimate justice and truth, that of man is one of unremitting endeavour to emulate these exalted divine attributes and manifest them in his relative and historical movement. God's kingdom, the province of ultimate justice and absolute happiness, is, indeed, not to be attained in this restricted perishing human world, whose windows, nevertheless, remain overlooking the kingdom of God, and gates accessible to the afterlife, through worship in the wide Islamic sense, that encompasses the whole of man's worldly activities.

Modern Western civilisation has, since it threw off the chains of the churchly age with its religious and moral constraints, been staggering under the weight of a crisis, induced by its undertaking to utterly abdicate divine presence, on the basis of its sacralisation of man and exaltation of his rational faculties, to the level of divine glorification. The aftermath of this was detrimental and indeed ruinous to human cvilisation itself, which metamorphosed into an open arena of conflicts , will to power and extolling of national glory, of which the two world wars are a clear testimony. Today, the problem seems acutely abstruse, with the debilitation of the fundamental values of Western modernity, including rationality, humanity and the concept of truth itself, thus, casting the Westerner into a wilderness of voidness and desolation. The clearest illustration of the situation, is contained in the rise of the absurdity current and of the philosophy of deconstruction and destruction, which have no object but to clear existence of all values or meanings, in the interest of nihilism, emptiness and meaninglessness, as embodied in the philosophy of Nietzsche and Heidigger his successor.

Q. How do you define fundamentalism? How do you understand its resurgence in more than one cultural tradition and more than one civilization?

Fundamentalism is the term used in the last century to denote religious Christian groups which adopt a literal and rigid interpretation of religious texts. This term was revived during the last few decades and used for the movement of Islamic revival in order to portray it as stagnant and extremist, and is a description that is far from the truth since the movement of Islamic revival is in essence one of renovation and reform, not one of stagnation and constancy. It is true that some voices of rigidity and extremism do appear from time to time amongst the Islamic tendency due to the state of political and intellectual repression in the Muslim world and in the Arab world in particular, reviving the political and intellectual heritage of the Khawarij trend since their early rise in Islamic history, but the general tendency of the Islamic movement is a moderate renovating one, which looks towards the present and the future more than it is pulled back to the past, in contrast to what is portrayed by western media which takes care to select phenomena that are rare and deviant within the wide pluralistic Islamic family in order to (uglify) the image of Islam to western and international public opinion.

Islam in its general spirit is contradictory to the fundamentalist trend because it is a religion characterised by its open pluralistic nature, as it acknowledged since its birth the reality/state of religious, sectarian, linguistic and ethnic plurality, and regarded difference as an original value enshrined in the origin of existence and creation and not merely as a temporary emergent phenomenon: " If thy Lord has so willed, He could have made mankind one people, but they will not cease to differ, except those whom thy Lord hath bestowed His mercy, and for this did He create them." (Hud, 118-9) Moreover, Islam rejects the use of methods of compulsion and violence in order to force creeds and ideas upon others, sine religious and intellectual convictions are a domain of man's free choice not one of compulsion and force. The holy verse "There is no compulsion in religion" (al-Baqara 255) is an implicit and expressive declaration of such a stand. Islam's historical experience was indeed enriched by the state of intellectual and sectarian pluralism existing in open climates of tolerance and moderation, wherein various schools of fiqh, kalam and madhahib, and various philosophical tendencies coexisted under Islam's open And comprehensive system. Various sects and religions minorities lived in vast climates of freedom and intellectual and religious tolerance unequalled even under modern western civilisation. For that reason, the history of Islam did not witness wars of destruction or ethnic or religious cleansing, as opposed to the atrocities witnessed at the hands of extremist western nationalism as was embodied in the project of ethnic and religious eradication led by Serb extremists against Muslims following the example of leaders of the Inquisition in al-Andalus, Zionists in Palestine and others. As to the causes of the emergence of fundamentalist movements, they vary from one environment to the other, and from one cultural climate to another. It could in some cases be an expression of the essence of the general culture wherein this fundamentalism developed as is the case of Jewish fundamentalism which was founded on the claim of God's chosen people, supported by the spirit of enmity towards the other which was nourished by the complex of religious and sectarian persecution to which Jews were subjected. As for western societies, these religious fundamentalist tendencies are mostly an expression of the protesting reaction against the experience of modernity, and the spiritual barrenness and strict materialism that accompanied it, and thus some fundamentalist groups have become a sort of spiritual refuge in order to overcome/face the harshness of the capitalist materialist environment which engulfed individuals and groups/communities.

It is worth mentioning here that fundamentalism is not necessarily of a religious nature, and may have secular faces/manifestations, as is the case of western fundamentalism as embodied in the movement of colonial expansion and the model of intellectual values that were supporting it, that fundamentalism which sought to impose its absolutist unique model on the world by the power of violence, arms and destruction wars, regarding other peoples as the portrait of ignorance and backwardness. Thus, the principal slogan raised by that fundamentalism was "the export of values of civilisation to backward peoples". This western fundamentalist extremism gave birth to voices of protest, mainly of the same nature, as a reaction. The question to be posed here is: to what extent has the west succeeded in going beyond its fundamentalism founded on the absoluteness and universality of its cultural and civilisational model? To what extent is it ready to review its extremist heritage, and consider the rest of peoples and civilisations as partners and equals in the field of globalism/universality? And would not the conclusion of the prominent philosopher Roger Garaudy in his study of "fundamentalisms" be valid, that western fundamentalism is the origin to which all the rest are only reactions.

Q. Are you a fundamentalist?

If what is implied by fundamentalism is the authentic Islamic understanding which denotes in its general implication the profound attachment to the fundamentals of Islam and its principles as a basis for reform and renovation, then I would be honoured to be such a man, and pray to God to make me worthy of such a description and to die as one. However, if what is meant by the term is the clinging to rigid and extremist interpretations of religious texts, and the desire to impose them by force on others, then I am innocent of it, praise be to God.

Thank you.



[A] "Interview with Talal Asad: modern power and the reconfiguration of religious traditions," Saba Mahmood, SEHR, volume 5, issue 1: Contested Polities, February 27, 1996.

[C] "Tunisia: `A Country That Works', Justice Minister Describes Tunisia's Battle Against Islamist Takeover," Richard H. Curtiss, Washington Report on the Middle East, November/December 1996, p. 76.

[E] "Living with Islam," The Economist, U.S. Edition, July 27, 1996, p. 35.

[F] "Islam and Liberal Democracy: The Challenge of Secularization," Abdou Filali-Ansary, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 7, No. 2, April 1996, pp. 75-80. The package on Islam and Liberal Democracy can be downloaded by subscribing to the MUSE Project at John Hopkins University.

[H] The official homepage of Mr. Ghannoushi is available at, and
accessible via the MSANEWS ScholarsBase at

[K] "Islam and the West (including Manhattan)," in Arab Awakening and Islamic Revival: The politics and ideas of the Middle East, Martin Kramer, Transaction Publishers, 1996, p. 261.

[KL] "Islam and the West: Concord or Inevitable Conflict," by Rached Ghannouchi; in After the Cold War: Essays on the Emerging World Order, Keith Philip Lepor, ed., pp. 257-281, especially p. 267, under the heading "Compatibility", also, p. 290, University of Texas Press, 1997.

[L] "Islam and Liberal Democracy: The Limits of the Western Model," Mohamed Elhachmi Hamdi, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 7, No. 2, April 1996, pp. 81-85.

[M] "Sans Detours: An Interview With Dr. Moncef Marzouki" la voix de l'audace, June-July 1995. Available at

[N] Regarding the Nazi influence on Aflaq [a founder of Arab nationalism], Eric Rouleau quotes the following letter he received from a companion of Aflaq who had taught at the University of Damascus: "He [Aflaq] came back to Syria full of admiration of the works of Alfred Rosenberg, the theorist of Nazi racism, and in particular for the _Myth of the Twentieth Century_, which he had read in Gorsclaude's translation. He thought at the time that Hitler's Germany, by contrast with the communists countries, had succeeded in achieving the perfect synthesis of nationalism and socialism." Furthermore, included in Aflaq's polemics is a statement in which he says that the Arab nation is endowed with an "immortal mission," a statement which Gordon Torrey explains in terms of Aflaq's acquaintance with the nineteenth century German philosophy. -- Pan-Arabism and Arab Nationalism, Tawfic E. Farah, ed., Westview Press, 1987, p. 37.

[S] "The Rise and Repression of an Islamic Movement," in Political Ascent: Contemporary Islamic Movements in North Africa, Emad Eldin Shahin, Western Press, 1997.

[T] "Who's Who: Mohamed Masmoudi," Maghreb Confidentiel, 20 mars 1997.