A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Shades of Carrie Nation: The Salafi War on Liquor Stores and Bars in Tunisia.

Steve Inskeep at NPR is on a "Revolutionary Road Trip" across North Africa, and in his report "Once Tolerated, Alcohol Now Creates Rift in Tunisia." he tells this story of a hotel where he stopped:
Over dinner in the hotel restaurant, one of my traveling companions ordered a beer, only to have a staff member in his red blazer inform us sadly that the hotel did not serve alcohol. Later, the staff member whispered more of the story: If we had only arrived sooner, he would have been able to serve the beer.
A few days before our visit, he said, conservative religious activists came to the hotel and objected to the serving of alcohol, particularly on Friday, the Muslim holy day.
Tunisia has long cultivated a variety of decent wines, and brews a decent French-style beer called Celtia; its tourist industry is  major currency earner,  Though the Ixlamist Al-Nahda Party has a plurality in Parliament, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has insisted that there'll be no banning of the "booze and bikinis" being targeted in other countries. Well, the government isn't banning anything. Alcohol is still very much fully legal in Tunisia.. But as the anecdote above shows, some Islamists — the hardcore Salafis, not Al-Nahda, at least so far — are resorting to bullying, as in this story, or worse, smashing up and burning liquor stores and bars.

In recent weeks, radical Salafis have attacked establishments selling liquor in several places. On May 19 there was an organized attack on bars and liquor stores in Sidi Bouzid, where the Revolution was first sparked. Police were apparently passive, but after things got out of hand, the Justice Minister warned of harsh consequences.
Those who attacked liquor stores crossed the “red lines,” according to the minister. Bhiri said that there can be no “state within a state” and the culprits would be severely punished.
The statement came in response to the Salafist assault on bars as well as the house of a bar owner on Saturday (May 19th) night, which resulted in an armed melee. The owner of the bar retaliated by firing on the Al-Rahma Mosque.
It sounds as if the barkeep might have been sampling his own product. Then in the northwestern town of Jendouba, sc3ne of confrontations over the wearing of niqab at the local university, masked "Salafis" attacked and burned bars, and also the police station for good measure,  There was some dispute about the identity of the attackers:
The perpetrators themselves, as well as the Jendouba residents, defined these individuals as  ”Salafists,” but Achraf believes that this may not entirely be the case. In his eyes, the wrongdoers described themselves as religiously conservative Salafists solely as a pretext to justify their actions. “These people pretend to be Salafist, but they used to be thugs. The people of Jendouba know them really well,” he asserted.
Though the government is pledging to stop such attacks, the NPR anecdote suggests many establishments are going dry out of fear.

Carrie Nation & Hatchet

Shades of Carrie Nation. The Salafis, and perhaps others of my overseas readers, may not be familiar with the singular career of Ms. Nation 1846-1911), an American temperance crusader whose formidable visage, and emblematic hatchet, appear at left. Wikipedia explains the origin of the hatchet and her attacks on saloons at the turn of the last century:
Nation continued her destructive ways in Kansas, her fame spreading through her growing arrest record. After she led a raid in Wichita her husband joked that she should use a hatchet next time for maximum damage. Nation replied, "That is the most sensible thing you have said since I married you."[2] The couple divorced in 1901, not having had any children.[9]
Alone or accompanied by hymn-singing women she would march into a bar, and sing and pray while smashing bar fixtures and stock with a hatchet. Her actions often did not include other people, just herself. Between 1900 and 1910 she was arrested some 30 times for "hatchetations," as she came to call them. Nation paid her jail fines from lecture-tour fees and sales of souvenir hatchets.[10] In April 1901 Nation came to Kansas City, Missouri, a city known for its wide opposition to the temperance movement, and smashed liquor in various bars on 12th Street in Downtown Kansas City.[11] She was arrested, hauled into court and fined $500 ($13,400 in 2011 dollars),[12] although the judge suspended the fine so long as Nation never returned to Kansas City.[13]
Carrie Nation, proto-Salafi?

UPDATE: I missed this post on thr Kefteji blog about the sort of down-market (what in Egypt would be called baladi) bars and liquor stores, which aren't what tourists would see on Avenue Bourguiba. Definitely read it. I hadn't seen it yet, though we seem to have used the same picture of Celtia.

1 comment:

hsb said...

Let's not forget those who are defending their bars in Jendouba and Sfax.

Also, it seems that American bloggers and journalists are incapable of avoiding the subject of Tunisian bars - see my report from last week. http://kefteji.wordpress.com/2012/06/01/what-does-it-mean-to-attack-tunisian-bar-culture/