مُتاح أيضًا بـ: العربية (Arabic)
This paper seeks to understand the aspects of Jihadist extremism among the youth of the Tunisian slums according to their daily life. Their life conditions are characterized by the feeling of being excluded and humiliated from one side, and the feeling of discontent and protest from the other side, which mainly result from the prevailed patterns of ruling in these areas. Based on insights derived from ethnographic feedback and interviews, this paper argues that these aspects maybe understood as being aspects of radical transformation, i.e., symbolic transformation from subordination and humiliation, to superiority based on belonging to a superior religious elite, by adopting a perceived interpretive model of the early Muslim community and embodying the same within an extremist narrative identity.
In his book, La Guerre des subjectivités en Islam (The War of Subjectivities in Islam), the psychoanalyst, Fethi Benslama depicts Jihadist as a super-Muslim (sur-musulman). He is not like any Muslim as he needs to show that through external symbols, and devotional and behavioral exaggeration. As according to Benslama’s point of view, the Super Muslim’s reason for the defeat and humiliation of Muslims is leaving the religious teachings based on a perceived and specific authentic Islamic tradition at the time of the Prophet, Companions and Followers. Thus, empowering Muslims may be only possible by restoring that example, through a comprehensive confrontation with modernity and the world. These confrontations took place in several fields, starting from clothes and worship to armed Jihad, through violent transformation which requires self-purification from the impurities of the modern world. As a result, that leads the self to exclude the other and itself to ensure its super identity.
Our ethnographic work on the paths of jihadist extremism among the youth of the Tunisian slums in post-revolution, has allowed us to examine the processes of forming the Super-Muslim’s self-identity in experimental contexts. The research focused on a number of Tunisian Slums in the West of the capital, which were preferred by Jihadists for religious advocacy, mobilization and a vital area for their activities. These slums had been formed since the beginning of the Seventies in the frontiers of the capital based on a marginal urban dynamic of amble rural migration. The disruption of industrialization and its restriction to limited sectors, such as manufacturing industries, clothing and textiles, prevented the conditions for the integration of the arriving into the urban. That led to the transformations of slums around cities into “marginal areas”, which suffer from vulnerability, social exclusion and are characterized by the spread of perversions, crime and the informal economy. Moreover, these slums have been transformed into “areas of protest”, which create opposed groups, such as rap music groups, soccer fans, and revolutionary and opposed popular uprisings.
At all times, the spread of the Salafi-Jihadi movement was taking place in slums through a set of activities and practices, which mobilize a perceived interpretive standard model of the early Muslim community. This is how the jihadist ideology develops and seeks to spread on the level of local areas and daily life to create an extremist social movement, which did not take a partisan or institutional form, but remained practiced extended networks that lack structure, hierarchy and formal legal capacity towards the state. They are formed from groups of young jihadists dispersed in various regions throughout the country. These groups are organized either around a territorial or religious concept, developed through the direct daily interactions among supporters and sympathizers, and united by a common ideological approach.
Although,a large number of these groups were united within the “Ansar al-Sharia” organization on the basis of a jihadist political project, this organizations did not succeed to be transformed into a complete institutional formation. The experience failed after it was banned by the second “Troika government” in July, 2013. As a result, it entered into an armed conflict against the state that would lead to its commanders ‘flee the collapse of its supporters’ networks and transfer into clandestine work within small sympathetic groups, or within the “Islamic State”, mostly, or less the “Al Qaeda organization”.
At the beginning of 2014, nearly 3,000 of young Tunisians travelled to Syria to fight in favor of the “Islamic State”. According to the available media and security reports, a major part of these Jihadists is from the marginalized slums of major cities.
What are the social groups which are mobilized mainly by the Jihadist Extremism? What is the significance of Jihadist transformation in Tunisian slums? How are the jihadist transformation processes linked to the daily experiences of exclusion of the young people in the popular neighborhoods?
From one side, they are the youth of the popular classes who live in conditions of economic and relational fragility, low educated, and suffer from stigmatization due to their social origins, or crimes or deviant experiences which represent a wide range. From the other side, the youth of vulnerable middle-class groups, although generally have high education and a significant social origin, are socially excluded due to the unemployment crisis of those with higher degrees. Thus, large groups of the middle class are unable to restore its social positions, because of the collapse of its value system on the basis of merit, and a societal progress through education, as a result of the disruption of the traditional social mechanisms of promotion. However, how do we explain the mainly attraction of these two groups to Jihadist-Extremism?
On November 12th of 2012, a religious conference organized by the youth of “Ansar Al-Sharia”, after the prayer of Salat al-‘asr, on Batha Al-Riahi, Khaled Ibn Al-Walid Street, Douar Hicher. The jihadist Salafi preacher, Kamal Zarrouk made a speech with great enthusiasm in the majority of youth of the crowd, shouting:
However, this speech may go unnoticed, as its details do not have a significant, interpretive value, apparently. It showed its actual depth when it raised a simple question in our minds: How do these young people transform from marginalized and excluded individuals to actors representing “the leaders and the awakening (revival) who will lead the nation to triumph?”.
According to Marcel Mauss, “what may appear as fleeting details, may in fact be a focus on principles”.
At this level, we may put forward a hypothesis that those young Jihadists transformed through radical transformation (Transubstantiation), through which they experience a kind of ontological advancement. The negatively stigmatized individual who is from marginalized slums or the unemployed who has a university degree or the pervert or who works in a fragile job, etc., may be transformed into one of the ‘elite’, which forms “the triumph group” that would fulfill Allah’s promise on earth.
One of the most prominent aspects of social exclusion experienced by the youth who live in Tunisian neighborhoods is the negative stigma of their self-identity. An important part of this stigma is based on their group identity as residents of popular neighborhoods, not from their self-characteristics or their individual social position.
Generally, this stigma of the Tunisian neighborhoods is formed through three main dimensions, which are crime, violence, and substandard living conditions. In a quantitative study conducted by the International Alert organization on a sample of 750 of young people from the “Douaar Hicher” slums, and “Al-Tadhamon” neighborhood, among the ages group of 18 and 35 years, it is mentioned that 42.2% of the respondents answered with “a very poor” in response to the question, “what is the point of view of non-residents concerning security in your neighborhood?, while 28.2% answered poorly.
32.9% of the respondents answered, very poorly in response to the question, “what is the point of view of the non-residents concerning living conditions in your neighborhood? while 30% answered poorly.
The presence of the Salafi movement is the most prominent dimension that is added to the two neighborhoods after the revolution. What is critical is the importance of the new dimension in the formation of the two neighborhoods. According to the respondents, the crime percentage declined from 29.2% before the revolution to 13.8% after it, and local conflicts from 26.1% to 16.1%. This indicates the change in the identity of the two neighborhoods after the revolution, and it also indicates the symbolic and physical power that had been achieved by the Salafi movement in the two neighborhoods.
Another quantitative study conducted by the “Creatives” Association, provides us with comparative data on the differences among teenagers from 12 to 18 years old, concerning their neighborhood, within a representative sample distributed between slums, luxury and semi-luxury neighborhoods. This study included 272 of teenagers from “Western Le Kram” neighborhood, and 110 of teenagers from “Sidi Bou Said”, and “La Marsa” neighborhoods. While all these neighborhoods are located in the Northern Suburban of the capital Tunis, the Western le Kram, is known generally as a popular neighborhood, and “Sidi Bou Said”, and “La Marsa” the middle and upper classes in particular.
The preliminary outputs of this study show significant distinctions among the respondents’ views in the “Western Le Kram”, concerning the identity and image of their neighborhood among non-residents, compared to the answers of the respondents in “La Marsa” and “Sidi Bou Said”.
As for the answers of the respondents concerning the identity of their neighborhoods, we find that 75% of the respondents in “Western LE Kram”, firmly agree with considering their neighborhood a popular neighborhood, while 13.6% of them agree relatively to that. On the contrary, only 11.8% of the respondents in “Sidi Bou Said” and “La Marsa” fully agree with considering their neighborhoods as popular neighborhoods, while 25.5% of them relatively agree with that. In addition, 30.9% of the respondents in “Western Le Kram” strongly agree that their neighborhood is marginalized, while 25.7% of them agree relatively to that. On the other hand, we find that only 0.9% of the respondents in “Sidi Bou Said” and “La Marsa” fully agree that their neighborhoods are marginalized, while only 10% of them agree relatively to that.
“Western Le Kram” (272 teenagers)
“Sidi Bou Said” and “La Marsa” (110 teenagers)
As a whole, the accumulation of Social and economic disparities is considered important in understanding the classification of popular neighborhoods within the urban composition of the city of Tunis. These data alerts us that negative symbols and views are crucial in shaping this particular social geography. These views and symbols do not simply stand for “prejudged” or “false” representation which should be dismantled. They rather represent “rhetorical actions”, according to the discourse philosopher John Austin. That is, one of the manifestations of the activity of social forces active in determining the location of popular neighborhoods resides in “the lowest hierarchical system of the places from which the city is formed.” These images and symbols, through their accumulation, form a negative collective stigma within the mechanisms of exclusion that make popular neighborhoods urban excluded areas. It is a stigma that severely affects the daily life of people in popular neighborhoods, and represents a material discrimination which they suffer from.
In this regard, during our field work in the “Douar Hicher” neighborhood, we examined a number of living experiences, in which the youth of these neighborhoods face various forms of discrimination based on the negative stigma related to their collective identity.
In the context of his discussion of the difficulties which the youth of his neighborhood face in finding a job, Hamdi, a 22 year-old young man stated that:
In addition to its impact on livelihood opportunities, this negative stigma also affects the structuring of social bonds of slum dwellers and their daily social relationships. Mohamed, a 24-year-old university student from Douar Hicher, tells his experience with negative stigma as follows:
Based on these quantitative and qualitative data, we could notice the effect of the negative stigma against the youth of the popular neighborhoods concerning the self-relationship, the formation of the collective identity, and the ability of movement and promotion in the social space. It is true to say, as Didier La Perone concludes with regard to the French urban suburbs, that there are no popular neighborhoods without the image of these popular neighborhoods, and “there are no disparities without an interpretation”. These images and interpretations are not merely a symbolic system that reflects specific social relations, but it is a system involved in building and structuring these relationships. Hence, it is possible to understand the tendency of the youth of the slums to express the situations of their social exclusion, despite their different and multiplicity of social paths, based on a standard and moral language which is considered an “experience of contempt”, a “feeling of inequality” and exclusion, and the inability to live “life”, and “fully integrate into society”.
This indicates that the experience of social exclusion is not only determined by inequalities of the political economy, which focuses on class and financial distinctions among social formations, but also through a standardized economy, in which the social connotations of inequalities decline to acquire “ethical” and “moral” connotations as a result of generalized process of discriminatory exclusion. It is discrimination that deprives individuals of having a “normal”, or what is determined as a normal way of life, which is also a result of the negative will of the superior classes. Social exclusion is considered an inequality experience in the distribution of the economic output, an exclusion of social protection and institutional inclusion. As according to Robert Castell, it is also an experience of contempt, demoralization, and an experience of overlapped forms of denial of recognition, as according to Axel Honeth.
Thus, the importance to overcome the analysis of the philosophical and social exclusion theories between social distribution and symbolic recognition, towards merging them, based on the call of Nancy Fraser, which results in a dual approach to exclusion. According to which, every practice is treated as an economic and cultural practice at the same time. Within it, all practices are evaluated from two dual perspectives, which are the perspective of distribution and the perspective of recognition, but without reducing either of them to the other.
Some qualitative data from Anas, who is a 33 young man, provide us with an approach to analyze the paths of jihadist extremism among the Youth of Tunisian slums. Based on the moral economic perspective of the dynamics of exclusion of the residents of these slums, especially youth groups. Anas comes from “Al-TadHamon” neighborhood in the West of the capital, Tunis, which is one of the largest Tunisian slums in terms of its population, and the oldest in terms of historical formation. Anas believed in the Salafi-jihadi ideology in 2004, and was imprisoned in 2006 under terrorism law. After the revolution, he joined “Ansar al-Sharia” organization, before travelling to Syria in 2012, where he fought with “Al-Nusra Front” for two years, and then sided with the “Islamic State” in its struggle against the “Al-Qaeda organization” over the priority of the Syrian Front leadership in early 2014, then he split from it, at the end of 2016.
At the beginning of our series of research interviews, we asked Anas to describe his life before being a jihadist extremist, and his answer was:
It is noted here, that these rights are socially and politically determined according to the historical situation and the general institutional development of each particular social system. It represents, “the individual demands that the individual could legitimately expect to enjoy socially as a member of the social system through having equal rights with others, as a real member of a particular group”. Thus, within this particular experience of contempt, it is not only imposing the individual’s vision for self-disrespect, but also confirming “his inability to consider himself as an interactive partner who is legally equal to his human beings”.
This is clearly mentioned in the testimony of Anas, through his discussion of the differences among what he calls “sons of the wealthy class” and his peers, “sons of the neighborhoods”. As Anas describes this relationship from a manichean perspective (we vs. them) or through the perspective of the critical distinction between two groups of unequal rights, as a result of the unequal distribution of economic output within society. However, the terminology he uses to reconstruct this relationship in his discourse, does not only depict it as a relationship of unequal rights, but also as a relationship of exploitation. According to Anas’, the “city bourgeois” and the upper urban classes are not satisfied with the superior way of life that denies the inhabitants of the neighborhoods the right to enjoy it, but they may achieve it mainly through the exploitation of the popular classes to confirm that right. In light of the image of “sons of the rich” who are able to acquire the signs of luxury and self-assurance through consumption and entertainment, Anas describes his image as a sentimental essence mixed with humiliation and anger. Accordingly, the relationship of inequality that Anas portrays between “sons of the slums” and “sons of the rich”, takes a moral dimension, in which the denial of recognition is intertwined with inequality in the material distribution of wealth.
If this relationship is based, on one hand, on the inequality in the distribution of wealth among classes within society, it could be tested in daily living on the other hand. Thus, it is also, a relationship in the distribution of morals through the enjoyment of an equal portion of these resources and goods as a legitimate right.
Anas describes his meetings with police officers in a strong moral language, as in these situations, he feels “contempt” and that he is living “under humiliation”. These meetings intensify the experience of exclusion, not only in terms of a relationship of inequality in power, but also, as a process of demoralizing. It could be argued that this relationship represents a pattern of frequent interaction between the youth of the Tunisian popular neighborhoods, the police services and their agents concerning the context of the dominance of neoliberal patterns of governance based on ending the protecting role of the state, and enhancing the punitive state. His description of his meetings with the police is frequently described by many young jihadists in the same moral language.
Another example, Asaad, who is a 38 former young jihadist from Douar Hicher, describes his relationship with the police and its impact on his jihadist transformation experience:
In both testimonies, the daily and ordinary encounters with police officers emerge as an experience of contempt in which two forms of denial of confession are combined, namely, denial of rights and physical assault. Regarding the denial of rights, it is highlighted in Anas’ interview about the discriminatory practices that police officers apply among “sons of the slums” and “sons of the rich”. In his point of view, law enforcement to the two groups has a double standard, as it is a blind, strict and violent enforcement when it comes to the youth of slums, while the sons of the upper classes are able to escape from the law, with the power of their symbolic capital of their social prestige, and their economic capital of their material wealth.
As for physical abuse, it appears through depriving “the self-control that a person exercises over his own body”, whether by beating, assault, or ill-treatment, as it not only includes the experience of harm, but also the experience of the “feeling of complete submission to mercy of another Self “. Also, physical abuse includes subjugation of selves (under surveillance) by following the movement of their bodies and controlling them in the public sphere, which is an overwhelming form of daily control that the youth of the Tunisian neighborhoods are intensively encountering, through numerous security practices such as police campaigns, identity checks or sudden raids.
Through such security practices, which are imposed on daily life, they control and monitor the inhabitants’ of slums behaviors, which are characterized as “dangerous areas” that pose a threat to the public order. In other words, the meaning of neighborhoods represents a double meaning for its inhabitants as a meaning of belonging and protection, on one hand, and a meaning of humiliation and exclusion, on the other hand. In this regard, Ali (25 years old), a young man from the “Douar Hicher” neighborhood, tells us his point of view based on his short prison experience:
In another research interview with Anas, we asked him about the differences among the types of Tunisian fighters who “immigrated” to the Islamic State and joined its ranks, so his answer was:
We find ourselves with the same question that we began with in this paper: how do we understand the transformation of a despised, humiliated and oppressed self to a superior, powered and a compelling self, as according to Anas’ research answers? One of the explanatory hypotheses, is understanding the transformation as a major shift path. The major shift indicates the process by which beings or things acquire value or symbolic capital that are not available to them by their origin, which gives them a different essence. Pierre Bourdieu formulated this concept within his theory of symbolic domination, specifically in describing the processes through which cultural origins and scientific certificates acquire the value of prestige or nobility, by their consecration through monopolistic institutions of symbolic legitimacy within the social sphere. In some issues, Bourdieu refers to the concept in synonyms, such as social magic or social alchemy.
In this regard, we may just present the hypothesis, that the jihadist extremism paths of the youth of the Tunisian slums represent paths of radical transformation through which they move ontologically from humiliation to superiority based on the belief in belonging to a religious elite, within which there is the effect of the utopian symbolic power which is the role of the utopian Jihadism. Like most utopias, Jihadism represents a “social imagination pattern”, which is represented through its ability to transfer the imagination from the space of the current reality to the space of a reality that has not yet been achieved. And “in order to dream about (reach) another reality,” as Paul Ricoeur asserts, “we may first ensure the acquisition of a narrative identity, through the renewed interpretation of the traditions on which we rely”.
This is exactly what we explore in Anas’ research answers, as his transformation from a submissive state, where he “felt as if he was living under humiliation”, to a supreme state, where “he wanted to conquer countries, spread religion and fight the infidels”, represents the construction of a narrative identity through his example of an imagined interpretation model mentioned in the biography of the companion Khalid Ibn Alwalid.
In contrast to the current reality that makes them subjugated, oppressed, and humiliated individuals, the jihadism presents for Anas, and others among the youth of the Tunisian slums, the possibility of creating another reality in which they are active, compelling and superior individuals, through identification with idealistic perceptions of historical heroes derived from a specific interpretive model (figure) of the history of Islam. So, we analyze a mourning statement issued by “Okba Ibn Nafaa Battalion”, which is the main branch of “Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb” in Tunisia, in which two of its fighters were killed in an operation launched against it by the Tunisian security forces and the army:
The transformation (shift) which is mentioned on the Jihadist statement, is a radical transformation from the state of humiliation to the state of superiority, as a vision of the “Triumph group” who will achieve the promising eternal return to the past time of domination and superiority, according to a lined interpretive model for the history of the first three centuries of Islam. And through this model, these groups of young people form their super identity through restoring the image of heroic Islamic figures. These narrative models are exposed through outstanding language style, such as “biographies that restore the lives of our righteous ancestors” in the present time of subjugation, contempt and humiliation.
The social world, for large groups of Tunisian youth, due to the economic fragility, the confinement of the integration circles, the disruption of the mechanisms of social ascension and the inheritance of tyranny, represent an overwhelming place where they are experiencing the denial of recognition in its radical form, to the point that, it becomes a “world in which only survivors (heroes) could survive”. As joining the jihadi legions and defending a “strong and conqueror” Islam becomes a pattern of survival, and a hysterical illusion of merging into a space that protects narcissism.
This super Muslim personifies himself as a hero, but he is a “negative hero” in the expression of Farhad Khosrokhovar. In other words, his heroism is not a positive heroism that results from his endeavor to integrate into society, succeed within it and obtain its positive appreciation, but rather a negative heroism that results from his endeavor to subordinate society to the will of his supremacy, by terrorizing it.
Therefore, the more hatred of the society to him, the more the hero’s negative sense of superiority is strengthened. So that this hatred is no longer in his view a sign of ostracism, exclusion and contempt, but rather a sign which confirms his superiority over the society which previously despised him. The conflict of the negative hero is not a conflict for recognition, as to restore his stolen moral identity, within the social system which despised him, but rather a conflict for absolute supremacy against this system. In other words, the negative hero does not seek “recognition from the existing supreme recognition body, but rather a search to install himself as the supreme grantor of recognition, as others should wait for his approval for granting recognition.
It is the core of what is expressed in a semantic passage from Anas’ testimony, when he declares: “I want to die after causing damage to the enemy, so either I kill, or may be killed”.
What could be done to encounter the transformation of Tunisian young people towards Jihadist extremism, with the devastating effects of violence and terror on society?
Since the outbreak of the Tunisian revolution in Spring of 2011, the path of the Tunisian revolution continues through struggles of a wide range of social and civil youth movements that were formed in its midst. Despite their different stakes, dynamics and actors, these movements share a basic demand that forms a link that connects them locally to each other, which is dignity as it is considered the primary form of the founding political recognition of citizenship.
Perhaps the wager on supporting these social movements and rooting them socially in their struggles for recognition, integration and citizenship, may strengthen their ability to mobilize the excluded and humiliated youth groups within fundamental transformations towards citizenship subjectivities. Its present frameworks and discourses that provide a democratic and civil struggle for a fair social system, instead of the frameworks and discourses of jihadist extremist movements. This may be an approach in the political struggle that offers young people a citizen alternative to extremism, which is struggling at the same time to change the existing social system that contributes to paving the conditions for extremism.
مُتاح أيضًا بـ: العربية (Arabic)