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A Nightmare in Tunisia

Samia Labidi (Tunisia)

IN THE NAME OF MAN, THE BENEFICENT, THE MERCIFUL

When Ibn Warraq asked me to contribute to an anthology of testimonies by former Muslims, I decided to talk for the first time of the burden that religion imposes on minds and actions at the dawn of the third millennium.

Being a woman, I have experienced firsthand and to the full the grip of religion. As with all young girls of Arabo-Muslim origin, Islam was transfused into my blood as soon as I was born when the first words that were whispered into ears, and into my mind, were, "There is no God but God and Muhammad is his Prophet," the famous profession of faith that allows us to become Muslims. In the present case, it was a condemnation, without warning and without appeal, to being a Muslim. The child is the last one concerned in this forced baptism.

Gradually, it became clear that this profession of faith only had meaning from only one angle, that of men. I grew up in a traditional environment: the women inside and the men outside. I was lucky to be born in a rather tolerant milieu, which only paid lip service to Islam. Thus, prayers were confined to the days of religious festivals. Ramadan was the excuse for eating ten times more and better, alms to show that you were generous, pilgrimage to Mecca to purify oneself of the totality of one's sins forever.

In this atmosphere, governed inside the house by women and outside by men, I noticed the growing importance of the feminine universe developing in parallel to the masculine one, which was losing ground without being aware of it. In fact, Tunisia turned out to be the Arabo-Muslim country most favorable to the emancipation of women, thanks to secular-minded President Habib Bourguiba, who constantly fought against the archaisms of the institutions of the time. The Tunisian women have always been privileged, right up to the present, in contrast to their sisters in the rest of the Islamic world.

The double moral standard of men in Tunisian society is flagrant and shameful. The Tunisian male presents an open and modern personality on the outside, in contact with the civilized world, and absolutely the opposite inside his family, where he has to preserve his image and almost bestial dominance. The passage from one to the other is effected mechanically, as though men were broken into this behavior right from birth.

From the ensemble of the dogma of the permitted and forbidden, which mixes up the trivial and important, man is able to pick and choose according to his needs and interests without worrying about divine sanction, such as the misuse of alcohol, which flows like water in the exclusively male evenings. On the other hand, a woman has to apply herself to this dogma in the smallest details; laxism is a one-way street and the dead end is reserved for the female of the species.

In a society where it is forbidden for women to occupy positions of power or importance, under the pretext that her emotions dominate her reason, her principal task consists in begetting and bringing up children. In a society where the woman inherits only half that of a man, where her testimony in a court is worth half that of a man, where a man is permitted to beat a woman when she deviates from customary behavior regarding her husband, it is very difficult for a woman to beat a path for herself and achieve her full potential.

My first contact with Islam was of the traditional kind without the least knowledge of the original texts. I went to Koranic school from the age of three without understanding the objective of this obligatory detour before rejoining the kindergarten. My memories are full of vivid impressions of strong and omnipresent feminine personalities at the heart of my family, despite appearances to the contrary. My maternal grandmother, Omi Zohra, and my mother, Ouasilla, were real rebels against this injustice, which was difficult for them to give a name to.

In fact, the two women in my life did everything to ensure that their children were not subjected to the same punishments. My mother and, exceptionally, my father had done everything for their daughters to receive the same education as the boys without the smallest amount of discrimination. It is for this reason that I was able to continue my primary and secondary education without too much difficulty. Between tradition, Islam, and Tunisian culture of the old town of Tunis, we can see the ignorant but light presence of religion, which only tints in func tion of need the lives of Tunisians who know how to adapt it to satisfy their wants. In other words, it is rather tradition that has shaped Islam in the way it wants and not the other way around. It is obscurantism that has blackened the socalled light of religion and not the other way around; the last word is with the man molded and radio controlled by tradition.

I left the old quarter of Tunis with its bitter and sweet memories, dominated by its tradition and its hidden Islam, which was present only to comfirm and render credible habits deeply etched in the hearts and minds of men of the time. In the town of Ariana, in the suburbs of Tunis, we determined to start a new life, full of hope and promise. My parents set up in a modern villa that was meant to be the cradle of openness to the outside world and to tolerance. My mother was satisfied with the success of her children, her daughters particularly, in their studies. In fact, one of her daughters got into university to continue her, higher scientific research. A brilliant and independent future was smiling at her contrary to what her mother had lived through and suffered. Except the beginning of success constituted at the same time the beginning of failure; it was a double-edged sword that appeared on the horizon.

I had just begun my cycle of secondary school studies in the new environment, full of joy and unprecedented openness of spirit. An era of modernity swept through our family; we finally extirpated the clutches of archaic and suffocating tradition, and started to breathe new air. But this promising pause lasted only an instant before my family was infiltrated by the Islamic fundamentalists through the husband of one of my sisters. The sister who had succeeded in going up to university, the first to save the honor of women, flirted with the beginning of the movement of radical Islam in the mid-1970s in Tunis.

No one at the time gauged the impact that this encounter would have on the stability of our family. It was a mini Islamic revolution that was taking place in the heart of our home, from one day to the next a change of regime was in place; we went from one extreme to another. The intrusion of this son-in-law provoked a radical change with dramatic consequences for all of us: my father, my mother, my four sisters, my four brothers, and myself.

The Islamist seed was taking root gradually inside Tunisian families, among which was ours. The husband of my sister turned out to be one of the founding members of the Islamist organization Mouvement a Tendance Islamiste (MTI), known under the name of El Nahda (Renaissance). He represented the hard line of this movement, those who advocated military action. His strategy was to take control of his family-in-law to consolidate his power of oppression. He found husbands for the girls, one in the army, the other in business, and for me a fighter pilot who is now a political refugee in London. My eldest sister was already married before this infiltration, a narrow escape from the organizer's program.

As for the boys, he pulled strings to introduce one of them into military school, with the complicity of my father, who found himself once again suddenly at the head of the family, which he had always dreamed of. Islam made him into a powerful person with the help of Koranic texts. It was no longer the power conferred on him by tradition outside the house, his dominance now carried on into the interior, where it interfered with the trivial and the important. The three other boys were still young, they confined themselves to practicing religion to the letter and not in the traditional manner. From one day to the next, the entire family got down to work with passion to catch up for lost time and redeem the sins of the past.

As in the wake of all revolutions, there were various reactions. There were those who approved out of conviction, others out of obligation or out of weakness, and still others out of self-interest, and finally those who were totally opposed, like my mother and my eldest sister, who refused to let the new despotic regime take hold. Free will disappeared to leave the word to God and to Muhammad. Nothing could be decided or done without going back to the sacred texts to make sure that the act was in conformity with them.

At the time I was only eleven years old, but I was attracted by this sudden return to the "true Islam" as they called it, attributing greater rights to women than "traditional Islam." They dazzled us with the prospect of a situation far more honorable than that was reserved for us by Tunisian tradition or the Western world. At the beginning, the adherence of women to Islamism was in the spirit of a movement to liberate women from the chains of tradition and to save them from the devaluation that Western women experienced as sexual objects. To give back to woman her true place which was hers by rights pleased me.

I subscribed with heart and soul to this new Islam of the Islamists, which aimed to abolish the secular state. In my mind, it was only a return to our origins and our real Arabo-Muslim identity; I was totally unaware of the poltical aspects that were brewing at the time. The idea of God fascinated me, that of a perfect being one must resemble, as far as possible, to better understand him. I wanted to go back to this divine origin of the so-called creation. To win back paradise, for me, was nothing more than to be able to drink to the full at the source. I discovered finally that Islam was not what I had known during my traditional childhood.

I accepted putting on the Islamic scarf right from the age of eleven and become a follower of the "true Islam." I was an ardent practitioner, I knew the Koran by heart, I had mastered the hadith and exegesis as far as my young age would allow. I followed all the lessons about the legal element in Islam to improve my knowledge of and better penetrate the divine mystery. I wished to take an interest only in the basic fundamental elements of Islam independent of all the different interpretations of men who had monopolized this domain in tailoring the texts to their desires. I wanted to develop a personal point of view without having to refer to anyone else; I used the dogma to reach the essential, the quintessence of the so-called divine message.

The Islamic headscarf, which all women put on in the same way, had more a political rather than a religious connotation. I took it off only when I was with women or in front of men I could not marry. The rest of the body had to be entirely covered with a dress ample enough not to accentuate the form of the body, and simple enough not to attract the looks of men. The woman had to be a ghost who moved from place to place in silence, without rousing the smallest masculine desire. In brief, she was considered on the whole like a sexual organ, even her voice had to be not too feminine, lest, so they said, it entice the feeble hearts of men. I asked myself if the problem came rather from the bestial vision these men had of the feminine gender or of themselves.

On top of the five obligatory daily prayers, I was encouraged to add some more in order to redeem my past sins. On top of the fast of Ramadan, I was advised to fast every Monday and Thursday to have my unconscious errors pardoned. On the other hand, I was exempted from pilgrimage to Mecca and the Friday prayers at the mosque, because the woman is closer to the "real Islam" in her house, even more in her bedroom, not to mention her bed or even in her own body. I did not have the right to look men in the eyes or to shake their hands when greeting them. In short, mixing of the sexes was more than forbidden, as they said when a man finds himself alone with a woman, the devil is the third companion.

I had to say good-bye to outings for pleasure, to the beach in a swimming costume, to my friends who refused to follow me in my religious activities, to mini-skirts, to bursts of laughter, in short, to all the pleasures of life. I was buried alive inside the task that man wanted to condemn me for life. I resembled more a shadow than a living being worthy of the human condition. I saw my sisters around me sinking one after another into the madness of this interpretation, purely human and masculine, of the so-called divine texts. They were really far from the feminist revolution they had hoped to accomplish through their adherence. The spiral of circumstance was there and the trap was closing on them without them being able change anything. They had abandoned their studies and had renounced their careers in order to dedicate their lives and souls to the production of a new generation of Islamists who would save humanity.

I was lucky in refusing categorically the idea of marriage, which would have been the point of no return. There remained for me an opening to escape the depression that had taken hold of me. I wanted to flee this milieu by any means possible; it did not at all correspond to what I had imagined some years earlier. I saw the conflict growing larger daily between my parents, who were destroying themselves in front of everyone. All the quarrels were on the subject of the "real Islam" that my mother refused to admit as divine words.

As time went by, the disappointments succeeded one another in form and content. Having been through the main texts of the "real Islam," I did not find the answers to questions I posed on the subject of God, this perfect being, omniscient and inaccesible. I felt more and more chained up and crushed by the dogma that interfered in the smallest detail of one's daily life. My mind was sterilized gradually, unable to have access to freedom of thought, to myself. There formed an obstacle between me and myself, it prevented me from reaching my own innermost self to discover what was my real nature. Uniformity did not suit me. The ordinary did not resemble me. Everyone had to dress, talk, and behave in the same manner, like a herd of animals. Monotony invaded space and became burdensome, and my life was devoid of all originality. We fell back slowly and without being aware of it into a new legalized tradition, legalized by a so-called Allah who had forseen everything.

From the woman's point of view, the situation proved to be even worse. Tradition came back in force and with even more obscurantism in favor of men who were ready to progress in just about any domain except that of women. The shackling of women had to be pursued without any letup, otherwise men risked losing control of the situation. Women continued to be treated like incapable beings who need to be systematically under the guardianship of a close male relative in order to move, to exist, or even to breathe. I realized gradually that the promises of equal rights and duties they dazzled us with were but bait that lured us into a premeditated trap that closed over us immediately.

These revivers of Islam were only using women to reinforce their own power on a planetary scale. We were only puppets they used to go forward in their ignorance. I noticed that I had been an accomplice, without realizing it, to this deviance in the name of Allah. They made the latter say what they wanted without him intervening to contradict them. I began to see the real objective of this return to the "real Islam." I noted the political tinge of this fundamentalist faction in all the details of their actions. The aim envisaged is political power independent of all worries about respecting the so-called words of God, which enlightens their combat.

The philosophy of Bourguiba did not suit these fundamentalist revivers who wished to save the world from its slide and from the danger of the West, considered enemy number one of Islam and Muslims.

The masks fell gradually as they became more and more confident. I was terrified when I saw the true faces being uncovered, for me it was in the name of the devil and not God that they should have acted. They were convinced that they had the monopoly on God and the absolute truth, the totality of human salvation depended on their bloody actions, which they had put in motion with all impunity. Secret meetings proliferated in our home, in the villa of Ariana, the house of my adolescence. My parents were blind, seeing absolutely nothing coming.

The infiltration of Islamism into the heart of my family, as was the case in thousands of other families in North Africa and the Arabo-Muslim world, provoked the breakup of families, one after another. My family was the first victim of this deviation. My mother refused categorically to accept this situation and ended up asking for divorce. Her departure pushed me to think harder. I had started to question the ensemble of indoctrination to which I had been subjected. I suffered from the distancing of my mother who had seen all her hopes go up in smoke in the space of a few years.

I wanted to render her justice in the name of all women who had struggled for their independence in vain. It took a great deal of courage for her to renounce all that she had built up over years, to start from scratch in a country and cultural milieu she did not know at all. She left Tunisia for France, to the home of her brother, without having the slightest idea as to what awaited her on the other side of the Mediterranean.

I did not know how to liberate myself from these chains, which were getting heavier with time. I began by making a distinction between the different interpretations for the practice of Islam and the fundamental sources. I wanted to exonerate Islam from these crimes that they were committing in its name. Then I realized that the deficiencies were themselves ensconced at the heart of the so-called sacred text, that I could not exonerate Islam. The five pillars of Islam did not help me at all in my quest for the absolute; I found their repetitive application tedious and futile. I understood that I could achieve human dignity without them. The idea of God still interested me but I realized that I could experience God outside religion.

After seven years of religious observance and Islamic scarf, I decided to think for myself in suddenly stopping the dogmatic approach. The veil was lifted from my eyes, enabling me to see the world in color, in all its splendor. Finally, I was free to think, to eat, to dress in the way I wanted; in short, to behave as I felt in perfect harmony with my inner self. At the age of eighteen, I came out of the nightmare that had lasted seven years. It dawned on me that what I was looking for on the outside was to be found inside of me.

Scarcely free from this anguish, I decided to join my mother in Paris. By virtue of the negative images of the West that had been drummed into me, I was apprehensive about leaving but at the same time delighted at the possibility of discovering other cultures and new ways of thinking. After having known "traditional Islam" and the "true Islam," called Islamism or fundamentalism, I swung to the opposite end thirsty for the freedom to live by myself.

I arrived in Paris on July 14, 1983, having escaped the clutches of a religion that had deprived me of the best of myself. A new life opened up for me and took form in the university milieu, where I progressed through a double course in philosophy and sociology. At last, I was breathing to the full the freedom of thought through my passion for the great Greek or Western philosophers like Plato and Kant. This thirst to understand the meaning of my existence always followed me, but I no longer needed religion to put me in touch with the so-called divine. The paths that lead to God are as numerous as human beings, to each his or her path in accordance with her or his particular nature, where each being is unique.

My first reaction was to flee from every milieu that risked reminding me, to a greater or lesser degree, of the nightmare from which I had just escaped. Most of the people in my circle were French; my only Tunisian contacts were my mother and three of my brothers. I did not wish to hear anyone speaking of Islam and Muslims, all the while harboring a feeling of guilt and doubt about the degree of certainty of my choice. What if they were right about what they said of the West? I decided to throw myself into the unknown come what may, and to have confidence in my destiny, if ever one exists.

I thought I had finished with Islam and Islamism for good in turning a black page of my life. Suddenly I learned that my brother-in-law was settling in Paris, as a political refugee, after having failed in an attempted military coup d'etat in Tunis against Bourguiba's regime, an attempt that had been thwarted just in time by President Ben Ali. In 1987 Bourguiba was removed from power because of the state of his health, whereby, in accordance with the Tunisian constitution, the prime minister took over the presidency.

Once again I was pursued by what I had wanted to flee with all my force four years earlier. Keeping a distance, I followed the evolution of this situation through my family. Now we were hunted on the one hand by Tunisian authorities for belonging to Islamic fundamentalist groups, and on the other by this brotherin-law who found us unequal to the task, not up to the level of his image as one of the founding members of the Islamist party MTI. In short, the less I heard talk of Islam the better I felt; the breakup of my family was only the beginning of the evil consequences of this self-seeking intrusion. Two other brothers-in-law were arrested and interrogated, even imprisoned after this abortive attempt provoking the destruction of other families close to mine.

At this time I had my first contact with my brother Karim, the first to settle in Paris to continue his studies; at the age of fourteen, he had come to my uncle's home while waiting for the arrival of my mother. In fact, the whole of my family did not know anything of his activities apart from my brother-in-law and my sister. At the time, he simply gave the impression of being a young man, fairly modern in his outlook, entirely integrated into French civilization. To us, he seemed to be traveling all the time, making him seem a bohemian in search of adventure. I dreamed of living like him but he constantly refused to let me accompany him on his voyages, avoiding answering but without raising suspicions.

It was in the summer of 1989 that I began to suspect the true nature of his activities. He was talking of the "true ShFFa Islam" as opposed to the "true Sunni Islam." I discovered a new approach to this religion, which I could not seem to get rid of. I said to myself that I would find perhaps what I had been searching for in this doctrine claimed to be closer to the real version of Islam, given that it only relied on the line of the family of the Prophet through twelve infallible imams. I began to be interested in Twelver Shf°a, which proved to be more philosophical and metaphysical than Sunni Islam.

Once again, I was intellectually intoxicated in my search for truth. I immersed myself in Shir doctrine, reading assidulously the works of the famous Imam Ali, supposedly the esoteric repository of the prophetic secret. I confess that the ShF i approach is much more interesting and more seductive than that of the Sunnis, which is too down-to-earth in my view. What is interesting in the Shia is that it does not put the accent on the dogmatic aspect of religion. Besides, one can discuss the nature of the divine without falling into blasphemy, which is far from the case in Sunnism, where it is forbidden to ask who God is.

In studying, I also discovered to my great surprise that the ShFFa was the mastermind of the Islamic and fundamentalist terrorism in the world. It was through reading the poignant and unique testimony of my brother Karim, at the heart of the network based in Iran, that I ended up by understanding the true activities of my brother for several years. (He had been recruited by the Iranian Cultural Center in Paris.) For the first time someone was testifying from within a family and from within an international network whose tentacles reached out everywhere on the planet. It was when he handed over to me the account of his reallife experience written in Arabic that I began to realize the horror of this kind of enterprise, whose aim is to terrorize the world. I could no longer remain inactive faced with such barbarism being hatched in secret.

I was stupefied. I had the impression I was reading a science fiction novel that surpassed understanding. How could he have kept the true nature of his activities so hidden? I had the choice of believing his version of the facts and his desire to repent, and denouncing him; between giving and refusing help. I opted for the former solution, to give him the benefit of doubt, in agreeing to translate his testimony from Arabic to French, and above all to edit it so that it would act as a warning against this type of spiral.

After having been interested in Islam, in all its forms, as well as Christianity and Judaism, I became totally indifferent to religions. While my brother was training to kill innocents in the name of God, I led a completely modern life between the sea and mountains, between skiing and windsurfing, between my university studies and my small student jobs. But now, in thinking about his testimony, I decided to fight fundamentalism and Islamic terrorism with all the means at my disposal. I could no longer continue to turn a blind eye to what was being done in the name of God and Islam. One must have the courage and the conviction to denounce these deviations in order to preserve the rest of humanity from this religious dictatorship.

In 1993, while I was working on the French version of this testimony, limiting it to Karim's point of view, which insisted on distinguishing between Islam and Islamism, I learned of the interrogation in Paris of my brother-in-law, who was later put under house arrest because of his terrorist activities in France and Europe. This news confirmed my brother's written confession, and made me determined to go through with my denunciation of this evil that was corroding our societies in all impunity. I even decided to publish this documentary book under my own name in order not to give in to this fear that these terrorists wish to sow in the hearts of those who dare to criticize them.

It is under these circumstances that my book Karim, Mon Frere. Ex-Integriste et Terroriste (Karim, my brother, ex-fundamentalist and terrorist)' came out in French in September 1997. Less than three months after its publication, my brother-in-law, SK, sued me for defamation from the place where he was under house arrest. I ended up winning this trial in the court of cassation, confirming in this way the facts related in the book, which retraced only a tiny part of his true activities. The law judged in my favor but the journalists preferred to support the thesis of this individual, according to whom it was the Tunisian secret service that was behind this testimony.

Since the media were only reflecting the state of mind of French society at the time, I cannot reproach them for supporting this type of individual, like my brother-in-law, who presented themselves as the victims of the regimes in place in their countries, whereas they themselves would have been capable of behaving much worse had they been in power for a while. In fact, in the book Our Friend Ben Ali' by Nicolas Beau of Le Canard Enchaine (a French satirical weekly) and Jean-Pierre Tuquoi of the Le Monde (a French daily), my book is presented as the work of the Tunisian secret service in a chapter given over to my brother-in-law,3 who is described as a victim of the dictatorial regime of Ben Ali.

I invite these two eminent journalists to read my second book, D. Le Zero Neutre,4 and to tell me if it is still all a question of the Tunisian secret service. I also advise them to do their work as journalists in following my activities on behalf of associations, and as an editor and publisher for the last five years, and to tell me what they think of my combat against fundamentalism and Islamic terrorism. Alas, these fanatics of God have succeeded in convincing even the West, their supreme enemy, of their innocence and good intentions. They knew how to manipulate those who knew nothing of Islam, and to make these dupes agree with them.

We must reveal and admit that Islamism in the West is an imported product, not a local one. Many Islamists, fleeing their country of origin, were freely accorded political refugee status, and they were able to continue their activities in their host country as well as in their own from a distance. As a result, Islamism in its Western form established itself in the suburbs with a large Arabo-Muslim population. Now, the private domains of the Islamists and the home base of their activities are to be found in Europe and the United States. The attack is progressing on two parallel fronts; on the one hand they are sponsoring from a distance the establishment of Islamist states in Arabo-Muslim countries, and on the other they are undermining the West from the inside. Thus, it would be enough for the first half to invade the other half of the planet to establish international Islam. You would have to be a fanatic of God to imagine such a scenario.

At the time of the publication of my first book, I was struck by the ignorance and lack of interest of the public about the question of Islamism, as though it did not concern them. They kept repeating to me, "Well, yes, but how is it that we have never heard of this El Rissali terrorist network?" Today, I can reply that you have only to go on the Internet and type in "El Khat El Rissali" on an Arabic keyboard to get dozens of sites on this network in all languages. All the people cited in my book are to be found on these sites and are pursuing their fundamentalist and terrorist activities without being in the least worried. Their preparations for the coming of the famous Mahdi (the messiah who in Shia doctrine plays a stronger role than in Sunni Islam; while the Sunni wait passively for the messiah, the Shia actively prepare for his coming) are continuing, and the authorities are still doing nothing about them, claiming they have no proof. If the French authorities continue to do nothing, they will have more of September 11, 2001, to deal with.

Until this famous date, the West believed it was safe from any Islamist danger, despite the different attacks in France and other countries in recent years. When will the West realize that Islamist danger is planetary, that the Islamists are individuals who work and think on an international level in order to prepare for the coming of the Mahdi, who will govern according to their logic the entire earth in the name of Islam? When are we going to take seriously this danger that threatens all humans worthy of the name? Did we have to wait until the United States was attacked before reacting and protecting ourselves? What the AraboMuslim countries have been undergoing for decades to combat the rise of Islamist movements does not seem to have any importance for the Western countries. Shouldn't one ring the alarm bells instead of picking on the regimes in power?

In short, the book was ignored except in milieus concerned by the question, simply because the journalists were badly informed and because they considered the Islamist political opposition as any other ordinary opposition. My brother Karim's character was dubious, they said, and not very credible because he was a young man in search of divine truth and that he found himself, without realizing it, at the heart of an international terrorist network. Western journalists only listened to the bigger players, who were in fact capable manipulating them in no time at all. All the young penitents who wanted only to be heard and to be reintegrated into society were rejected because they were labeled Islamist for life.

The majority of young men who fall into this kind of trap are in search of identity, of an ideal. Generally they are cannon fodder to be sacrificed in order to advance on the battle field. It is the half-educated young men, on the edges of society, who are recruited to be turned into human bombs capable of producing great damage. Because they are uneducated does not mean that they are not credible. The so-called prophets were all illiterate, but that did not stop them from changing the face of the world. It is time to act and denounce Islamism without fear of reprisal.

How can you combat the Islamist menace if you do not give these penitents a new chance'? They must be given a helping hand, just as I gave my brother one. Since then my brother and I have become a duo to combat fundamentalism and Islamic terrorism, whose worst acts are still to come. We began by creating an association in August 1997; then, in May 1999, we launched a cultural review that would allow young people to express themselves freely. Our objective was to encourage secularism in Arabo-Muslim countries, particularly the Maghreb (Northwest Africa). This sociocultural magazine is available in kiosks in Tunisia and Morocco, and for the moment has avoided censorship.

I did not want the new generation to undergo what I lived through during my adolescence. Seventy percent of the population is less than twenty-five years old; these young men and women are the ideal prey for the bloody Islamist criminals. Religion is but a subterfuge to attain political power. God is the first victim of this diabolical strategem.

Ultimately the solution lies in separating religion from politics, particularly in that part of the globe that is still suffering from this amalgam between the temporal power and the spiritual power. I know that our task smacks of the impossible since in Arabo-Muslim countries the word "secularism" is hardly pronounced. They do not even dare to think of it, and yet religion and nationalism remain the two greatest dangers that threaten humankind today.

It is only through this separation that young people can hope to advance effectively in their battle against fundamentalism and Islamic terrorism. The secular base is absolutely essential for the new foundation to be solid. One cannot construct on ruins that have had their day. We must learn to question ourselves and values and restart at zero, and we are not the first nor will be the last to do so.

It goes without saying that I am counting on Arabo-Muslim women who are more or less oppressed according to the interpretation that men wish to give to the so-called sacred texts. No religion is favorable to women for the simple reason that all religions are purely masculine products that try to protect the interests of men at all costs from women. Why are the monotheist religions so afraid of women? Perhaps because they know that the loosening of the grip of religion will come about through women.

After the first book, my brother and I were interested in writing a new one that would speak of the history of God and consist of seven volumes. The object of this project was to cure an evil by an evil; you can cut a diamond only with a diamond. We can undo the base of the monotheist religions only by turning their own arms against them. Well, the absolute arm of the foundation of religion is metaphysics, which is supposed to demonstrate the existence of God as creator of All. It is by using the same technique that my brother Karim started writing in Arabic his own subtle and elusive metaphysics to demonstrate the opposite, that is to say, the nonexistence of God.

In this way I published the first volume of this work, D. Le Zero Neutre, in 2001. It treats of what I call atheist metaphysics, which, while seemingly talking of God, is in reality only referring to human beings. But you have to wait until you have read all seven volumes to be convinced of it. In fact, the characteristic of this book is to show that what one attributes systematically to God is nothing but human abilities whose ins and outs we still have not mastered. It is a book that believes in humankind, in all its divine splendor. Nothing exists outside him, the ensemble of human genius can only come from the interior of ourselves independently of all exterior intervention. God the protector does not exist, he is only the fruit of our imagination.

The idea of God is without doubt the most beautiful human invention, but it is nothing more than a human desire for perfection and omnipresence of which he has always dreamed. It is we who created God, and not the opposite. It is not a new discovery; it has been said so many times and in so many ways, but it is time to believe it. It is time to take our destiny in our hands and to have faith in our own people and ourselves, to believe in the huan, the merciful, and the compassionate.

The West has hitherto spoken only of Arabic Islam, but it is non-Arabic Islam that will make itself known more and more. The majority, and perhaps the most formidable part, of Muslims are non-Arab, including the Shia. We are not done with Islamism, which has only just started with the September 11 attacks, which proved clearly that terrorism is not blind but lucid, farsighted, and redoubtable. It is not the fruit of a handful of enlightened ones who dream of dominating the planet. On the contrary, Islamic terrorism is made up of individuals who have been trained for generations and who firmly believe in their bloody ideal.

Fatwas against innocent people whose only crime was to have tried to think for themselves are proliferating. Now it appears that Islam, which is full of contradictions, in trying to satisfy and seduce the greatest number of followers has run out of breath, it has nothing more to give. Humankind is growing up, slowly but surely; it no longer has need of legends that one recounts to children to help them become more mature, to keep them alive until they are capable of confronting reality themselves.

God the protector is no longer a factor of progress to whom one must keep going back in order to replenish ourselves. It is time to look at things in the face and to rely on ourselves to confront the imperfections of the so-called perfect creation. Today, it is true, these fundamentalists risk setting the earth ablaze with their heresy, but that does not stop the fact that they are living their last hours, because at the same time people are taking steps to avoid the worst. Fortunately, humanists, who believe in humankind, are far more present than one would think, and that among peoples of all races, colors, and religions.

Today in the West, we no longer have the right to criticize Islam, from near or far, at the risk of our lives. Even reformist practicing Muslims are fingered as criminals, simply because they dared to say that Islam should question itself and its values and adapt to the third millennium if it wants to remain on the scene, just as Christianity and Judaism has done.

Now, at the age of thirty-eight, I think I have thoroughly examined the religious question and I believe I have saved myself without too much damage because I acted in time. I can accept moderate religions that are followed in good faith, because I myself passed through the same beliefs and false hopes. On the other hand, they are incapable of understanding me since they have never dared to defy the grip of religion that flows in their blood. They have never thought it possible to live without the so-called divine radio control of our destiny. They are the slaves of their own beliefs because they are afraid of becoming adults. They prefer to continue in infantile tutelage, which religion offers in order to prevent us from growing up and taking our destiny in hand.

To end the influence of religion, and to help man to grow up, the secularists and atheists will have to work together on an international scale until secularism is accepted universally.

Today I prefer Vivaldi's Four Seasons to the four gospels; I prefer meditation and silent reflection to the five pillars of Islam. The really sacred temple can only be inside human beings. Religion does not have the monopoly of so-called divine truth; everyone must make his or her own way, respecting each other's individuality and difference.

The Islamists should know that we are as numerous as they and that we have as much conviction in the nonexistence of God as they have in his existence. I do not see that their faith will be superior to ours. We respect human life and preserve it with all our force, calling for a war of ideas instead of calling for a holy war and the shedding of innocent blood in the name of God.

As Euclid said, "What has been affirmed without proof can also be denied without proof." It is never too late to question oneself and to go ahead. Alas, God is too beautiful to be true.

NOTES

1. Sarnia Labidi, Karim, Mon Frere. Ex-Integriste et Terroriste (Paris: Flammarion, 1997).

2. Nicolas Beau and Jean-Pierre Tuquoi, Notre Ami Ben Ali (Our friend Ben Ali) (Paris: La Decouverte, 2002).

3. He has remained under house arrest for ten years now.

4. Sarnia Labidi, D. Le Zero Neutre (Paris: Publibook, 2002).

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