Tuesday 25 October 2016

I fell in love with the people - but I won't be returning

Culture of kisses has been overshadowed by bloodbath on the very beach where I swam, says Carol Hunt who won't holiday there now

Published 28/06/2015 | 02:30

HOME SAFE: Elizebeth O Brien is hugged by a relative at Dublin airport after arriving home from Tunisia on Friday
HOME SAFE: Elizebeth O Brien is hugged by a relative at Dublin airport after arriving home from Tunisia on Friday

Last summer I wrote a travel piece on the wonders of Tunisia. It was titled: "Discovering culture and kisses in a sun-soaked land of Kaboul-mania". The culture is self evident, Jewish, Roman, European and African heritage; the kisses come from the Tunisian tradition of kissing a friend so many times on each cheek depending on how long it's been since they last met (I counted up to ten between two women) and the "Karboul-mania" described the adoration that so many Tunisians had for their new, young, female, Minister for Tourism, Amel Karboul.

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Tunisia was where the Arab Spring had started during the "Jasmine Revolution. Proudly people told me that "Tunisia is very different from other Arab cultures", some insisting that the wry self-deprecating humour and easy-going tolerance of the locals likened them to the Irish, their favourite visitors, they said.

Our guide was loquacious and witty, informing us that Tunisians are more sexually liberated than any other Arab people; that young people here usually live together before marriage and that girls can get their driving licence two years before their male counterparts because, "women are safer drivers". When I got home I wrote, "Tunisia is a gem; a warm, light-hearted, easy-going, culture-sodden and sun-drenched heaven that lies only a few hours from Dublin Airport." I wasn't lying or even exaggerating. Which is why last Wednesday, after multiple entreaties from my white-faced children, I began to check sun holidays to Sousse this coming August. Sousse because last year I had stayed at the El Mouradi Palm Marina hotel and it had everything one could possibly need for an amazing family holiday at good prices. Also, if we were lucky, myself and my 11-year-old Star Wars fan would also be able to visit some of the sites of the Star Wars films, four of which were filmed in laid-back Tunisia.

Obviously, we won't be going to Sousse or anywhere else in Tunisia this year. On Friday came the news that I know so many local Tunisians had feared since the last attack at the beautiful Bardo museum; there had been a frenzied attack on the very beach where I had sunbathed and swa m at just last year, where I was hoping to bring my children this year.

The hotel I had stayed in was just down from the Hotel Imperial Marhaba, in front of which over 38 people were brutally, horrifically, gunned down, three of them we now know to be Irish. Last March, when news of the brutal murder of 22 tourists at the famous Bardo Museum (where I had also visited) swept the world, I hoped and prayed that this was just a one-off, which would not be followed up by any other acts of delusional insanity. The people of Tunisia were so, so proud of how they managed, through peaceful civil resistance, to overthrow their dictator president, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and form a democratic secular democracy. The phrase "since the revolution" was on the lips of many, as Tunisians were eager to let foreigners know that the country was now thriving, welcoming to Westerners and open for business.

Here in the West we just shake our heads and say how shocking it all is, when we should be rationally, righteously, angry. We are stronger than we feel it is politically correct to admit - for fear of "offending" those who make political capital out of being "offended". As Kenan Malik put it (From Fatwa to Jihad): "... the uncertainties and insecurities of Western societies about the worth of basic liberal values, the descent into tribal politics even by those who declare an attachment to Enlightenment universalist ideas, and the emergence of fear as a dominant sentiment, have made Islamists appear more potent than they are". We need to start flexing our liberal muscles. Our Enlightenment values are both our strongest and weakest assets. Or - as an Islamic cleric told the crowd at an inter-faith meeting in Turkey some years ago: "Thanks to your democratic laws, we will invade you. Thanks to our Islamic laws, we will conquer you." Radical Islamists are killing our people. It's time to get angry.


Sunday Independent

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