Tunisians Use 'Harlem Shake' to Challenge Islamism

Article Summary
As students throughout Tunisia perform the Harlem Shake to challenge the ascendant Islamism in the country, Ines Oueslati argues that it is not appropriate to answer extremism with excess of another kind.

A debate has been going on since Saturday [Feb. 23] over an online video showing high school students at the Imam Muslim School in El-Menzah dancing the Harlem Shake, which some deem immoral. That video, which is currently a hit on the Internet, shows students dressed in eccentric outfits dancing to the rhythms of an electronic tune.

Since then, all of Tunis has been shaking to the rhythm of this crazy dance. Since Monday, Feb. 25, several commercial sites have been following the spread of the Harlem Shake. Hackers have modified official websites — that of the Ministry of Education, in particular — by making the pictures on the screen move to the Harlem Shake rhythm.

Education Minister Abdellatif Abid was the first to take a stand on this juvenile gag that turned into a phenomenon. Abid told Mosaic FM Radio that he was outraged and that he was determined to investigate these actions, which he described as immoral. According to Abid, the school director should be held responsible.

Shortly after, many started challenging the minister’s repressive attitude on social networks. They defied his threats by releasing Harlem Shake videos filmed at other Tunisian schools and universities.

The snowball is building, and things have gotten to the point that politicians and public figures are reacting. Most people condemn the minister’s attitude and reject his threats of repression by continuing to perform the dance. A Harlem Shake event is being launched on March 5 in front of the Education Ministry.

Many were indignant about the education minister’s excessive reaction. They opposed the way he exercised his authority and the steps he wants to take against the director of Imam Muslim School. Some students have decided to support the director by skipping class.

The minister’s reaction was considered excessive and disproportionate. So, in the name of freedom and to oppose the religious conservatism taking hold in Tunisia, many public figures have expressed support for these videos, which they call “artistic.” Opinions vary because on this issue, there is no politics, opposition or Islamism.

Lassaad Yaacoubi, secretary-general of the Union of Secondary Education, gave his position on the video to Assabah News on Monday [Feb. 25]. He was outraged by the actions of these young people and felt that the video was depraved and contained allusions to homosexuality.

That scantily dressed students dance in a schoolyard is reprehensible, regardless of the political and partisan disagreements. The education minister, who put his political affiliation aside, has every right to exercise his authority because the educational establishment depends on him and because that video was not the only one recorded at a school. Additional, if less extravagant, videos have also been produced.

Political differences should not divide Tunisia and widen our divisions in the arts and social values. All forms of excess should be condemned. The minister should have protested when Salafists invaded a school and replaced its flag with their black banner. He should have protested then, but he did not. But is that a reason for him not to condemn other excesses?

At first glance, such activities may not seem very important. However, they become important when used as a weapon to defend art and the freedom of expression and to oppose the ascendant Islamism — because that weapon is far from perfect.

Our somewhat modern society still does not tolerate certain excesses, and when it does tolerate them, where they take place is an important factor. Respecting educational institutions is important to us.

The fear of religious conservatism and of Islamists imposing radical religious values that would change Tunisian society should not in any way lead us to excesses in other areas. We must avoid going to extremes in either direction because the more we polarize ourselves, the more the gap between us will widen. Similarly, the more we are divided, the easier it becomes for others to rule us.

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Found in: salafist, islamists, creative freedoms
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