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05 May 2011

Nadia El Fani and the Freedom of Conscience

Nadia El Fani
Franco-Tunisian filmmaker, Nadia El Fani is known for her political engagement on issues that are at the same time controversial. Her latest film Ni Allah ni Maître (Neither Allah nor Master) focuses on secularism in Tunisia, a majority Muslim country, at the height of the revolutions taking place in North Africa. With the release of the film, she has been the object of rather vicious Internet attacks. In opposition to these attacks, an online petition in support of Nadia El Fani outlines its position on the issue of secularism and freedom of conscience.

Below is a transcription of a recent interview with Nadia El Fani by Mohamed Kaci on Le Journal International TV5Monde (05 May 2011) and the Petition (which follows), both translated from French to English by Beti Ellerson

TV5Monde: Hello Nadia El Fani, you are a filmmaker. Ni Allah ni Maître, a documentary about secularism, was presented at a local film festival [Doc à Tunis] in Tunisia. We will talk with you but first we will look at an excerpt from the film.

[Nadia El Fani talks with a group of people]:

Man in group: Islamists want to come and impose themselves in Tunisia, but the people are opposed to an Islamic government but not to a Muslim country, we are Muslim!
Nadia El Fani: The problem with our constitution is that Article 1 states that the religion of the republic is Muslim, but what about those who are atheist, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist--and who are also Tunisian. We should not have to declare that we are only Muslim. We are many other things as well, and everyone has the right to live in peace here and express her/himself as he/she wishes!
Man in group: As it has been for centuries!
Nadia El Fani: So it must be written! That is important!

TV5Monde: The Tunisian revolution is generating a great deal of hope, Nadia El Fani you seem to be troubled about the question of secularism.

Nadia El Fani: Well not troubled, but certainly concerned. Modernity is at stake, as Tunisia has always been at the forefront in Arab countries and I hope we continue to be. I hope that we will have a secular constitution. I am a politically committed filmmaker and am taking on this issue.

TV5Monde: You have been the object of a restive polemic on the Internet, with sometimes fierce attacks and threats, specifically on Facebook, how are you dealing with it?

Nadia El Fani: As anywhere in the world when one takes a position on an issue there are those who are against it, and sometimes those overzealous detractors use insults and offensive attacks, often personal. I would rather that we remain on political grounds. For those who violate the law with threats, I will press charges in Tunisia and in France.

TV5Monde: But as you stated in your documentary, secularism does not exist in all countries, Islam is written in the constitution in Tunisia, isn't?

Nadia El Fani: There is now some ambiguity. Bourguiba [the first and former president of Tunisia] wanted to keep this ambiguity. While he states that Islam is the religion of Tunisia, he also declares in a speech, and I have an excerpt of this in the film, that diversity is part of Tunisian society. I think in order to live together there must be this concept of secularism. I already had this position before the fall of Ben Ali, that to ask for democracy, is to ask for secularism. I have images in the film before the Ben Ali regime of a Tunisia that is open and tolerant, with people who are open to these ideas.

TV5Monde: The revolution was above all, about freedom, dignity, democracy. If tomorrow a "religious party" won the election, we already saw this in the elections in Algeria at the end of the 1980s beginning of the 1990s, would your position be to cancel the vote?

Nadia El Fani: The events in Tunisia unfolded in a very different way, apart from Islamists, with a discourse that was not at all religious. It was as you stated about freedom and dignity, because there were socio-economic problems. So I say to all those who waste their time on the Internet to insult me and create Facebook pages on which they use images that depict me as some kind of devil, that what is at stake is much more important than me individually, which is, in fact, the modernity of the country. I think to be progressive one must adopt a certain secularism because everyone must be respected. No political party can assume power based on religion.

A Petition: In Support of Nadia El Fani and the Protection of Freedom of Conscience (Soutien à Nadia El Fani et défense de la liberté de conscience) 03 May 2011

Following her public statements on Hannibal television, filmmaker Nadia El Fani has been the object of an extensive campaign of verbal and physical threats on certain Facebook pages. We, Tunisian citizens committed to the freedom of conscience, belief and worship, declare by this, our full support of Nadia El Fani. We are stating that by her right to express her non-belief in God, she rejects any attempt to impose obstacles to her freedom of conscience by those who claim to adhere to a political Islam. We, Tunisian citizens hereby express our absolute indignation at the threats of physical violence and the verbal rampage against Nadia El Fani. 

We believe that the current political rise of Islamists, the repeated assaults against women whose dress does not conform to a so-called "Islamic morality", the political manipulation by the mosques, and the calls to murder for "blasphemy", necessitate the demand for greater vigilance. In this current climate there is especially the need for solidarity with all those who have the courage to not yield to the law of terror and the submission to silence. 

We believe that a society is either tolerant or it is not. Freedom of conscience is not divisible. In the same way that wearing the veil and a beard should be allowed and respected, an individual has the right to declare that he/she "does not believe in God." If today we give in to the threats of violence against those who declare their atheism, tomorrow the threats will be against those among us who are non-practicing Muslims, and the next day those among us who are practicing Muslims but who do so in a manner not acceptable to the extremists!

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