Posted by: gabriellereneeleblanc | September 16, 2012

Turbulence in Tunisia, a Tourist’s Lament.

In the summer of 2009, my mother and I visited Tunisia. Some portion of this trip was featured in one of my earliest articles, A Tale of Tunisia, where I warn future visitors to steer clear of staying in the city of Hammamet, for fear of noise pollution. This was seriously the biggest threat to a peaceful visit that I could imagine.

When I wrote that entry all of four months ago, I hoped future tourists would find the information useful but would not be deterred from traveling to a country I found truly enchanting.

Enchanting camel.

Despite the penchant for Middle Eastern techno at six in the morning, Hammamet itself was not without charm. The beaches, with their sapphire hued waters, were stunning, and the city itself quite quaint (during the day, anyway).

The capitol city of Tunis proved an amazing experience: the medina was rife with spice, silks, and souvenirs. At one point I actually managed to convince my acrophobic mother to follow a guide on a brief excursion of the city roof tops in what I have dubbed my “Raiders of the Lost Ark” moment.  (Though Mom probably thinks back on it as more akin to Hitchcock’s Vertigo than anything like Indiana Jones.)

View from Tunis rooftop. The shadow is mine.

In Tunis, we walked freely unveiled through the streets: poking about in shops, dining in restaurants, and sampling shisha (hookah) in a local café. This was my favorite experience of the entire excursion: we sat amongst the locals drinking honey-sweet tea and listening to the live musicians. Though still somewhat apart as observers, it was the most immersed we ever were while in the country.

Other delights included a trip to the ruins at Carthage (which date all the way back to the time of Hannibal), riding camels on the sands by the Mediterranean, and a brief trek along the hilly streets of Sidi Bou Said, an enchanting city that, I promised myself, I would one day revisit.

Strange how an American girl can dance with an Islamic man without the world imploding.

Now, it seems I never will.

Three years ago, Barack Obama had just become the 44th president of The United States. After eight years under the leadership of “He Who Shall Not Be Named” (according to G.O.P. policy), the appointment of a man with a fair amount of African descent (and any amount of positive foreign policy) immediately shed the US in a more favorable light, especially in the eyes of an Islamic country.

I did.

At one point in Hammamet, my mother and I even joked with a local taxi driver that we would never have dreamed of visiting under the former administration. Smiling, the man agreed with us.

“The other guy, very bad,” he said. “Obama: good!”

It was the same wherever we went: purveyors of food, souvenirs, and the like all responded in the same (positive!) way when learning our nationality.

“American?”

Yes.

“OBAMA!!!”

Yes!

For the first time since Operation Iraqi Liberation (O.I.L.) began, we could proudly claim our homeland rather than hide it and hope to be mistaken for Canadians.

A quiet dinner in Tunisia. Note the lack of Allah’s wrath.

So, what has changed?

True, Obama did not pan out to be the great Change we had all hoped for. In fact, he accomplished as a Democratic president what no Republican one would have managed by keeping Bush (gasp! The name!) tax cuts, Guantanamo, and the suspension of habeas corpus (just to name a few examples) – all with a Democratic majority. That’s some feat, I’ll tell you what.

In the end, Obama is a politician: What did we really expect? Of course, I was disappointed that the man I had such hopes for turned out to be just another corporate stooge, but in hindsight I’m not really surprised. At least now, toward the end of his first term, Obama has begun to do a bit of what we had wished. (Okay, it’s a diet coke version of his platform, but at least we still get soda, right?)

Oh, wait…it’s Pepsi?! Forget it, then. I’m voting for the Mormon! At least they drink Coke!

And, you have to give it to the man. At least his administration finally turned the spotlight away from Iraq and focused it on the people actually responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Hell, they finally killed Osama Bin Laden! (Turns out that tracking a terrorist mastermind — senior citizen on dialysis — becomes a lot easier when you send the Marines to the right country. Go figure.)

Is this why the Muslim world seems so intent to hate us again? And with a renewed fervor, the likes of which we have not seen throughout his term?

Well, killing the al-Qaeda leader did leave the job open for a newer model of terrorist, but he never could have garnered the number of followers he has now had there not already been much unrest, thanks to the Obama administration’s raising and subsequent dashing of the hopes of the Islamic world.

Not delivering on campaign promises hurt a lot more people than just the Democratic voters, Mr. President.

According to the angry Islamic men with microphones, this latest batch of “unforeseen” violence is the direct result of (and apparently, in their minds, an appropriate response to) an up-coming anti-Islamic independent film from Hollywood.

Marx said religion was the opiate of the people. Seems more like PCP, to me. Or Bath Salts.

Bullshit.

These extremists have riled up their followers with footage found on YouTube (thank you, Internet), which has spurned violent outbursts all over the Eastern world: American flags have been ripped from Embassies and replaced with the repellent black of al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda battle flags now fly in Kuwait, Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia.

Hate flies a flag.

The hatred did not die with Bin Laden. It festered, and now the infection has spread to our allies.

Of course, this is not just over some film. This is just the excuse of the day. If this were the response of every country over some bit of viral video or tabloid trash, then England would be at war with France over nude pictures of their Royals, and the US would have long ago dropped a nuke on Afghanistan the first time they torched the stars and stripes.

There are many members of a certain beverage-titled party who would be strongly in favor of such overreaction. Our very own, homegrown religious extremists have somehow managed to gain a pretty strong control over the GOP, but their actions as a group have been restricted to Fox News appearances, mass Chick-filet consumption, and the occasional Caucasian Christian march. Take away law and order, would these protestors march on mosques and murder? Perhaps, if they could tear themselves from the adventures of Honey Boo Boo.

Oh, good. They have flags, too.

What is the common factor here? Hatred? Perhaps. Religion? Possibly.

Men in power get their grasping hands on a book of prophetic words and moral parables, and they cut and paste whatever passages fit their twisted agenda, ignoring the passages on peace and tolerance, and then they preach. Their ideals, masquerading as those of a deity,  then reach the poor, hungry, and hopeless—people who can’t comprehend or accept their circumstances and who are desperate for understanding: the masses of the world, who only seem to find comfort when given someone to blame.

In impoverished, war-torn Germany, the National Socialist Party pointed to the Jews. In the impoverished, war-torn Middle East, al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood point to the Americans. While it’s true the US has much more culpability in the current conditions of the Middle East than the Jewish community could possibly have had on Eastern Europe, the parallel remains: To the radical Islamic followers, we are the boogeyman.

Burn books or burn flags, the result will be the same: the smoke of disorder will pollute your land.

So, you may be asking yourself, what exactly is my point? Why is a Southern girl of limited education and moderate political affiliation posting a liberal editorial on a blog that proclaims itself nothing more than a humorous account of personal travels?

It’s an election year. The usual amount of animosity between political parties has thickened and multiplied, and now violence has erupted in a country I once visited and loved, resulting in the deaths of innocent Americans and civilians alike, bringing to mind my brief time there — the joyful experiences, and the hope my mother and I shared for a better, brighter future of, if not world peace, at least some sort of amnesty.

What we have instead—and what we have lost, perhaps forever—makes me so very sad.

Forgive me. I just needed to vent.

Well, Tunisia, we had some good times, shared a few laughs…but it seems the world has come between us. I think this has to be “goodbye”.

P.S. Just for the record: I’m a woman, many of my best friends are gay, and I live in Harlem. Thus, I will most certainly be voting for Obama in November. Do I believe all of his new promises? No. But I do believe in Romney’s devotion to the corporate GOP machine and his notoriously misogynistic, homophobic, racist religion.

So it comes down to the lesser of two evils, really; however, I must admit there is one thing I still have for Obama: not the idolized affection of the smiling girl in the above pictures, but the one thing he asked for the first time around:

Mr. President, I have hope.

Please deliver, this time.

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