That history is not a thing of the past is a general truth, of which I simply want to remind the reader. History is not the tale of bygone days, but the present we dwell in.11 It is part and parcel of a nation; it constitutes its memory, its consciousness, its ambitions. It is what is everlasting in its geography and demography. It is the mirror of the nation’s achievements and present potential. It is the nation’s philosophers and heroes, its accumulated wisdom, its sensibilities, and its hopes.
The nation that severs the links with its own history cuts off the very roots that nurture it, and destroys the very prop that sustains it and the ground that bears its foundation.12 This is the reason why it is of the essence to recover history whenever we have to make a decision or opt for a choice. We have to be imbued with history, and teach its values and lessons to the younger generations so that it becomes part and parcel of our own being, and so profoundly rooted in our souls that we will not feel the need even to represent it. It will, whenever required, surge up in us to serve as guide, guardian and nurse.
We should be able to breathe it and dwell in it and feel it in every inch of our soil, and in every one of our monuments, and every one of our myths, and in our customs and traditions. Tunisia, with many other peoples in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, shares a rich and lively history that humanity must not ignore. History was never unfair to us; it may well be we who did not do it justice. We never attended to the rewriting of our history, which was partly disfigured by others; our history whose unity was broken up into isolated periods, or to a sum of chapters within books that recounted other civilizations. Our parents never instilled in us, as they ought to have done, our own history, so that many of us have almost forgotten it.
Today we ought to pursue our initial effort. We must begin to rewrite our history to breathe life in it and give it meaning. We must today disseminate our history as widely as possible, so as not to repeat the same mistake and lose it in the national memory.13 “History Is Not the Past” means reviving our true history, and its noble events and heroic deeds, of which we are justly proud. It also means commitment to a new ideology that must advocate the raising of today’s Tunisia to the level of its former glory and great achievements, which no one can deny.
Tunisia did not write its own history; others did it in its stead,14 who were Greek, Roman, Byzantian, Turk, and French. Over at least thirty centuries, the period documented in written history, others represented us in a soulless half-true succession of epochs and events. And so we remained until recently, as though we were content with a version of our history imposed by others, a version whose analyses and interpretations are alien, and in which even the terminology is foreign in that it did not spring from our soil and reflect our national consciousness. Our history became truncated and disfigured.
Until recent years all we knew of Carthage was three large chunks of its history: Dido’s story, the Punic Wars, and the “destruction” of Carthage. This was how school books (which are supposed to teach national culture) summarized 7 centuries, from 814 to 146 BC. The Romano-African civilization that came after Carthage, which stretched over 8 centuries including its Byzantine phase was regarded as a dark age of colonization, taught only parenthetically to schoolchildren.
Is this how we skim over 14 centuries of rich history whose marks are still visible on our soil and in our monuments and in our language and customs? Is this how we neglect the history of the Empire of Carthage,15 the mightiest state that the ancient world knew for centuries? Is this how we speak of its end, using the very phrase Cato uttered in the Senate and which called for the destruction of Carthage?16 Is this how we depict the Roman-African period of Tunisian history, as though it were a passing phase, an historical accident, even as this period lasted for 8 centuries, from 146 BC to 698 AD, if we consider Hassan Ibn Nooman’s conquest of Carthage as the beginning of the subsequent historical phase?
On this our soil there flourished a genuine Roman-African civilization quite distinct from the Roman one. Tunisia’s specific individuality did not disappear then but remained alive; the sons and daughters of Tunisia attended to the shaping of Tunisian civilization, and even then, within the wider political context of the Roman Empire, took an active part in influencing the course of world history. One of Africa’s sons, Septimius Severus, ruled as Emperor from 193 to 211 A. D. and was succeeded by his son Caracalla, who reigned for many more years.
Until very recently, we still taught Kuseila’s and Kahena’s rebellions from the perspective of the conquerors that we were then. We celebrated their defeat and dwelt on the quelling of the “Berber revolts” and the obliteration of their customs. If it was to be expected that we could then use this terminology, it is today no longer normal or proper to do so. The advent of Islam in Tunisia is an important turning point in our history, one of which we are very proud, and the benefits that have accrued to Tunisia since that time have been immense. Yet there is no reason to nullify Kuseila’s or Kahena’s heroic deeds; they sprang from patriotic sentiments which were later put to the service of the new civilization, so much so that the Berbers became, not only the noblest defenders of Islam, but also the champions of the Arabic language and culture at their finest.17 There is no excuse today for forgetting or disowning past centuries.
What is most peculiar in all this is that our Arab Islamic history itself has been represented to us as though it were the making of others, as though we were curiously the mere receivers and consumers of alien cultures and not an indissoluble operative part of them. Scholars might think I have been a little excessive in my opinion, since many books have been written that emphasize Tunisia’s influential contribution to the spreading of the Arabic language and Islam as a religion and a civilization. However, my contention is that what is deeply anchored in popular opinion is not precisely that image, but one that presents Tunisia as a mere receptacle of Islam, and not as its active, enriching and supporting agent.
Tunisia played an important role, through Kairawan, Ezzituna and Mahdia, in the propagation and preservation of Islam in the Maghreb as well as in sub-Saharan Africa, Andalusia and Sicily and other parts of the Mediterranean. This role deserves to be presented with fairness and not merely with empty signs and names. And we need today to stress the significance of this contribution, for the sake of justice and for the sake of inculcating in our children a sense of self-confidence and self-esteem, refusing thereby to receive lessons on Islam or Arabness from anyone.
And we need to instruct the younger generation about Tarak Ibn Zied, the conqueror of Andalusia who gave his name to Gibraltar, and we need to enlighten them about Assad Ibn al-Furat who spread the light of Islam from the stronghold of Sousse to southern Italy, and we need to teach them about Jwahar Sikilly, the founder of Cairo, and many others too.
Tunisian men and women have accomplished great and heroic deeds and performed many magnificent actions that were never specifically attributed to them. So, when will we put our history right? When will we read it accurately as a unified, dynamic, patriotic entity, not a series of periodizations assembled by others. This is a call today for our historians and elites to pursue their scientific, pedagogic, cultural, and informative endeavor to do justice to our motherland and bring to the fore our civilization, making it the cornerstone for the young to recapture our past, authentic glory.
Tunisian history is long and deep-rooted. The civilizations that successively made it up and mingled in it never displaced it; on the contrary, they enriched it and melted in its crucible. We were neither a burden on others nor an easy prey for them. But we always took possession of what was useful and rejected what was pointless. All the while we were active and acting participants, for the cultures that came to us took as much from us as we from them, and they became an instrument for the exploration of wider spaces.
Take our Islamic history, for instance: it was never, since the founding of Kairawan and Okba Ibn Nafi’s conquest in 670, an alien or a docile history. We were never mere consumers of Islam, this religion that we embraced with fervor. On the contrary, we preserved it and spread it abroad for centuries. With its authentic Malekite faith, a faith that is resolute yet moderate, Tunisia managed on numerous occasions to ward off the preachers of a travesty of Islam, whether during the Sanhaji or other periods. With this true Islamic faith, our people have built in enough strength to resist today the religious extremists, who are alien to the customs and traditions we have inherited over the centuries.
This is undoubtedly our history. Yet it is more than this. Our history is spacious and brimming with rich moments that we do not wish to negate. There are over 14 centuries which we hardly know, whose meaning is half disclosed, and from whose riches we are still debarred. We never exploited the fullness of their glory. There are other lost centuries, the discovery of which will make Tunisians proud, enthusing them with increased ardor and determination. Would not Gafsa’s daughters and sons feel proud to learn that their history goes back more than 10 thousand years, when we show them images and crucial testimonies that reflect the greatness of their ancestry and the authenticity of their deep-rooted soil? And would not the children of Kasserine, Kef, Kebili, Tataouine and Gabès, whose soil is laden with thousand-year-old vestiges, feel the same?
We always take note of the renewed efforts of our cultural historians, scholars and archaeologists; we have great hopes of this new Tunisian school of historiography that has been around for some years now, and which regards history from this angle, mindful of our national cultural treasures, endeavoring to correct things. This school has won worldwide recognition in academic and non-academic circles, and its voice is heard in and outside lecture rooms; even as its proponents chose to tread an arduous, thorny path, a great deal of hard labor is still awaiting them.18 I am convinced that the most important reparation is that concerning the pedagogic and cultural content presented to future generations. If we want to develop a new political culture in Tunisia, this should be the starting point.
Our history has not only been truncated, it has been, until recently, lost and forgotten. Neither the younger people, nor the adults, are aware of this. Some of us might have known about certain periods of Tunisian history and not others, but we were never wholly conscious of our whole history as an authentic civilization that had intermingled with numerous other Mediterranean cultures. So, in a sense, we were ignorant of our history, and could not be said to know the Tunisian soul.
And though the chief task of rectifying history must fall to the historians and those working in other, related disciplines, yet the role of disseminating historical consciousness must be performed by other circles and with other means and techniques. Once again, the initiative must emanate from the schools. In the previous paragraphs, I pointed to the fresh vigorous efforts behind the rectifying of history textbooks. We are today witnessing a genuine revolution in the instruction of history and also in the teaching of other subjects related to and sustained by history, such as languages, geography, civic education and so on. School children have now acquired a more balanced, comprehensive view than ever before.
Once again, I repeat that our history has not only been truncated but also forgotten and neglected, for even what we do know about it is not broadcast widely enough, and is not made to function within the new culture of political change to which we aspire. Journalists here have an important part to play, and they have indeed heard the call, for they have begun to talk and write about national history. The space reserved for history in the written press has expanded; likewise the radio and television have started to talk about national history and its eminent personages, its monuments and its accomplishments.
The presentation itself of the event has changed: it is now authentically Tunisian, no longer a subsidiary appendage. It is vital that we insure that the dissemination of our history be concomitant with the new information technology, and that we supply information networks with our rich cultural heritage. In the face of globalization, and what it entails in terms of fierce informational competitiveness, the way we present ourselves, as a civilization and as history, becomes one of the conditions for the survival and assertion of our identity, even as culture has turned into a marketable product, a new business pursuit (creating many job opportunities, especially in the audiovisual sector). I may claim that Tunisia has at its disposal boundless riches and raw materials that are still untapped, riches and raw materials that are lodged in its cultural heritage and the vast amount of data it can present to the outside world.
Today what we need is synergistic collaboration between the experts in the various arts and crafts and those in information and communications technology to rise to two strategic challenges: the challenge of national identity, which may be dealt with by the dissemination of a new cultural and historical consciousness, and the challenge of development, which may be dealt with by accessing and providing new opportunities for investment and employment in the audio-visual field, and especially in information and communications technology.21 Spreading our civilization and inventing a new culture are not the responsibility of the teachers and media people alone. They are also the duty of associations, organizations and political party officials, novelists, poets and men of letters, and artists -painters, sculptors, architects and urban designers. Urban designers have started looking for their inspiration in history, and their inventiveness and creativeness will not only endow our cities and villages with a new aesthetics but will also initiate a greater reconciliation with history as well as the distinctive edge that will give us presence among other foreign urban design.
All is culture, and culture is nothing but the positive accumulation of history. The task that awaits us is immense, and historical revision takes time. Although we have achieved a great deal, there are still some obscure areas in our history that need to be illuminated. In this sense every discovery beautifies our national culture.
Let me give an example: like most of us I knew little about Capsian culture, yet each time I read about it the greatness of this nation appeared more brilliantly. I am convinced the read-er will feel the way I did if he knows that around 10000 BC in the whereabouts of Gafsa, Kasserine, Redayef, and Bir Om Ali, there thrived a whole culture. There are others regions in south-west and the center that belong to the same Sidi Zine culture. Ain Bourma, near Gebili, is regarded as the oldest prehistoric site in Tunisia.22 In Guettar there is a mound made up of stones, animal bones and round pebbles which was raised 40000 years ago as a religious monument to protect a spouting water spring.23 This sanctuary is believed to be the most ancient existing religious memorial. North of Meknassi village, on the banks of Oued Leben, sharpened triangular flint stones that are 35000 years old and were probably used as arrowheads have been discovered. Similar implements and artifacts belonging to Capsian culture have been discovered at Abu Omrane, 30 kilometers east of Gafsa. Also, near Gafsa, at Mektaa, a statue dating from 65000 BC has been unearthed; it represents the plain lineaments of woman’s head with a little hair lock fringing the forehead, while the rest falls on both sides of the face.
Other recent discoveries made in numerous places testify to the existence of a very old culture. These discoveries include necklaces found at Kef Akab, near Jendouba, multicolored flint arrowheads found at Borma and Borj Khadra, cave paintings at Ain Khanfous in Ouslatia Mountains, rock tombs (haouanits) at Sejnane akin to those found in Sicily, and burial mounds near Kef.24
These are a few examples I have merely mentioned for the sake of illustration to indicate, if need be, the wealth of our civilization, and to insist too that every discovery is bound to reinforce the bond with our soil, the love for our motherland, and the pride in our history. For each city and each village there lies a deep-rooted history that remains to be written, and our soil still harbors a vast unsuspected wealth of historical treasures. It is up to us to complete what others have started, and reconstitute for every city and every village its history from the dawn of human history.25 It is up to us to us to make known Tunisia’s great women and men as well as their great accomplishments throughout the centuries, and let these women and men serve as paragons for our elites, our children and our media people.
Every town and every village must inculcate in its youth the love of their birthplace, the love of their soil, and the love of history, for this love is nothing but the love of Tunisia, which ultimately serves to infuse the younger generations with enthusiasm for our illustrious history and develop in them the sense of self-exertion to renew it, In these booklets and monographs we must make sure not to miss out any of Tunisia’s historical periods or single out one phase to the detriment of others.
The history of national liberation, for instance, which, to be sure, gave rise to larger-than life activists, examples of great solidarity, who taught us edifying lessons in heroism, must not be severed from the period immediately preceding it. The Arab-Islamic epoch was an illustrious one, in which Tunisia prospered and knew a great cultural prestige that no one can deny, for who can deny Kairawan’s greatness or Ezzituna’s enlightening influence? Yet this rich Arab Islamic period, albeit its cultural excellence, which has extended over fifteen centuries, must not overshadow another period of our history more than 14 centuries long.
Tunisia, which was then called Africa, had experienced Roman civilization for eight full centuries, an important part of the national cultural heritage that must not be forgotten or neglected, a heritage that must perforce add up to its accumulated cultural riches. Tunisia also saw seven full centuries of Carthaginian greatness, during which we were world giants and ruled over the Mediterranean. During all these various periods we accommodated and lived with other religions and civilizations. For six centuries, Christianity was the religion of the land.26 Judaism has also had an uninterrupted presence, coexisting with other faiths.27
In addition to all this, the Amazigh Berbers also produced on this their African soil their own customs and traditions. They generally lived in puny states and tribes, united and then disunited, allies and then enemies. They took from all the civilizations that came to the country, even as they also influenced them; they embraced different religions and exercised no mean sway over the various cultures; they had a great influence on the pursuit of war or peace in the region. They gave all the children of North Africa the ingredients for peaceful coexistence and reconciliation through their mentality and customs. Why obliterate this early period of our history? It is a period the traces of which we still today find in our own personality. And in order not to pass too quickly over the Amazigh Berbers, like those historians I wish to reprove, who wrote about them as a negligible quantity in our history, let us pausea little and consider their contribution to our civilization. The Amazigh Berbers have a long, deep-rooted history whose lineaments are still to be traced.
The historian M’hamed Hassine Fantar has observed that a thick fog still clouds the contours of historical reality. It is certain that the Berber language or, say, its different dialects do not have a Semitic genealogy. Yet the relationship between the sons of Shem and the sons of Ham has been deep and ancient, and the Berber culture bore the traces of that relationship. The Libyan Berbers had connections with the Phoenicians, as well as with the Jews, Christians and Muslims. Fantar continues: “In any case one must at all costs avoid any racial theory of explanation. Nations are above all tantamount to their cultures, and all race-based theories are bound to fail, excluding the fact that they are potentially harmful.” Then he adds that “the Berbers, whom the ancients called “Libyans” or “Afers”, were the descendants of the Mechtians and Capsians. Mechtians were the peoples recently found to have lived in Mechta, near Constantine, and Capsians were the peoples who, at the end of the stone age, dwelled in southwest Tunisia, in the vicinity of Gafsa, Mektaa, Guettar, and Redayef, about 12000 years ago. These populations were increased over the ages by other races who came from across the sea and the Sahara, which rendered things more complicated and interesting.”
I have dwelt on these details on purpose to show that our history is ancient, rich and complex. And if professional historians know its major periodizations, most Tunisians are not aware of this, and the little they know has never become part of their identity or their culture. It is for this reason that I want to speak about the neglected or forgotten periods, to inform the reader that everything that happened on his soil must be an inseparable part of our history. There is no period that should be deemed nobler than another; and all the periods of our history are connected and complementary. This history reminds us that our ancestors and heroes have manifold origins, and that their legacy is our common property —a cultural capital no portion of which must be relinquished— and that no page of our long and deep-rooted history must be neglected.
History is not the past and it must not represent nostalgia for bygone times. It must be a continual presenting of our distinction and grandeur. We want to be transmuted into a living present, a prop to lean on, a glory we want to recapture and renew. History is a unified entity with a living soul, not disconnected phases, mute pages, and sterile monuments. It is our responsibility today to put history to use for Tunisia’s grand aspirations. We want history to be the ideological referent to the great project initiated by this new era, this era of change. We want it to impart a powerful psychological motivation to the culture of excellence and originality, in order to catch up with the developed nations.28
Tunisia’s strategic location at the heart of the Mediterranean, only a few hours from any of its capitals (two hours on average by plane), compels it to be not a sealed-up country but an open area for every kind of commercial exchange as well as human, cultural, scientific, communicative and other intercourse. Partnership with Europe and the Agreement signed with the countries of the European Union in July 1995 is designed to normalize relations between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean and to revive its former historical life, economically, socially, and culturally.
This Agreement will give back to Tunisia its former role within the Mediterranean. Partnership means seeking a balanced cooperation, an end to hegemonic relations, and widening the circle of opportunities for individuals and enterprises to move and operate in a larger space, and disseminate their ideas, their culture, their capital, and their services. For Tunisian mean and women, this offers new opportunities for exchange, investment, mobility, and profit. These are opportunities that we must seize and take advantage of, so that the partnership does not become a one sided affair. And we must be aware that this is precisely what we did in the past, whether under Carthage, or in other periods when Tunisia’s presence in the Mediterranean was indeed effective.
Partnership is not with Europe only, but with the whole compass of the Mediterranean. It is up to us to return to this sea its former glory, and it is up to us to return to Tunisia its former role in it. Let the younger generation learn, as the elites and investors and merchants know, that we were never in the past mere consumers, nor were we mere followers. But we were active producers and participants on equal terms with other nations. Today we simply have to revive the natural historical order of things, and take back the role we have lost.
We traded in the past, and we sold and purchased from other peoples. Just take a look at the national mint as an index of the flourishing of commerce under Carthage and under Jugurtha and in subsequent periods: Roman, Vandal,Byzantine, Arab-Islamic, Ottoman and other. Money appeared in Carthage in the middle of the 5th century BC, and spread throughout the Mediterranean nations, and remained effective until the tetrarchy, from 310 to 286 BC. In the meanwhile appeared Numidian Berber coins; Massinissa had his own mint as of the 2nd century BC, using Carthaginian symbols: the horse, the palm-tree, and other signs. From 60 to 46 BC, Juba I replaced those symbols by Roman ones. And when Carthage became the Vandals’ capital, silver coins bearing the name of Genseric, King of the Vandals, made their appearance from 439 to 477. During Justinian’s reign, from 527 to 565, Carthage still exported all manner of coins.
In Musa Ibn Nusair’s reign, silver and gold mint was coined in the year 705, with at first a Latin inscription (until 715), then a double inscription for one year, and finally only an Arabic one (in 718) on the model of Ummayad Caliphate. Then the Aghlabite, Fatimid, and Zirid mints coined money until the advent of the Hasids. There were gold (sultani and mahbub), silver (rial), and copper (fils) coins. This coin collection shows the beauty and variety of our mint at different periods of our history. It also indicates the degree of the country’s economic prosperity. Reviving history is not an escape from reality, for the reader may wonder about the whys and wherefores of this return to the distant past.
The answer is that to go back to the past is to produce evidence and to recall the ancient role we have lost and which it is our duty to recover. We shall undoubtedly not recover it by a mere incantation of our history, but by taking steps and initiatives devised by the national leadership today. Yet to go back to our roots and the greatness of our accomplishments gives a hint of the high standards that we must attain. Today, we have to be aware of other societies’ accomplishments; we have to be connected up to databases; we have to be knowledgeable about science and technology in our universities and laboratories; we must be capable of renewing and upgrading our means of production and our workforce skills and abilities; and we must be present with our intellectual, industrial and service products in the vast markets that have been recently opened up.
At one time, Carthage was the mistress of the seas. Its might grew to be enormous. It began founding Phoenician trading ports on the coasts of Sicily, Sardinia, Algeria and Morocco, and, by the mid-sixth century BC drew these posts into its economic zone of influence. From the mid-seventh century BC, it had begun establishing other colonies, the most important of which were Ibiza, in the south of the Balearic Islands, founded in 654 BC, and Carthagena, in south-east Spain, in 228 BC. Carthage also founded many European colonies on the Atlantic coast during Himilcon’s voyage, undertaken in about 450 BC, and African ones during Hanno’s voyage, which went as far as Cameroon, in about 425 BC. Our presence today will have to be of another order. It will have to be in the form of economic and cultural exchange, and a civil coexistence that is profitable to all parties.
Carthage always strove to widen and vary its trade with other nations. It intensified its relations with the Greeks in eastern Sicily and southern Italy; it also established strong links with the Egyptians, Cypriots, and Canaanites on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. Moreover, it looked for other horizons outside the Mediterranean. Hence the great voyages previously mentioned: Hanno’s voyage along the coast of western Africa up to the Cameroon mountains in the 5th century BC, and Himilcon’s voyage along the Atlantic coasts of Europe towards the British Isles. These two voyages were made for the same purpose.
The role of the state was mainly confined to organizing trade, which was founded on the principle of free enterprise, safeguarding traffic routes, and expanding and improving markets, all of which roles are approximately similar to the ones assumed by the Tunisian state today. Carthage distinguished itself as a merchant agent and in the manufacturing of important goods, such as perfume, ivory, and precious stones. Its inhabitants excelled in the making of jewelry and the crafting of ivory and glass figurines.
Carthage was open to foreigners. Many races and ethnic groups dwelt in the city, among whom the Greek community was the most important. The Greek language, letters, and philosophy were taught in Carthage by Greek teachers. The most prominent was the philosopher and historian Sosylos, who was the tutor of the children of Abd Melkart, known as Hamilcar Barca, one of them being whom Hannibal. There were also many Pharaonic families, and others from the Aegean coast.39 Many mercenaries preferred to pass their retirement in the city. All of these foreign races and communities, Spaniards, Gaul, Italians, and those from the western Mediterranean isles, mingled in the city. They were influenced by the Carthaginian traditions and customs, and contributed to the city’s prosperity by their crafts and skills.
Carthaginians were proficient in many languages. Hannibal knew Greek and Latin perfectly and studied the Hellenic culture (philosophy and letters). He also studied the life of Alexander the Great, whom he considered his highest ideal. This history, rich with the fusion of nations and languages, reflects the richness of Tunisian culture and the Tunisians’ willingness to accept others. This may well be the secret of this people’s success throughout long periods of its history, and the hidden power that needs to be tapped to conquer the future.
Tunisians do not look down upon others; they have a great gift and vast capacity for understanding. Their deep values of tolerance and moderation result from these anthropological and cultural accretions. And if we want to connect the past with the present, as we have constantly tried to do in this book, we will note the vast gap between Tunisia’s belief in human circulation and movement and the repressive immigration policies adopted by other regimes. Tunisians are eager to learn foreign languages, and this is proof of their openness.
For them, foreign languages are not only instruments of communication, but also represent windows that open onto other nations, whether for commercial or for cultural interchange. This is why Tunisia today calls for the teaching of foreign languages, so that next to Arabic, the mother tongue, we shall have built bridges linking us to the rest of the world.40 The debate today is not about the one language, or about the search as to which language to favor, but is over diversity, and the question posed anew is how to learn other languages and how to make the most of their cultural and cognitive content.
Carthage had admirable political institutions, at local and central level, which were imitated by neighboring communities. Carthage was a republic governed by the rule of law. The city, which extended to Megara, had over 700000 inhabitants. The People’s Council grew in authority against the Senate, especially in Hannibal’s time. Suffetes were elected, and judges (the court of 104) had supervision over the governance of the state and over the conduct of civil and military leaders. It is enough that Aristotle, in his Politics (II, 8), considered it to be one of the best political systems in existence.41
I would like here to quote in extenso this passage, to proclaim our constitutional tradition to those who believe we have no political culture. We had known a Republic centuries before Christ was born, and we also experienced the separation of powers and the rule of law and order. Nor was the popular referendum unknown to us. It is as though Montesquieu’s theories and the principles of the French Revolution, which many of us like to regard as the starting point of political modernity, have their roots in Carthage. Here is therefore the full quotation:
The Carthaginians are also considered to have an excellent form of government, which differs from that of any other state in several respects, though it is in some very like the Spartan. Indeed, all three states-the Spartan, the Cretan, and the Carthaginian-nearly resemble one another, and are very different from any others. Many of the Carthaginian institutions are excellent. The superiority of their constitution is proved by the fact that the common people remain loyal to the constitution.
The Carthaginians have never had any rebellion worth speaking of, and have never been under the rule of a tyrant. Among the points in which the Carthaginian constitution resembles the Spartan are the following: The common tables of the clubs answer to the Spartan phiditia, and their magistracy of the Hundred-Four to the Ephors; but, whereas the Ephors are any chance persons, the magistrates of the Carthaginians are elected according to merit-this is an improvement. They have also their kings and their Gerousia, or council of elders, who correspond to the kings and elders of Sparta. Their kings, unlike the Spartan, are not always of the same family, nor that an ordinary one, but if there is some distinguished family they are selected out of it and not appointed by seniority-this is far better. Such officers have great power, and therefore, if they are persons of little worth, do a great deal of harm, and they have already done harm at Sparta.
Most of the defects or deviations from the perfect state, for which the Carthaginian constitution would be censured, apply equally to all the forms of government which we have mentioned. But of the deflections from aristocracy and constitutional government, some incline more to democracy and some to oligarchy. The kings and elders, if unanimous, may determine whether they will or will not bring a matter before the people, but when they are not unanimous, the people decide on such matters as well. And whatever the kings and elders bring before the people is not only heard but also determined by them, and any one who likes may oppose it; now this is not permitted in Sparta and Crete. That the magistrates of five who have under them many important matters should be coopted, that they should choose the supreme council of One Hundred, and should hold office longer than other magistrates (for they are virtually rulers both before and after they hold office)-these are oligarchical features; their being without salary and not elected by lot, and any similar points, such as the practice of having all suits tried by the magistrates, and not some by one class of judges or jurors and some by another, as at Sparta, are characteristic of aristocracy.
The Carthaginian constitution deviates from aristocracy and inclines to oligarchy, chiefly on a point where popular opinion is on their side. For men in general think that magistrates should be chosen not only for their merit, but for their wealth: a man, they say, who is poor cannot rule well-he has not the leisure. If, then, election of magistrates for their wealth be characteristic of oligarchy, and election for merit of aristocracy, there will be a third form under which the constitution of Carthage is comprehended; for the Carthaginians choose their magistrates, and particularly the highest of them-their kings and generals-with an eye both to merit and to wealth. But we must acknowledge that, in thus deviating from aristocracy, the legislator has committed an error. Nothing is more absolutely necessary than to provide that the highest class, not only when in office, but when out of office, should have leisure and not disgrace themselves in any way; and to this his attention should be first directed. Even if you must have regard to wealth, in order to secure leisure, yet it is surely a bad thing that the greatest offices, such as those of kings and generals, should be bought. The law which allows this abuse makes wealth of more account than virtue, and the whole state becomes avaricious.
For, whenever the chiefs of the state deem anything honorable, the other citizens are sure to follow their example; and, where virtue has not the first place, their aristocracy cannot be firmly established. Those who have been at the expense of purchasing their places will be in the habit of repaying themselves; and it is absurd to suppose that a poor and honest man will be wanting to make gains, and that a lower stamp of man who has incurred a great expense will not. Wherefore they should rule who are able to rule best. And even if the legislator does not care to protect the good from poverty, he should at any rate secure leisure for them when in office. It would seem also to be a bad principle that the same person should hold many offices, which is a favorite practice among the Carthaginians, for one business is better done by one man.
The government of the Carthaginians is oligarchical, but they successfully escape the evils of oligarchy by enriching one portion of the people after another by sending them to their colonies. This is their panacea and the means by which they give stability to the state. Accident favors them, but the legislator should be able to provide against revolution without trusting to accidents. As things are, if any misfortune occurred, and the bulk of the subjects revolted, there would be no way of restoring peace by legal methods. This Carthage, which was the city of the rule of law, never ceased to be an open and tolerant city. Its postulate was the opening up of opportunities for interchange and the breaking down of borders and the suppression of hegemony, just like the main orientations of Tunisia’s outlook today.
In its own days, Carthage stood up to Rome’s hegemonic ambitions. Carthage wanted fair cooperation in the Mediterranean. But Rome, as well as other civilizations, wanted to impose its rule over other nations. There is a chronicle passed on by historians that perfectly illustrates Rome’s attitude towards other nations. Cato, it is said, came at the end of the summer of 172 BC to Carthage. He was struck by the people’s affluence, the abundance of good things, and the general prosperity. He was particularly amazed by the profusion of fruits, so he bought some figs at Carthage market and returned to Rome. Then he walked into the Senate and brandished the fruit, which was still luscious and fresh, and said that Carthage was still strong and rich and secure; still capable of producing merchandise that surpassed that of any nation, despite its latest military defeat. Thus, he concluded, it must be destroyed. At that time, the Carthaginian currency was strong and the city’s products bought and sold throughout the entire Mediterranean, whereas Rome was afflicted by inflation and stagnation. This is what incensed Cato and made keep reminding the Romans that an enemy stood at their gates, “nemici ad portas”, and that Carthage must be destroyed “Delenda est Carthago.”
Yet, though destroyed, Carthage never passed away. Trade and exchange have returned under a new guise, as if this our past has brought back to us today images and lessons of the complexity of coexistence that we should never forget. Partnership with Europe is as old as trade in the Mediterranean. It has to be comprehensive or had better never be. It has to be between coequals or had better not be. This duty is incumbent upon us all. Even as Europe must learn that hegemony is short-lived and breeds only tension and rupture, so must we surpass ourselves and strengthen our capacity for competition and self-assertion.
We have to take on the main role in making this partnership efficient in industry, services, sciences, and information, and make sure of not losing our rich cultural diversity and different value systems. We have to feel the gravity of the challenge and be fully aware of the great efforts demanded of us and future generations. The future is pregnant with great possibilities and at the same time hides real difficulties. Change is becoming ever more rapid, affecting every field. Though we have in recent years witnessed great changes, most contemporary technologies will be transformed over the coming ten years. This means that new industries and new modes of production and labor will emergence. This requires increasing our ability to adapt, for we are living in an open world, and if we do not adapt and improve our ability to progress and excel, the world’s science, technology, goods, services, and cultures may invade us.
Above all, we have to prepare the younger generations to assimilate future new developments in science and technology. We also have to refine the training of our workers to meet new job requirements and not simply rest on our laurels, satisfying present professional needs. We are called upon to tread in the footsteps of those who have gone ahead of us and acquire the secret of their development to give our education and training systems (which are the vital quality for development) the necessary flexibility to enable students and workers at whatever level to self-educate and self-train themselves to avoid there being a gap between existing and future job market requirements and our production of goods and services.
More important than all this is to prepare Tunisia to access “the information society”, the expression used to underline the crucial role information will play in the future in people’s lives since it will permeate trade, means of production, and work methods. Those who are connected to the information network will make progress; those who miss the boat will remain behind. Moreover, the extraordinary possibilities made available by digital technology and its application in education, training, medicine, leisure, business and other fields has exceeded all expectations. It has become an urgent necessity to go through what the developed nations are now experiencing.
Tunisia, then, must be well-informed about what is going on elsewhere in science and technology, watchful of up and coming industries and new trends in employment, capable of totally freeing up data between decision-makers and entrepreneurs, linking universities and institutions, open as it was in the past, proactive and forward-looking.
Here appears the importance of the ideological effort that must be made in nation-building. Building does not require merely tools and implements; neither does it require only science and technology. Building is an idea and an ambition. We have to inform our nation, as it prepares itself for the challengesof global competition and the pressure of partnership, that it is heir to civilizations that have for centuries influenced the entire Mediterranean, and that Tunisian men and women, who are called on to realize the greatest ambition, are quite capable of so doing all over again. How can they not when they are the descendants of ancestors who conquered the Mediterranean and mastered the arts of agriculture and industry and excelled in commerce and contributed to the enriching of human knowledge?
Hannibal, the emblem of Carthaginian greatness, is capable of coming back. He would not export war to Rome but exchange peace with her. He would not make an alliance with southern European nations to win battles but for a much easier mission: securing for Tunisia a place in the trade and culture market. A mission that aims at integrating Tunisia in the new competitive world with the far more efficient and nobler weapons of science and technology, with the proper training and education for the new needs, and with audio-visual toolsand products that serve cultural diversity.
And when Hannibal comes home he will find competent elites. He will find open-eyed and team-spirited young people. He will find a treasure that nations find it difficult to possess, and that treasure is human resources, and with these resources we shall fashion our future to the exact measure of the greatness of our past. Tunisia has no raw materials worth mentioning, but it possesses the best resources, that is human resources, symbol of science and inventiveness. These resources are the thinking minds of Tunisian men and women. The schooling rate is high in our country; the training we offer is good; it is up to us to improve both.
This is the culture of Political Change; it may be summed up in this great ambition and in this sense of pride. It may also be recapitulated in the new values that President Ben Ali has never ceased to call for in most of his speeches but never implemented: hard and conscientious work and the determination to surpass oneself and excel. To represent the past is only a means to building a better future. And our future is founded on our being impregnated with the values we have possessed from time immemorial: our openness to other cultures and productive interchange with whatever is constructive in them, our taking advantage of science,our intellectual curiosity that reaches out to the other to The other.
Ambition that Tunisia has set for itself is not the stuff dreams are made of. It is a concrete reality whose contours we have started to mold since independence. We have fixed its direction and defined our working methods and instruments. This ambition is a new societal project founded on an ideology that we need now to clarify, make straightforward, and disseminate at a wider scale.
A large majority of the political parties and movements that appeared in Tunisia were not founded on native philosophies, nor did they restrict their sphere of action to the country. These parties and movements had larger objectives and wider referents. Only the Constitutional Democratic Rally was born and bred in Tunisia. It has also remained Tunisian because its philosophy springs from the nation and finds its limits solely in its interest. It has no ties or loyalties other than with the homeland. As such, the Rally is the true successor of the Reform Movement of the beginning of the 20th century, which adopted an exclusively nationalist approach, turning away from any external ideological origins.
As it deviates from the basis of it’s creed ,this old party needs to be replaced by an even more nationalistic party in order for Tunisia to move forward. The thinking behind other political parties and movements is generally dependent on a wider configuration, and the ideology that emanates from it goes beyond national boundaries. This does not necessarily mean that these parties and movements are un-patriotic -for their ultimate objectives may serve the nation-; it simply means that their ideologies are grounded on foreign values and their sphere of action is wider than the nation.
Nor does this mean that the action of other political parties and movements is of no use to the national process. On the contrary, the parties officially recognized are doing good work for the country; they have enriched our thinking in all domains and encouraged competition and excellence. These parties have men and ideas that aim at raising high the name of Tunisia, but from different perspectives that we also need to bear in mind. This is not a fault in itself, but an ideological choice in that as these parties consider that it is in Tunisia’s interest to merge into wider configurations, on the basis of ethnicity, religion, or social class.
Political parties and movements of Communist stamp believe in international activism, since class struggle, as everyone knows, transcends national boundaries and working class interests are the same everywhere. And this is why in their political discourse, militant points of reference, instruments and manner of action, these parties have to rely on foreign support and to coordinate their action with other foreign capitals.
As to the religious parties and movements, which are coming back in a new form, they simply live outside the country and time. Their objective is to reinstate a single Caliphate rule and impose Islamic law (shari’a) on everyone. Neither their intellectual origins, nor their symbols, outfits, customs and mores have anything to do with the vast majority of Tunisians. In their reading of Tunisian history, for instance, their activities start with the Islamic conquest, that is with the invasion of the “7 Abdullahs”: Abdullah Ibn Saad Ibn Sarh and, especially, Abdullah Ibn Al Habhab. They ignore all the previous centuries, as if Tunisia had no glory to pride itself on, and as if its only glory was that bestowed by its Islamic conquerors.
Their referents are of course not Tunisian but foreign, and they do not consider the Tunisian interest as such, but rather its subservience to a larger one -which it has nowadays become increasingly difficult to identify- the interest of the “umma”. For them, Kairawan and Ezzituna played no important part in spreading Islam to other lands; they believe that all the merit must go to those who arrived from the first Islamic nation. As to the national parties and movements with “pan-Arab” leanings, these consider Tunisia’s dignity as necessarily depending on other foreign movements and capitals and leaderships that have not yet resolved their internecine quarrels. They do not regard Tunisia with the required profundity of vision, but only superficially as a geographical unit linked if not subservient to a larger entity whose leadership and wealth have always been up for grabs.
One has only to recall the major crises that shook the Arab world (the 1947 and 1967 wars as well as the Gulf War) to appreciate who has been the genuine advocate of the Arab cause! There are also parties and movements founded on western philosophies and imported values. They are born in salons and are thus restricted to some elite influenced by western regimes and leaderships with which they have links. This elite has installed itself as guardian and preacher of these western regimes and leaderships, calling for the adoption of their values, and has sometimes appeared to defend their interests and obey their orders. This westernized elite necessarily reads Tunisian history from an elitist, westernized point of view; its preference goes to this or that period of our history, according to how far it correlates with western history and values. Eminent Tunisians, for these parties and movements, are those who have introduced reforms congruent with western systems and values. History for them is often limited to the last two centuries, with particular concern paid to the interaction between Tunisia and western civilization.
So why do we reduce the scope of our history while we constitute the entirety of this history? Why do we favor one period over another while they are all of our own making, legacies left by our ancestors. Why do we blindly go after what others write about us and not undertake ourselves the task the way we want, that is, without bias or occlusion. Why look for our grund from outside and regard ourselves merely as the continuation of other cultures, subservient to foreigners because of race, religion or other factors, when we have our foundations within us, within our own homeland, in every inch of our land, and in every event of our history. We are Arab-ness and we are Islam, and we need no one to give us lessons about another Arab-ness and another Islam. In addition to these determinations, other cultural elements, which have been mingling and accumulating over Tunisia’s thousands of years, have given birth to a unique and everlasting identity.
Hannibal comes home now because he has been neglected and rejected and exiled. He returns in our political discourse and in our thought structure. He returns to build our future and define our cultural mission, bearing the hopes of adults and young people alike, mapping out before our eyes other horizons that befit he grandeur of his triumphs, more than two thousand years ago.
Tunisia’s mission today concurs with Tunisia’s project in Hannibal’s time, but with a new mentality and different means. It is an undertaking that will make the Mediterranean play its former part, one in which Tunisia is an active participant, not with warfare and conflict but with free competition, not with an exploitative and hegemonic mentality but with the spirit of fair partnership for mutual development. Our history is born of Mediterranean history; we aspire to build the Mediterranean together with all the communities on its shores; and it is our aim to stay able and dynamic in this construction, just the way we were in the past. The Mediterranean has one culture woven by long centuries of mutual knowledge and communication. So why look for another area for Tunisia to grow and thrive, and how can our country turn its back on its own shores, and not do business with the cities and ports that face them on all sides;
11. Jean Chesneau has recently said: “Time crisis is also sense crisis. This crisis has a political repercussion. In history a Copernican revolution must needs occur: we must no longer start from the past to reach the present, but the other way round. Memory, origins, patrimony are ambiguous frames of reference. The good usage of the past does not consist in preserving or obliterating it, but to take in its experience to make ready for the future. With globalization, time is shrinking, whereas space is expanding.” Habiter le temps (Paris: Bayard, 1966).
12.Great civilizations were born out of the psychological dimension of a sense of pride and the desire to surpass others. Though countless books have been written on these ideologies, yet I would like to single out one that has recently appeared in France, in which the author affirms that France is threatened by decline and demise even though it has a history of many centuries and a great natural and cultural wealth that would make it Europe’s Athens. See Jean-Claude Barreau, La France va-t-elle disparaître? (Paris: Grasset, 1997).
13.Our historians have made gigantic efforts in the past three decades to rehabilitate our history, but their endeavors have hardly touched the people at large or even schoolchildren. During the Republican Change we are experiencing at present, special attention has been devoted to rewriting history in school manuals to disengage it from external influences and fill it with patriotic spirit. Here are, for example, just a few titles, bearing in mind that many imortant ones are regretfully omitted: Histoire générale de la Tunisie, collectif, 4 vols. (Tunis: STD, 1968), which is a summary history of Tunisia written, among others, by Mohamed Talbi, Ammar Mahjoubi, Hedi Slim, Hichem Jait, and Khaled Belkhoja. See, also, Hamadi Cherif’s History of Tunisia (Arabic) (Tunis: Ceres Productions, 1996). The National Trust Agency has issued many volumes on individual historical cities, such as Subeitla, Dugga, Kairawan, etc.; it also published a collective overview of Tunisian great men and monuments in collaboration with the National Trust Institute, Tunisie: Hommes et monuments, collectif (Tunis: ANP and INP Press, 1996). On Carthage itself, I will mention just two works, while others will be cited whenever the need arises: M’hamed Hassine Fantar’s Carthage: Approche d’une civilisation, 2 vols. (Tunis: Alif Press, 1993), and Serge Lancel’s Hannibal (Paris: Fayard, 1992).
14. Historians such as Herodotus, Aristotle, Polybius, Diodorus of Sicily, Appian, Livy, Justin. Documents were burned and destroyed, and what Juba II collected and stored was obliterated. See S. Gsell’s Historire ancienne de l’Afrique du Nord, 8 vols. (Paris, 1928), F. Decret’s Carthage, ou l’empire de la mer (Paris, 1977), M. H. Fantar’s Tunisie: trente siècles de civilisation (Tunis, 1983). So were also lost the works of Hannibal’s historians, Philinos, Chaereas, Sosylos, Silenos. See what Ammar Mahjoubi wrote on the subject, «Hannibal, les sources gréco-romaines» Mélanges Talbi, (Tunis: Publications de la Faculté des Lettres de la Manouba, 1993), p. 173 ff. The exception in Tunisian classical historiography are Abderrahman Ibn Khaldun’s Prolegomena, Ahmed Ibn Abi Dhiaf’s Ithaf Ahl Ezzaman bi Akhbar Tunis wa A’had el Aman (Tunis, 1963), and Abu Abdallah Al-Bakri’s Al Masalek wal- Mamalek (Leyden 1948, and Paris 1965).
15. This is what many historians called Carthage. It was also called the “Empire of the Sea”. See, especially, Sabatino Moscati’s L’Empire de Carthage, with CD-Rom (Tunis: ANP and Alif Press, 1996). Moscati’s book is prefaced by Professor M’hamed Hassine Fantar. 16. Some historians used without any embarrassment the phrase “Delenda est Carthago” to speak about the period that followed the city’s destruction.
17. See Mohamed Talbi’s préface to Histoire générale de la Tunisie, op. cit. vol. 2, p. 7.
18.The reader today of Tunisian historians’ work in general experiences this new sentiment and feels their urge to bring to the fore the riches of this generous land, valorize its archaeological and historical wealth, and underline the diversity and authenticity of its civilization
21. See Ronald Inglehart’s important work, La Transition culturelle dans les sociétés industrielles avancées (Paris: Economia, 1993).
22. Abderrazak Geragueb has asserted that in this very region a primitive hewn stone was discovered that dates back to 2 million years ago, ie. is roughly the time when hominids first appeared in southern and western Africa.
23. See Mounira Riahi’s Tunisia: Men and Monuments (French), p. 60.
24. See Abderrazak Gueragueb’s Prehistoric Period in Tunisia (Arabic) (Tunis: CNP Press, 1993); also, Tunisia: Land of Encounters and Civilizations (Arabic) (Tunis: Ceres Press, 1992), p. 32. There are, to be sure, many other important references on the subject and on the ones to be treated later in this book, and these sources are mentioned merely for evidence. The reader must not look into those sources for any scientific methodology he is used to finding in written works on historiography or archeology.
25. The politician feels the need for these monographs whenever he meets with the daughters and sons of a certain city or village. History is a vital reference for revitalizing and energizing people. It is also apt to infuse them with a sense of pride and self-esteem. These booklets, however, must not be content with presenting the picturesque side of our cities, but must create a deep political culture and not resemble tourist brochures.
26. In addition to general references, see what Lilian Nabli wrote on Saint Augustine, the symbol of Tunisian Christianity, in Tunisie: Hommes et monuments, op. cit., p. 67. Also, P. Brown, La vie de Saint Augustin (Paris: Seuil, 1971).
27. The Ghriba synagogue in Jerba, for instance, is 2,600 years old. See Aziza Ben Tanfous’s contribution to Tunisie: Hommes et monuments, op. cit., p. 62.
28. President Ben Ali declared in a speech made on 27 October 1990, to mark Culture Day: “Excellence is the hallmark of the authentic culture of change; from it springs the genuine pride of the people; it speaks for the community’s mode of thinking and values; and it constitutes the symbols that signal its maturity and degree of development. Excellence expresses a nation’s relationship with nature, with the world and with the whole universe. It is the embodiment of the present, even as it lays the groundwork for the future, thus announcing the specificity and boundaries of the social and cultural order. Yet boundaries, even though they separate periods, spaces and races, are unable to prevent cultures from mingling and intermixing…One of the important factors that bring cultures together is the technological one which has given birth to similar modes of behavior and thought, in addition to the unity of science and the complementarity and connectedness between the different fields of knowledge and their findings. What one fears is that the striving for originality and authenticity might turn into a closing up leading to self-withdrawal and self-retreat or to an opening up that dilutes national identity and makes of us mere followers of other cultures. Only the providing of objective conditions for a cultural environment ensures the access to an effective cultural participation of our society. The discourse of change aims at creating an authentic and potent culture capable of competition and forbearance. Cultural struggle is one of the most serious challenges of our times.