“I WILL COME TO TUNISIA THIS SUMMER” a terrorist ‘détournement’ (twist)1 of a campaign most probably started by the Tunisian tourism authorities as an answer to the negative effects of the Bardo Museum attack in Tunis on March the 18th this year. A campaign that had quiet a success in social media. In “Je Suis Charlie” style people had themselves photographed with a handwritten statement pledging to come this summer to Tunisia.2 In response ISIS issued the same statement but now illustrated with a Kalazhnikov and a pistol…3 The alleged terrorist doing the killing in Sousse walked onto the beach belonging to the Hotel Riu Imperial Marhaba, hiding his Kalashnikov under a beach parasol. This man, probably named Abu Yahya Al Qayrawani (which could be a battle name) was shot soon after the carnage that left 38 people dead, while he walked away from the very massacre he had perpetrated… thus wasting also his own life.4

The perversion of the positive campaign with the “I will come to Tunisia this summer” already appeared at the end of March on social media and did get bloody reality just now. This should make us reflect on the relative value of all too simple ‘social media’ campaigns. How many people supporting the peaceful and positive campaign did any further thinking on the social and political realities of a country like Tunisia?

Could it be that the social reality of mass-tourism to Tunisia in itself should be taken in account as well? From the statement ascribed to ISIS after the Sousse hotel attack this bit of a sentence pops up about what the attacker had accomplished:

… he had attacked a “bordel” (brothel) and killed “40 infidels”.

The association of ‘tourism’ with prostitution rings an ideological bell from more than half a century ago, it was in 1961 that Franz Fanon (an African Caribbean psychiatrist and marxist revolutionary who develop strong bonds with Algeria) published his book ‘The wretched of the earth’ (Les damnés de la terre) in which he uses the metaphor of the ‘brothel’ for the developing tourist industry in Third World countries.

A more recent book ‘Beaches, ruins, resorts the politics of tourism in the Arab world’ by Waleed Hazbun (2008) points to it: and speaks about ‘brothelization’.

For most Third World nationalists concerned with decolonization and industrialization, the international tourism economy offered little of what they desired. In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon turned “the industry into a metaphor for the brothelization of the Third World at the hands of Western leisure imperialists.Hazbun, Waleed. 2008. Beaches, ruins, resorts the politics of tourism in the Arab world. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=433183. ; p. 8.

Now this is most curious as one would not associate ISIS with any form of marxism, though maybe we should look more often beyond the religious imperative in their discourse and see what is their underlying social-political program. The tourists butchered this week are not directly exposed to us as ‘capitalist or ‘imperialists’ and most probably they are just lower middle class tourists who have booked a Tunisian trip because of their limited budget and the good value it (seemed) to offer. They are simply classified as ‘infidels’ who can be butchered at will. In that sense their is no ‘class consciousness at all in ISIS discourse.

Let me quote the original text of Fanon to see if there can be any parallel between the ideology of ISIS and the marxist (leninist style) Franz Fanon, where he describes the role of the local middle class and we can well imagine how the decade long process of tourism as the core industry of Tunisia – from Bourguiba tot Ben Ali – has a direct relation to his argument, though in 1961 the industrialisation of tourism in Tunisia had not yet taken off, so Latin America is given as an example:

“The national bourgeoisie will be greatly helped on its way toward decadence by the Western bourgeoisies, who come to it as tourists avid for the exotic, for big game hunting, and for casinos. The national bourgeoisie organizes centers of rest and relaxation and pleasure resorts to meet the wishes of the Western bourgeoisie. Such activity is given the name of tourism, and for the occasion will be built up as a national industry. If proof is needed of the eventual transformation of certain elements of the ex-native bourgeoisie into the organizers of parties for their Western opposite numbers, it is worth while having a look at what has happened in Latin America. The casinos of Havana and of Mexico, the beaches of Rio, the little Brazilian and Mexican girls, the half-breed thirteen-year-olds, the ports of Acapulco and Copacabana—all these are the stigma of this depravation of the national middle class. Because it is bereft of ideas, because it lives to itself and cuts itself off from the people, undermined by its hereditary incapacity to think in terms of all the problems of the nation as seen from the point of view of the whole of that nation, the national middle class will have nothing better to do than to take on the role of manager for Western enterprise, and it will in practice set up its country as the brothel of Europe.”
Fanon, Frantz, and Richard Philcox. 2004. The wretched of the earth. New York: Grove Press p. 153.

The term ‘brothel’ is of course not just metaphorical but also a social reality in any place with mass tourism where it is not only happy couples that come for vacation, but also singles out for some sexual adventure. Sousse did have its (legal) brothels, but they seem to have closed down, whereby fundamentalist demands must have played a role. On the other hand the women in this sub-part of the industry have organised themselves and do campaign for re-opening.5

Where the World Bank plans for further development of Tunisia’s tourist industry speak about the need of ‘diversification’ of what will be offered, not just beach resorts, but also desert trips and visits to places with ‘authentic cultural heritage’, it is apparent that the tradition of islam is not really an object that can be made part of such a touristic enterprise.6

The sources I quote on the perpetrator of the attack on the Sousse hotel, mention that he does not come from the coast but from the inland. Also that may be a sign of how tourist industry fits only one part of Tunisian society, while being a foreign or even a threatening phenomenon in other zones with a different economy and a different mind-set.

In this sense all these ugly violent incidents, all this bloodshed is also an expression of the great inner contradictions of Tunisian society. Such thoughts and question need to be part of ‘social-media’ debate on Tunisia will it have any meaning beyond a fad, a fancy of the day, which need no more effort than a few clicks on a smart phone or a computer screen.

Photo courtesy of Tjebbe van Tijen. Originally published on flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).


1. “A détournement (pronounced: [detuʁnəmɑ̃], French for “rerouting”, “hijacking”) is a technique developed in the 1950s by the Letterist International, and later adapted by the Situationist International (SI), that was defined in the SI’s inaugural 1958 journal as “[t]he integration of present or past artistic productions into a superior construction of a milieu. In this sense there can be no situationist painting or music, but only a situationist use of those means. In a more elementary sense, détournement within the old cultural spheres is a method of propaganda, a method which reveals the wearing out and loss of importance of those spheres. It has been defined elsewhere as “turning expressions of the capitalist system and its media culture against itself.

But of course this method is as old as the practice of propaganda itself. Turning a statement against the person or force that uses it. Islam fundamentalist and situationist alike… means of communication are not bound to any ideology… they can be used for any purpose, which is again proven in the example of propaganda methods of IS(IS). Below a link to the Wikipedia page that fails this insight.

2.Soutenez la Tunisie en venant passer vos prochaines vacances dans le pays de l’amitié. // Spend your next summer holidays in Tunisia, the friendship country.”

CNN March 21. 2015: “It’s a bold pledge, some might say. / But people across the globe are making that vow despite the deadly attack in the Tunis on Wednesday. Twenty-three people, most of them tourists, were killed after gunmen opened fire inside the Bardo Museum, a stone’s throw from the parliament building. / The “I will come to Tunisia” social media campaign is aimed at protecting the North African nation’s tourism industry — which is critical to the country’s economy. The social media campaign features users holding up signs saying they will travel to the North African country.

3. Already on March 24th the turned around message of support and peace showing weapons appeared on the internet in social media (as well). This is an example to be clear about the dating of this threat:

ISIS macabre response to “I Will Come To Tunisia This Summer” campaign Terrorists have published a threatening macabre response to the international campaign “I will come to Tunisia This Summer”, where people around the world post photos where they pledge to visit Tunisia as support against terror and as a defiance to terrorists. ISIS or whatever it is called in Tunisia have published the same slogan written in bullets and weapons. A macabre threatening message to Tunisia. A terrorist message.

The UK daily the Mirror also showd this, but only after the Sousse hotel attack: “Tourism chiefs in the country had launched a ‘I will come to Tunisia this summer’ campaign following the last terror attack at a museum in March. / In that attack 20 people were killed, which led to a huge drop in numbers visiting the country. / So they dreamt up a new campaign to bring the tourists back. / ISIS’s macabre response to the campaign can be seen above. / They used the very same slogan but illustrated it using bullets and weapons, aiming to scare tourists from flying to Tunisia. mirror.co.uk

4. A picture of the shot terrorist can be found on a web page of the Daily Mail:

International Business Times (as often) has a wider range of sources on the subject of the perpetrator, witnesses and the ISIS public statement about the Sousse hotel attack:

IS social media accounts have been sharing a photograph of a man named as Abu Yahya Qayrawani, who the organisation claims is the person who shot and killed 38 tourists.

It is believed that Abu Yahya Qayrawani could be a pseudonym for Seifeddine Yacoubi – also named in some reports as Saifeddine Rezgui – the man killed by security forces during the attack. Security sources say that Yacoubi was a 23-year-old electrical engineering student.

It is not confirmed that Qayrawani and Yacoubi/Rezguid are the same individual.

Rafik Chelli, a senior Tunisian interior ministry official, said the gunman killed was not known to the authorities and was not on any list of potential terrorists.

Local radio said police captured a second gunman, but officials have not confirmed the arrest or his role in the attack. There are also reports that the second gunman escaped, but some eyewitnesses have said that there was just one attacker.

“It was just one attacker,” said a hotel worker at the site. “He was a young guy dressed in shorts like he was a tourist himself.”

A statement accompanying the picture said: “Our brother, the soldier of the Caliphate, Abu Yahya al Qayrawani, reached his target the Imperial hotel despite the security measures.”

Sky News report that the statement continues to say that he had attacked a “bordel” (brothel) and killed “40 infidels”.

According to eyewitnesses, Yacoubi was laughing and joking among the tourists prior to the attack. But it is claimed that he was selecting his victims and had a Kalashnikov rifle concealed in his parasol.

An unnamed Tunisian eyewitness told the local Mosaique FM radio: “He was laughing and joking around, like a normal guy.

“He was choosing who to to shoot. Some people, he was saying to them, ‘You go away’. He was choosing tourists, www.ibtimes.co.uk/…, French.”

5. CNN 12/3/2014: “Tunisia sex workers call for brothel to reopen in resort of Sousse

6. Tourism in Africa: Harnessing Tourism for Growth and Improved Livelihoods By Iain Christie, Eneida Fernandes, Hannah Messerli, Louise Twining-Ward; 2014. This a link on GoogleBooks to a few relevant pages.