How Tunisians Became Tunisians


“Colours of Tunisia possess me. Colour will possess me always, I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour: colour and I are one. I am a painter.”

Paul Klee after his visit to Tunisia in 1914

With the emergence of crises in general, the issue of identity and minorities in the Arab countries has become more and more an object of contention. It has reached its climax in various Arab countries, in particular in those which have been swept away by the “revolution” winds.

With the advent of modernity, the identity of the Tunisian people has turned, as of the 1830s, into a polemical issue between, on the one hand, a group which believes in the “Oriental” spirit and origins of the country, opposing all that is Western,  claiming that all that preceded the introduction of Islam is akin to ignorance and, on the other hand, another group claiming that Tunisia has a far more ancient history, that Islam and the Orient are but a segment  of its identity and that Tunisian personality is the result of accumulations built over a very long historical depth.

The January 14, 2011 revolution has deepened the polemics around the issue, though the essential motto it raised was totally unrelated to identity: “bread, freedom, national dignity”.

In this book, Hedi Timoumi tries to examine the various facets of Tunisian personality through a different methodology, starting from the present time, excavating the depths of  history, in search of the accumulations that led to the attainment of its present-day characteristics. He suggests new interpretations, likely to account for the eminence and uniqueness of Tunisian identity, that collective mentality which, as some thinkers believe, may help us explain why “revolution” has sparked off from Tunisia.

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