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Tunisia: Imams call for removal of play poster

20 March 2017
'Alhakumu At-Takathur' play director Nejib Khalfallah censored the play’s poster after being threatened for using part of a Qur'anic verse in the title.
Photo: “Alhakumu At-Takathur” original poster/Tunisian National Theatre Facebook page

 

‘Alhakumu At-Takathur’ (Miscarriage) play director Nejib Khalfallah was forced to censor the play’s poster after being verbally attacked by Islamists and conservatives for using part of a Qur’anic verse in the title, reported The Arab Weekly on 26 February 2017.

On 16 February, Tunisian National Theatre (TNT) received a warning from the National Union Council of Imams and Executives of the Mosques calling on the theatre to remove the poster of the play because the title contains part of a Qur’anic verse. The council considers using the Qur’an is crossing a “sacred red line“.

In a Facebook statement on 23 February, TNT said that rather than remove the poster, they decided to “ostentatiously mark the censorship of the Arabic title by [covering] it with a black X”.

It was out of the question for us to be a stepping stone for the return of manifestations of violence of religious extremism … we wanted to defuse the mobilisation of the fundamentalists while marking the censorship to call for a national debate on religious censorship … artists need to unite in order to respond to this attack which must not go unpunished.

One imam, Ridha Jaouadi, said “the use of religious words in cultural works should be avoided”. In their 23 February statement, TNT said that Jaouadi called on his followers to mobilise against the theatre, including a call to violence.

Khalfallah insisted that he didn’t mean his title to be provocative and that he didn’t want to harm what is sacred.

“I’m a Muslim. I respect Islam and Muslim traditions and rules. I call on those who criticised the play to come and see it for themselves,” Khalfallah said.

In a 20 February press release the TNT stated: “this artistic work did not aim to provoke in any way … neither in terms of words nor the actors’ roles.”

TNT director Fadhel Jaibi, at a press conference, indicated the theatre’s “full willingness to fight with any means all forms of intimidation” and called on other organisations to join in the fight:

Parties and organisations have to stand with us to face this campaign which aims to impose censorship and suppression on the cultural landscape. I believe the latest Islamist move is part of a fierce and planned drive to abort the progressive and modernist cultural project. For a better future, artists and intellectuals are competing against a reactionary and obscurantist project, which hides its true intentions behind the defence of religious sanctities.

The play’s name in French (Fausse Couche) was not changed or removed from the poster.

Sources

Sources

» The Arab Weekly – 26 February 2017
In Tunisia, uneasy coexistence between Islamists and artists

» Tunisian National Theatre (via Facebook) – 23 February 2017
About the Arabic title of “Fausse Couche”

» Web Manager Center – 21 February 2017
Controversy over the choreographic piece ‘Miscarriage”: TNT reacts

» Espace Manager – 20 February 2017
TNT reacts to the controversy about “alhakom attakathor”

» Webdo – 19 February 2017
Under pressure, Najib Khalfallah changes the name of his play

» Huffington Post Tunisia – 18 February 2017
Tunisia: Attempt to censor play

» Kapitalis – 18 February 2017
Theatre: Imams prohibit poster

» Constitute Project – Tunisia Constitution

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