I was horrified to read about the massacre in Tunisia. If you haven’t heard about it yet, here are some of the details:
Gunmen in military uniforms stormed Tunisia’s national museum, killing 17 foreign tourists and two Tunisians on Wednesday in one of the worst militant attacks in a country that has largely escaped the region’s “Arab Spring” turmoil.
Visitors from Italy, Germany, Poland and Spain were among the dead in the noon assault on the Bardo museum near parliament in central Tunis, Prime Minister Habib Essid said.
Security forces stormed the former palace around two hours later, killed two militants and freed other tourists held hostage inside, a government spokesman said. One policeman was killed in the police operation.
Television footage showed dozens of people, including elderly foreigners and one man carrying a child, running for shelter in the compound, covered by security forces aiming rifles into the air.
I’m always horrified, of course, when I read about Islamic massacres, but this one struck particularly close to home. In August 2011, my family and I were on a cruise ship tour of Tunis which included the Bardo Museum. I wrote about it then (emphasis added):
Speaking of girls, women have full legal rights in Tunisia. They can hold the same jobs (we saw a lot of female police officers), get equal pay for equal work, and divorce their husbands. Polygamy is illegal. Unsurprisingly, despite a Muslim majority, church and state are separate, and both Christians and Jews are allowed to worship freely.
It’s this secularism, I think, that explains the civility of Tunisia’s revolution. As best as I can tell, once the Tunisians got rid of the enormously corrupt ruling family (which secreted at least 25 billion dollars in offshore accounts), the Tunisian people had accomplished their goal. Right now, they’re awaiting October 23, when they have free elections. It might be a bit confusing, though, as they have 102 parties running!
Today, a mere half year after the revolution, Tunis seemed peaceful — indeed, somnolent, although that last impression may have come to me because of the punishing heat, which hovered around 110 degrees. The whole place is bleached white by the sun. The sky is white; the myriad low, boxy buildings are white; and even the dirt and dust are a pale tan.
The people we saw were friendly, pushy in a very Middle Eastern suk way, and desperate for their life’s blood– tourism. Because of the revolution, their tourist trade has collapsed, and many of them asked us to put out the word that Tunisia is a safe place for the return of tourism. Certainly, under the aegis of a rather stodgy cruise ship tour, we felt very safe indeed.
Our next stop was the best one: a museum that houses the biggest collection of Roman mosaics I’ve ever seen [that was the Bardo]. In room after overheated room, every surface was covered with these vibrant mosaics. I wish we could have stayed longer, but the guide had his own schedule.
This is another reminder, as if we needed it, that Islamism is a fast-moving, deadly plague, and that, especially in the Middle East and environs, no one is safe and no institution is immune.