by Kenza Fourati
A message of hope for these next four years.
In appearance, there is very little in common between the most powerful democracy in the world, the United States of America, and Tunisia, a small North African Arab country, where I come from. Yet as I watched the presidential campaign unfold over the last year, the similarities between the two nations were troubling…
In 2011, in Tunisia, after a historical revolution and an intoxicating Arab spring spread around, the stakes were high. We were, after all, the pioneers of democracy in the region, a societal laboratory in the making.
For the dreamers with great hopes of a modern and free society, awakening from the results of the elections was harsh. The Arab Spring felt robbed and prophetic of a cold, dark winter ahead. Conservatism won. Populism won. Isolationism won. Islamism had won. Despite the inflammatory rhetoric and shocking ideas spouted throughout the campaign, a majority of people demanded a strong break with the “corrupted” past. And the Islamists offered that.
Soon after the election, some felt entitled to spread messages of hate, bigotry, sexism, racism. Verbal and physical attacks against artists rose in number and frequency. I personally felt the bullying. Because I was a model. Because of the “perversion” I was representing; I had notably appeared that year in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. I was a threat. My body was a threat. A Facebook group calling for my death collected over 5,000 likes.
How ironic it is that only a few years later, in a very different country and reality, because of my own identity and faith, I will be seen as a threat again…
It didn’t happen this time around, but more than ever I believe society coming together will make it true.
What ended up happening in Tunisia soon after the 2011 elections is that civil society felt more engaged, responsible and vigilant than ever. People stood together and denounced abuses. They worked closely to make their communities safer and stronger. Despite a conservative tendency, Tunisians wrote one of the most modern and fair constitutions in the world. And in 2014, Islamists lost the elections. Challenging times ended up bringing a polarized society together.
This is why I believe it is crucial to join the Women’s March on Saturday. Only gatherings and peaceful mass protests move societies. We need to join forces against hateful, divisive, racist and violent rhetoric. We need to stand together loud and proud for women’s reproductive rights, for immigrants, for the LGBT community, for the disabled, and of course for the environment and the legacy we leave to our children and future generations.
This is #WhyIMarch.
Sweater Nili Lotan Jeans Re/done