Tunis has a long history of city life reaching back to ancient times. The Arabic language is firmly rooted among its inhabitants and most embrace the morals and culture of Islam. Behind Closed Doors presents forty-seven tales told by three Beldi women, members of a historic and highly civilized community, the city's traditional elite. Tale-telling is important to all Beldi women, and the book examines its role in their shared world and its significance in the lives of the three tellers.
Tales are told at communal gatherings to share and pass on Beldi women's secret lore of love, marriage and destiny. Ghaya Sa'diyya and Kheira tell stories which echo their life experience and have deep meanings for them. Their tales reflect accepted moral codes, and yet many depict attitudes, relationships, and practices that contradict established norms. Whereas Kheira presents a conservative and moralistic view of the role of women, Sa'diyya's heroines are alive with sexual energy, and Ghaya's stories also offer racy and rebellious comments on a woman's lot. These contradictory visions offer a kaleidoscopic view of the position of women in the rich life of a historic North African city.
The Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 plunged the world into its second global conflict. The Third Reich's attack, mounted without consulting its Italian ally, had other reverberations as well. Chief among them was Mussolini's decision to conduct a "parallel war" based on his own tactical and political agendas. Against this backdrop, Daniel Carpi depicts the fate of some 5000 Jews in Tunisia and as many as 30,000 in southeastern France, all of whom came under the aegis of the Italian Fascist regime early in the war. Many were unskilled immigrants: still others were political refugees, activists, or anti-fascist emigres, the fuoriusciti who fled oppression in Italy only to find themselves under its rule once again after the fall of France. While the Fascist regime disagreed with Hitler's final solution for the "Jewish problem," it also saw actions by Vichy French police or German security forces against Jews in Italian-controlled regions as an erosion of Rome's power. Thus, although these Jews were not free from oppression, Carpi shows that as long as Italy maintained control over them its consular officials were able to block the arrests and mass deportations occurring elsewhere.
By Fire: Writings on the Arab Spring
Tahar Ben Jelloun, translated and with an introduction by Rita Nezami Northwestern University Press, 2016 Library of Congress PQ3989.2.J4A2 2016 | Dewey Decimal 843.914
Tahar Ben Jelloun’s By Fire, the first fictional account published on the Arab Spring, reimagines the true-life self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, an event that has been credited with setting off the Tunisian revolt. The novella depicts the days leading up to Bouazizi’s self-immolation. Ben Jelloun’s deliberate ambiguity about the location of the story, set in an unnamed Islamic country, allows the reader to imagine the experiences and frustrations of other young men who have endured physical violence and persecution in places beyond Tunisia. The tale begins and ends in fire, and the imagery of burning frames the political accounts in The Spark, Ben Jelloun’s nonfiction writings on the Tunisian events that provide insight into the despotic regimes that drove Bouazizi to such despair. Rita S. Nezami’s elegant translations and critical introduction provide the reader with multiple strategies for approaching these potent texts.
The 2005 winner of the The Arkansas Arabic Traslation Award, sponsored by the King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the University of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas Press, though written in the nineteenth century, is a richly contextualized precursor of modern Muslim wrestlings with notions of democracy and constitutionalism. Translated by the distinguished Middle East historian L. Carl Brown, this important historical work is now available to English language readers for the first time. Toward the end of his long career as an official in the Tunisian government, Ahmad ibn Abi Diyaf (Bin Diyaf) took on the task of writing a history of his country. The result was a multivolume history, concentrating on the period that Bin Diyaf experienced first-hand from within the small circle of Tunisia’s government, where he had served from the 1820s to the 1860s. It was as if a Harry Hopkins, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., or Henry Kissinger had served not just a Roosevelt, Kennedy, or Nixon, but all three presidents for an unbroken forty-year period. Not only the most penetrating and most perceptive study of nineteenth-century Tunisian political life, Bin Diyaf’s history was illustrative of the activities and ideas in play throughout the larger Ottoman world. His work was a history with a thesis. Bin Diyaf sought to show the need for his country, and for that matter the larger Ottoman world, to adopt representative and responsive forms of government as existed in Europe. His purpose was most clearly set out in the Muqaddima or Introduction to his monumental work, which Brown has translated. The ideas produced in this text roughly a century and a half ago were not institutionalized, but they did catch hold as ideas and goals influencing later developments.
The Deaf-Mute Boy
Joseph Geraci University of Wisconsin Press, 2006 Library of Congress PS3607.E725D43 2006 | Dewey Decimal 813.6
The Deaf-Mute Boy—equal parts travel story, love story, and a resonant confrontation with the Muslim world—is the tale of a gay American professor immersed in a North African society. Maurice Burke, an archaeologist, is invited to speak at a conference in the bustling port town of Sousse, Tunisia. At first disillusioned by its rampant tourism and squalid commercialism, Maurice becomes intrigued by his surroundings after meeting a local deaf-mute boy. While exploring a vibrant souk, Maurice encounters a religious leader who guides him on a fateful introduction to the boy’s family. As Maurice’s involvement with the deaf-mute boy intensifies, he finds himself drawn into a maze of Tunisian politics, culture, and religion.
In Stambeli, Richard C. Jankowsky presents a vivid ethnographic account of the healing trance music created by the descendants of sub-Saharan slaves brought to Tunisia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Stambeli music calls upon an elaborate pantheon of sub-Saharan spirits and North African Muslim saints to heal humans through ritualized trance. Based on nearly two years of participation in the musical, ritual, and social worlds of stambeli musicians, Jankowsky’s study explores the way the music evokes the cross-cultural, migratory past of its originators and their encounters with the Arab-Islamic world in which they found themselves. Stambeli, Jankowsky avers, is thoroughly marked by a sense of otherness—the healing spirits, the founding musicians, and the instruments mostly come from outside Tunisia—which creates a unique space for profoundly meaningful interactions between sub-Saharan and North African people, beliefs, histories, and aesthetics.
Part ethnography, part history of the complex relationship between Tunisia’s Arab and sub-Saharan populations, Stambeli will be welcomed by scholars and students of ethnomusicology, anthropology, African studies, and religion.