Long before I became a Muslim, the North African country of Tunisia used to evoke two images in my mind … a sunny holiday destination for drunken chavs* and a temporary home base for Palestinian leader-in-exile, Yassir Arafat.
I don’t suppose you could imagine two more different images than soccer-mad, binge-drinking Westerners and the revolutionary PLO chief who turned the Palestinian keffiyah into a worldwide symbol of heroic resistance.
The reason why I remember the Palestinian issue quite so vividly is because the country’s capital Tunis was bombed by the Israel Air Force killing more than 70 people in April, 1986. It was a sledgehammer-nut act of pure revenge from the Israeli Government after three of their Mossad agents had been executed by PLO fighters.
Two Arabs and an Englishman had boarded a yacht in the touristy Cypriot port of Larnaca, and carried out the execution in cold blood. The Englishman, Ian Davison, came from my birthplace Tyneside and his part in the gunning down of the three spies caused quite a stir back home, as you might imagine.
I flew out to Cyprus to interview Davison in prison, it was a scoop which earned me an industry award but more importantly, it was one of those defining moments: a-road-to-Damascus-vision, which led to me gaining a true insight into the injustices against the Palestinians.
Now the reason images of drunken holidaymakers comes to mind follows an incident in which the husband of a friend of mine disgraced himself by getting horribly drunk on his first night at a Tunisian resort. He fell into the company of some local Arabs who managed to persuade the inebriated idiot to buy a camel for the bargain price of $500 dollars.
Threatened with having to spend his entire vacation selling camel rides on the beach, by his furious wife, he managed to persuade the locals to buy back the camel for a mere $200 dollars … the depreciation value of camels taken into account.
Of course, it appears, the present government in Tunisia would rather play host to a bunch of drunken fools and kiddy fiddlers from the West these days. Obviously the memory of the murderous Israeli blitz 30 years ago has completely faded now that the government has found a cash cow in the wallets and purses of soused westerners and European paedophiles who see the North African country as their playground. (German paedophiles in particular).
If you need proof of the fickle nature of the Tunisian president let me remind you that last year Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali suffered a huge dose of political amnesia when he invited the war criminal Ariel Sharon to visit his country. Has the man no shame? Apparently not.
Just like the previous Tunisian tyrant, he would rather kiss the rump of Zionists while getting on his knees to Western leaders than stand tall infront of his own people.
In fact thanks to the brutal rule of Ben Ali, I now think of something else whenever the name of Tunisia is mentioned. I think of torture, detention without trial, political and religious persecution.
Recently I joined a group of brothers and sisters at a rally outside the Tunisian Embassy in London, there were similar demonstrations held at Tunisian embassy buildings around the world.
It now seems Ben Ali is ripping the hijab off the heads of our sisters and abusing the most basic human rights and so we were protesting in defence of our Tunisian sisters … and Islam.
I know Jacques Chirac did the same in France, but France is a secular country in the West, not an Arab Muslims country in North Africa.
Curtains began twitching on the third floor as the protest outside the Tunisian Embassy in London grew to a few score. I was told someone was filming the protestors and, if any were recognised, their families would be visited back home.
This sort of intimidation is disgusting. One minute Ben Ali is trying to be more West than Westerners by talking of civilisation, modernism and human rights but all the time he is quietly sanctioning the brutalisation of our hijab-wearing sisters, practising brothers and campaigners for justice.
One courageous sister told me how she fled Tunisia a few years ago fearing for her life, and she recalled how she arrived in Britain with her hijab in her pocket.
Well it is high time Ben Ali and his revolting crew of craven ministers and hyprocrites are exposed and so I hope this column is copied and published elsewhere.
It is important that Westerners learn about the cruelty and brutality of this leader. Perhaps they will think twice about heading out to the North African country to holiday now that they know not far from the postcard images there is real misery and torture.
The Holy Quran has been banned and desecrated in the cages and dungeons where prisoners of conscience are beaten if they dare to pray outside of allotted times.
Of course those pathetic, cringing, lick-spittling toadies who support this despicable Tunisian government will try and tell me about the president’s approval rating of 95pc. No one seriously believes that statistic … not even Ben Ali.
The man is as popular as a packet of pork scratchings at a Muslim wedding.
If he really thought he had 95pc of Tunisians supporting him he wouldn’t need to rule with a rod of iron and surround himself with huge security and thugs for bodyguards.
Like every dictator, his time will come and the sooner the better.
If he seriously wants the support of his people, their respect and a long term future as leader then he has to seriously change his style of government.
The first thing he can do is empty the prisons of political prisoners which accounts for around 30,000 of the 10 million population and start working alongside his political opponents, instead of trying to silence them.
As a priority I would also call on him to apologise to all of my Tunisian sisters and return their veils so they can wear them once again without fear in schools, universities, offices and factories.
I find it difficult to believe this man could hate the hijab so much that he even ripped it off the heads of pregnant women. I was astounded to learn that no one wearing a hijab is allowed into a maternity ward or hospital.
His deliberate plotting against Islam will come back to haunt him either through revolution on the streets of Tunisia or in the Hereafter. Personally speaking, I prefer revolution – bring it on!
Albert Einstein once said: “Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.” Well he was born in Germany and not brought up in Tunisia.
However, I do salute the heroic resistance of the Tunisian brothers and sisters who are risking their very lives to protect Islam in defiance of the State.
Just as Ben Ali will receive his just desserts in the next life they shall also receive their reward, insh’Allah. Someone should tell the Tunisian tyrant that eternity is one hell of a lot longer than three score years and ten.
* To learn more about the struggle please read: Tunisia: Injured Islam by Sheikh Mohamed Al Hadi Al Zamzami