Source: The Nation
By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid
As Pakistan mulls over rewinding the clock back a millennia-and-a-half by imposing Sharia under the Taliban gun, Tunisia is celebrating arguably the most progressive constitution in the history of the Middle East. That the Pakistani state has been busy succumbing to terrorists’ demands staring down the barrel of TTP’s gun, while Tunisia carved out constitutional conformity between Islamists and secularists, showcases the contrasting directions the two countries are seemingly headed towards. There are lessons to be learnt for Pakistan in the way Tunisia has dealt with Islamist extremism through the power of constitution.
While the Pakistan government is busy negotiating with the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), similar negotiations had been going on between the secularists and the Islamists in the National Constituent Assembly of Tunisia. On January 26 this year, the assembly passed the Tunisian Constitution with an overwhelming 200 votes from 216. The historical document is a massive triumph for secularists, since it ensures that Islamic law has no influence over legislation in Tunisia.
Islam as the state religion according to Article 1 of 1959’s constitution has been retained in the latest constitution. However, Article 6 of the constitution that protects “freedom of conscience and belief” reduces the ‘state religion’ clause to symbolism, especially since it unequivocally prohibits takfir (the allegation of apostasy). Juxtapose this with the Second Amendment to Pakistan’s Constitution which sanctions the process of takfir by ‘officially’ declaring Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. There’s a meme circulating on social media which points out the irony engulfing the fact that the constitution that excommunicated the Ahmadis has been excommunicated by the Taliban.
By sidestepping the anti-blasphemy clauses proposed by the Islamist al-Nahda party, the Tunisian secular parties, al-Mottamar and Ettakatol, also protected their country from the blasphemy merry-go-round, which has been taking Pakistan on a ride in the recent past. That even the al-Nahda voted down Sharia as the source of legislation speaks volumes for the vision Tunisia collectively has for the future.
If the Pakistani state imposes Sharia in the country, as the TTP desires, the women would be the ones to suffer the most. The TTP has called for a ban on women barring them from wearing jeans and appearing in public without covering their heads. Tunisia, meanwhile, is vying to ensure the progress of Tunisian women through stipulations in the constitution.
Article 45 “seeks parity between men and women in elected assemblies”; Article 20 highlights how men and women are “equal in rights and duties,”; Article 21 could be used to alter the inheritance laws on the basis of gender equality and Article 2 that defines Tunisia as “a civil state based on citizenship and the supremacy of law”, could be used to ensure that all gender related matters have civil interpretations and not religious ones. Article 2 is also an ideological safety net for the secularists.