The June 26 terrorist attack in Tunisia, at the Imperial Marhaba Hotel, has shown us Tunisians the failure of our educational system.
Seifeddine Rezgui, the attacker who murdered tourists with a Kalashnikov in the tourist resort of Sousse, was a student in one of our schools; he studied electronics in the city of Kairouan.
A lot of information seems even more important to know about him than if he belonged to or supported the Islamic State, if he attended a training camp in Libya, or if he had gone to Syria or Iraq to join militants fighting there.
What is important to know is that Seifeddine Rezgui liked rap music and the Real Madrid football team; he never skipped school and he was never rude to others. He never fought on the street, he regularly played soccer, and his friend described him as funny. In short, Seifeddine Rezgui was not born a terrorist. I am not trying to defend his terrorist act; I am just trying to explain it. He was indoctrinated to become a terrorist.
When he did his terrible act, he was still studying. He was the product of our educational system.
What are the main characteristics of this system?
Our educational system encourages the closedness of mind. It teaches students one religion, which leads evidently to one ultimate truth. It is then not easy for them to accept other truths.
Our educational system should be revised. Our first president, Habib Bourguiba, given the social and political circumstances and the regional constraints, did the best he could. Our religion teaches Muslims that they are the best people. The Quran says: "You [Muslims] are the best nation brought out for Mankind, commanding what is righteous and forbidding what is wrong." (3:110). So, many Muslim people think that they hold the ultimate truth and that they must share it.
Moreover, we have an educational system marked by a high level of specialization. Students who are enrolled in science classes have only general and superficial courses in literature, history and religion. But even for those who have taken continual courses in those fields, the question is: What is the content of these courses?
In particular, what are they studying in religious programs? If we choose to teach them religion, why do we not teach them the main religions in the world: Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and so on? Why do we not present varied studies and research from different points of view (theology, anthropology, philosophy, history, archaeology, biology, economic, sociology, and other fields) related to the birth of all these religions; as well as, without any judgment, the circumstances of their birth?
Why do we not make a distinction between religion and spirituality? We are spiritual beings, connected to something bigger than ourselves, while religion is a human creation that has been used and adapted for different reasons and interests.
Before Islam and even now, we could find Tunisian people in some regions who do not care a lot about "religion." They rely on other powerful values. In some tribes, respect is based on values such as honesty, faithfulness, bravery, and similar ideals. Although they have inherited these values from their ancestors, those principles do not necessarily have a religious connotation. In many tribes, people practice the Muslim religion as prayer and pilgrimage to gain more honor and respect from their tribe, village and society. There are also others who do not practice a religion, but who have no problem with it.
Spirituality needs to be taught at schools. Students need to ask: Where do feelings and emotions come from? What is the human psyche? Where do we come from? If we all come from one atom of hydrogen, where does that come from? They need to know about the different research done in this field. What do the different religions tell us about the psyche? Then, we try to compare religion's answers with the scientific ones. All these may decrypt the enigma of human's origin and human heart. In that case, religions, which are in certain cases signs of wisdom, can be helpful. Indeed, we can find wisdom related to many subjects (divinity, human nature, the matters, the life and so on) in the words and sayings of Christ, Buddha, Moses, Muhammad and so on.
Why do we not compare a world without religion to another with religion to see the contradictions between religion and the evolution of our society, in order to make the necessary revisions?
In Tunisia, many international schools have adopted this approach to teach religion. Many Tunisian families send their children to these schools to protect them from religious extremism. But since the reign of Bourguiba, public schools have adopted the classical approach to teaching religion. This dualism will only strengthen the contradictions and conflicts between Tunisian people, and eventually lead to a confrontation not only between them and foreigners but also between one another.
Finally, why do we not break the idea that religion is a taboo topic that we must not talk about? Instead, we should introduce the tools of scientific enquiry to deal with the subject of religion -- asking questions without having any boundaries, and observing results through objective testing rather than with subjective and predetermined conclusions.
As Tunisian people, until now, the only thing that we have tried to do is to avoid these types of subjects -- and the result is that many young people are in prison or else networking with members of the Islamic State.
Hayet Ben Said, Ph.D., is a Professor at the Higher School of Economic and Commercial Sciences of Tunis, Tunisia.