A Pew Research Center report, published in 2013, entitled, "The World's Muslims, Religion, Politics and Society," explored attitudes and opinions of Muslims around the world regarding religion and its impact on politics, ethics and science.
A sample of 1450 Tunisian Muslims from all the 24 governorates of Tunisia were interviewed between November and December 2011. According to the study, 50% of Tunisians consider themselves living a conflict between their religion and the modern world. According to the report, 32% of Tunisians consider divorce unethical -- the highest rate in the Arab and Muslim world -- compared to 8% in Egypt, 6% in Lebanon and 3% in Jordan. Although 46% respondents said that religion is compatible with the modern world, the study indicated that the Tunisian population is more prone to advocate individual choice -- with 89% favoring -- in wearing the niqab (face-veil).
Similarly, based on the United Nations report and research from the Quilliam Foundation in 2014, Tunisian terrorists represent the highest number (3,800) of foreign terrorists in Syria and Iraq. Syrian authorities also confirmed that the number of Tunisian terrorists is more than 10,000, out of a total of 48,000 terrorists in Syrian territory.
What are the main reasons for Tunisia's high rate of terrorism?
Religions in general are double-edged: they contribute to solving many social problems and help to establish security and safety, due to the ethical laws they impose. It is expected that the majority of people will not commit crimes because they fear God and his punishment. Religion can also represent psychological security and stability for some people who need to be reassured by believing that an unlimited strength of goodness is watching over them.
On the other hand, many people have misinterpreted religion -- sometimes deliberately, sometimes not -- often creating conflicts between different ethnicities and religions, such as the conflict between the Jews and the Muslims. Religion, therefore, has also been used to incite violence, hate and wars -- just as ISIS, a salafi jihadist group that is recruiting more and more soldiers all over the world, has been doing.
The majority of jihadists are indoctrinated from their earliest childhood by television programs. For example, Spacetoon, an Arab children's program, created a fictional female character named Fulla. The program usually shows Fulla as a pious person, praying and wearing a hijab -- an image that influences a lot of children. Y., a 15-year-old girl, explained:
"When I was younger, about seven or eight years old, I used to watch Fulla and ask my mom to wear hijab like her, since I thought this is how a woman is supposed to dress. I also tried to wear hijab several times and asked my mom to let me wear it."
Kindergartens also play a major role in influencing children.
"In kindergarten, the teachers used to tell us about how we will be punished after our death, how we will burn in hell if we behave badly. I was so frightened hearing these stories that I imagined terrible scenes in my head", said T., a 15-year-old boy.
Schools in Tunisia teach compulsory religious education beginning in the first grade, to help children discover and understand their religion's fundamentals.
"I used to cheat on the religious education's exams that come at the end of each term," said E., a 15-year-old girl.
"I wasn't doing it because I was lazy, but because we had only an hour each term to study theology in class, with a teacher who gave us a long surat [section from the Quran] and some ahadith quotes from the prophet to learn. We did not understand anything in class; some of us would just learn it by heart without understanding the meaning. Others just cheated because they couldn't learn something they didn't understand. The problem is, school did not give us the opportunity to discover other religions, since Jews and Christians are considered for most of Muslims as kuffar [infidels]."
This inherited culture of hate towards other religions has created an extremist way of thinking and a feeling of superiority.
"I hate Christians and Jews. I don't know why. I don't have any apparent reason to hate them but I always hear my mom talking badly about them. She hates them too, and this is why I hate them, I guess. Mom has always told me that Muslims are Allah's favorite people," said F., a 15-year-old girl.
"After the Nice attack, I had some friends on social media expressing their disapproval of people who empathized with the victims. They said that non-Muslims deserve to die; we should have no pity for them. They will burn in hell, anyway," said M., a 16-year-old boy.
This extremist way of thinking is bolstered by the fact that 80% of Tunisians do not read books, according to a study conducted in March 2015. People who do not read are living in an emotional void: they tend to fear things they do not know, and this fear can turn into suspicion, aggression and hate. These people need to fill the void, to remove the discomfort, so they turn to terrorism to create a goal in their lives: defending Islam.
"I know this Tunisian boy who lives in Saudi Arabia with his parents, and who comes to Tunisia to spend the holidays, in my neighborhood", said R., a 14 year-old-girl.
"He was a normal 15-year-old teenager, and he used to play football with my brother and his friends. Recently, they all noticed the boy isolated himself and started to read books on faith and Islam. One day, he came to my brother and his friends and told them to stop playing football; it was haram [forbidden]. Soon after, he was seen in the neighborhood, walking in the darkness and reading the Quran."
As most Tunisians do not read, they watch TV a lot. "Hareem Al Sultan" ("The Sultan's Harem"), a Turkish TV series, is popular in Tunisia. The series shows how the attractive concubines try to seduce the Sultan by dancing, singing, and being obedient and submissive -- all of which can encourage girls to join the jihad al-nikah ("sexual jihad"), by which girls provide sex to jihadists.
"After watching Hareem Al Sultan, I wanted to be one of the Sultan's concubines, to live in the Ottoman Empire era; I wanted to be like them," said S., a 14-year-old girl.
All of these factors contribute indirectly to forming an extremist and a terrorist way of thinking. We always think that it is in Iraq or in Syria that we should fight terrorism. But the battleground is in schools, in homes, on TV and on social media. It is there that we need to fight extremist ideologies and racial and religious hate -- they are the starting point of every terrorist.
Tharwa Boulifi, aged 15, lives in Tunisia.