Thought and Ideas
Tunisia’s ‘sexual jihad’: Is it extremist ruling or mere propaganda?
Posted Sunday, November 3 2013 at 00:00
For months, there have been rumours about “sexual jihad”, but the scope of the practice and its possible links to the conflict in Syria or the militants fighting the army in Tunisia have been shrouded in mystery.
When Tunisia’s authorities announced that a stream of young women had been leaving their homes to provide sexual services to Islamist militants in Tunisia and Syria, the statement was greeted with both shock and scepticism.
The BBC’s Ahmed Maher went to Tunisia to investigate the reports.
For months, there have been rumours about what the world’s media have dubbed a “sexual jihad”, but the scope of the practice and its possible links to the conflict in Syria have been shrouded in mystery.
The story is rooted in the Jebel ech Chaambi (Chaambi mountains) area of western central Tunisia, on the border with Algeria.
This remote region has witnessed fierce battles between the Tunisian army and militants linked to al-Qaeda since December 2012.
The authorities say they have arrested a number of girls and women in cities around Chaambi, whom they accuse of having sex with battle-weary militants as part of a campaign to improve morale.
The official statements were met with scepticism from Tunisians and shock from the families of the detained girls.
I met the family of one of those girls in the city of Kasreen, a four-hour drive west of the capital, Tunis, near Chaambi.
Her mother says the 17-year-old is among 19 women and girls arrested in the past two months in this city alone.
She believes her daughter is innocent. And she is especially worried as she says her daughter has “mental health problems” and is being detained with adults, despite being a minor.
“She has never been to the Chaambi mountains. These are false accusations. She was religious and went to mosque,” the mother told me. She requested anonymity because “this is a sensitive issue in our conservative city.”
“She wore the full-body veil - we say it’s a sign of chastity, not extremism.”
The mother says her daughter used to go to al-Tawba mosque where she was arrested.
“She might have been brainwashed by extremists, I don’t know. But I urge the interior minister to release her, as she is minor and goes into convulsions.”
For months there have been rumours about “sexual jihad”, but the scope of the practice and its possible links to the conflict in Syria or the militants fighting the army in Tunisia have been shrouded in mystery.