As I write these lines, Moncef Marzouki, the man who until last year was president of Tunisia, is aboard a Swedish-registered boat called the Marianne along with more than a dozen fellow “human rights activists” being brought to port in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, having sought to breach Israel’s security blockade of the Gaza Strip.
While president Marzouki has been at sea on his mission to Gaza, one of his fellow countrymen, Seifeddine Rezgui, cold-bloodedly massacred dozens of innocent people, mainly British and other European holidaymakers, who had mistakenly believed they could safely vacation in his country.
Rezgui, 23, a one-time breakdancing enthusiast and Real Madrid soccer fan with a university degree, was radicalized right there in Tunisia; he had apparently never traveled abroad. A home-grown killer. And he was turned into an Islamic extremist mass-murderer, selecting Westerners in his beach-killing spree, extremely rapidly — possibly as recently as the past six months.
Many thousands more Tunisians have been similarly indoctrinated with the perverted version of Islam that is now producing murderous outrages with terrible predictability across the Middle East and far beyond; even as it has sought to shift toward democratic stability, Tunisia is widely reported to have provided more recruits for Islamic extremist groups, most emphatically including Islamic State, than any other nation on earth. That river of recruitment was flowing full speed in the three years of the Marzouki presidency.
As the Israeli Navy escorts him into port, has the former president of the world’s largest supplier of Islamic extremists paused for thought? Has he engaged in a little introspection? How has the news of Seifeddine Rezgui’s act of barbarism been affecting him?
He will have internalized that the massacre on Sousse beach has destroyed his country’s tourism industry, which he doubtless sought to foster during his years in power. Presumably, he will have recognized that Tunisia’s relatively good name — as arguably the principal beneficiary of an Arab Spring that has turned into so bitter and bloody an Arab winter — is now deeply stained with the innocent blood that Rezgui shed with such nauseating gusto.
But it is almost certainly too much to ask that he might also now be reconsidering the logic and efficacy of his thwarted voyage to Gaza.
Gaza would not be appreciably helped by the aid cargo the Marianne was bringing. Israel routinely supplies immensely more aid. Additional materials, after security checks, can be transferred overland. Obviously, then, for all the supposed humanitarian goals, this was an exercise in demonizing Israel and bolstering Hamas: Demonizing Israel as the ostensible source of Gazans’ suffering, bolstering Hamas in seeking to undermine the naval blockade which prevents Gaza’s Islamist rulers from importing weaponry for use against Israel.
I imagine that president Marzouki is deeply convinced that Israel is the evil side in this equation, and Hamas the legitimate resistance movement standing up for the Palestinian cause and for Gaza’s citizenry. Why else would he have made the journey?
But on the very weekend that a young Tunisian man, poisoned by benighted zealots, gunned down dozens of innocents in the country Marzouki used to run, here he was sailing the high seas on behalf of an Islamic extremist organization, strategically engaged in poisoning young minds, and bent on dispatching its recruits to carry out murder. Does the president see the appalling irony? Probably not.
Marzouki’s voyage is not the only piece of ironic timing this weekend. Islamist killers on smaller and larger scales have been at their despicable work in the past few days in France, Kuwait, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Chad… Meanwhile, the US is leading talks with the world’s greatest sponsor of Islamic extremism, Iran, desperate for a deal that will lift sanctions, cement the regime in power, and keep central aspects of Tehran’s nuclear program in place. And the UN’s Human Rights Council is debating Israel’s alleged possible war crimes in Gaza.
At times like this it’s hard not to become embittered and cynical. It’s a big ask in a country of just 8.3 million people, nine miles wide at our narrowest, on the western edge of a landmass seething with hostility; a country being told that we need to embrace hope over fear and relinquish disputed territory or risk sanction and growing isolation.
But unless former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, when he safely reaches the shores of Israel in a few hours’ time, seeks a microphone to declare that, yes, well, he’s sorry, and he’s reconsidered, and that while he has no particular love for Israel, he recognizes that perhaps sailing to Gaza was not the best use of his time and his reputation, and that thwarting Islamic extremism is the region’s key imperative, and that Hamas needs to abandon terrorism, and that he’s full of sorrow for the deaths by a Tunisian hand of all those innocent holidaymakers, and that he has a great deal of work to do back home in IS-feeding Tunisia… Unless president Marzouki says something like that, which he won’t, then a large helping of bitter cynicism, albeit allied with a still larger determination to safeguard this country, would seem to be the order of the day.