Abdelbaki Hermassi, a Tunisian sociologist who became his country’s minister of culture and foreign minister without ever joining a political party, died on October 23. He was 84.
Hermassi spent nearly 30 years in social research, especially of state and society in the Maghreb. He wrote several books and from 1970 to 1992 taught at the Universities of Tunis and California, Berkeley, before he was made his country’s ambassador to Unesco.
He also served as Tunisia’s minister of culture for eight years and, briefly, as minister of foreign affairs.
After his death, The Independent, a newspaper in the United Kingdom, quoted from a speech Hermassi made in 2002 at the University of Westminster, in London, explaining how his country had brought Islamic fundamentalists under control.
“In Tunisia the Islamic activists were rapidly brought to heel,” he said, “as the result of a multi-faceted approach that combined security handling (dismantling the networks), judicial action (bringing to trial those who had committed terrorist acts), economic action (drying up the springs of their funding), and lastly an educational and cultural approach (spreading the culture of toleration, freedom of expression and respect for others’ opinions.”
Hermassi had no time for the theory that the attacks on the United States’ World Trade Center and the Pentagon represented “a clash of civilisations.”
“Do not let us confuse our wars. The frontline is not between north and south, east and west, Christianity and Islam. It runs through mankind as a whole. The enemy is everywhere, lurking in the open wounds caused by injustice and fed by resentments inherited from the past.”