During a TV debate on the legalization of homosexuality in Tunisia, Yamina Thabet, head of the Tunisian Minority Rights Group, called to abolish Article 230 in the Tunisian penal code that criminalized homosexuality. The debate followed the December 10 sentencing of six students from a university in Kairouan to three years in prison and a five-year ban from entering the city for homosexual acts. Thabet's adversary, Tunisian lawyer Ahmed Ben Hessana, warned: "Today, they want to abolish the criminalization of homosexuality, tomorrow it will be incest, and the next day zoophilia." Thabet, who said that "Tunisian society has transformed into a democracy, and its principles are the universal principles of human rights," maintained that "a person is free in his personal life" and that the only criterion was "that what is done in one's personal life must be consensual."
Following are excerpts from the debate, which aired on Nessma TV on December 14, 2015.
Tunisian lawyer Ahmed Ben Hessana: These people are trying to harm the values of Tunisian society, and turn it into a society with no values. They are trying to import the law of our "sister-country," the Netherlands, and to impose it upon the Tunisian people, as if this society had no identity of its own. What is a law, after all? The Tunisian people has chosen, through its representatives, a set of values, which it tries to defend by means of legislation. Each society has its own values. The values of Mozambique are not the same as the values of France, and the values of Malaysia differ from the value of Tunisia. Each country has its own values.
Moderator: But there are common international principles…
Yamina Thabet Head of the Tunisian Minority Rights Group: So why is there an International Declaration of Human Rights?
Ahmed Ben Hessana: One does not contradict the other. There are the common eternal values of the law of nature. What you are calling for contradicts the law of nature.
Yamina Thabet: I did not come here to discuss homosexuality. This is not our topic. We have not come here to justify homosexuals, or vice versa.
Ahmed Ben Hessana: What is our topic, if not this? These calls, which are made out in the open, to cancel the criminalization of [homosexuality], as stated in Article 230 of the penal code, as well as the debate about these sensitive and provocative issues… All of these contribute to terrorism, in my view. One way or another, some idiots become terrorists when they hear this. They say that Tunisian society is perverted and infidel… They lack the minimal…
Yamina Thabet: With all due respect, this is a ridiculous depiction of terrorism and radicalization…
Ahmed Ben Hessana: These provocative and shocking acts, which are offensive to the general sentiment of society, make people react. The [terrorist] react.
Yamina Thabet: You are saying that Tunisia is a democratic country…
Ahmed Ben Hessana: Democracy is the rule of the majority, madam.
Yamina Thabet: Democracy is more about respect for minorities than about the rule of the majority, or else it becomes a dictatorship of the majority.
Ahmed Ben Hessana: The minorities must not offend the basic values of society.
Yamina Thabet: This is a moral and psychological war against the minorities in Tunisia.
Ahmed Ben Hessana: The law defines certain acts that are harmful to the general social order.
Yamina Thabet: Please tell us how this harms the general social order. We want to understand your logic.
Ahmed Ben Hessana: Most moral crimes…
Yamina Thabet: You call this "moral crimes." It is only a crime if it is a defined as such in the penal code, but if we put aside Article 230, how is [homosexuality] a crime? If it's a crime because it says so in the penal code, then put the penal code aside, and tell me why this is a crime.
Ahmed Ben Hessana: Not everything that is done behind closed doors is necessarily legal. Take adultery, for example, when one of the two is married – this too is done behind closed doors.
Yamina Thabet: This has nothing to do with individual liberties… Why not?! Marriage is a contract, and if a third person…
Ahmed Ben Hessana: Maybe in France it is not a crime… You suffer from a "West complex," or a "France complex"…
Yamina Thabet: You do, not me. I have my identity, which I want to defend. I defend the principles of human rights and individual liberties.
Ahmed Ben Hessana: We must beware of this exaggerated defense of liberties. It's dangerous.
Yamina Thabet: Liberties are dangerous in your view…
Ahmed Ben Hessana: Thank God that only a small minority does not care about the values of society. Our society is a moderate one. We are not Saudi Arabia, with the niqab, or Iran.
Yamina Thabet: What's Saudi Arabia got to do with it? You don't want to talk about Paris, so you talk about Saudi Arabia?
Ahmed Ben Hessana: We may be a moderate society, but you cannot do whatever you like. Our society is modern and open to civilization, but this does not mean we should take things to the extreme, and shatter all our values.
Yamina Thabet: What extreme are you talking about?!
Ahmed Ben Hessana: Today, they want to abolish the criminalization of homosexuality, tomorrow it will be incest, and the next day zoophilia, and after zoophilia…
You cannot do just anything, even in intimate surroundings. Your criterion is that anything done behind closed doors is okay.
Yamina Thabet: No, the criterion is that what is done is one's personal life must be consensual. A person is free in his personal life.
Zoophilia?! With all due respect, this has to do with animal rights.
Moderator: What do you care what people do in their homes?
Ahmed Ben Hessana: This is secret prostitution. Our values are the minimum that keep us together as a society. We should preserve the minimum. We mustn't let everything crumble. Besides, the act that you are defending contradicts the constitution.
Yamina Thabet: This guy talks about zoophilia. He has a well-defined logic… Next thing you'll be saying that the animal has consented… Well, I see you know all about animals… Fine. God bless you. Let me finish what I have to day. You talk about moral values, but you don't respect the ethics of dialogue.
Ahmed Ben Hessana: You've cut me off at least ten times.
Yamina Thabet: That's absurd. What needs to be said today is that Tunisian society has transformed into a democracy, and its principles are the universal principles of human rights. What we fear today is the logic that says that security trumps individual liberties, as this might take us back to frightening times.