Letter from Tunisia

Roar runs a periodic feature, “Letter From Tunisia,” written by Kemal Benyounes. Kemal is a dual citizen of the United States and Tunisia, is Muslim, blind, and lives in Tunis.  He offers a unique perspective on life in the mideast, the 2016 election of Trump as well as the Arab Spring and ongoing conflicts.  (Revolts recently led to a transition to a constitutional democracy in Tunisia.)

The country I grew up in and love seems to be changing and not for the better. There seems to be more intolerance and fear than I can ever remember. The poor, the weak, the fragile are being picked on as never before. This is not something I would have ever associated with the greatest country on Earth.

Many years ago a child came to this country from a foreign land with foreign customs and language. What this child found in the United States of America was a welcoming and kind people. These people tried, and largely succeeded in, helping the youngster adjust to the new surroundings and to learn the language. Though the kid’s visual disability was a problem, it was not allowed by the kid’s teachers or parents to be an obstacle. That child was of course, me.

Over the last few years: A disturbing trend has surfaced and seems to have taken root in the country. There is a growing meanness in the country. A hard-hearted attitude towards the poor, the dispossessed, the disabled, and the minority of all stripes. I suppose there are many things to account for this but none of them either exonerating or positive.

My ideas and ideals were inspired and given form by the United States and the positive forward looking ambition of a country, though sometimes falling short, to better the lives of its citizens and of people around the world. Programs such as the peace corps abroad and medicare at home were evidence of a humane country.

Other nations around the world wanted to imitate this progressive country. Though most of the time they did not succeed. There was always the hope for a better world while countries and people aspired to be like the U. S.

While I was growing up, I felt anything was possible in this great nation. Anything was possible for me and for the country and the world as long as the benevolent and idealistic vision of this U. S. was in the ascendant.

There is a part of President Kennedy’s address to Amherst College in 1963 that best encapsulates how America has been viewed by me and many others around the world.

“I look forward to a great future for America–a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future. I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction.”

It is this soaring idealism that I found in the country when my family and I moved to the U. S.

Now, to witness the slow disintegration of this country into mean, petty, and self destructive division is not only heart-rending but scary as well. The only thing that can best summarize what has taken place over the last 36 years and especially with the installation of Trump is squalid.

Yet I still believe, that there is enough good will and common sense in America to overcome the mean and petty dictates of the current administration, though for purposes of this letter only I will refer to Donald Trump, President of the United States.

When I hear of so many people who reject that kind of mean, petty, vindictive talk and actions. When so many people are taking to the streets to say that no Trump you will not turn this country into Nazi Germany. Or when government officials despite risks to their jobs and possibly to their freedom want to give people the information to arm themselves against this vicious tyranny fueling racism and violence. When a magazine such as RoarFeminist was founded to shine a light on the path of resistance and unity. There might, yet, be possible to dream that the country will get back its moral vigor and humane nature and not sink into a fearful and feared loathesome pariah. Though as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said; “the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice. We must not only hope that this is so but all Americans of good will and love for their country must make it so. I, too, still believe in a place called Hope.


Kemal Benyounces is a 51-year-old, blind, duel citizen living in Tunisia. He graduated from Towson State University with a BS in Political Science and History. He moved to Tunisia to have better support for his disability. Kemal is married with two children. Kemal can be reached at: kemalbenyounes@gmail.com.

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