But in the past couple weeks, Tunisians have been confronted with a much more violent face of Islam.
The Oct. 14 demonstration by the salafists was prompted by anger over the airing of the animated film Persepolis by a Tunisian TV channel, Nessma.
Persepolis is based on a graphic novel by French-Iranian Marjan Satrapi, which tells the story of the 1979 Iranian revolution through the eyes of a little girl.
What drew the ire of the salafists – and many ordinary Muslims as well – was a short scene in which the main character imagines a conversation with God, who is represented as an old man with a long beard. In Islam, all depictions of God are strictly forbidden.
Friday’s march began peacefully, but it ended with an angry mob breaking into the house of Nessma TV’s owner, Nabil Karoui, and attempting to set it on fire.
Mr. Karoui’s public apology over the airing of Persepolis – he said he wasn’t aware of the scene – has not succeeded in calming the salafists’ anger.
“They have attacked God and the Tunisian people," said student Younes Omar during the demonstration. "Nessma TV should be shut down.”
Mr. Omar is convinced that the airing of Persepolis was part of a plot by the West to anger Muslims and show them in a bad light. “They’re hoping that violent Islamic demonstrations will make people think twice about voting for Nahda,” he said. (Nessma TV is partly owned by Mediaset, the media company belonging to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.)
At the other side of the spectrum there is deep suspicion over the role that Nahda has played in demonstrations by radical Islamic militants.