Last Thursday evening, April 8th, the vaunted hero of the American Left and the denizens of the “politically correct” intellectual enclaves made his return appearance at Cooper Union in New York City. In a panel discussion entitled, “Secularism, Islam and Democracy: Muslims in Europe and the West,” Tariq Ramadan, the formerly “exiled” professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University, took center stage at the forum sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Association of University Professors, PEN American Center, the American Academy of Religion and Slate Magazine. The audience of approximately 600 people consisted of those who call him “slippery,” “double-faced” and “dangerous” and his left-wing apologists who refer to him as “brilliant,” a “bridge-builder” and a “Muslim Martin Luther.”
Controversy has swirled around Ramadan for the better part of his adult life. He is the grandson of Hassan al Banna who, in 1928, founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and is the son of Said Ramadan who is credited with bringing the Muslim Brotherhood to Germany where it eventually spread throughout Europe. Born in Switzerland when his father was exiled from Egypt by Gamal Abdul Nasser, Ramadan studied philosophy, literature and social sciences at the University of Geneva and pursued a Master’s degree in philosophy and French literature. He received his Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic studies. He is best known for his duplicitous positions on Islamic radicalism. His passive and ostensibly reasoned posture while speaking to Western audiences betrays his bellicose commitment to the furtherance of Sharia law that he reserves exclusively for Muslim-only gatherings.
The website of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy says of Ramadan:
Ramadan is a self-proclaimed Salafi-reformist whose version of reform appears to basically be a modernization of the political system prevalent at the time of the Prophet Mohammed rather than advocacy for individual liberty and the separation of mosque and state. A ‘rock star’ among the many European Muslims, namely Islamists, Ramadan is considered the most cited individual on Islam in Europe. Ramadan eloquently uses language that supports the precepts of non-violence and involvement in western society, yet he does not distance himself in any way or nearly adequately from the supremacy of political Islam and the concept of the Islamic State. His excuse is that he is speaking ‘from within Muslims.’ But this prevents a real understanding of his ideas on political Islam, the Islamic state and Sharia versus constitutional republics and the establishment clause. It prevents a real understanding of his position on the Muslim Brotherhood and thus becomes actual tacit support of the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ramadan has been unacceptably deceptive on issues related to Sharia such as laws against apostasy, proscribed punishments under Islamic law, the continued viability of the Islamic state and the Ummah, one law versus Sharia law, and real equality for women in all settings to name a few. His positions remain essentially in line with the Muslim Brotherhood, which remains against the best interests of Muslims. His access to media portrays a homogeneity to Muslim opinions which is outright false and denies the real diversity in Muslim communities and ideologies.
Ramadan accepted the tenured position of Henry R. Luce Professor of Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame University in February 2004, but in August of that year, U.S. Customs officials denied Ramadan entry into the country under the “ideological exclusion provision” of the Patriot Act. The university filed a petition on Ramadan’s behalf but hearing nothing from the government, he resigned from the post in December 2004. Ramadan was later denied other attempts to get visas so he could honor speaking engagements with the ACLU, the American Association of University Professors and the PEN American Center being among the groups wanting to host him and arguing on his behalf in the ensuing legal wars. After a federal judge ordered the government to make a decision on Ramadan’s pending visa request, his application was denied in September 2006 with a U.S. consular officer concluding the academic’s actions “constituted providing material support to a terrorist organization.”
The government’s evidence was $940 Ramadan gave to two charity groups that the U.S. Treasury Department linked to Hamas in August 2003. On January 20, 2010, the American State Department had decided, in a document signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to lift the ban that prohibited Ramadan (as well as Professor Adam Habib from South Africa) from entering the United States. And now, Ramadan has triumphantly returned to the US for what some call the “Tariq Ramadan American Islamist Victory Tour 2010.”
Ramadan was introduced by Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project which litigates cases concerning dissent, discrimination, detention, surveillance and due process. He was counsel to the plaintiffs in American Academy of Religion v Chertoff, the lawsuit that ended the ban on Ramadan. Hailing him as the sacrificial lamb of the Bush administration’s anti-Islamic agenda, Jaffer said this evening was dedicated “to creating a safe political space for the exchange of ideas.”
The panel was moderated by Jacob Weisberg, the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of The Slate Group, which publishes Slate magazine and other websites. Weisberg introduced the other members of the panel, but noted that the evening would focus on the philosophies of Tariq Ramadan and that he’d be asking some hard hitting questions. The other panel members included Dalia Mogahed, a Senior Analyst and Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and the co-author of a book entitled, “Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think,” George Packer, a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of “The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq,” Joan Wallach Scott, professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advance Study and the author of the “Politics of the Veil.” She is known internationally for writings that theorize gender as an analytic category.
Ramadan took the lectern and thanked the sponsoring groups for championing his free speech rights and then went on to say that while he is sharply critical of American policy vis-à-vis Iraq and Afghanistan, he is not anti-Western and feels that Muslims in Europe can maintain a pro-Western lifestyle while closely adhering to their Islamic beliefs. He said that Islamic women were now taking their place in the forefront of those who frame the debate on the dual role of Muslims in a secular European culture and those who remain faithful to Koranic principles.
“Islam is really a Western religion and Muslims in Europe can and should be loyal citizens of the countries in which they live. Many people are scared of the Muslim presence in Europe but we know that we can integrate diversity through secularism, humility, respect and consistency. Muslim women are informing the process and if you look at them you think they’re oppressed, but when you hear the way they think and speak, they’re clearly a driving force in Islam,” said Ramadan.
Concerning his thoughts on the Bush administration, Ramadan intoned, “Bush implied that all Muslims were ‘others,’ they were different and somehow dangerous. While I am a vocal opponent of US policy in the Middle East, all I am saying is that I am against the murder of Iraqi civilians and I am waiting for the new administration to be an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am still waiting because I don’t see it as of yet in the Obama administration.”
Ramadan’s detractors view his rhetoric quite differently. “Tariq Ramadan’s entry into America needs to be met with open dialogue from the Muslim Community, non-Muslim organizations and the media on the real threat of Political Islam,” says M. Zuhdi Jasser, the president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD). “It is incumbent on all Americans, especially American Muslims, to engage Ramadan at any opportunity to demonstrate that the US Constitution trumps the construct of the Islamic State.” He went on to say, “To give Ramadan an unfettered platform for his dissimulation while also perpetuating his message of victimization is to give him and his clerical colleagues a status which will forever retard real reform within Muslim thought. Real reform comes from those Muslim leaders with the personal strength of character to call for an end to the Islamic state and the separation of mosque and state. Ramadan has not. Rather, he is a soft tongued global instrument of political Islam against the bulwark of real freedom and liberty as we know it in the United States.”
Pajamas Media columnist and prolific author, Phyllis Chesler stated in a March 25, 2010 article entitled, “Bin Laden Threatens America, NYC Welcomes Tariq Ramadan,” “Ramadan is not my problem, I know him for the snake he is. Rather, it would be the sight of so many Americans who’ve glamorized him, who are fooled by him, who have come to worship Death at his feet.”
Panelist George Packer of The New Yorker magazine asked Ramadan why he never roundly condemned his grandfather, Hassan al Banna, for his unyielding support and succour of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who spent years in Nazi Germany and advocated the mass extermination of the Jews. Ramadan danced around the question saying that his grandfather was misquoted and that he never advocated a totalitarian or fascist regime but only supported the Mufti in terms of his fierce opposition to the creation of the State of Israel. Packer pressed Ramadan on this point and asked how his grandfather could flagrantly align himself with someone who extolled such a pernicious philosophy of classical anti-Semitism. Ramadan refused to admit that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was anti-Semitic but rather claimed that he was righteous in his position that Palestine should not be colonized by the Jews of Europe or the West.
Charges of anti-Semitism have dogged Ramadan since he penned an article in 2003 entitled, “Critique of the (New) Communalist Intellectuals.” Ramadan’s main argument was that “French Jewish intellectuals” — like Bernard-Henri Lévy, Alain Finkielkraut, Bernard Kouchner, André Glucksmann and Pierre-André Taguieff (in fact not Jewish at all) — who used to be “considered universalist intellectuals” had become knee-jerk defenders of Israel and thus “had relativized the defense of universal principles of equality and justice.” Ramadan was trying to turn the tables on those who accuse Muslims of obsessing about their victimhood by accusing “Jewish intellectuals” of doing precisely that: Thinking of just their own tribal concerns, while Ramadan’s pursuit of justice for Palestinians was supposedly part of a universalist project.
On the question of the rampant oppression of women in the Muslim world, panelist Joan Wallach Scott, a Ramadan supporter, asserted that the issue of gender equality “has been used as a veil” to divert attention from the “social inequality” of Muslims in the Western hemisphere. Citing purported discriminatory practices against Muslims in such countries as France, Scott said that “unemployment is higher for Muslims in France than it is for French nationals” and that Muslims are viewed as “inferior” in the West. From a historical perspective she described Muslims as a “colonized people,” subject to prejudice in its most banal form.
Refusing to address such pervasive misogynistic practices in the Islamic world as forced marriages, stonings, beatings, immolations and honor murders of women, Scott pointed to what she perceived as the sheer hypocrisy of Western patriarchy, which she claims is trying to interfere with the reproductive rights of American women, but is “suddenly concerned and overly involved in the oppression of Muslim women.” She concluded by saying that Muslim women wear head scarves, veils, burqas and hijab on their own volition and not because they are coerced by the religious dictums of Islamic culture. She called gender equality a “political tool” that has nothing to do with protecting the rights of Muslim women.
Ramadan also heaped criticism on Dutch intellectual, feminist activist, writer, and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who also happens to be a prominent critic of Islam. “Ali believes that Islam is problematic and that one cannot be a Muslim and open to democracy at the same time. She believes that the only way to be a Muslim is to become an ex-Muslim.” He remained silent on the issue of the religious dogma of Islam that opposes any government that is not ruled by Sharia law or the practice of religious apartheid that is practiced in many Muslim countries.
When questioned about his statements pertaining to homosexuals being anathema in Islamic law and how the Muslim world is being forced to accept homosexuality in order to appear politically correct and more Westernized, Ramadan deftly skirted the question by figuratively tipping his hat to “political correctness” by saying “this is how Muslims perceive the world is viewing them, not how they perceive themselves. You can disagree with someone being gay but we should respect that person and not tell him or her that they are not a Muslim because of this.”
The evening concluded with the reading of several pithy questions from audience members that were read aloud by the moderator. It was not at all difficult to see that Ramadan had not fooled everyone as challenging questions were presented to him by the audience and several people commented that in order to understand the real Tariq Ramadan, they should read the books entitled “The Islamist, The Journalist, and the Defense of Liberalism: Who’s Afraid of Tariq Ramadan?” by Paul Berman and “Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan” by Caroline Fourest.
Ramadan continues his American odyssey in the next few weeks in such cities as Chicago, Detroit, Washington and Garden Grove, California.