Just days after the 7/7 suicide bombings in London last summer that killed 52 innocent civilians, England was in an uproar when the London Times reported that Tariq Ramadan – a Swiss citizen accused by several nations of having longtime terrorist ties and who in the past has proved skittish at denouncing Palestinian suicide bombings – was scheduled to speak in London at a taxpayer-sponsored event. As Europe’s most outspoken Muslim and a self-proclaimed “moderate,” Ramadan and the British Muslim community lashed back, decrying the protests as “Islamophobia.”
But less than a year after those murderous attacks and the public outcry surrounding Ramadan’s visit to London, there was hardly a whimper of protest when on May 1st, Tariq Ramadan took over the primetime airwaves of Britain’s Channel 4 (a not-for-profit, publicly-owned station) in an hour-long program scripted and presented by Ramadan himself. The program, Dispatches: The Muslim Reformation, was clearly intended to be a public response to Ramadan’s international critics and actively promoted his call to European Muslims to follow his plan of integration, confrontation, and cultural empowerment. Thanks to some friends in the UK, I was able to view the program.
Observers in America may recall the tempest in 2004 concerning Tariq Ramadan when he was denied a visa to the U.S. just days before he was to assume a three-year professorship of “religion, conflict and peacebuilding” at the University of Notre Dame. The Department of Homeland Security provided no reason for their decision, but many suspected that Ramadan’s ties to terrorist organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood (founded by Tariq Ramadan’s grandfather, Hasan al-Banna), and his open association with terrorist sympathizers, including Muslim Brotherhood cleric Youssef Qaradawi, were to blame.
Almost immediately after the DHS decision was announced, Ramadan’s visa denial was condemned by the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and the L.A. Times, in addition to the usual suspects in academia who expressed their outrage over the supposed suppression of free inquiry and free speech. Earlier this year, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government naming Ramadan as a plaintiff and challenging provisions of the Patriot Act for denying Ramadan an entry visa.
An op-ed by Paul Donnelly published at the time by the Washington Post described Ramadan as a “Muslim Martin Luther.” This was far from the first time that the U.S. mainstream media had rallied to Tariq Ramadan’s cause and lavished him with praise: in 2000, Time Magazine had named Ramadan one of their top 100 Innovators for the 21st Century.
Just why has Tariq Ramadan’s message of “moderate” and “contextualized” Islam raised so many suspicions? And what exactly was the message he conveyed during his recent Channel 4 program in England? The answers are important for understanding the social tensions in Europe between Westerners there and the 20 million Muslims that have immigrated to Europe in recent decades, as well as taking a look into the future at the identical cultural conflicts that loom on the horizon for America.
The May 1st program on Channel 4 presented by Tariq Ramadan serves as an excellent snapshot of the social problems in Europe and the ideology espoused by Ramadan and his supporters. The Muslim Reformation was part of Channel 4’s popular investigative program, Dispatches, whose most recent groundbreaking expose was catching RyanAir employees sleeping on the job earlier this year. Ramadan is also a regular fixture on Channel 4’s Sharia TV.
Even though The Muslim Reformation was part of Channel 4’s Dispatches investigative series, this should not be interpreted to mean that the program was a critical look at Ramadan: the program was filmed by a production company he is associated with (Crescent Films), and he scripted, narrated and presented the program in its entirety. Tariq Ramadan had total control over what was said and what was shown. It should be no surprise then that none of Ramadan’s critics were interviewed to pester him with questions about his terrorist ties or his public statements that have been criticized for anti-Semitism, excusing Palestinian suicide bombings or challenging the alleged “moderation” of his view of Islam.
Most of the program is dedicated to recording visits that Ramadan makes with certain Muslim leaders in the UK, as well as trips he makes to Paris, Copenhagen, Cologne and Pakistan. The key theme he centers on in his discussions is the doctrine of ijtihad, an Islamic legal practice that allows for the reinterpretation of Islamic texts, which he advocates for and tries to contrast with “literalist” Islamic interpretations of the Qur’an. He states early on in the program that ijtihad is “an alternative to radicalism and the literal approach to Islam,” which he says “has been my personal jihad for many years.” He claims further that “Muslims in Europe want to reopen the debate and look at the Qur’an with new eyes.”
Early in the Channel 4 program he gives his version of ijtihad a spin in a discussion he has with Dr. Musharraf Hussain of the Karimia Institute in Nottingham regarding the Qur’anic injunction to cut off the hands of thieves (Sura 5:38). This discussion of the application of Shari’a law is important because of previous statements made by Ramadan’s brother, Hani, in September 2002 article in Le Monde where he advocated for the stoning of adulterous women. Tariq Ramadan was later confronted with his brother’s statements in a televised debate with French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarzoky at which time he advocated for a “moratorium” on the imposition of Islamic punishments.
In answer to this public relations problem, here is what Dr. Hussain had to say:
I think we have no right as the slaves and servants of God in any way to challenge or change the divine decree. What it is doing to us is setting for us a very high ideal of a fair punishment and a very powerful deterrent to protect human societies and to rid them of the evil of theft. This verse is laying down a law which is to be applied in an Islamic context and an Islamic state. We’re not talking about the application of this law in a non-Muslim democracy. The law itself, the divine law, is indeed very wise; it is very just. It would save our chief constables an enormous amount of headache. It is all about zero tolerance that crimes of this nature of burglary, of stealing, of theft are of a very severe nature and they have to be curtailed and they have to be stopped and this is a very powerful deterrent and just divine decree, really.
In an attempt to contrast his “moderate” position with Hussain’s “literalist” interpretation of the Quranic injunction in question, Ramadan responded by stating in reply:
My view is that these verses were revealed for particular context which assumes a high level of social justice and equality. These conditions do not exist today, so the punishment should not be enforced.
What is striking when these two positions are compared is that they are in effect saying exactly the same thing. Both affirm that the divine laws expressed in the Qur’an are immutable (Ramadan stating such prior to his interview with Hussain) and acknowledge the abiding validity of Islamic laws. Both agree that Shari’a law is not appropriate in the present context of a (currently) non-Muslim Britain. But they both view these extreme forms of punishment as representing a high view of “social justice and equality” that by inference mean that current Western norms fall short of. It is clear that both Ramadan and Hussain believe that this “social justice and equality” is something that that societies should strive for. At best, Ramadan’s moratorium on the imposition of Shari’a law is clearly temporary, and the contrast he tries to represent between his position and that of Dr. Hussain is really a distinction without a difference.
Later in the program, Ramadan travels to Paris to meet with an old associate, Yamin Makry of the Young Muslims of France organization, which Ramadan prefaces by saying,
Elsewhere in Europe, opportunities for Muslims to live their faith and to participate in society sometimes seems to be getting worse…the French state has not allowed its Muslim and Arab citizens real equal citizenship.
Both Ramadan and Makry accuse French society for harboring latent racism that they contend was the primary cause of the car-burning intifada last November throughout the cities of France. Ramadan bluntly states that the French riots by young Muslims “had nothing to do with Islam; it was an outburst of pent-up frustration” over the perceived inequality by Muslims in French society.
This theme of White European social guilt and dismissing violence by Muslims is picked up again as Ramadan traveled to Copenhagen to discuss the protests surrounding the publication of cartoons by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten characterizing the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. As Ramadan explains, the international wave of protests and violence by Muslims that followed, including more than 50 deaths and the burning of several Western embassies in the Middle East, was the responsibility of Westerners, not the Muslims who were actually engaged in the violent activities:
The Danish newspaper was, in my view, deliberately provoking a reaction…Publishing the cartoons was in my view a calculated provocation aimed at all Muslims. What it has done is to make my work and the work of mainstream Muslims more difficult. The cartoon affair was just more fuel on the fires of hatred which are fanned daily by Western policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the occupation of Iraq. These issues polarize Muslim opinion and have led to the rise of extremist Islamic political groups in Europe. It creates an us-and-them version of the world that looks back to the idea of the non-Muslim world as a “House of War” – a vision like that of the four young bombers who brought such terror to the streets of London. I am completely against these acts of terror carried out in the name of my religion, but many Muslims sympathize with the Palestinian leaders who have used suicide bombers as a weapon against Israel. They claim when the oppressor has the tanks and the troops, it is legitimate for young Palestinians to become human bombs.
As Ramadan makes clear, the publication of the cartoons wasn’t just intended to provoke Muslims – it was part of the Western pro-Zionist conspiracy. It is indeed telling how Ramadan seamlessly links the Danish Cartoon intifada with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as if it were a part of an ideological feedback loop – the West is always to blame for their racism and religious bigotry and Muslims are never responsible for their acts of violence.
Also telling is his pretended rejection of suicide bombing. While claiming to be “against these acts of terror,” he immediately qualifies the reasonableness of those who advocate for terrorism against Israel. This position is taken straight from the American leftist playbook: “I’m personally opposed to suicide bombings, but I would never prevent someone from exercising their right to conduct one against the Zionist oppressors.”
Ramadan identifies these Western policies as the cause of the rise of extremist Islamic political groups and the source of the “us-and-them” worldview of the “four young” (and it should be noted – Muslim) 7/7 London suicide bombers.
Admittedly, not everything that Ramadan says in the program borders on the extreme. Take, for instance, this statement made early on in the program:
European Muslims do not see the world as their ancestors did, divided into a medieval “House of Islam” and the rest as a hostile “House of War.”
This would be a major advance in Muslim-Western relations if it was proved true, but does this statement jibe with the state of affairs he presents during the program? Especially in his discussion of the recent French car-burning intifada and the Danish Cartoon protests, didn’t he claim that young Muslims in Europe felt alienated from the Western cultures they inhabit? Doesn’t his justification of violence by Muslims in reaction to this alleged alienation and in response to the West’s “pro-Zionist” policies assume the Manichean dichotomy that he claims that European Muslims have now rejected? And does he not identify a vision of “us-and-them” resulting from Western pro-Zionist policies that has increased “extreme Islamic political groups” and provoked the 7/7 suicide bombers? His rosy assessment of the shift in belief amongst European Muslims about their role in Western society is belied by the very evidence he presents throughout the program.
To his credit, in Ramadan’s closing remarks he doesn’t hesitate to direct some criticism at the Muslim community in Europe and in the Muslim world:
As I come to the end of my journey I am convinced that Muslims in Europe have to find a path between the secular West and the traditional East. Islam in the Muslim majority countries is trapped; it is trapped by undemocratic regimes and reactionary clerics…
So far, so good, but he immediately qualifies his position with this reversal:
…Resistance to change is reinforced by resentment at what Muslims see as the double standards of Western policies towards the Muslim world.
Yet again, Tariq Ramadan contends that the problems of Muslims living in the West and the cultural adaptations they need to make to integrate into Western societies are not really in their own hands, but the hands of non-Muslim Westerners. The West is responsible for the alleged policies and double standards that fuel their resentment. Ramadan provides justification for Muslims in the West for their refusal to socially integrate until Western culture reverses it’s internal and foreign policies to their liking and abandons the very values that have made the West a bastion of personal and political freedoms that many of the Muslim immigrants in Europe could not find in their own Muslim countries.
It might be tempting to dismiss Tariq Ramadan and the approach he advocates in his Channel 4 program as the isolated views of one Muslim man in the West. It should be kept in mind that not only is Ramadan a prolific Islamic thinker, writer and speaker with a dozen books in publication and hundreds of recorded lectures that sell more than 50,000 units per year circulating in the European Muslim community and beyond. Ramadan is also looked to as THE “moderate” response to Islamist extremists and terrorists by Western academic, media and political elites, as witnessed by Time Magazine’s designation of Ramadan as one of the top 100 Innovators of the 21st Century. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that Ramadan has assumed the leading role in setting the cultural agenda for Muslims throughout Europe today. Just how many other Muslims would you think get their own free primetime program on Channel 4 or the BBC?
What makes Ramadan’s rhetoric so troubling is that it is far and away the dominant voice of Muslims in Europe today. Equally disconcerting is that it is built upon a paradigm of duplicity that underlies the “moderate” position of Muslims in the West, as well as justifying a policy of cultural blackmail by Muslims purposefully delaying their integration into the cultures of their adopted countries until the West accedes to their demands. In effect, Ramadan is telling the West that their mountain must come to Muhammad. In the end, any accommodation of Muslims to Western culture must be predicated by a compromise by Westerners of Western values. Ramadan’s program of ijtihad is not a call for modernizing Islam, but rather, a battle plan for his Muslim audience in the West to follow to Islamize the West. All evidence indicates that Tariq Ramadan’s battle plan is succeeding.
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