[Tariq Ramadan] Too Scary for the Classroom?
- New York Times
September 1, 2004
Too Scary for the Classroom?
By TARIQ RAMADAN
Geneva Right now, I am supposed to be in South Bend, Ind., beginning
my term as a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Notre
Dame. After all, my petition for a work/residence visa in the United
States was granted in May, after meticulous clearance procedures. But
nine days before I was to move, I received an urgent message from the
American Embassy: my visa had been revoked. If I wished to reapply, I
was told, I was welcome to do so; but no reasons for the revocation were
given. Classes have now begun at Notre Dame, while my wife and children
and I wait here in a barren apartment.
The State Department's reasoning remains a mystery. For some time I have
been considered a controversial figure in France; but this was well
known by the American government when I received the visa in the spring.
I have been accused of engaging in "double talk" - that is, of
delivering a gentle message in French and English, and a radical,
violent one in Arabic.
My detractors have tried to demonstrate that I have links with
extremists, that I am an anti-Semite and that I despise women.
Repeatedly I have denied these assertions, and asked my critics to show
evidence from my writings and public comments. Their failure to do so
has had little effect: I am repeatedly confronted with magazine articles
and Web postings repeating these accusations as facts and fabricating
And now the web of lies has spread across the Atlantic Ocean. The most
damaging accusations were in an article in Vanity Fair claiming that I
had written the preface to a volume of essays that endorsed the stoning
of women caught in adultery. Actually, the book condemned the practice
I admit that my intellectual project is inherently controversial. My
goal is to foster communities within the Islamic world that are seeking
a path between their often bitter experience with some American and
European policies on the one hand, and the unacceptable violence of
Islamic extremists on the other. I understand, share and publicly
discuss many of the Muslim criticisms of "Western" governments,
including the deleterious worldwide effects of unregulated American
I find current American policies toward the Middle East misguided and
counterproductive, a position I believe I share with millions of
Americans and Europeans. Yet I have also criticized many so-called
Islamic governments, including that of Saudi Arabia, for their human
rights violations and offenses against human dignity, personal freedom
My more specific stances have also raised hackles in France. For
example, I strongly oppose France's new law banning female students from
wearing head scarves, although on general human rights grounds rather
than because I am a Muslim. (I condemn the kidnapping of two French
journalists in Iraq and think the French government should not submit to
the blackmail of the kidnappers, who say they will kill the captives
unless the ban is overturned.)
I was also accused of anti-Semitism after I criticized some leading
French intellectuals - including Bernard-Henri Lévy and Alain
Finkielkraut - for abandoning France's noble traditions of universalism
and personal freedom because of their anxiety over Muslim immigration
and their support for Israel.
The fact is, in the more than 20 books, 700 articles and 170 audio tapes
I have produced, one will find no double talk, but a consistent set of
themes, and an insistence that my fellow Muslims unequivocally condemn
radical views and acts of extremism.
Just days after 9/11, I gave an interview calling on Muslims to condemn
the attacks and to acknowledge that the terrorists betrayed the Islamic
message. I have denounced anti-Semitism, criticizing Muslims who do not
differentiate between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a political
issue and the unacceptable rejection of individual Jews because of their
religion and heritage. I have called for a spiritual reformation that
will lead to an Islamic feminism. I reject every kind of mistreatment of
women, including domestic violence, forced marriage and female
My opponents also accuse me of being the grandson of Hassan al-Banna,
the founder of the radical Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt. I plead
guilty to this charge. My response is: am I to be judged by the words
and deeds of an ancestor?
Those critics obsessed with my genealogy ought to examine my
intellectual pedigree, which includes advanced study of Descartes, Kant
and Nietzsche, among others. They should examine the time I have spent
working in poverty-stricken areas with the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and
the Brazilian human-rights leader Dom Helder Camara, as well as with
countless other Christians and Jews, agnostics and atheists.
For 20 years, I have dedicated myself to studying Islamic scripture,
Western and Eastern philosophies and societies, and built an identity
that is truly Western and truly Muslim. I make no apologies for taking a
critical look at both Islam and the West; in doing so I am being true to
my faith and to the ethics of my Swiss citizenship. I believe Muslims
can remain faithful to their religion and be able, from within
pluralistic and democratic societies, to oppose all injustices.
I also feel it is vital that Muslims stop blaming others and indulging
in victimization. We are responsible for reforming our societies. On the
other hand, blindly supporting American or European policies should not
be the only acceptable political stance for Muslims who seek to be
considered progressive and moderate.
In the Arab and Islamic world, one hears a great deal of legitimate
criticism of American foreign policy. This is not to be confused with a
rejection of American values. Rather, the misgivings are rooted in five
specific grievances: the feeling that the United States role in the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unbalanced; the longstanding American
support of authoritarian regimes in Islamic states and indifference to
genuine democratic movements (particularly those that have a religious
bent); the belief that Washington's policies are driven by short-term
economic and geostrategic interests; the willingness of some prominent
Americans to tolerate Islam-bashing at home; and the use of military
force as the primary means of establishing democracy.
Instead of war, the Arab and Muslim worlds seek evidence of a lasting
and substantive commitment by the United States to policies that would
advance public education, equitable trade and mutually profitable
economic and cultural partnerships. For this to occur, America first has
to trust Muslims, genuinely listen to their hopes and grievances, and
allow them to develop their own models of pluralism and democracy.
Simply sponsoring a few Arabic TV and radio channels will not lead to
real changes in Muslims' perceptions. Instead, America's only chance of
making peace with the Islamic world depends on consistency between words
and actions, and the development of cross-cultural trust over time.
I believe Western Muslims can make a critical difference in the Muslim
majority world. To do this, we must become full, independent Western
citizens, working with others to address social, economic and political
problems. However, we can succeed only if Westerners do not cast doubt
on our loyalty every time we criticize Western governments. Not only do
our independent voices enrich Western societies, they are the only way
for Western Muslims to be credible in Arab and Islamic countries so that
we can help bring about freedom and democracy. That is the message I
advocate. I do not understand how it can be judged as a threat to
Tariq Ramadan is the author, most recently, of "Western Muslims and the
Future of Islam."