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[Tariq Ramadan] Too Scary for the Classroom?

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  • Joseph M. Hochstein
    New York Times September 1, 2004 OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR Too Scary for the Classroom? By TARIQ RAMADAN http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/01/opinion/01ramadan.html?th
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2004
      New York Times
      September 1, 2004
      Too Scary for the Classroom?

      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      American Embassy: my visa had been revoked.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
      new ones.

      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
      as un-Islamic.

      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
      and pluralism.

      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."
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