• September 1, 2015

Vetting Tariq Ramadan

Vetting Tariq Ramadan 1

Jean Sebastien Evrard, Agence France-Presse, Getty Images

Tariq Ramadan at a recent conference in Nantes, France.

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Jean Sebastien Evrard, Agence France-Presse, Getty Images

Tariq Ramadan at a recent conference in Nantes, France.

Like attacking the Catholic Church during its heyday of killing heretics and infidels, criticizing Islamism today is not for those who jump at the sound of bubble wrap cracking.

Ibn Warraq, author of Why I Am Not a Muslim and Defending the West, operates under a pseudonym, a wise move considering that goons called for his murder on a British Muslim Web site in 2008. Bassam Tibi, a Muslim liberal who deems Islamism totalitarian, needed 24-hour police protection in Germany for two years. Magdi Allam, an Egyptian-Italian journalist of similar bent (who further outraged some Muslim peers by converting to Catholicism) travels at times with multiple bodyguards, an entourage also necessary for the Somali-Dutch author Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Infidel, Nomad), who fled to the United States when the Dutch scotched (so to speak) her protection.

The list of critics of Islamism who've paid a high price in loss of personal freedom goes on: Italian journalist Fiamma Nirenstein, French critic and gay-rights activist Caroline Fourest, French philosophy teacher Robert Redeker, Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, and the most famous example of all, the novelist Salman Rushdie, forced into underground life for years after the Ayatollah Khomeini demanded his murder.

The examples come courtesy of Paul Berman, the shrewd, engagé New York intellectual and former MacArthur Foundation fellow who has become, after the death of Susan Sontag, our paramount lifeline to the trenches of French intellectual battle. Berman, author of Terror and Liberalism (Norton, 2003), among other important books, doesn't mention whether he's got his own beefy contingent laying low. But his provocative new The Flight of the Intellectuals (Melville House)—a tough-minded examination of Muslim reformist thinker Tariq Ramadan, at various times dubbed the "best-known Muslim in all of Europe," a "Muslim Martin Luther," and "the prophet of a new Euro-Islam"—gets high marks for bravery at the same time that it highlights another modern truth all public intellectuals should acknowledge.

If it's dangerous to zap Islamism these days, it's not easy being a Muslim reformist thinker, either.

Most coverage of Ramadan in recent years has focused on the U.S. government's revocation of his visa, in 2004, ostensibly because he made contributions to two Islamic charities subsequently linked to terrorism, i.e., Hamas. The revocation forced Ramadan to withdraw from a professorship at the University of Notre Dame. Now that Hillary Clinton has restored Ramadan's visa, Berman's well-researched study comes at an ideal time to focus attention once again on Ramadan as a serious thinker and public force for good or ill. But before doing so, it's useful to review the man and public reputation Berman puts under his microscope.

As with many public figures whose ideas and activities create regular news, Ramadan has seen his biography shrink, under the onslaught of coverage, to a few salient family connections. Yet a fuller version of his biography seems necessary to understand him. Yes, he was famously born in 1962, in Geneva, of Egyptian parents, the maternal grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the often vicious and Islamically imperialistic Muslim Brotherhood, and son of Said Ramadan, a leading figure in that dissident movement who married al-Banna's eldest daughter. Said Ramadan was exiled by Egyptian President Gamal Nasser to Switzerland. But Tariq Ramadan is more than a son and grandson—he is a person with his own unique history and experience.

In Switzerland, Ramadan first specialized in Western philosophy and literature at the University of Geneva, receiving his M.A. for a thesis on Nietzsche as a philosopher of suffering. He began his career as a high-school teacher of philosophy in Geneva, then moved on to a lectureship in philosophy and religion at the University of Fribourg. His fast-growing status and activities as a celebrity public speaker and thinker about Islam, after he received his Ph.D., complicated his later academic career. He sought but then rejected a position as a professor at Leiden University. His visiting professorship at Erasmus University Rotterdam ended when the university judged his hosting of an Iranian TV show about Islam "irreconcilable" with his university duties. With his Notre Dame offer blocked by the visa denial, Ramadan headed back to Oxford, where he had taught as a visiting fellow at St. Antony's College. Since September he's been a chaired professor there of contemporary Islamic studies.

Ramadan's academic success would draw no more than scant attention if not for his media celebrity—some would say notoriety—in Europe after redirecting his energies from Nietzsche to Islam. In What I Believe (Oxford, 2010), a 117-page declaration aimed at general readers confused by his controversial reputation, Ramadan explains that he decided in his late 20s "to engage in what I already considered a major challenge for the future: building bridges, explaining Islam and making it better understood both among Muslims and in the West which I knew so well."

He took his French wife and his children to Egypt, where he embarked on an intense, 20-month study of Islam, and his family studied both Islam and Arabic. "I now meant," he writes, "to stand up for my religion, explain it, and, above all, show that we have so much in common with Judaism and Christianity but also with the values advocated by countless humanists, atheists, and agnostics. I meant to question prejudices, to question false constructions of Europe's past (from which Islam was supposed to be absent), and of course, help open the way confidently to living together in harmony as our common future requires."

It's hardly rhetoric to stir a firestorm, but the plot thickens. Since around 1997, Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaisse report in their evenhanded assessment of Ramadan in Integrating Islam: Political and Religious Challenges in Contemporary France (Brookings, 2006), the philosopher-preacher has "led thousands of prayer meetings throughout France and Europe," and sold "approximately 50,000 cassettes of his recorded sermons" annually. In addition to the more than 20 books, 700 articles, and 170 sermons that they credit to him, Ramadan has been an "impressively prolific commentator" on French-language Internet sites, served as a consultant to the president of a European commission on Islam, and debated former French Interior Minister (and current President) Nicolas Sarkozy on live TV.

Laurence and Vaisse attribute to Ramadan an emphasis, in his public speaking, on "the responsibilities of Muslims in the West to think beyond their own grievances." He does not, they say, seek, in a ham-fisted way, "to adapt fiqh [Muslim jurisprudence] to the European context." Ramadan's oft-stated belief that Islam and secular democracy can exist together, that Muslims in Europe should actively contribute to secular European society, that Islamic, and all identity, is diverse, jibes well with European liberal notions. So does his view that the Koran should be interpreted as American liberals think we should interpret our Constitution—as a document whose meaning must evolve in the context of later times. Ramadan's opposition to riots and vandalism, and to terrorist violence (with the possible exception, as Berman points out, of violence against Israelis or the Israeli state), also wins him plaudits.

But as Ramadan's profile grew larger and larger, the criticisms, some of which Laurence and Vaisse note, increased. He is accused, they write, "of being a 'prince of doublespeak': essentially, saying one thing in French and another in Arabic." On issues of everyday morality­—homosexuality, birth control, wearing of the hijab—he's been labeled reactionary. Critics have eviscerated him for public moments in which he allegedly sounded ambiguous on the subjects of suicide bombing and the stoning of adulterous women. He's drawn fire over attacking "Jewish intellectuals" for their supposed reflexive defense of Israel, for opposing the French ban on head scarves in primary schools, for alleged links with terrorists.

Are the charges fair? Without doubt, Ramadan is sometimes treated very unfairly, even in what passes as scholarly work. One example is the outrageously slanted article on him in The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism (2007), edited by Antoine Sfeir. The article, which cites no specific author, contains no footnotes, and provides no evidence of charges it raises, states: "The mistrust with which [Ramadan] is viewed in the United States apparently relates to meetings he is said to have arranged between Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No. 2 in Al Qaeda, and Omar Abdel Rahman, who masterminded the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Tariq Ramadan denies having met either man."

Call it the scholarly version of the old innuendo that Mr. Smith denies beating his wife. The article continues, "He is also accused of having associations with Algerian Islamists linked to violent groups, which he also denies." The anonymous author of the piece—a Wikipedialike disgrace in a volume from a distinguished university press—is no kinder to Ramadan's thought, said to be rife with inadequate "logic." Ramadan's intention, the article asserts (ignore that quoted passage above from What I Believe) is always to "assert the superiority of Islam over other monotheistic religions." He offers a "virulent criticism of the West," to which "Islam provides the solution." Revealing one source of animosity, the anonymous author concludes that "like all preachers, the grandson of Hassan al-Banna does not appreciate contradiction."

Other examiners of Ramadan, including leading scholars of Islam, have been fairer and more accurate. Georgetown University's John Esposito, editor in chief of both The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World and The Oxford History of Islam, suggests in The Future of Islam (Oxford, 2010) that the Swiss thinker fudges some of his views of how Islam and the West can operate together for strategic reasons that relate to his aims as an activist. Esposito writes: "Ramadan, conscious that any criticism of the classical tradition risks undermining his credibility and reformist agenda among large sectors of Muslims, ... tries to walk down the middle. Ramadan finds 'space' for reform by maintaining that the Koran permits everything except what is explicitly forbidden by a revealed text or the consensus of religious experts. Thus, for Ramadan, 'the scope for the exercise of reason and creativity is high.'"

Similarly, Laurence and Vaisse, in contrast to Sfeir, fulfill their scholarly responsibility to evaluate charges rather than lean on the debased routine of putatively objective journalism: "A charges C, but B denies C." They write that Ramadan's supposed habit of "doublespeak" (which Ramadan forcefully denies in What I Believe) "was largely discounted by a discursive study undertaken by Khadija Mohsen Finan in 2003." They say that Ramadan has "emerged unscathed from several allegations of links with terrorists" while conceding that "because of the popularity of his speeches," he has had "some contact with a couple of figures who later became involved with terrorism."

To Olivier Roy, the foremost French expert on the politics of Islam, the repetition of many charges against Ramadan, regardless of his denials, amounts to a "witch hunt" (see Roy's Secularism Confronts Islam). Berman does not join that activity. He decided to examine Ramadan at book length, he says, because he increasingly saw his subject as "a representative man of our age," someone who enables us to discuss key issues of Islam's connection to the West.

As we'd expect of a New York intellectual, Berman indefatigably reads prestigious literary periodicals and Web sites, as well as serious books (including, it appears, no fewer than seven French books about Ramadan). His research demands respect, and immeasurably broadens, particularly for the American reader innocent of French journalism and publishing, our portrait of the "charismatic" and "energetic" Ramadan. Yet Berman's approach also takes a prosecutorial form. Focusing repeatedly on a profile of Ramadan by Ian Buruma in The New York Times Magazine that found many accusations against Ramadan, in Berman's words, "groundless, or exaggerated and unjust," Berman marshals his material toward the judgment that Buruma's exoneration is too hasty.

Another aspect of Berman's angle on Ramadan gives pause from the beginning. He starts Chapter Two with this extraordinary statement: "Tariq Ramadan is nothing if not a son, a brother, a grandson, and even a great-grandson—family relations that appear to shape everything he writes and does." The opening syntactical cliché, however, misleads. Is that notion of "nothing but" sensible for a Western liberal, like Berman, who appreciates and champions individualism? Tariq Ramadan was born and educated in Geneva—his far-less-attractive father and grandfather were born and educated in Egypt. Leaving aside concrete evidence that Ramadan's own thinking mirrors the illiberal views of his father and grandfather, isn't this a bad liftoff from a platform of guilt by association? Children of immigrants the world over differ from their parents in profound ways. One of Ramadan's foremost themes has been that we all bear multiple identities. That makes any attempt to reduce him to a channeler of his grandfather's and father's beliefs—absent hard proof that he uniformly adheres to their theses—simplistic.

Berman, to his credit, offers what he considers hard evidence. Ramadan, Berman contends, shows his fealty to his grandfather in a variety of places, primarily in a 200-page "gusher of adulation" toward al-Banna in one of Ramadan's French books, not translated into English but rendered here by Berman as The Roots of the Muslim Renewal. Berman writes that in the book, Ramadan makes a man whose Muslim Brotherhood has been accused of assassinations and bombings, a thinker who expressed pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic views in solidarity with his nefarious friend, Haj Amin al-Husseini (grand mufti of Jerusalem from 1921 to 1948), sound like "the Mahatma Gandhi of the Arab and Muslim world." There is a reason, Berman argues, that an organization such as Hamas honors al-Banna in its organizational charter. Grandpa was, Berman asserts, no "champion of peaceful compromise."

Berman argues convincingly that Ramadan's "apologetics" for al-Banna accentuate everything Western, liberal, and democratic in his work, and omit everything imperialistic, totalitarian, Islamist, fascist, pro-Nazi, or anti-Semitic. Ramadan, as recently as his appearance this spring on a Cooper Union panel in New York, refused to concede that his grandfather was anti-Semitic or totalitarian, preferring to describe al-Banna as anti-Zionist. To be sure, more definitive scholarship in English is needed on al-Banna's work, though Berman seems to have pinned down al-Banna's nasty positions here. But what's the upshot for Ramadan's own thought?

So Ramadan isn't the most reliable interpreter of his grandfather's work. Is that a surprise? Does that mean Ramadan secretly shares his grandfather's most abhorrent beliefs? Might he, rather, be embarrassed by them? Berman, at one point, concedes that "Ramadan is not his grandfather." But later, after gathering plenty of steam in the service of an implied (though invalid) syllogism—Ramadan admires his grandfather, and his grandfather advocated terrible things, so Ramadan must admire terrible things—he makes an extraordinary declaration about Ramadan. "He cannot think for himself," writes Berman. "He does not believe in thinking for himself." On the contrary, "Ramadan obeys and reveres. He especially reveres the people who revere his grandfather."

That's a heavy conclusion to draw from what may be Ramadan's discretion, shame, or any number of attitudes toward what one might call "the family ideology." Berman does yeoman's work in placing the evidence before us, but failing to set aside Ramadan's evaluations of his family as possibly unreliable material, given the extreme deference expected toward one's parents and grandparents in Islamic and Arabic society, suggests a suspension of Berman's own robust common sense. Berman also operates here in shaky psychological territory that makes evaluations of the work of family members unreliable. Do we expect an objective, nonselective assessment from William James of Henry James's work, or from Anna Freud of Sigmund's?

Berman stands on firmer ground when he details Ramadan's deference to Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Qatari-based Islamic scholar and preacher on Al Jazeera TV whose contributions to world peace include suggesting that Hitler was doing Allah's work, and that suicide bombing is just fine. Here's one excerpt Berman provides from a transcript of an al-Qaradawi broadcast in 2009: "Oh, Allah, take this oppressive Jewish, Zionist band of people. Oh, Allah, do not spare a single one of them. Oh, Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one."

"Ramadan reveres al-Qaradawi," Berman writes. If so, Berman is right: Ramadan must explain how he can admire al-Qaradawi in light of such garbage, and how he, Mr. Muslim-Europe Reconciler, reconciles al-Qaradawi's poison with Ramadan's call in What I Believe for "coming together through shared universals, for harmonious coexistence involving mutual enrichment." Is this an instance, as with his father and grandfather, of Ramadan simply picking parts of a thinker he likes, and sidestepping the rest? Is Ramadan's problem that of literary scholars who still appreciate Pound or Eliot or Celine despite their anti-Semitism? Is Ramadan a compartmentalizer or a trickster?

In line with his condescension toward Ramadan as someone who "obeys and reveres," Berman ultimately sees Ramadan as "not a hater." Neither, states Berman, "does he incite," even if there's "a dark smudge of ambiguity" that "runs across everything he writes on the topic of terror and violence." It's understandable that Berman vastly prefers Hirsi Ali as a knowledgeable observer of Islam—she, after all, now rejects it as contrary, almost in toto, to liberal Enlightenment values. To Berman, "Ramadan's chief idea is to construct an Islamic counterculture within the West—a counterculture that, instead of withdrawing behind ghetto walls, will take its place within the larger, modern, non-Muslim society. He wants a share of the public space. ... Or more than wants: he demands a share of the public space." That "will require modifications in the strictly secular system that dominates Europe today." That can sound threatening, as it does in Berman's voice, or no worse than identity politics in the United States—the idea that Latinos, say, might understandably demand a larger part of American public space and culture to accommodate them, their language, and their culture.

The tension between the powerful, well-established story Berman recounts in The Flight of the Intellectuals about the Nazi influence on Arab leaders such as the grand mufti and Ramadan's grandfather, and the puzzle of Ramadan's mix of overt humanist beliefs and obeisance to his forebears, leaves one troubled. Berman's retelling of the story of "Nazified Islam," in his phrase, deserves nothing but applause—it remains far too unknown among the broad public. When Berman adds to it the eye-opening new scholarship by Jeffrey Herf (in such books as Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World), it shows that applying words such as "fascist" to modern Islamic extremism makes far more sense than historically uninformed critics of the term "Islamofascism" realize.

But a sense that Ramadan may be unfairly smeared by such associations also lingers. Berman rightly puts Ramadan on notice that the Swiss thinker's stretch as a martyr for freedom of expression has come to an end. He's back to being that "Muslim Martin Luther" fellow who needs to answer the pointed questions Berman has raised about his allegiances.

In that task, it's only fair to give considerable weight to what Ramadan writes, and to require guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" when the guilt involved is guilt by association. What a philosopher expresses in his own books is not obiter dicta. Would Ramadan's father or grandfather have written, as Ramadan does in What I Believe, that "domestic violence contradicts Islamic teachings," that true Muslims must oppose other Muslims when they "stigmatize the other, produce racism, or justify dictatorship, terrorist attacks, or the murder of innocents"? Would they share Tariq Ramadan's biting view that "Islam has no problem with women, but Muslims do clearly appear to have serious problems with them"?

Berman writes that the vision of a "revitalized Islam" set out in What I Believe is "so bland and uncontroversial that no reasonable and open-minded person could possibly object." That's largely so, but Berman insufficiently acknowledges that it poses a problem for his interpretation of Ramadan. Ramadan himself writes in What I Believe, apropos of critics who claim that where there's smoke, there must be fire, that "one should take the time to look into the origins of that 'fire.'"

Berman has done so. It now behooves Tariq Ramadan to address his own praise of thinkers who make a mockery of his kinder vision if he wants readers and peers to continue to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Carlin Romano, critic at large for The Chronicle Review, teaches philosophy and media theory at the University of Pennsylvania.


1. ethan56 - May 24, 2010 at 10:07 am

I watched the Cooper Union event, which is available on youtube. It was clear that if Ramadan was "misinterpreting" his grandfather's positions, and those of his father to boot, it was not out of ignorance of their actual behavior and writing; rather, it was an intentional misinterpretation. And his holding to that position, as he became increasingly angry when questioned to explain his grandfather's and his father's actual disgusting behavior and positions--this is what made my own suspicions skyrocket.

The same holds for Ramadan's veneration of Sheikh al-Qaradawi. It is impossible for Ramadan not to know al-Qaradawi's vile positions on the most notorious issues of our time, yet he idolizes him, yet claims to be a bridge between Islam and the West. Since Ramadan is clearly not an idiot, but rather a typically arrogant intellectual who hates to be questioned closely, it is this that makes him to me seem way too slick.

And there are many many bien-pensant Western intellectuals all too willing to be snookered by this guy Ramadan, so they can feel that (a) they are not prejudiced, and (b) there is real hope. Hence in 2007 Timothy Garton Ash wrote a notorious piece praises Ramandan's great-uncle Gamal al-Banna, younger brother of Hassan al-Banna, as a gentle, philosophical man surrounded by pious books, just the sort of Muslim intellectual we are all looking for--only for Ash to be embarrased by the discovery that this gentle philosophical old man had approved heartily of 9/11!

2. ellenhunt - May 24, 2010 at 12:00 pm

There is no point in asking people like Tariq Ramadan to "explain" themselves. All anyone will get is lies. He is a man who is following the letter of islam. Islam instructs to lie to infidels, to decieve in the cause of conquest. That is what Ramadan is doing. Ramadan is working on the conquest of the nations of the western world from within.

Many years ago I was talking with a Zoroastrian refugee from Iran who fled the Khomeni's revolution. I made some silly remark the exact content of which I don't even remember. But I will never forget his response. He sat back, is eyes widened, and he stared at me saying, "You do not understand. These men are incredibly dangerous. You have no idea how dangerous. You cannot imagine it. You cannot imagine what they are capable of while smiling at you." He did not raise his voice, but the intensity with which he spoke gave it more power.

He spoke to me after that for about 10 minutes warning me about the way these men walk and speak with total self-assurance, apparently normal, kind, honorable, soft spoken. And he told me what they did. He told me how they calmly ordered the slaughter and of neighbors. He told me how they lied for years, pretending to be friends and then betrayed those friends to their deaths. He told me how in their minds, because they are fanatics, they never have any qualms or human feelings about it. To them, if a person is not a muslim, they are nothing. To them, if a person is not a good muslim (fundamentalist, following to the letter) then they are a heretic. He asked me to never forget what he said because he had seen it.

I had some contacts with such people later. When I refused to convert after one of them worked on me, he told me calmly that he would kill me on the battlefield. I also remember reading the description of the behavior of the 9-11 hijackers given by the people who used a cell phone before the plane went down in PA. The hijackers were very polite, smiling, apologetic to the passengers.

Tariq Ramadan is a man to be feared. He is exactly the kind of incredibly dangerous man that the Iranian refugee warned me about. He is exactly the kind of man I met later. This is not a game. He has one purpose here in the west. He has the goal of destroying our society and everything we believe in. He has the goal of replacing it with Sharia and fundamentalist islam. That means that you, anyone who is not a muslim, are to be killed, or utterly subjugated.

Do not be taken in by his pleasant manner, by his atmosphere of certainty. Know where it comes from. Understand him. He is so much farther into fundamentalism than the most notorious southern baptist that you who read my words here cannot imagine it. I know this. I could not have imagined it. He is a fanatic, and a liar extraordinaire because of his fanaticism.

3. pombavou - May 24, 2010 at 12:38 pm

That Romano, and by implication if not outright affirmation, Berman gives credence to Hirsi Ali as an independent thinker is appalling. Let them contemplate the fact that she is the poster girl for the American Enterprise Institute, the right wing think tank spearheaded by no less a scintillating. probing intellect than Newt Gingrich, who compares President Obama's policies to those of Hitler. Ms. Hirsi Ali is every bit as vituperative and tautological in her expressions against Islam as the quoted Al Jezeera al Qaradawi is against the political entity of Israel, confusing all Jews with all Zionists: Hirsi Ali's speaking tours command a high dollar, nowhere do her posters note that she is part of AEI, and her logic is, to say the least, simplistic. While extolling the values of the U.S. Constitution (apples) over Sharia (oranges, admittedly hard for many to swallow), she completing avoids the threats to separation of church and state which has bird-dogged our own secular state--consider the current attack in Texas on what one must teach in the classroom, the threat to scientific objectivity by the Creation theorists, etc. Clearly Ms Hirsi Ali's personal tragedies at the hands of extremists--no one denies this--are being manipulated to the benefit of our right-wing extremists.

Romano is correct to question Berman's approach; he appears to start out with a knee-jerk bias (is this the same old failure to distinguish between Zionists and someone simply being Jewish of whatever political persuasion, so that any support of the Palestinians makes one a _______(t-word)________?) It seems more likely that Ramadan simply wanted to give the faith of his fathers a fair hearing--perhaps he, like some of our intellectuals, is not an atheist. We would not judge him as harshly if the religion of his fathers was Christianity or Judaism; and it does not bode well that intellectuals simply attack an entire faith without making some finer distinctions. Berman read "seven whole books" on Ramadan? Woo-woo! A man's whole life, and raison d'etre in seven whole books? Most scholars' bibliographies are far longer than that; and what Romano does not tell us is if those books were written by Western scholars, or if any of them were written by scholars from the Muslim world. The late Edward Said addressed the incidence of outsiders to a culture professing to know more about the one under scrutiny than those who have lived and breathed it or thought deeply about it. He called it "orientalism." Perhaps, as some Western intellectuals have done, we could attack Said instead of listening to his arguments? Perhaps then we in the so-called West could all sit back like Little Jack Horner in the nursery rhyme, pulling out the plum of our own cleverness, shouting, "Oh, what a good boy[/girl] am I!" ?

Dr. Bronwyn Mills

4. guilfoil - May 24, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Spengler in Der Spiegel claims that justifies a Suri which allows men to submit their wives to physical punishment for 'misbehavior'. Do you or Berman find any evidence of this?
Does Sharia Law find critique in his works?
Dr. Daniel Guilfoil

5. guilfoil - May 24, 2010 at 01:01 pm

Sorry! It was in the Asia Times that Spengler commented on Ramadans use of a Suri and Sharia law to justify husbands punishing wives for misbavior.
Dr. Daniel Guilfoil

6. trishjw - May 24, 2010 at 05:40 pm

In previous writings by and about Tariq Ramadan I have seen many small questions he brings out that he doesn't have a complete answer for. Many times those same things vary from imam to imam and decade to decade. The Muslim Brotherhood became very notorious for its violence but no one takes into consideration most of that was 20, 40 or 60+ years ago. What most of them do now is community assistance for food, clothes, schooling and/or health care for the poor. Yet few ever mention the change. Why must Berman and others damn Ramadan for the sins of his father and/or grandfather?? There are grandchildren of Russian rulers living in the US now yet they are praised for the "objective" explanation of their father's and grandfather's work even if it was detrimental to the West. But then they are Christian!?!? Ramadan can't be right--he's a Muslim. He has mentioned in an earlier book "Western Muslim and the Future of Islam" that he doesn't have an answer regarding the husbands' treatment of their wives though beatings are listed in both the Koran and Sharia. Most groups of Muslims vary their ideas or ignore them completely if they are satisfied with their home. The ones that need to use force are usually self-conscious men that must take their anger out on someone and the wife is most handy. But that goes any place. In the West we just make it civil law in the past 30 years but often it's never acted upon until one is found beaten so badly she may not live or she has already died from beating. Some countries based on Islam do have laws that over ride the statements of the Koran or Sharia but that's not part of the philosophy Ramadan is trying to explain. The Catholic Church allowed beatings and sexual misbehavior with priests and sisters for centuries until just recently. Private schools in Europe and US and orphanages were notorious for their treatment. Neither the Catholic nor Protestant churches said anything. Just because we have FINALLY made laws to punish those who hurt women and children, doesn't mean that everyone in the world will follow them in practice or in preaching. With Ramadan's preference of certain imams we all have to be more careful. One speech or one statement that goes against what we supposedly believe shouldn't damn him either. We all need more openness to read and listen to and also determine the audience for whom it was given. If Christianity or the humanists of agnostic or atheistic preferences all looked at our world today, they would see that we don't live up to many of our beliefs or harm and crime would not be so prevalent. Yes, Ramadan's ideas may need to be questioned at times but allow him the time and place to answer before one makes him worse than Hitler or Stalin or the Kumar Rouge. He isn't the equivalent of his father or grandfather. In many ways they weren't as EVIL as the West protrayed them. The only time one hears about the group is if they go to jail or someone is hurt by one. The one today that hurts more people with little reason is the Israeli government and its attacks on Lebanon, Palestine and just this week "practicing" their army activities over Gaza. If they wish to practice why can't they do so in the desert below their nuclear plants?? But then Israel is not Muslim. So their actions are ok??!! Then you wonder why the Muslims get upset with us/US!!

7. ethan56 - May 24, 2010 at 06:28 pm

trishjw: at Cooper Union he was given multiple opportunities to disown the vile positions taken by his grandfather and his father. This included--specifically--their continual and effusive praise of Amin al-Husseini the friend of Hitler, employee of Himmler, whose anti-Jewish radio programs from Nazi Berlin during WWII total 3,000 stupifying pages in the National Archives, who facilitated the murder of thousands of Jewish children during the war, who raised an SS Division of Muslims for Himmler during the war (guilty of many atrocities against civilians in the Balkans), and a man who *never* changed his opinion about what he had done during the war.

When asked about their effusive praise of this monster, Ramadan continually dodged the question. He dodged the question. He could have said, "I condemn this." He didn't. He dodged and weaved. And when pushed, he simply became angry. You can watch it on youtube. THAT reaction of Ramadan a month ago is what makes the doings of his grandfather and father in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s relevant to the present.

8. raghuvansh1 - May 25, 2010 at 02:52 am

Why western people are so much eager to make modern to fundamental Muslim? Are western people were not backward in past? Who burned Bruno?, who burned old woman as a witches? Wait, as modern technologies spreading in Muslim psych they will automatically change.Just remember there are more than 100 T.V. channel in Pakistan, mobile is spreading just like wave. They will definitely change the psyche of Muslim.All over the world the new technologies are bringing tremendous changes. In India more than 600 T.V. channels 500 million people are using mobiles Internet spreading rapidly. India is changing same will be happen in Muslim world.Critics must remember technologies bring revolution so smoothly, reformers never do that even they sacrifice their life for that.

9. jhmccloskey - May 25, 2010 at 04:04 am

Does anybody know if there is a transcript of the Cooper Union event? Twenty times faster to read/scan/skip than to have to sit and listen!

Meanwhile, the ideological prosecution's case against Dr. Ramadán relies heavily on his family ties. Mr. Romano disposes of that rather well. Easy to imagine the man thinking to himself "Of course my grandfather was a bloody-minded extremist about some things, but I am not going to concede anything like that in front of an audience like this one."

And similarly beyond the family: (most) Muslims are extremely reluctant to condemn other Muslims in front of outsiders. (Maybe in front of insiders, too?) Academic orientalists, not to speak of inquisitorial counterterrorizers, rarely say enough about this undeliberated solidarity.

Such behavior looks a bit unseemly to us Enlightenment fans, who have a tendency to want everybody to be her own Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms. Unsolidarity is US -- an attitude to which Muslims might perhaps reply with intellectual objections as well as "Oh, ick!"

Táriq Ramadán might write a book about it. He is certainly in a good position to. I presume he could do it without offending his coreligionists, few of whom would much mind hearing Europeans discussed without any need for polite ecumenical insincerities. They would not mind, and it even might do us some good.

10. ethan56 - May 25, 2010 at 07:38 am


You might well be right. A lot of what you say rings true to me.

Bu let's carefully think about the mindset of Ramadan specifically. He knows the accusation is that he is a secret or ambiguous extremist, knows exactly the kind of questions he will be asked, knows the background of his family is linked with the worst and most influential Islamist extremism, and yet cannot bring himself to publicly criticize, let alone condemn, those aspects of his grandfather's ideology which he knows are bloody beyond belief (supporter of Amin al-Husseini) and his father's beliefs too, beliefs that have damaged the image of Islam terribly (supporter and publisher of Sayyed Qtub, the ideologist behind al-Qaeda).

No one was asking him to condemn his grandfather and father in toto. He knows he's going to be questioned about these things, because these associations, their violent and anti-semitic belifs, along with certain of his own positions, which have kept him out of the U.S. for several years.

And yet he cannot bring himself to do it. Instead when persistently questioned, he evades and bobs and weaves and slides away. And the reasons he is pursued by these questions is precisely *because* he is evasive and bobs and weaves and slides awy.

I would add that there is plenty of opposition and criticism to terrorism in the Muslim world. Unfortunately, it is mostly in languages other than English, and so gets unreported. It would be bad enough, I think, if Ramadan--an intellectual--was part of a general Muslim "qui tacet, consentit." But in fact he had plenty of room to make public criticism. He couldn't. Maybe because it was in front of such a non-Muslim audience (but what does THAT imply about this supposed intellectual?)

If it's a matter of family loyalty--well, Ramadan's not a child, jhm; he claims to be an important public intellectual. So his persistently ambiguous and evasive answers to specific facts increased my feeling that suspicions about him have turned out to be justified.

11. scrittenden - May 25, 2010 at 07:57 am

No-one could claim that this take on Tariq Ramadan was not even-handed. The comments about how Ramadan omits any inconvenient truths in the book about his grandfather also hold for Ramadan's biography of Muhammad of Mecca: if the former turns his grandfather into a 20th century Muslim Mahatma Gandhi, the latter turns Muhammad into a 7th century Jesus Christ.

12. honore - May 25, 2010 at 09:27 am

who cares?

13. meshabob - May 25, 2010 at 09:36 am

For an Islamophobe like Carlin Romano to distance himself--even if slightly--from Paul Berman's latest rant against America's enemies should indicate how toxic the book must truly be.

14. senecan - May 25, 2010 at 09:46 am

I don't know Ramadan's work and so don't have an informed opinion on these matters. But two things occur to me. First, we might compare aspects of his situation to Barack Obama's relationship with Jeremiah Wright (there are certainly similar examples at the other end of the US political spectrum, but none comes to mind just now). Wright's sermons were extreme and offensive to many white US Americans, but one can understand why Obama might have accepted them in the context of a black church. Second, we in the West could pause for a moment and consider the possibility that it isn't always all about us. Ramadan is speaking to the Muslim world as well as to the West. Why assume that his ambiguities are meant to fool or placate us rather than some elements of the Muslim world, if in fact they are as disingenuous as some observers believe?

15. ethan56 - May 25, 2010 at 10:20 am


President Obama (who viewed Rev. Wright as a father-figure) emphatically distanced himself from Wright's most outrageous statements and behavior.

Ramadan has not done that with his grandfather or his father.

The contrast is telling.

It may well be that, as you say, Ramadan may be mostly speaking to Muslims. But why, then, should we take seriously as an intellectual someone who feels the need to "placate" elements in the Muslim world that would be offended at criticism of Hassan al-Banna's fervent support for al-Husseini the friend of Hitler and employee of Himmler? I am not asking this as a rhetorical question. Senecan, what would you say?

16. bevaconme - May 25, 2010 at 10:30 am

stopped reading at the code-word description of paul berman as a "shrewd, engagé New York intellectual".

17. lisalita - May 25, 2010 at 03:00 pm

Dr. Bronwyn Mills is quite knee-jerk in her own right. It's good to be warned of the dangers of the extremist American Enterprise Institute. Ms. Mills, I'll take the AEI and you can have Tariq Ramadan and his "moratorium on stoning women"--I'll throw in Said as well.

18. lisalita - May 25, 2010 at 03:04 pm

to raghuvansh1: I do hope you are right. It is difficult to believe that modern communications will halt Islamism.

19. misterm - May 25, 2010 at 07:49 pm

Bronwyn Mills' attack on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a feminist who must travel with bodyguards for the rest of her life because she spoke out against militant Islam, curdles the blood. Doubtless she considers the McCarthy era one of the great injustices of modern times, yet here she is asking of Hirsi Ali, "Are you now or have you ever been an associate of Newt Gingrich?" It would be entertaining to see "Doctor" Mills trying to live in the world that Ali fled; my guess is that Mills would soon be ready to throw herself at Newt's expensively shod Republican feet.

20. raghuvansh1 - May 25, 2010 at 10:15 pm

History is sound proof that communication, migration, exchange of culture people changed.Young generation all world over changing very fast, after all young generation only revolt against traditional mentality.

21. rambo - May 26, 2010 at 08:05 pm

most Middle East countries from Saudi Arabia to Iran do NOT list Israel in their geography and social studies books. go figure. why do liberals keep defending Muslims???

22. daveinsydney - May 27, 2010 at 02:39 am

@ ellenhunt
"There is no point in asking people like Tariq Ramadan to "explain" themselves. All anyone will get is lies. He is a man who is following the letter of islam. Islam instructs to lie to infidels, to deceive in the cause of conquest. That is what Ramadan is doing. Ramadan is working on the conquest of the nations of the western world from within."

From my reading that's spot on. I think the biggest problem with accepting Islam as a religion is the prophet Mohammed himself. From his example, from what he actually did in his life, it is obvious that he was just a particularly vicious gangster-like figure from 7th century Arabia. He murdered people on a large scale, both through direction of others and with his own hands; he raped women; started innumerable wars (jihads); tortured people, on one occasion, by cutting off their hands and feet, then driving nails into their eyes and leaving them to die in the desert (Surah 5.33). He was a sex addict, And as mentioned above he said it's fine to lie to the infidel if it leads to the expansion of Islam. He seems to have led a very busy life doing very bad things over and over again and this is all in the Koran and the Hadith. Can anyone explain to me why such a man is the central spiritual leader of a major religion?

Perhaps that's why Muslims (Sufis excluded) are so famously lacking in humour, why they get easily angered by any but the most adoring comments about the prophet, making discussion impossible, why there's never been a real 'reformation' in Islam. Mohammed's actions in his life are so appalling, it's better to gloss over it, not to talk about it; instead they can only talk about what he said on how to live your life as a good Muslim. The most perfect example being Mohammed himself.

There are millions of moderate Muslims out there but it seems they don't really know what Mohammed was like. And in our own countries (of the West) the common liberal response of defending this cruel and anachronistic cult, often in the name of human rights, while hunting down the last remaining Christian elements in their own societies is another instance of the pernicious self hate at the base of much liberal thought.

23. mickthequick - May 27, 2010 at 03:08 am

This atrocity is what Dr. Ramadan is defending.
This toxic brainwashing is what Dr. Ramadan is "explaining".
This genocidal barbarity - one of the most horrible videos you will ever see - is what the esteemed scholar is foisting upon us all.


Tariq Ramadan is a devout enemy of freedom and truth.

24. kellyburke - May 28, 2010 at 08:01 am

Mickthequick has it right. Ramadan is defending a barbarous ideology which keeps women in servitude, stones adulterers, beheads apostates and provides scriptural authority for killing Jews and infidels. Islam is a medieval religion, whose toxic brew of immoral ideas erupt in psychopathic violence on a regular basis.

In other words, Ramadan is the apologist for a group of troglodytes who, using fear of God and Quranic brainwashing, suffocate the life out of women and children, perpetuate in the Muslim male a truly heroic sense of entitlement and privilege, and who justify it all by reference to their holy book, that truly vile claptrap, the Quran.

In the end, Ramada is just another Islamic Allah/God inebriate, and a man who should be vilified by all who cherish freedom and enlightenment values.

25. tricocloud - June 15, 2010 at 11:58 am

Dr. Bronwyn Mills:

Berman read seven FRENCH books about Ramadan.

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