Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Tariq Ramadan

[posted by Callimachus]

Ian Buruma's extensive profile of Tariq Ramadan is behind the NYT firewall. Clive Davis, however, picks up on a couple of its essential points. "Ramadan's anti-capitalist politics sound pretty unreconstructed in a 1968 sort of way. That said, Buruma emphatically clears him of anti-semitism:"

Ramadan is in fact one of the few Muslim intellectuals to speak out against anti-semitism. In an article in Le Monde, he wrote: "We have heard the cries of ‘down with the Jews!’ shouted during protest demonstrations, and reports of synagogues being vandalized in various French cities. One also hears ambiguous statements about Jews, their secret power, their insidious role within the media, and their nefarious plans. ... Too rarely do we hear Muslim voices that set themselves apart from this kind of discourse and attitude."

Which is nice. It would be even nicer if he wrote it in Arabic-language media in the Middle East instead of Le Monde. By now, we ought to be alert to the tendency of some controversial voices to say one thing to the West and another to their friends, counting on us being too lazy to translate. But in Ramadan's case, it seems unlikely he could have been printed at all in many Muslim Middle Eastern nations. The governments keep an eye on the media, and his views (and his person) are not exactly welcomed there.

Back to Davis, whose next point dovetails with mine above, and I suspect he was reading Buruma's piece with the same baloney detector in hand: "As for those notorious comments about stoning, well, I'm not sure the explanation is all that convincing. But read the whole piece and decide for yourself:"

[Nicolas] Sarkozy accused Ramadan of defending the stoning of adulterers, a punishment stipulated in the section of the Islamic penal code known as huddud. Ramadan replied that he favoured "a moratorium" on such practices but refused to condemn the law outright. Many people, including Sarkozy, were outraged. When I talked with Ramadan in London, the mere mention of the word "stoning" set him off on a long explanation.

"Personally," he said, "I’m against capital punishment, not only in Muslim countries, but also in the U.S. But when you want to be heard in Muslim countries, when you are addressing religious issues, you can’t just say it has to stop. I think it has to stop. But you have to discuss it within the religious context. There are texts involved. I am not just talking to Muslims in Europe, but addressing the implementation of huddud everywhere, in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Middle East. And I’m speaking from the inside to Muslims. Speaking as an outsider would be counterproductive.

Meanwhile, you can read Ramadan himself here. My opinion of it? He wants to talk a good game of inclusion and mutual respect:

I have attempted to show that one can be entirely European, or American, and Muslim (that is why I have written my books in Western languages). We all possess multiple identities, and we must, as a matter of necessity, put forward the values we share with our Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and atheist fellow citizens of our secularized societies. ... We must turn our backs on a vision that posits "us" against "them" and understand that our shared citizenship is the key factor in building the society of the future together. We must move forward from integration — simply becoming a member of a society — to contribution — to being proactive and offering something to the society.

Yet once again, he's writing for the West, and not saying these things to the vast majority of Muslims in the world who don't read "Western languages." And the rest of his article is not at all about what we all can learn about one another and our common humanity, but about what the West can, should, and must learn specifically about Islam.

Seeking out what Muslims love, how they love, and the nature of their aspirations can be the beginning of a difficult but respectful encounter. Far from political debates and politicians, that encounter brings us back to the essentials: learning how to respect the feelings, the loves, and the complexities of those who do not share our faith, nor our entire memory, but with whom we must build a future together.

One would think -- and hope -- that's a two-way street. I'm not convinced Ramadan does.

I think it's foolish of the U.S. to keep Ramadan out of the country and to prevent him from teaching here based on the evidence so far presented against him. I'm for letting him in, letting him say as much as he wants to say, and letting people form their own conclusions. It's the American way.

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