Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Charm Offensive

What better time than a bombing attack in a European capital for a charm offensive by the would-be preacher of a “moderate” European Islam, Tariq Ramadan? Since, the July 7 London bombings, Tariq Ramadan has been making the rounds of the press, dutifully mouthing words well-chosen to make clear his, let’s say for the moment, “rejection” of the attacks. His latest stop, as my friends at EURSOC bring to my attention, is the UK’s Independent, which yesterday ran an interview with Ramadan. The interview is also called a “profile” by the Independent: a detail which is interesting, since ordinarily a “profile” – or at least one that aimed at objectivity – should be based on something other than just the subject’s own words. It is prefaced by the knowing observation that another UK paper, the Evening Standard, had lately published a piece on Ramadan that “managed in the space of just 10 short lines to include no less than four mistakes”. The Independent’s reporter Paul Vallely does not deign to tell us what three of the “no less than four” mistakes were, but he does at least specify the fourth and, in his words, “most pernicious”: viz. [the claim that] “Professor Ramadan condoned suicide bombings when he vehemently condemns them.”

The insertion of the superfluous qualifier “vehemently” is symptomatic of the sort of partisanship under cover of journalism that has become so common of late in UK papers like The Independent or The Guardian and of which the NYTimes is, of course, in the US the unrivaled champion. (Indeed, the Independent’s Ramadan interview/profile resembles nothing so much as the Ramadan interview/profile published last October by the NYTimes and whose claims I examined in detail in my “Tariq Ramadan, Non-Violent Man of Peace”.) At what point, after all, has the threshold of “vehemence” been reached? Must visible steam be perceptible escaping from the ears? The real question is simply whether Tariq Ramadan has condemned suicide attacks or not. And to this question, contrary to the impression given by the Independent, there is no simple answer. It is entirely possible, furthermore, that Mr. Ramadan – who is nothing if not a master of nuance – condemns such attacks in certain instances and does not condemn or even condones them in others.

Now, it is true that Mr. Ramadan took the occasion of the London bombings to issue a statement on his personal website with the title “To Condemn Absolutely”. “Our condemnation is, once again, absolute,” he wrote. Mr. Ramadan’s choice to lend emphasis to his condemnation of the attacks with the qualifier “absolute” itself represents an interesting and revealing rhetorical strategy. Is there such a thing as a “relative” condemnation? The statement “our condemnation is absolute” – I am not sure for whom besides himself Mr. Ramadan claims to be speaking – is logically equivalent to “our condemnation is a condemnation”, which is to say, it is not really a statement at all but merely an allusion to another (possible) statement: i.e., “we condemn x”, with x in this case being the London bombings. But that Mr. Ramadan should unambiguously condemn a terrorist attack is worthy of note and he has good reason to want to to call attention to the fact - because in the past he has precisely not been able to bring himself to do so. In effect, Mr. Ramadan's explicit condemnation of the attacks is – contrary to the impression created by the adverbial phrase “once again”, which thus has a certain guilty quality (“once again”: i.e. at least this time) – something of a novelty.

Thus, as cited by Daniel Pipes and previously discussed in my “Tariq Ramadan, Non-Violent Man of Peace”, when Mr. Ramadan was once asked about whether it is acceptable for Palestinian militants to kill Israeli children since they will someday become soldiers as adults, he responded:
I don't believe that an eight year old child is a soldier. These acts are condemnable; therefore one has to condemn them in themselves. But I say to the international community that they are contextually explicable, and not justifiable. What does this mean? It means that the international community today has placed the Palestinians in a situation where they are delivered [to? - JR] political oppression, which explains (not justifying it) that at a certain point people say: we don't have arms, we don't have anything, and so we cannot do anything other than this. It is contextually explicable but morally condemnable.
As I noted in my earlier post:
Despite the fact that Tariq Ramadan is careful here to use repeatedly the word "condemn" and its variants, a "condemnation" which treats the ostensibly "condemnable" acts as, in effect, inevitable - and remember what is at issue is the assassination of children - is clearly not in fact a condemnation, since the very notion of condemning some act implies that the agent who performed it could have acted otherwise. It is also notable in this quote that Mr. Ramadan never says in the first person that he himself condemns the acts in question, but merely that in the abstract they are "condemnable" and that "one" has to condemn them.

The fact that Mr. Ramadan speaks of “our condemnation” in connection with the London attacks does, then, represent a certain evolution in his discourse. ("Our condemnation" presumably includes also his condemnation of the attacks, though it its interesting that Mr. Ramadan chooses here to efface his own individual responsibility for his words in imputing some collective response to his presumed "community": whether the latter be understood - rather implausibly under the circumstances - as all Muslims or, say, if tautologically, as all “like-minded" Muslims.) Indeed in his statement, as cited by The Independent, he even says “The authors of such acts are criminals and we cannot accept or listen to their probable justifications in the name of an ideology, a religion or a political cause” - a position which would seem to exclude finding at least the London bombings “contextually explicable”.

But while Mr. Ramadan ostentatiously prohibits the mere act of “listening to” the "probable justifications" of the London attacks among his chosen "community" ("we cannot accept or listen to..."), he tacitly recommends doing precisely the opposite - and then some - when addressing the larger European public: viz, not only "listening to" their justifications, but even practically taking the latter into account. And so the attacks must indeed be "contextually explicable", after all.

Thus, in an interview that Mr. Ramadan gave to Global Viewpoint nine days after the bombings (and that has since appeared translated into German in Die Welt), he notes:

Tony Blair has said it is up to the Muslims to do something about stopping these killers that came from their communities. He is partly right, as I have said.

But the situation we face today is like that of a family. When a kid does wrong, his two parents are also responsible. These kids that committed the London bombings were born in Europe. They are not just the sons of Muslims, but also the sons of European society. One parent is the Muslim community, and it needs to do something; the other parent is European society, and it needs to do something.

We need to ask what fault lies with the European parent with respect to the failures of social integration or with respect to supporting the war in Iraq, which millions and millions of Europeans opposed.

Since the explicit context for these remarks is what has do be done by European governments to avoid further attacks, these words amount to an implicit threat: either change your policies - notably, as concerns Iraq - or the attacks will continue. Once again - even after he has upgraded it to an "absolute" status by comparison to his earlier evasive or not-quite "condemnations" - Mr. Ramadan’s “condemnation” of the London bombings does not bear scrutiny. Although in logic the rule of non-contradiction applies, Tariq Ramadan is quite capable of condemning and not condemning at the same time.