Friday, October 22, 2004

Tariq Ramadan, Non-Violent Man of Peace (complete)

Pt I: Stoning and the Non-Violent Man of Peace

The NYTimes October 6 piece on the Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan and the visa difficulties that are currently preventing him from taking up a teaching post at Notre Dame University ("Mystery of the Islamic Scholar Who Was Barred by the U.S.") is a classic example of the deformations to which the Times reporting on European/Transatlantic matters is prone - a classic example indeed of the deformations to which the Times reporting as such is prone, though that is not my subject here. It is a classic example, in the first place, because the story ostensibly being reported was not news. Though one would never know it from reading the Times piece, Tariq Ramadan's visa to enter the U.S. was in fact revoked in early August. The matter had in the meanwhile been widely reported and discussed in other media. It had, notably, been discussed by Middle East scholars Fouad Ajami and Daniel Pipes, in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Sun respectively, who, pointing to various troubling aspects of Tariq Ramadan's itinerary, associations and public pronouncements, both welcomed the revocation decision. As is so often the case, the Times in finally broaching the matter was thus not reporting the news, but rather, in light of the relentlessly favorable tenor of the article, seemingly attempting to influence it.

(The Times piece, incidentally, alludes in a single sentence to Ajami's and Pipes's criticisms. It fails, however, to mention any of the particular details they cite - such as the fact, for instance, that Djamel Beghal, arrested for planning an attack against the American Embassy in Paris, claimed in a deposition to have studied with Mr. Ramadan. Indeed, according to Antoine Sfeir, director of the respected French journal of Middle Eastern studies les Cahiers de l'Orient, no less than 50 young Muslims from the region of Lyon are supposed to have traveled to Afghanistan to join the forces of Al-Qaeda - a phenomenon that Sfeir has publicly linked to, among other things, the prestige enjoyed by Tariq Ramadan's teachings in the poor Arab ghettos of the city. The Times article does, however, find place to mention that Mr. Ramadan is supposed to have met Mother Teresa.)

Tariq Ramadan is described in the Times article as "a preacher of self-empowerment to European Muslims" and "a trim, telegenic man with a soft, measured voice who condemns the use of violence in the name of Islam". In the same vein, the Rev. Edward A. Malloy, president of Notre Dame, is quoted saying, "He seems to be an above ground, forthright advocate of what some refer to as moderate Islam and we see him as a really good fit for our peace institute," referring, namely, to the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, at which Mr. Ramadan was supposed to have taken up his post. "In much of his work," the article adds, "Mr. Ramadan tries to define a blended identity for Muslims in the West, arguing that one can be both fully Muslim and fully Western. His message to European Muslims is: reject your feelings of victimization, take part more fully in your countries of residence and demand your rights."

It is worth noting that the article makes no specific reference whatsoever to any of Mr. Ramadan's publications or public statements in support of such agreeable generalizations. Thus the reader is left to assume that the sole basis for them is Mr. Ramadan's own affirmations in being interviewed for the piece by the Times - and an Islamic scholar hoping to obtain a visa to teach in the United States is hardly likely to say in speaking to the New York Times that he endorses the use of violence in the name of Islam. Towards its conclusion, moreover, the article touches briefly upon the fact that in a televised debate last fall with the then French Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy, Mr. Ramadan refused to condemn the practice of stoning women accused of adultery as mandated by Koranic law. "I won't change any thinking in the Muslim world if I issue a blanket condemnation of stoning to please the French interior minister," Mr. Ramadan is quoted as having said. In fact, according to my recollection of the exchange, Mr. Ramadan did not say exactly this and the transcripts that I have been able quickly to track down (see for instance, the complete transcript of the exchange [in French] here) nowhere reflect quite this wording. So seemingly this formulation represents Mr. Ramadan's own rendering in conversation with the Times of the gist of his response to Nicolas Sarkozy. All the more reason to be astonished. What, after all, is the stoning of women in accordance with Koranic law but "the use of violence in the name of Islam"?

Pt II: The Non-Violent Man of Peace, 9/11 and the Assassination of Children

Of course, in referring to "the use of violence in the name of Islam" and Tariq Ramadan's alleged condemnation thereof, the Times presumably has in mind just the use of violence to further the political aims of Islamist movements such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad in the Middle East or Al-Qaeda and its affiliates on a global scale. The use of violence in the name of Islam against Muslims and, more specifically, Muslim women somehow does not register as violence in the pages of the NYTimes. But, as the following quote cited by Daniel Pipes from the Italian magazine Panorama makes clear, even Mr. Ramadan's "condemnation" of the killing of Israeli children by Islamic terrorists is hardly unequivocal. Indeed - like his stance on stoning, which Ramadan in his debate with Nicholas Sarkozy somehow claimed to be "non-applicable" even as he refused to call for its abolition - it could hardly be more equivocal. Asked whether it is right to kill Israeli children since they will become soldiers as adults, Mr. Ramadan 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."

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.

As for "condemning" the violence of Al-Qaeda, Tariq Ramadan's response to the 9/11 attacks, as recorded in an interview that he gave to the Swiss paper La Gruyère on September 22 (hat tip to Olivier Guitta in The American Thinker), was not merely to call into question the attribution of responsibility for the attacks to the network of Bin Laden - a skeptical attitude that so early on might per se have been reasonable. In fact, Ramadan went so far as to insinuate that the United States government itself - or perhaps Israel? - could have been the guilty party. "We need to ask ourselves 'Who profits from the crime?'," Ramadan remarked coyly, "No Arab or Islamic cause will profit from these events. On the contrary, the peoples and all Muslims will suffer as a consequence." Despite the enormity of what was being implied, Ramadan's suggestion - as those who have read "The Legend of the Squandered Sympathy" will recognize - did not even have the merit of originality. The French academic Marie-José Mondzain had insinuated exactly the same scenario, using the same phrase, some days before in the pages of Le Monde. "I wonder," Mr. Ramadan continued, "Maybe Ben Laden is just being used to scare people, like Saddam Hussein. The diabolical image that one makes of him might be serving other geostrategic, economic or political designs. One shouldn't simplify anything."

By the way, Marie-José Mondzain and Tariq Ramadan were not the only European intellectuals publicly to pose the question of "who profits from the crime?" in the aftermath of 9/11. The German neo-Nazi Horst Mahler posed the same question: "cui bono?". And he too, like Tariq Ramadan, suggested, in effect, that complex "geostrategic, economic and political" considerations might lie behind the attacks. "Naturally, Israel has an interest in chaining the U.S. to itself," Mahler wrote, "Naturally, the Globalists have an interest in not letting the unavoidable collapse of the world economy appear to be a System crisis, but rather as the consequence of war. Naturally, the Bankster-Jews have an interest in the world economic crisis, since they make money from it and will expand their power again in the crisis."

One shouldn't simplify anything...

Pt III: The Non-Violent Man of Peace and "the Jews" (Real and Imagined)

The NYTimes October 6 piece on Tariq Ramadan notes that he "set off a storm in France last fall when he wrote an online essay criticizing several French Jewish intellectuals for being 'biased toward the concerns of their community' by defending Israel - in its construction of a barrier in the West Bank, for instance - and supporting, to varying degrees, the Iraq war." The allusion to the Israeli barrier is subtly misleading. Mr. Ramadan's article on, titled "Critique of the (New) Communitarian Intellectuals" - I will not pause to comment on the strangeness of an ostensible critique of communitarianism being published on a site called "" - does indeed mention the barrier in passing in order to upbraid the French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut for apparently supporting it. More precisely, Finkielkraut is criticized by Ramadan for employing the Israeli government's preferred designation for the structure - "security barrier" - rather than that which Ramadan himself evidently prefers: to wit, "wall of shame" ("mur de la honte"). This word choice on the part of Mr. Finkielkraut is, according to Tariq Ramadan, supposed to to be symptomatic of the philosopher's adoption of a "communitarian attitude": namely, to be more explicit, as a Jew. It is worth reflecting upon the logic of this accusation: it implies that anyone who might prefer the descriptive term "security barrier" to the rather more emotive "wall of shame" must do so not because they find the description plausibly accurate - for instance, in light of the hundreds of Israelis who have been killed in the last years by suicide bombers infiltrating Israel from the West Bank - but rather... because they are Jews. Mr. Ramadan thus, in effect, delegitimates in advance any understanding for the Israeli position as following from a "communitarian impulse" among Jews - as if it were impossible for anyone who is not Jewish to be convinced by the Israeli arguments.

More to the point, however, whereas Mr. Ramadan does indeed mention Alain Finkielkraut's support for - or rather failure to denounce - the Israeli barrier, the main object of his criticism is Mr. Finkielkraut's recent book Au nom de l’Autre, réflexions sur l’antisémitisme qui vient - In the Name of the Other, Reflections on the Coming Anti-Semitism - a book which, as the title indicates, has nothing per se to do with Israel, but is rather on Anti-Semitism. In effect, Tariq Ramadan criticizes Alain Finkielkraut... for criticizing Anti-Semitism. Since he cites no specific elements of Finkielkraut's treatment of contemporary Anti-Semitism that he regards as flawed, one is left with the impression that the mere fact of Finkielkraut's noting a certain recrudescence of Anti-Semitism in the world, and notably in France, is supposed in and of itself to be a symptom of a "communitarian attitude" - i.e. something only a Jew would do. Indeed, this is the general tenor of Ramadan's article. Thus he concludes: "Whether on the domestic front (the struggle against Anti-Semitism) or on the international scene (defense of Zionism), we are witnessing the emergence of a new attitude among certain intellectuals who are omnipresent in the medias.... It is easy to see that their political positions respond to communitarian logics, as Jews or nationalists, as defenders of Israel."

As further evidence in support of his thesis, Ramadan cites the example of Pierre-André Taguieff, whose book La nouvelle judéophobie - The New Judeophobia - was one of the first publications in France to warn of the resurgence of Anti-Semitism in France and in Europe. The problem with the example is that Taguieff is not Jewish. It was, above all, this odd faux pas that raised a number of eyebrows in France. It is seemingly propelled by the same sort of logic as we discovered in Tariq Ramadan's accusation regarding Alain Finkielkraut's support for Israel: 1. Only a Jew could denounce the resurgence of Anti-Semitism in France (or: If x denounces the resurgence of Anti-Semitism in France, x is a Jew); 2. Pierre-André Taguieff denounces the resurgence of Anti-Semitism in France; 3. Therefore, Taguieff is a Jew.

The NYTimes October 6 article does not mention the fact that the "several French Jewish intellectuals" criticized by Tariq Ramadan in his piece include a prominent French scholar of Anti-Semitism - arguably, France's most prominent scholar of Anti-Semitism - who is not Jewish. Indeed, the Times article makes no mention of the fact that Ramadan accused the allegedly Jewish intellectuals of being "biased toward the concerns of their community" not only in defending Israeli policies or supporting the Iraq War (an accusation which, incidentally, not so subtly gives creedence to the rumor that "Jewish interests" were somehow responsible for the latter), but also in their denunciations of resurgent Anti-Semitism. This is odd, since roughly half the article is devoted to this theme and the very first author discussed by Mr. Ramadan's is none other than Pierre-André Taguieff. One is left wondering whether the Times reporter, Deborah Sontag, ever in fact read the piece.

Pt IV: Hassan Al-Banna, Non-Violent Man of Peace?

The NYTimes article notes that "Mr. Ramadan is the grandson of Hasan al-Banna, one of the most important Islamist figures of the 20th century, and for many of his detractors that alone makes him suspect." I have yet to come across any prominent critic of Tariq Ramadan who criticizes him for the simple fact of being the grandson of Hassan Al-Banna. The Times's remark is revealingly tendentious and seems only to serve to delegitimate Ramadan's "detractors". Ramadan's critics accuse him rather of having not distanced himself sufficiently from the ideas of his "troublesome grandfather," as the Times puts it, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood, of which some of today’s most notorious Islamic terrorist organizations, including Hamas, are institutional offshoots. The French journalist Caroline Fourest - who, as has been seen here, can be safely assumed to have studied the matter far more thoroughly than Deborah Sontag - concludes that Ramadan is in fact "the man who has done the most to disseminate" the method and thought of Hassan Al-Banna. Ramadan's, to say the least, indulgence towards Banna is indeed much in evidence in the Times profile, which quotes him to the effect that his grandfather has been "misremembered": "For instance, although the history of the Muslim Brotherhood is dotted with violence, and the group gave rise to more militant organizations, Mr. Banna himself was not personally violent, nor did he legitimize violence, Mr. Ramadan said. His empathy for the poor was admirable, Mr. Ramadan said, and his thinking was more nuanced than many followers and critics understand." Deborah Sontag and the Times merely reproduce what "Mr. Ramadan said". No effort is made to corroborate Tariq Ramadan's assertions or even just to canvass the reasons of his critics - even just a single critic - for thinking otherwise. Caroline Fourest notes that the assertion that Banna was non-violent forms a standard part of Ramadan's angelic depiction of him. As she puts it, "This sends chills down one's spine when one knows the extent to which Banna was a fanatic, that he gave birth to a movement out of which the worst Jihadis... have emerged."

The German political scientist Matthias Küntzel has indeed found Banna and his organization to be at the very origins of the notion of "belligerent jihad". In his article “Islamic Anti-Semitism and its Nazi Roots”, Küntzel points in particular to a 1938 essay by Banna entitled "The industry of Death”, in which Banna writes, “To a nation that perfects the industry of death and which knows how to die nobly, God gives proud life in this world and eternal grace in the life to come.”

“The concept of belligerent jihad was welcome with enthusiasm by the ‘Troops of God’ as the Brotherhood referred to itself,” Küntzel explains, “Whenever their battalions marched down the boulevards of Cairo in semi-fascist formation, they sang: ‘We are not afraid of death, we desire it... Let us die in redemption for Muslims.’” This hardly sounds like “not legitimizing” violence. Moreover, one can have doubts about Deborah Sontag’s or her editor’s choice of the charming little participle “dotted” – as in “dotted with violence” – to discuss the Muslim Brotherhood’s history.

For more about the history of the Muslim Brotherhood and, in particular, the numerous connections of the Brotherhood with Nazi Germany, I cannot do better than heartily to recommend the work of Matthias Küntzel: for German readers, his recent book Djihad und Judenhass or, for instance, his new article “Von Zeesen bis Beirut” in the Berlin weekly Jungle World; and for all, his website, where numerous articles are available in German, English and French.