Written by Diana West
Once again the scion of the Muslim Brotherhood peddles his doubletalk
WASHINGTON, DC. When I read that Tariq Ramadan would be speaking at a local bookstore in Washington, DC on September 11, the juxtaposition gave me a jolt. Was Ramadan – the world-famous and Left-celebrated Muslim “intellectual” banned from France for six months in the 1990s for alleged terror ties, and later from the US for six years (2004-2010) for reasons said to include charitable donations to HAMAS – really an appropriate choice for this darkest of anniversaries? But there was something intriguing about the prospect.
What message would this scion of the Muslim Brotherhood deliver to the largely liberal upper middle class masses who would throng the bookstore to hear him?
I had never before seen Ramadan in action, but I knew his reputation for glibness, “doubletalk”, and contradiction. From these waves of words, as I would see, listeners seem to extract what is most shiny and appealing, and, as I would watch, nod their heads in recognition.
Never mind that among his favorite Muslim philosophers is Mohammed Rashid Rida, whom Islamic expert Andrew Bostom has described as a “full-throated, public supporter of the political aspirations of Ibn Saud’s Wahhabism”. Never mind that Ramadan, grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, unequivocably states there is “nothing is this heritage” that he rejects.
The Muslim Brotherhood, a shadowy organization with violent offshoots (including al-Qaeda) is best summed up by its motto: “Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope." But not to worry: Tariq Ramadan says he isn’t a member. Here in the bookstore, he repeatedly emphasized “dignity, justice and freedom” as the goals of so-called Arab Spring. People nodded. I doubt many realized these are the English-language buzz words of the Muslim Brotherhood, too.
Then again, maybe they did. Maybe it was Ramadan’s lineage – the grandfather he reveres, his father Said Ramadan, who spearheaded the Muslim Brotherhood’s entry into Europe – that drew the audience to his side where they could enjoy the frisson of the forbidden while taking comfort in Ramadan’s media-driven reputation as a “moderate.” But Tariq Ramadan is anything but “moderate.” Otherwise, he wouldn’t lie so much.
“There is no contradiction between Islamic teachings and democratic principles. The problem is not concept; it’s terminology,” Ramadan told a Georgetown University audience (via satellite) in 2007. He said much the same thing to us in the bookstore five years later, but it still wasn’t true. For starters, Islamic teachings promote the supremacy of Islam over other religions; the dominion of men over women; the suppression of free speech and conscience. Each of these teachings thoroughly contradicts democratic principles, but never mind. Ramadan rattled off his list – the same list as in 2007 – of five "indisputable" principles of Islam that he says are also fundamentals of democracy. He included: rule of law; equal rights for all citizens; universal suffrage; accountability of government; separation of powers.
Rule of law? There is no overlap between Islamic law (sharia) and Western law, so Ramadan must obfuscate. “What is the definition of sharia?” he asked rhetorically, acknowledging the alarm sharia is increasingly provoking in the West, while simultaneously suggesting there is widespread ignorance about sharia among those who analyze it. “If you use the term, it’s over.” For some reason, people laughed.
The creation of smokescreens, however, is a very serious part of Ramadan’s work. Don’t pay attention to the proliferation of women wearing headscarfs in a society, he instructed us, because it means nothing. “Beware of symbols,” he said. Really? When asked in an interview this month if there is a place for sharia in the West, he replied: "My position is to say, 'Look, sharia is a way. It's a path. So, for example, when I am based in Switzerland, my country, or in the West, and the law of the country is saying that we are equal before law, I say: 'This is my sharia'."
In Ramadan-speak, the facts about Islam are eliminated to transform it into a generic good. In the post-revolution Middle East countries, that means Islam becomes “an ethical reference” for governance – a means of “having more ethics in politics”, as he put it. And who could argue with having more ethics in politics? He went on to critique the American separation of church and state. “If you separate the state from religion, what do you put there? What do you have directing the state? Religion imposes a framework or structure,” he told us, offering Islamicizing Turkey as a model of a successful “civil state”.
Not surprisingly, Ramadan denies what is Islamic about any given flash point. In 2005 when Muslim mobs were burning French cities night after night, Ramadan said: “Above all, one must not Islamisize the question of the suburbs. The question France must answer is absolutely not a question of religion.” Earlier this year, when Mohammed Merah slaughtered four Jews (including three children) and three soldiers in France (yelling “Allahu Akbar”, repeating to police the jihadist creed of loving death as non-Muslims love life, having frequented jihadist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan), Ramadan wrote: “Religion was not Mohammed Merah’s problem; nor is politics … Mohamed Merah was French (whose behaviour was as remote from the Qur'anic message as it was from Voltaire's texts). …”
I can see Merah’s remoteness from Voltaire – for whom, incidentally, Ramadan himself has no love, having successfully opposed a Swiss revival of Voltaire’s “Mahomet” – but Merah‘s remoteness from the Koranic institution of jihad? It is fantasy like this that is the basis of Ramadan’s faux “moderation” – and his faux creation “European Islam”.
Sometimes, however, the mask slips. One famous example came in 2003 when Ramadan, debating Nicolas Sarkozy, called for a “moratorium” – not an abolition – on the sharia “hudud” punishment of stoning. Last year, while addressing an Islamic convention in Texas, Ramadan abandoned talk of interchangeable Islamic and Western ways to declare: “It should be us, with our understanding of Islam, our principles, colonizing positively the United States of America.” And last week, Ramadan strenuously exhorted Muslims in France to abstain from the anti-“blasphemy” rioting convulsing the Muslim world because it would be “counter-productive”. It is as if Ramadan knows well that Islamic rampages over the fact that Islamic law is not dominant everywhere, all the time, threaten all his hard work to keep Europeans and Americans nodding.
“We are French,” he urged French Muslim leaders to remind the Islamic community. “We are for the future of France.”
An Islamic future.
Diana West is the author of The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization. Her arttcle archive and blog are here.