Monday, February 11, 2008

Tariq Ramadan: Censor

Tariq Ramadan is a Swiss-based Islamist intellectual and grandson of Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Many Western writers have acclaimed Ramadan as the representative of a new kind of Islamism, one that is forward looking, tolerant and compatible with liberal democracy. Paul Berman has discussed in detail why such hopes are misplaced.

Further evidence of this was supplied a few days ago, when Ramadan called for a boycott of the Turin Book Fair. Rachel Donadio of the New York Times explains why:

In an interview on Feb. 1 with the Italian news agency ADN Kronos, Ramadan called on “all people of conscience” to boycott the Turin fair. “From now on we cannot recognize the legitimacy of celebrating the state of Israel, which leaves death and desolation in its wake.” The issue, he said, “is not an Islamic or Arab question, but a matter of world conscience.” (Ramadan also called for a boycott of the Paris Book Fair, to be held from March 14 to 19, because it too will honor Israel.)

After the ensuing media storm, Ramadan clarified his remarks on his own Web site, saying the boycott campaign was “intended as criticism of the ‘guest of honor.’ It is not an attempt to prevent Israeli authors from attending or from expressing themselves. It does not refuse to engage them in debate.”

(Emphasis added-DD)

Norm Geras is justifiably skeptical of Ramadan's attempt to draw a distinction between honoring Israel and hosting Israeli writers. After all, the Turin Book Fair is honoring Israel through its authors. This is yet another example of the rhetorical doublespeak that Ramadan has become infamous for. Caroline Fourest's book Brother Tariq describes this phenomenon in full.

More importantly, this is not the first time that Ramadan has mounted a public effort against expression he finds offensive. In 1993, he supported a campaign that resulted in the cancellation of a Geneva production of Voltaire's play "Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet".

Ramadan has also expressed his contempt for Muslim freethinkers and reformers. A February 2006 analysis from the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) quotes Egyptian journalist Adel Guindy's description of Ramadan:

Guindy adds that Ramadan belongs to the Salafi stream, to which Qutb, Al-Mawdudi and Al-Bana belong, and says that "Ramadan does not hesitate to express his hatred for the liberal reform stream. He is opposed [to the notion of] Islam developing into an individualistic faith that does not force itself on others... He condemns those who are opposed to the unique way of dress that distinguishes Muslims from others (such as the veil), describing them as traitors who have surrendered to Western thought. He also condemns those who think that the Koran and the Sunna cannot be a source of authority for contemporary personal and cultural behavior, and depicts liberal Muslims who understand liberalism in the Western sense, [i.e. as an outlook which] encourages rationalism and personal individuality, as 'Muslims without Islam'...

"In a November 2003 interview with the Paris Arabic-language radio [Beur FM], Tariq Ramadan said: 'There is a reformist rationalist stream, and there is a Salafi stream that is trying to remain faithful to the foundations [of the religion]. I belong to the [latter] stream. That is, there are a number of principles that I consider to be basic, and that, as a Muslim, I cannot deny'... However, during a February 2004 UNESCO conference, when [author and French Muslim cleric] Ghaleb bin Sheikh, who belongs to the reformist liberal stream, attacked him, he said: 'I am not a Salafi. A Salafi is someone who clings to the written word [harfi] and I am not like that.' Ghaleb bin Sheikh believes that [concepts such as] 'shura' ['advisory council'] and 'ijma' ['religious consensus'] should be used as means for reinterpreting [the religious sources], and, when necessary, as a means of abolishing some of the verses that run counter to human dignity as it is understood today. Tariq Ramadan is completely opposed to this trend, and sees it as treason and as apostasy in Islam [riddah]. He stresses that the text is eternal, but its interpretation is relative."

(Emphasis added-DD; Please note that apostasy is considered a capital crime by many Islamists and puritanical Muslims.)

Ramadan is, of course, free to condemn Muslim freethinkers or anyone else and to boycott any event he wishes. To my knowledge, he has never advocated using violence as a tool of censorship. His attitude towards free expression, however, should be enough to disabuse anyone of the notion that he is a kinder, gentler sort of Islamist.


Anonymous irenelancaster said...

Ive just blogged on Ramadan here:

5:47 PM  

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