Above: Prof Ramadan
Comrade Coatesy draws our attention to the unspeakably depressing fact that Tariq Ramadan (Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at St Antony’s College, Oxford and poster-boy for supposedly “moderate” Islamism) has been chosen deliver this year’s Orwell Lecture.
Now, Orwell was no saint, and certainly had his prejudices and blind-spots. He can reasonably be accused of a degree of sexism and homophobia. There are passages in his writings that have been considered anti-Semitic. He was a child of his time, and did not always rise above the prevalent backwardness of that time. But he was aware of his weaknesses and seems to have made genuine efforts to fight his inner demons. He was nothing if not scrupulously honest, self-critical (to a degree that sometimes played into the hands of his enemies), and humanist. He was also hostile to all forms of totalitarianism, religion and spirituality, despite a sentimental soft spot for the rituals of the C of E. All of which makes the choice of Professor Ramadan to deliver the lecture named after him, especially unfortunate.
The French revolutionary socialist and Marxist Yves Coleman wrote a trenchant critique of Ramadan back in 2007, published by Workers Liberty. We republish it below, preceded by Workers Liberty‘s introduction. Given Ramadan’s evident popularity not just on sections of the “left”, but also with Guardianista-liberals, and his selection as the Orwell lecturer, this is a timely reminder of just how unpleasant his underlying politics are:
“40 reasons why Tariq Ramadan is a reactionary bigot” was written by the French Marxist, Yves Coleman and has been reproduced by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL). The text presents factual information about the politics of Tariq Ramadan.
There are many issues the Left must address.
First is the question of honest polemic.
Useful political debate requires clearly presented political positions and an attempt to honestly engage with opponents.
And yet Yves Coleman believes that it almost impossible to either ‘catch’ or ‘corner’ Tariq Ramadan. He is difficult to pin down. The reason is simple: Tariq Ramadan often says one thing to one group, and something different, or contradictory, elsewhere.
This slipperiness connects with the second issue for the left.
No doubt, given the support Ramadan has on the “left”, there will be further “left” attempts to refute the damning contents of this document. However, it will not be good enough to answer Yves Coleman by producing further quotes from Ramadan.
It just won’t do to reply to the reactionary statements Ramadan has made on the issue of women’s rights, for example, by presenting other quotes suggesting he is a liberal on the question (and so implying Ramadan can’t have made the statements cited by Yves Coleman without having to address the quotes directly). Ramadan might well have made both the reactionary and the liberal statements. As Yves Coleman shows, on many issues Ramadan has done exactly that.
It will not do to protest that Ramadan is more liberal-minded, less rigidly reactionary than extreme Islamist groups like Hizb-ut Tahrir. He is. Mainstream Catholic ideologues are less rigidly reactionary than the Tridentines. They are still not allies for the left.
Nor will it do to try to change the question by saying that the left has also had Christian preachers sometimes share platforms with it to denounce apartheid or war. The left will work with campaigners who may be Muslims on the same basis. But Tariq Ramadan’s left-wing friends promote him not because he has campaigned on some progressive political issue (and despite his Islamic ideas), but because he is a (sometimes left-sounding) Islamic ideologue, regardless of him doing nothing for progressive politics other than making bland statements against poverty and so on.
The only possible “left” responses to this document are: to attempt to prove Coleman has mis-quoted Ramadan; or to attempt to explain away Ramadan’s statements (by claiming some sort of special privilege for Muslim bigots); or to accept Ramadan is a reactionary.
Third is the peculiar fact – one which Yves Coleman notes in his text – that the left finds no problem in condemning Catholic reactionaries, but often praises and promotes Islamic reactionaries such as Ramadan who have similar views. Criticisms of Tariq Ramadan are often called “Islamophobic”. But we do not say that Ramadan is worse than a Catholic reactionary because he is Muslim rather than Catholic. We only say that a Muslim reactionary is no more defensible than a Catholic reactionary.
The problem is that large sections of the left have degenerated and decayed to such an extent that they become unable to differentiate between critics of existing society who offer a positive alternative to capitalism (the working-class, class-struggle left), and those critics who are backward-looking reactionaries.
The kitsch-left has – seemingly – forgotten what it positively stands for, and can only remember what it is against (Blair, Israel and, most of all, America). Since Islamists are against Israel and the USA, and Catholic reactionaries generally are not, the kitsch-left thinks the Islamists are progressive. Or that Ramadan, a Swiss university professor, is the best person to invite to be a “Voice of the Global South” at the European Social Forum, precisely because he is an Islamic ideologue.
It is organisations such as the SWP – which found itself unable to condemn 9/11, and which supports the so-called resistance in Iraq – that promote Ramadan.
Forth is to understand Ramadan’s project.
Yves Coleman writes: “The basic thing is that Ramadan wants is to enlarge the power of control or religion on society. Ramadan always invokes French racism (which exists and can not be denied) and colonial history to explain the hostility he provokes in France. In this he is partly right, but what is at stake is the meaning of secularism. For him (as well as for the SWP and its French followers) secularism means that all religions are treated equally by the State and are respected. For the French Republican tradition, it means something different: it means (in theory) that people should not express religious views in the public sphere (in their job, in the schools, in Parliament, etc.) and should keep their religious views to the private sphere. That’s where the difference lies.
“Ramadan may not be a fundamentalist of the worst sort but he is clearly training a whole generation of religious cadres who are trying to change the content of secularism in France in a more pro-religious direction.”
Fifth is to understand the role Ramadan is playing in NUS.
Behind Ramadan – urbane, reasonable sounding – stand the Islamists of the MAB/Muslim Brothers.
Ramadan is the reasonable face of Islamic politics, and he is the thin end of the wedge.
Finally, we need to understand that attempts to shout down Marxist critics of Ramadan with demagogic accusations of “Islamophobia” and even “racism” are absurd.
Discrimination and even violence against Muslims are real. We oppose such bigotry.
However we also demand women’s liberation, gay liberation. The AWL is an atheist organisation, and fights for secular values. Therefore we will not ignore Ramadan’s bigotry or backwardness.
40 reasons why Tariq Ramadan is a reactionary bigot
By Yves Coleman
Tariq Ramadan often complains that the media accuse him of being two-faced. He considers that this critique is a plain racist slander in the line of the eternal cliché about so-called Arab “deceitfulness”. If we read Mr Ramadan’s writings we reach a much simpler conclusion: Tariq Ramadan is a sincere Muslim who defends reactionary positions on a number of issues, but that does not prevent him from holding critical views on many injustices, while being fundamentally a moderate in politics.
Just as Pope John Paul II condemned the “excesses of capitalism”, unemployment, greed, poverty, the war in Iraq and the way Israel treats the Palestinians.
Only somebody who has never thought about about the function of religions (of all religions) can be surprised by this coexistence of different interpretations of the world: a faith in myths (as in the Bible, Torah, Quran, Upanishads, etc.) and absurd superstitions; a use of reason in many daily (manual and intellectual) activities ; a sincere revolt against all injustices; a misogynist and homophobic moralism; a need for dreams and utopias, etc.
Revolutionaries do not question Tariq Ramadan’s right to defend his religious beliefs, or to proselytise. After all, as he rightly notes, nobody in France is scandalized by the constant propaganda waged by missionaries like Mother Teresa or Sister Emmanuelle in Asia. Nobody protests against the repeated presence of Sister Emmanuelle, Cardinal Lustinger (former cardinal in charge of Paris) and other priests, nuns and monks in all sorts of French TV shows and programs.
Nor is this a matter of a theological dispute with somebody who is always going to know Islam better than any “Western” atheist.
What we insist on is that there are other interpretations of Islam, from Muslims who are much more democratic and secular than Ramadan.
And we reject the dishonest gambit used by this Swiss philosophy lecturer to deflect criticism: each time a Muslim intellectual defends an opinion which is different from his, it is because she or he is “westernized”, has adopted a “West-centred vision”, or worse, has sold out to imperialist, colonialist and racist Western powers.
Revolutionaries do not claim that Tariq Ramadan holds reactionary positions on all issue. We simply ask his “left-wing” friends not to knowingly dissimulate his obscurantist positions and not to dismiss in advance the positions of other Muslims who are much less conservative than him as regards morals, secularism and all the issues of daily life.
This dissimulation comes sometimes from a unworthy paternalism (“he will shift as he comes into contact with us”), sometimes from a manipulative approach (“we are not interested in him, but in the immigrants he influences”), and sometimes from a political vision which blurs all class divisions (“the confluence of all anti-capitalist movements”, the “revolt of the multitudes”, and other such rubbish), sometimes from the cynical relativism of disillusioned former adherents of dialectical materialism (“after all, no-one knows whether scientific truths exist”), and sometimes from a “Third Worldism” which has still not given up on the Stalinist illusion of “socialism in one country”.
In all these cases, such hypocritical attitudes to Ramadan’s bigotry do a disservice to workers who still believe in Islam but who also want to fight against capitalism. And after all, as revolutionaries, it is those “Muslims” who interest us.
Tariq Ramadan does not approve of flirting, sex before (or outside) marriage, homosexuality, women’s contraception or divorce. He thinks that Muslim women should submit to their husbands if they are “good” Muslims. He believes that men must be financially responsible for the well-being of their family, and not women. In other words, Tariq Ramadan is opposed to or equivocal about feminism, women’s rights, gay rights and sexual liberation. One should also have strong doubts about his respect of the freedom of speech and thought: in Switzerland he contributed to a campaign against a Voltaire play, and he wants Muslim parents to control the content of State school programs according to “Islamic values”, to give only two examples. But that does not prevent him from constantly using the key words of today’s public relations industry: “respect”, “tolerance”, “communication” and “dialogue” in the manner of a cynical politician.
What a strange friend for the Left!
1) In 1996, Ramadan spent one year in Leicester (UK) to write his book « Etre un musulman européen » (“To be a European Muslim”). During his stay, he was subsidized by The Islamic Foundation. Khurshid Ahmad, rector of this foundation, is also president of the main Islamist Party in Pakistan, Jamaat e-Islami. Mr Ramadan says he kept his independence and that this institution did not influence the content of his writings. Is that likely? The book distances itself from rigid Islamic conservatism, regretting that too often in England, “Young girls… are treated as if they are in India or Pakistan and… are frequently denied the opportunity to accomplish and perfect their studies”. But it does that in the name of constructing an Islamism, more flexible than the old people’s adherence to “the Asian way of living Islam” or the shrillness of Hizb ut Tahrir, because only such a “European Islam”, he believes, can combat “the process of acculturation which looks to be irreversible, within second or third generations”. Only it can defeat “liberal (or rationalist) reformism” within Islam.
2) In 1997 Ramadan presented a PhD. thesis about his grandfather, the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers, Hassan al-Banna. His thesis was then published by the Catholic publisher, Bayard, with a preface by Alain Gresh, editor of “Le Monde diplomatique” and member of the counter-globalisation movement ATTAC. Gresh wrote, “[Tariq Ramadan] is not only the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brothers, but he proudly claims his doctrinal and spiritual heritage.” In this book (as in “To be a European Muslim”) Ramadan presents Hassan al-Banna as one of the major “Muslim reformers” of the early 20th century. This is a half-truth theologically; but al-Banna’s mild theological “Salafi reformism” served a political project of Islamic fundamentalism. He wanted to subject society to a rigid Islamic code, only one updated slightly to make the project feasible. In the 1940s socialists like Tony Cliff (a founder of the Socialist Workers Party) had no hesitation about describing al-Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood as “clerical -fascist”.
3) Ramadan pretends that the media attacks him mainly because he is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna. According to Ramadan his own ideas are very different from those of the Muslim Brothers.
At the same time, in a speech about “contemporaneous Muslim thought”, he quotes as an example the “method” of his grand-father. After quoting the first three steps of the indoctrination process imagined by Hassan al-Banna (“the individual formation”, “the family formation”, and the transmission of the message “in all the regions, hamlets, towns, metropolises and capitals”), Tariq Ramadan writes, “It is interesting to note that it is only after these three steps that al-Banna evokes an ‘Islamic government’, which in the reform procedure of his organisation is the logical consequence of the rebirth process started at the individual level.”
Ramadan “forgets” to quote the four other steps imagined by the founder of the Muslim Brothers: the prohibition of all political parties; the constitution of an “Islamic fatherland” with a positive reference to Hitler (“If the German Reich imposes itself as the protector of all those who have German blood, the Muslim faith should impose itself to every Muslim who has the capacity of considering himself as the protector of any person who has received a Koranic education”); the creation of an Islamic empire (“Andalusia, Sicily, Balkans, the Italian coasts as well as the Mediterranean islands are all Muslim Mediterranean colonies and they must come back to Islam”). Mr Ramadan loves selective quotes, when it serves his goals.
When asked what he thinks about the political ideas of his grandfather, Ramadan is unable to express precise criticisms, “Hassan al-Banna has resisted colonisation and founded schools, but he has also used slogans which could be wrongly understood, and structured an organisation whose rules and mechanisms have sometimes suppressed reflection and initiative.” (*) Do you understand what he means ?
4) In 1998 Ramadan wrote a foreword to a collection of fatwas by Yusuf al Qaradawi, published by the European Council of the Fatwa. According to this book, a husband, “has the right to forbid his wife to visit another woman, if he thinks this visit may cause a prejudice to his wife, his children or his marital life”, and a “woman should not take the initiative to talk to men she does not know”. A woman, “should not play with children who are dancing”. And the book goes on with themes like, “Should a Muslim woman use a credit card?” Or, “Should she cut her hair without her husband’s authorization?” And this book declares abortion illegal.
When Ramadan is asked about this foreword and his “deep respect” for such a reactionary theologian he has an answer which is typical of what is called in French “langue de bois” (or “wooden tongue”, a term used to qualify politicians’ language: something which is vague or impossible to understand): “I quote [his work] when I find it interesting. I also express criticisms or distance myself from some of his positions, which can be explained by the fact that he does not live in Western society. He develops social, political and geostrategic analyses which belong to him, and which I don’t always share. ”(*) It is impossible to know what Ramadan’s position is!
5) Ramadan is hostile to feminism and women’s liberation: “We are not going to enter into the logic which unfolded itself in European countries, where women have struggled and become feminists against men.”
6) Ramadan ridicules feminism with silly jokes and remarks, in the style of the most reactionary politicians: “We are not going to become stupid to the point of saying: Show your liberation and become a truck driver, drive a lorry.” He criticises Western society, which supposedly obliges women to, “become brick workers or lorry drivers to show that women are effectively liberated”!
7) Tariq Ramadan defends “the family” and thinks, “women’s liberation should not ruin the family”. His defence of family values taps into the same sources as reactionary politicians like George Bush, Tony Blair, or the Pope John Paul II.
8) Ramadan protests against women’s submission to men but at the time writes that women, “should be subordinated to men when their man is a model of Islam”!
9) Ramadan claims that the veil (hijab) is supported “by all schools of thought in Islam, Sunni or Shia”, but he omits that the word “hijab” does not appear in the Quran. He “forgets” that the Prophet only talked about veiling the breasts of women. Ramadan always uses the word “contextualisation” but when it amounts to such a basic sign of woman’s oppression as the hijab he forgets the holy “context” and approves the most reactionary Muslim philosophers and “scientists” – on this matter, as on many others.
10) To justify the hijab Ramadan pretends that men are “weak” and should be submitted to privations in order to better understand women: “If women are asked to wear the hijab, it is because men are the weakest of the two and because the way men look at women is much more fragile than the reverse. This veil is a protection for the weakest of the two.” So women have to hide their bodies to protect “weak” men from their own lust! But women must not only wear a hijab, they must also avoid make-up, perfume, and any “ambiguous look” or gesture: “if you try to attract men’s look by your forms, you perfume, your appearance or your gestures, you are not on the path of modesty, you are not taking a spiritual path.”
11) For Ramadan, women have the right to decide whether to wear or not the hijab but at the same time he writes: “It is impossible to oblige them to wear it, but there is one thing about which we must all agree if we want to build an authentic Muslim community, there is one thing which is imposed on all, it is modesty”. That means clearly that a woman who “chooses” not to wear the hijab has an indecent attitude, even if Ramadan claims this is not his intention.
He writes: “… men and women who don’t share the same idea of modesty as Muslims should not be considered unclean or impure.” (*) But it’s difficult to believe that Ramadan ignores how constant calls for “modesty” are interpreted in all societies where religious authorities have been or are in power. So where is the so-called “freedom of choice” for Muslim girls and women?
MARRIAGE, POLYGAMY AND DIVORCE
12) In a book called « Peut-on vivre avec l’islam ? Le choc de la religion musulmane et des sociétés laïques et chrétiennes » (“Can we live with Islam? The clash between Muslim religion and secular and Christian societies”), Ramadan wrote: “a Muslim man can marry a Christian or Jewish woman”, but, “the reverse is not possible because a Muslim woman can’t marry a man from another religion”. In his book-interview « Faut-il faire taire Tariq Ramadan ? » he takes a more “moderate” position writing that this is the Muslim ‘norm’ (he loves this word – a strange attitude for somebody who pretends to be a “reformer”…), but that people should think it over and over before taking such a decision: “I say that one should be careful, and that a mixed marriage, on the religious or cultural level, for women as well as for men, is always difficult and obliges both partners to be conscious of all the efforts they will have to make.”(*). What is his real position about mixed marriages?
13) In 2002, Ramadan wrote a preface to « Musulmane tout simplement » (“Simply Muslim”), a book written by Asma Lamrabet, in which she says that the Western world can not criticise polygamy because “many men have one, two or three mistresses in western societies”! In the same book Asma Lamrabet explains that husbands should give their wives a “light slap” because, “many women become hysterical when they quarrel with their husband”! And this does not prevent Tariq Ramadan writing in his latest book-interview that, “it is Islamically forbidden to beat his wife.” (*) Even the Quran says the opposite!
14) Tariq Ramadan is not in favour of forbidding polygamy. According to this great “Islamic feminist”, it is the wife’s responsibility to add a special clause in the marriage contract if she does not accept polygamy: “The role of the marriage contract has to be restored (…) [the woman]] can ask that the contract stipulates her refusal of polygamy, her right to work and her right to a financial autonomy.”(*). In other words the law can not defend women against the mechanisms of patriarchy which have oppressed them for centuries: it is up to each individual woman to defend herself, against the pressures of her own family, her future husband and her future husband’s family. In the real world only Muslim Wonderwomen will be able to win such a battle!
15) In « Peut-on vivre avec l’islam ? » Ramadan writes: “Divorce is, among the permitted things, ‘the one God hates most’, according to the teachings of the Prophet. It’s not an innocent act (…). That’s not unfortunately the case today.”
PHYSICAL VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND STONING
16) Ramadan condemns physical violence against women when it is committed in the name of Islam and at the same time he quotes as a theological reference the writings of Yusuf al–Quaradawi a man who, according to Tariq Ramadan, knows how to “formulate appropriate Islamic solutions”. Mr al-Quaradawi wrote: “When a husband detects in his wife signs of proudness or insubordination, he has to fix the situation by all possible means”. After having tried to discuss, and then refused to make love to his wife, the husband is advised to, “try to hit his wife with the hand while avoiding hitting her violently, and preserving her face”. What a strange reference for an “Islamic feminist” like Tariq Ramadan!
17) Tariq Ramadan promotes an “absolute moratorium” on stoning “unfaithful” women or men: “… I’m asking for an absolute moratorium on all the sanctions in order to organise a large debate among the ulemas (to discuss their interpretations) … The aim of this measure is clearly to enable us to progress towards the end of these procedures: but we will not succeed if we do not have a thorough debate inside the Muslim community”.
Ramadan says it would be easy for him to condemn stoning but that he prefers that Muslim “scientists” discuss about it until they reach a final agreement. Should women wait thirteen more centuries so that the most reactionary Muslim “scientists” finally abandon stoning and all sanctions against “unfaithful” women and men?
BASIC WOMEN’S RIGHTS
18) On the right of women to work, Tariq Ramadan has a traditional macho attitude, in the name of the so-called “freedom of choice”: “As regards work, women have one right: the right of not being obliged to earn their living. But this right can’t be transformed into a prohibition to work.”
Mr Ramadan is very generous when he “allows” women to work, but his generosity has some strict limits: women must respect, “the rules of modesty (the respect of the person)” when they, “participate in social life”. Women must “be discrete and not expose the form of their body (their clothes should be neither tight-fitting nor transparent.” (*).
Mr Ramadan also wrote: “Women have the right to work and to be financially independent, but they have no financial duty as regards the home.” (*)
In other words, women are not equal to their husband, because they do not have the same financial responsibilities. And if women do not have the right to use the pill and consequently have many children, obviously they can not work and be financially independent. So where does this freedom of choice lie?
19) Ramadan forbids certain sports to women: “Women do not have the right to practice sport in conditions which unveil their body to men.” He has the gall to write this while pretending that Muslim sportswomen are free… to choose their own outfits! Who is he trying to fool?
20) Ramadan is against mixed swimming pools: “From an Islamic point of view, I don’t see how you can even think of going to such places …. Especially when one knows the conditions of swimming pools today, and what is permitted concerning the exhibition of the body. We are defending an ethic, we are not fooling around with it.”
SEXUALITY, CONTRACEPTION AND ABORTION
21) Ramadan opposes flirtation and sex before marriage. A young Muslim woman asked him: “I have a boyfriend. Until what point can we go, without going too far?” Tariq Ramadan answered her, “You have already gone too far.” In the book « Peut-on vivre avec l’islam » he writes, “fornication and adultery are very serious things in the eyes of God”. On the tape “The Muslim woman and her duty of commitment”, he says, “What is forbidden in the relation between men and women, it’s to be isolated in a given place. When a man and a woman are in a room, they are taking the biggest risks, so they must not put themselves in such a situation.” (*)
22) The only form of contraception Ramadan accepts is ‘coitus interruptus’, a “natural contraception”, “practised by the Prophet”! Contraception and freedom of women to control their body and sexuality are unknown to this “Islamic feminist”! He writes, “the practice of natural contraception – coitus interruptus – was known in the times of the Prophet, so contraceptive means are not forbidden in Islam.” So let’s ignore women’s right to control their body and return to medieval contraception and “weak” men’s good will!
23) On the right to abortion Ramadan has a very strange position. He thinks access to abortion should depend on an individual fatwa (a religious decision): in other words it should not be guaranteed by law, but should depend on the decision of religious (male) Muslim authorities: “(…) it is preferable to avoid it. Then the approach has to be made on an individual basis (…). This is the principle underlying the fatwa, which is formulated for a precise individual in a specific circumstance.” (*)
What’s the difference between Ramadan’s position on abortion and that of John Paul II?
24) In « Peut-on vivre avec l’islam ? » Ramadan strongly opposes homosexuality: “Homosexuality is not allowed in Islam and its public legislation, like it is practiced in Europe; it can not been admitted in Islam either on the social level, nor in marriage in any form. There is a limit on the expression of the norm which applies to the social and public space.” And he adds : “For Islam homosexuality is not natural and is alien to the path and norms of accomplishment of human beings in front of God. This attitude reveals a trouble, a disfunctioning, a disequilibrium.
“Islam fixes very clear limits. God wanted an order, and this order is men for women and women for men. Homosexuality is not something admitted in Islam. (…) Homosexuality does not correspond to divine exigence as regards sexual relations” (*).
Ramadan pretends in the same book that he respects homosexuals, works and participates in “struggles with men and women who are homosexuals.” (*). So when does he express his true feelings about homosexuality? Is it when he compares sodomy with bestiality and dares to write: “This act pushes men towards something that is quite similar to bestiality”?
“JEWISH INTELLECTUALS” AND ZIONISM
25) In 2003 Tariq Ramadan wrote an article about the “new communitarian intellectuals” which provoked a very violent debate just before the European Social Forum in Paris. Unfortunately, it was not written to denounce the fact that religion provokes all sorts of new divisions in the Left, but to criticise the fact that French “Jewish intellectuals” unconditionally support Israel’s policy.
Let’s be clear: this kind of critique, in itself, is not anti-Semitic, and Ramadan should not be treated as a racist because he is in favour of a single state uniting Israelis and Palestinians. But our distinguished philosopher “forgot” to mention in his article that the so-called “Jewish intellectuals” he criticised had very different relationships to their Jewishness: some were atheists, some not, some had never publicly claimed to be Jewish, and one of them was not Jewish at all! And most important he “forgot” that most French “Zionists” are not Jewish at all (the French conservative parties and the Socialist Party have always maintained good relations with Israel and this explains why Israel has got the atomic bomb).
In his last book-interview Ramadan is obliged to lie about the content of his article: he pretends that he was attacking all the intellectuals who blindly defend the “Jewish community” (which as such does not exist in France, as Mr Ramadan should know). But in the text of the article he repeats three times the word “Jewish intellectuals”, and does not mention any other type of intellectual.
To systematically counterpose “the Muslims” (as if they all had the same political and religious positions) to “the Jews” in French political debates can only artificially create (or increase) a division between people who, until now, did not consider that their so-called ethnic or religious “identity” was fundamental in the public sphere. As the well-known intellectuals quoted in his article have intervened in the media, over the last 30 years, on all sorts of political subjects which have no relationship with Israel and Zionism, Ramadan’s attacks against them can only feed the idea that “the Jews” dominate the French intellectual scene — even if he sincerely claims it was not his intention.
26) When Ramadan writes about anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, he opposes “the Jews” as a compact bloc on one side, and “the immigrants, Arabs and Muslims” on the other. He is so absorbed by his religion that he tends to see French society as a collection of religious (1) or ethnic groups – although he denies it.
Being a Jew (i.e. feeling one belongs to the Jewish nation or people) is quite a different matter from being a Jew (a religious believer). A sophisticated intellectual like Ramadan should know such basic facts. Being an “Arab” immigrant in France does not mean automatically being a Muslim, etc. Ramadan claims that the most important divisions in French society are the divisions between “social communities” and not between religious communities. We can only agree with him on this point: class divisions are much more important than religious divisions. But why does he always want to reduce Jewishness or Arabness to a religious belief? Is not this a way of artificially creating, or nourishing, hostile religious communities?
ISLAM, CENSORSHIP AND REACTIONARY LOBBYING
27) In September 1993 Tariq Ramadan participated to a successful campaign to stop the town of Geneva financing and staging a Voltaire play, « Mahomet ou le fanatisme » (“Mahomet or fanaticism”, 1741), for the 300th anniversary of the French philosopher. Despite its title, this play attacks religion and fanaticism and is directed much more against Christianity than against Islam. When he was accused of favouring censorship, Ramadan defended himself by saying that he asked his students to read that play and that anyway « Mahomet ou le fanatisme » was cancelled because of a disagreement between the director and the city of Geneva. That may be partly true, but that does not explain why he publicly denounced this play, distributed leaflets against it and wrote an article advising “silence” on this question.
28) In a audiotape called « Pour une culture islamique alternative » (“For an alternative Islamic culture”) Ramadan declares that to forbid music, drawings, photos, television programmes or films is “an opinion among others”! In his book “To be a European Muslim”, he concludes that: “Switching off television sets and radios, throwing away newspapers and magazines, and avoiding cinemas, theatres, and exhibitions” is an “illusory”, “crazy” project to propose to young people who have grown up in Europe. It is not workable. So, with much pondering over sacred texts, he concludes that it is all right for Muslims to partake of some music, cinema etc. but draw the line by insisting that “the content… remains in agreement with Islamic ethics”. The same intellectual condemns in his writings “Western” cynicism and relativism — which he practices himself!
29) Ramadan’s network « Présence musulmane » (“Muslim Presence”) forbids Muslims to watch films, listen to music or look at photographs which are “non Islamic”: “The intent and content of artistic expression — music, songs, photographs, movies or drawings — must stay in tune with Islamic ethics and should not provoke an attitude which would be contrary to it.” « Présence musulmane » condemns, “the negative artistic productions, deprived of morals or modesty, the gatherings organised for dehumanised events and concerts.” This policy is, “for yourself, your family and your entourage”. Muslims, “must dare to express their refusal, their determined resistance”.
On the same subject, Ramadan wrote: “In the cultural field, as in all the other ones, our criteria of evaluation (…) are not the identity of the author but the respect or disrespect of our ethical principles”.
By encouraging such sectarian attitudes, Tariq Ramadan invites Muslims to fight for censorship in the name of the respect of Muslim culture and values. This is exactly what reactionary Catholic associations do in France: they never limit themselves to give “advice” to their flocks, they fight in the media and in the streets to ban books, films, posters and advertisements which are contrary to “Christian morals”.
Why does the Left laugh at Catholic intolerance but keep silent about Ramadan’s bigotries ? They are two faces of the same coin.
CONTROLLING SCHOOL PROGRAMS
30) According to Tariq Ramadan, Muslims should, “control school programs and impede them to transmit values which are not in agreement with our principles”, “promote structures combining the official curricula and Islamic education, whether it is declared or not”, “and invest State schools using free spaces to dispense a complementary religious programme”.
No religious group or Church, in a position of power, has ever been able to manage its appetite to control people’s lives and minds. If any group of religious parents was to be allowed to control school programmes it could only be detrimental to children’s critical thinking, intellectual development and ability to reason. The discussion about creationism in the United States shows what happens when conservative parents attempt to impose religious beliefs in schools. Why does the Left criticise militant reactionary Protestants’ intrusion in the American school system, and approve Ramadan’s ideas about education and religion?
FRENCH SECULARISM AND “ISLAMOPHOBIA”
31) Mr Ramadan writes that, “France has a problem with religion in general and with Islam in particular.” (*). As usual he mixes two different problems: in 1905, France adopted a number of laws which limit the expression of religious opinions in the public sphere (in the school system and in all the institutions of the State), and ensured the separation between all the religious cults and the State (these laws were adopted against the negative influence of the Catholic Church at a time when Muslims were a minute community in France). This historical situation has many positive aspects, especially in the school system, because it cordons off religious conflicts into the private sphere.
On the other side, today, French Muslims are victims of discrimination because of their religion (difficulties to build mosques or to have proper meals in schools, for example), and because of French racism against ‘foreign-looking’ people. By mixing the problems caused by racist and religious discriminations, Ramadan uses the positive anti-racist ideas of the Left to gain more social and political space for his own reactionary religious agenda. He uses the good cause of anti-racism to oblige the Left to abandon its commitment to secularism, atheism, reason and science.
32) Tariq Ramadan is in favour of an “open secularism” and like the Catholic Church he consider that French secularism “is an atheist ideology which does not say its name”. Let’s recognise one thing: unlike his “Left-wing” followers, Ramadan is very clear about what is at stake: the place and role of religion in contemporary society.
33) Concerning Islam, Tariq Ramadan and the Islamophilic “Left” follow exactly the same strategy as the most reactionary pro-Israeli forces. Those who criticise the politics of Israeli governments are, ipso facto, anti-Semitic (Elie Wiesel dixit). And if we systematically criticise Islam we are an anti-Arab racists or “Islamophobes” (2). In both cases the aim is the same: to silence and discredit the opponents of a reactionary ideology and practice.
34) In his books and tapes Tariq Ramadan attacks what he calls the “liberal reformist” current in Islam. For him “so-called secular Muslims” are “Muslims without Islam” (conference “Islam and Western World: references and values”). Far from being an adept of a fantasy Muslim “liberation theology”, he denounces the Muslims who fight for a radical separation between religions and the state, and who consider religion as a purely private matter.
His “leftist” followers in France (like the two pro-SWP tendencies in the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire) follow his steps: when they write about French Muslim philosophers and intellectuals who are clearly in favour of a secular society, they ignore the democratic, secular positions of these people and denounce their moderate or reactionary political views. In other words a Muslim fundamentalist is one hundred percent progressive just because he pretends to be in favour of a free Palestine and against the war in Iraq, and a Muslim secular democrat is one hundred percent reactionary because he respects French bourgeois institutions.
ISLAM AND POLITICS
35) In an audiotape (“Islam and secularism”) Ramadan declared that one should not say that, “Islam makes no distinction between religion and politics”, but that Islam makes no difference, “between the realm of faith and the realm of action”. Which means exactly the same!
36) Ramadan claims that he has differences with the Iranian regime and that he did not like the regime of the mullahs from the start. “The model of government of the ayatollahs and its relation to power did not satisfy me. I was against the Shah but I did not support the new regime.”(*) His critique is rather mild especially when one knows that he quotes Iran as an example of the social “promotion of women”: “Iranian society today is, among the Muslim societies, the most advanced about the promotion of women.”!
When Ramadan (vaguely) criticises Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Pakistan, Turkey or Egypt, he never does it from a secular point of view. He wants so much to respect the dominant religion (Islam), in order to slowly change things from within, that he is unable to denounce the strong and permanent interaction between religion and dictatorship. He reduces secularism to a colonialist ideology (which was true in French colonies), but he ignores the facts that the struggle for secularism in France itself was a fight against the power of the Catholic Church over the State and society, and that it took centuries to the Church to accept democracy… outside its ranks. Why should it be different with Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or Protestantism ?
REASON, SCIENCE AND RELIGION
37) According to Tariq Ramadan the “Quran obliges us to think” and, “it is normal that a Muslim reads the Quran in adoration” because it is, “a source which gives life to intelligence”. If faith is the best way to intelligence how can one avoid religious fanaticism? A mystery for all rationalists. For him, “what is asked to reason it to find back the way of faith in one’s heart”.
If the Holy Scriptures (and the Bible is respected by all Muslims) are a source of inspiration for reason and intelligence it is difficult to understand why one should condemn the attempts of Christian fundamentalists to influence all fields of American society and politics. If the Bible is God’s truth for Muslims it is difficult to understand why they condemn the most reactionary Zionists who take their inspiration from the Old Testament!
Historical science, intellectual coherence and faith definitely do not go together!
38) “The teachings of Quran and Sunna shape a complete way of life and that is what sharia commands us to follow.” Even if Ramadan presents himself as a “Muslim reformer”, his intellectual universe and – more important – the intellectual universe he wants to impose on Muslims is a book written (or dictated by God) in the 7th century and a long sequel of sectarian polemics between reactionary theologians during the following centuries. He conceives of Islam as a “global conception” (un « englobant »): how can such a total (not to say totalitarian) ideology which pretends to be inspired by divine words be able to tolerate any debate with rationalists and atheists?
As he wrote “It is not our reason which deals (…) with all which is new.” “All our orientation (…) comes from the takwa, the fear of Allah, and it orients us to act in this society.”
39) Tariq Ramadan wants to blur the fundamental difference between science and religion, by systematically using the word “scientists” when he refers to Muslim theologians. Even if exact sciences are not protected from making criminal mistakes (they contributed to conception of the atomic bombs used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki), and even if social sciences have justified racism and homophobia, religious faith in the myths and fairy tales developed in the Bible, the Torah and the Quran many centuries ago stand in absolute contradiction to reason and science. Why should we stay silent about religious mythologies?
“UNIVERSAL COMMON VALUES”?
40) In his last book-interview Tariq Ramadan keeps saying that he believes in “universal common values”. He defends, “the right of expression for everybody, the right to pluralism and free elections.”(*). But when he criticises individualism he goes as far as saying: “Freedom which is the freedom of making one’s own choices has become so important that, leading to excesses, it has denied all references. It becomes moral permissiveness.” Difficult to find anything even vaguely “progressive” in this kind of speech!
And he writes, “each society must find its model of democracy … and apply a distinction between the political and religious sphere which protects the public space where rationality and debate prevail and enables it not to suppress popular expression under the weight of dogmas or religious authorities.”(*). This type of verbose reasoning is so vague that it can lead to any political position about secularism.
Concerning women, Ramadan defends the “right to autonomy, to education, to divorce, to work, to social and political commitment, the rejection and condemnation of discriminations towards women … the refusal of excision, forced marriages, conjugal violence and legal obstacles to women’s divorce”. He is also against the death penalty and stoning, even though he advances the strange argument that these penalties are often “asked for by the populations of predominantly Muslim countries.”(*)! He is for, “a State based on laws, an egalitarian citizenship, universal vote and responsibility by mandate of the political leaders.”(*).
These statements look quite nice and democratic but they do not match with the other quotations collected in this article – on women’s rights, gay rights, freedom of speech, freedom of thought and total separation between the Churches and the State.
If one takes away their pretentious and pompous language, what’s left of Ramadan’s speeches apart from a very vague reference to the necessity of « vivre ensemble » (“living together”), a theme which is constantly used by President Chirac and the members of his reactionary government, the defence of small property (Ramadan invokes the anarchist Proudhon !) and the very confused idea of “participative democracy”?
An empty shell.
Or, as the English say: Much ado about nothing…