TARIQ RAMADAN is a security threat to some, a puzzle to others, and by most accounts, Europe’s most innovative and controversial Muslim scholar. He was recently barred from teaching in the U.S., and yet was consulted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the wake of the London terrorist attacks. Ramadan, 43, says Muslims must break from tradition, reread the scriptures, shun terror and better adjust to the Western world. He recently spoke to Maclean’s Quebec Bureau Chief Benoit Aubin.
If you’re such a moderate, why all the controversy around you?
If you try to act as a bridge between two worlds, you must accept that you will be controversial on both sides. People who stress the fact that my visa was revoked in the U.S. often omit to add that I cannot enter Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Tunisia either, because I have been critical of the dictatorships there.
Who are your enemies?
Extremists of all stripes. Authoritarian regimes allergic to criticism. I have been critical of the Israeli government and its policies, and of the oppression of the Palestinians, and was called anti-Semitic for that. The biggest controversies come from France. The problem there is not with Tariq Ramadan, it is with the special relationship that France has with religion. Islam is the religion of former colonials who are now equal citizens, and that creates a problem for many there—I am a symbol of it. I am also controversial in the Muslim world: I called for a moratorium against the death penalty and stoning. That was nothing for Westerners, but too much for many Muslims.
Does religion make it harder for Muslims to integrate into a country like Canada?
There is nothing in Islam that prevents people from being fully Canadian and practising Muslims, but their perception often is that there is, and that Muslims must withdraw or build walls around themselves. Muslims must learn not to segregate themselves if they want to gain acceptance.
What advice did you give the British government after the London attacks?
The suicide bombers were at once British and Muslim, so parents have a responsibility to create change. Muslims must come to grips with the fact that it is not acceptable to kill people in London because they don’t agree with the British policy in Iraq. They also must acknowledge that there are extremist interpretations of the Koran that must be condemned. The Islamic education children receive often nurtures an us-against-them mindset; self-imposed segregation is a cause of the problem. And the British government has responsibilities as well: it must reach out more, integrate things that would give value to the Muslim presence into the mainstream school curriculum.
You denounce the “ideology of fear,” but what about Islamist terror?
Terror is a fact, not an ideology, and we must be very clear in condemning it. But addressing the reality of terror does not demand nurturing fear or hatred. Extremists on both sides, though, have a vested interest in promoting a permanent state of fear. The Bush administration is nurturing this ideology of fear. Muslims are nurturing it as well, saying the West doesn’t like Islam. Fear feeds more fear. If you as a Western citizen are obsessed with Muslim extremists, you are not going to trust other Muslims; if I am obsessed with the far-right parties, I am not going to trust any of my fellow citizens. Dialogue is the only way to push people to change. But it takes time.
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