Tariq Ramadan does turn-away business in Montréal - Macleans.ca

Tariq Ramadan does turn-away business in Montréal


The controversial Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan packed them in for his talk in Montréal last night, according to this story, no doubt to the dismay of those who view him as an insidious Islamist only pretending to be a moderate.

I’ve been interested in Ramadan since 2005, when I reported on how Ottawa’s city police force was enthusiastically welcoming him to speak here because they thought young Canadian Muslims would benefit from hearing him talk about “building a harmonious, safe, open community.” That seemed remarkable to me in light of the U.S. government’s decision to block him from taking up a teaching post at University of Notre Dame over vague concerns that he was somehow supportive of terrorism.

Ramadan is a Swiss-born professor of Islamic studies at Oxford University. The debate around him is, to say the least, complicated. His fans like the way he talks about Muslims finding a way to keep their faith while living peacefully in Western secular society. Those who distrust him (notably, in Canada, the indispensable Tarek Fatah, author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State) denounce him as a smooth-talking apologist for what amounts to Islamic fundamentalism.

Perhaps the most damning charge leveled at him is that he refused to unequivocally condemn stoning women to death in a 2003 debate with Nicholas Sarkozy, no less, back when the current French president was a mere interior minister. In his clash with Sarkozy, Ramadan would only call for a moratorium on stoning. This episode show why Ramadan is such a divisive figure—how could he equivocate?

Well, he claims that to have categorically rejected what many Muslims take to be a Koranic teaching would sideline him from debate where it matters, rather than advancing his cause. Here’s what he told the New York Times, in a probing article, about his reasoning:

“I’m against capital punishment, not only in Muslim countries, but also in the U.S. But when you want to be heard in Muslim countries, when you are addressing religious issues, you can’t just say it has to stop. I think it has to stop. But you have to discuss it within the religious context. There are texts involved. I am not just talking to Muslims in Europe, but addressing the implementation of huddud everywhere, in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Middle East. And I’m speaking from the inside to Muslims. Speaking as an outsider would be counterproductive.”

Some will accept this tactical explanation, others will reject it as too easy an out. But I think fair-minded people will see that this is hardly a simple matter.

Personally, I find his way of arguing about what Islam asks of its followers less troubling than his way of talking about modern terrorism. He’s been known to denounce it and, in the next breath, seem to explain it away. On this point and many others, I would suggest to anyone who wants to read more, this piece from Foreign Affairs, in which Jonathan Laurence, who is broadly sympathetic toward Ramadan, properly takes him to task:

“His condemnation of intentional attacks on civilians is tempered by an innocuous-seeming suggestion: that they will cease when European, U.S., and Israeli foreign policies bend to terrorists’ underlying demands. He draws a connection between what he considers to be the errant ways of Western foreign policy and the terrorist acts it supposedly engenders. Could enthusiastic young crowds drawn to Ramadan’s charismatic public lectures understand this as the tacit approbation of these acts?”

Ramadan attracts large crowds and demands close analysis because violence perpetrated in the name of Islam is so prevalent in these times. That central fact raises hard questions about what it will take to broadly reconcile Muslims with Western democracy. It’s easy to see the broad outlines of this huge problem but harder to focus on the precise elements of a genuine solution. Ramadan at least pushes the argument in that productive direction.








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Tariq Ramadan does turn-away business in Montréal

  1. What about being and infidel?

    Or a call for the caliphate?

    Have you seen the youtube video of the pleasant fellows in England decrying that it's only a matter of time before that country (and the whole world) bows to Allah?

    To think that Islamic terrorists are merely reactive to western geopolitical actions and not proactive in promoting a radical ideological brand, is pure folly.

    • Those are just the wingnut English mullahs. The guys who count are the ones with lots of money in Saudi Arabia, who couldn't care less what we infidels do of course they're ideological and radical, but in Saudi Arabia it's not such a stretch: by our standards, that country is already three quarters of the way to being a theocracy, and Al-Qaeda just wants to push it all the way (and then claim the oil money, of course). In other words, there is no danger of England becoming an Islamic theocracy, but there actually is a danger of Saudi Arabia becoming one, which is why the US has all those troops in the Arabian Peninsula.

  2. "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile – hoping it will eat him last" Winston Churchill

    I don't think it is at all easy to see terrorists stopping their attacks if demands were met. Reward bad behaviour and you get more of it – give in to terrorists demands and we will just get more demands.

    And there is nothing stopping Palestinians from freeing themselves. They have got land, why don't they turn it into something habitable and stop moaning about jews. Gaza is miles of beach front property – turn it into another Monaco.

    I think interesting debate to be had about Americans withdrawing completely from Mid-East. Many Arabs hate West because we are propping up dictatorships because of their oil reserves. West is funding the common Arab man's oppressors.

    • As I understand it, Al-Qaeda's logic is as follows: we have to establish the caliphate, starting in Saudi Arabia; so we need to overthrow the House of Saud; but we can't do that if the Americans are supporting the House of Saud; so we need to get the Americans to withdraw from the Arabian Peninsula (and call off the Fifth Fleet); so we need to bankrupt / disrupt / frighten America into isolationism. It's going rather well for them so far, even though they really have no hope of success. But my point is that they're not illogical — this is, after all, about the only way one can ever imagine a new caliphate — they're just psycho.

      "There is nothing stopping the Palestinians from freeing themselves."

      Come on, jolyon, the Gazans can't even get toys for their children to play with. They're living in a huge prison. They have no industry and not enough food. There is plenty stopping them from becoming Monaco and it's completely disingenous to pretend otherwise. Meanwhile the guys in the West Bank can't even get to their crappy jobs working to build settlements for foreigners on their own expropriated land without being strip-searched by teenagers with assault rifles.

      • There is an argument to be made though if the Palestinians didn't embrace violence so much, they probably would have brought about the end of the Jewish state by now.

        • I don't know about "the end of the Jewish state," but I think it's clear that violence hasn't got the Palestinians anywhere. But we are where we are and it's pointless to play the blame game. The point is that a pious young Muslim with a zealous streak is apt to take Gazan children getting blown up by F-14's as a reason to go blow himself up, and that's a serious problem.

      • "They're living in a huge prison."

        I agree but who created the prison? Gaza borders two countries, Israel can't stop Palestinian children from getting toys by itself. Billions of aid $$$ go to Palestine every year but they still live in medieval conditions. If I am going to blame anyone other than Palestinians for their dire circumstances I look to UN and the refugee camps they formed decades ago which have kept people in grinding poverty.

        What I find odd is that people seem to think Israel likes this situation. Palestinians have land, if they turned it into something resembling a normal country/society Israelis would be dancing jigs in celebration.

        • The Gazans elected Hamas not because they wanted to destroy Israel but because the wanted an alternative to the corruption of Fatah, and Hamas had (craftily, perhaps) shown what it could do as a manager of alternative services (badly needed when, you know, the whole population lives in dire poverty). Unfortunately Hamas refused to renounce its anti-Israel agenda. That's when the blockage began and it's been going on ever since. Perhaps Egypt is partly to blame, but are you unaware that there is a total blockage of Gaza by air, land, and sea, courtesy of the IDF? I agree that the Arab states have a lot to answer for in refusing to take in the Palestinian refugees, but between them and the guys actually shelling schools I think a larger portion of blame goes to the artillery.

          As to Israel liking the situation, obviously Israel is not a monolithic entity — on the contrary, as a democracy it is particularly prone to politicians cynically exploiting public fear to maintain their grip on power. Staving off the terrorist menace is by now the raison d'être of the Israeli Right, and nobody wills away their raison d'être. It is nonsense to say that the Palestinians only have to pull up their boots: Gaza is under total military blockade.

        • "Gaza borders two countries, Israel can't stop Palestinian children from getting toys."

          I assume you're referring to Israel and Egypt, but the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip is controlled by–and currently blockaded by–the Israeli Defense Force. They control all transportation into Gaza–including food and fuel aid which has been restricted well below what is actually available. This was the main impetus–at least publicly–for Hamas' campaign of indiscriminant rocket attacks against southern Israel.

          Not to mention that in the West Bank Palestinians aren't allowed to build buildings without the permission of the Israeli government; they can't build roads that cross the religiously segregated highways that connect settlements; they are blocked from accessing water supplies (Israeli get fives times as much water per capita as Palestinians); and they have to cross checkpoints to go–basically–anywhere.

  3. And of course if only Israel woud cease to exist – now THAT would no doubt bring worldwide peace. And of course there are no further rungs down the infidel ladder, the rung stops at the Jews. All that talk of western nations needing to fall….all just fun talk…what a bunch of jokesters.

    Jokesters with suicide belts, AK 47's and soon to be nuclear tipped balistic missles (if we sit back and watch Iran carry on that is).

  4. His condemnation of intentional attacks on civilians is tempered by an innocuous-seeming suggestion: that they will cease when European, U.S., and Israeli foreign policies bend to terrorists' underlying demands.

    A claim like this needs to be backed up with a direct reference, not hearsay. I've seen statements such as "Muslim concerns need to be addressed" twisted into "terrorist concerns need to be addressed" far too often.

  5. As for Christian concerns being addressed?

    Thought I'd just throw that one out there for comic relief.

    While Yale – an institution that is supposed to be a beacon of freedom of thought and expression – bans depiction of a book about the Mohammad cartoons (so's not to offend Muslim sensibilities)

    another member of our pop culture pees on a picture of Jesus to the comic delight of our enlightened society.

    In other wholly unrelated news, the makers of the movie 2012 were willing to depict the destruction of churches, but left mosques alone, for fear of a violent backlash.

    "Muslim concerns" not quite addressed enough I guess.

    • Yeah, cartoons and CGI are the big Muslim concerns. Are you really this stupid or are you just acting like you are?

      • I guess it was just my stupidity, or perhaps even my imagining the massive outpouring of Muslim outrage at the cartoons, leaving many publications (including Yale) willing to engage in self-censurship.

        How fitting that you attempt to belittle the underlying anger as it just being a "cartoon" issue, as opposed to respect for Allah, required by non Muslims (look up dhimmitude some time) which appears to be of such concern that "brave" members of the arts communities fear for their safety, staying safely within the confines of Jesus in urine, and feces on the Virgin Mary type of stuff.

        To suggest that to many Muslims that it is just a cartoon issue, is to engage in the most dishonest form of willful blindness.

  6. I don't even know what the point is of having posts like these anymore. What journalistic purpose do they serve, exactly?

  7. Mr. Ramadan, paraphrased from above: Of course stoning is stupid and must end, but I can't actually say that because Muslim people all over would immediately tune me out (or do worse things to me) if I said that.

    Wow. If he's wrong, he is callously insulting Muslim people everywhere, calling them non-thinking creeps blinded by their religious ideology and suggesting their co-existence with more enlightened people is impossible.

    And if he's right…

    • If he's right, what? The Muslim world is still partially in the dark ages? What else is new? What do you expect, that modernisation, starting from scratch as of about 1850 but really only getting going as of 1950, will change people's attitudes in two generations?

      • The problem is that modernization is not happening. Many leaders are purposefully keeping their people ignorant.

        "The thirst for knowledge can be seen in that in the five-year period from 1970-75 only 330 books were translated per year. There have been only 10,00 books translated into Arabic in the last 1200 years. [8] That is less than one book per year over the centuries. As a comparison, Spain translates 10,000 books per year into Spanish"


        "The Afghan government last week threw tens of thousands of books into the Helmand river, in the south of the country. This peculiar story of animosity towards books has a history in Afghanistan as well as in its neighbouring countries."


        • I know, it's lamentable. Afghanistan is a hard row to hoe in that regard, but the Arab-speaking world needs more Western books.

          There's actually a non-profit organisation, started by the blogger Juan Cole, designed to help rectify this: http://www.globam.org/

          It really needs an enlightened Saudi billionaire, though. Or somebody from the Gulf.

          I actually think that what Islam needs is a theological effort to reconcile modernity with the Koran. This would take a decade of hard-core scholarship but it could be done. You just need a dozen hard-core Muslim theologians working together, like St. Thomas had. At $100 000 a year in salary each, that would cost just $12 million over ten years. Might be something Canada could do — away from the action, safe quiet place, nice building (throw in another $12 million for that), non-American homebase, multicultural country, etc. Might be a great investment, and it's as much as the USA spends every day in Iraq on gas for jeeps.

          • It might not hurt if lots of us were to publicly express our gratitude for their
            keeping knowledge and thought alive during Europe's era of ignorance and
            religious wars.
            Islam started about 700 years after Christianity so maybe in 700 years they will
            have achieved our current state of enlightenment, insight, and peace.(Sarcasm alert on)

          • Seriously. Also, it would be good to recall that they not only kept that stuff alive in the Middle Ages, they also came up with a lot of it in the first place, certainly in mathematics and astronomy: the Greek texts that Muslim scholars preserved and commented upon were themselves based on Babylonian and Egyptian science (also generally composed by Greeks living in Syria and Egypt, i.e. themselves ancestors of modern Arabs even if not speaking a Semitic language). The one that always blows my mind is that the Greeks had accurately calculated that the Earth's polar axis was shifting . . . but that means they had access to astronomical data going back, like, 2000 years. Generally it would be nice if we could look to the Roman period as a time when we were all pre-Christian and pre-Muslim and not at daggers drawn with one another about whose monotheism was better; but I fear the Muslim world still looks down on the pre-Muslim period, and we're so Progress-oriented that we haven't got a lot of time for antiquity.

      • You shouldn't use the term "dark ages" to represent behavior and ideology you don't like, when it is largely a modern ideological folly.

        • Folly like the internet, eh Ted?

        • The Dark Ages are "dark" because they're ill lit, from our point of view. The fact that someone like yourself relishes obscurantism doesn't change that.

      • Perhaps I misunderstand Mr. Ramadan's speaking circuit schedule. He's here, in Canada. If he is right, that he cannot mention certain obvious truths right here in Canada, because of how his audience might react… well, I just hope he's wrong.

  8. There are no moderate Muslims. Their objective, conversion of all to Islam and sharia law, is at the centre of the obligations set down in the Koran. Violence and terrorism are for some Muslims a last resort, but one that will be used if necessary. The most recent example is Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood.

  9. just saying that such a famous journalist who only copy past his work from the internet sources, without really searching, really disappoint me