Monday, March 28, 2005

The ‘Danger’ of Tariq Ramadan: Is It Real ?

An edited and updated version of an op-ed originally published in the September 13, 2004 issue of Broadside, the official student newspaper of George Mason University.

As the summer came to a close, Tariq Ramadan ( (pictured right), a Swiss academic of international renown, was set to join the faculty at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

His family’s furniture and belongings had already been shipped from their home in Geneva to the United States and his children were already enrolled in school when the U.S. Department of State suddenly revoked his work visa. After months of delays, Ramadan resigned his position at Notre Dame.
The Ramadan case has highlighted most clearly for Muslims, both in this country and the rest of the world, that the U.S. government’s policy toward “moderate” Islam is confused, at best. If Ramadan, who has written extensively on the idea of a Western vision of Islam and the need for religious reforms, is considered a danger to the U.S., exactly whom does the U.S. government consider a “Muslim moderate?” Acting on advice from the Department of Homeland Security, for reasons that have never been concretely stated, the revocation of his visa essentially prohibited Ramadan from beginning work at Notre Dame.

Ramadan, who has a doctorate in Arabic and Islamic studies and master’s degrees in philosophy and French literature from the University of Geneva, has been acclaimed as one of the most important Muslim thinkers of modern times by a host of organizations, including Time magazine. His exclusion from this country sends mixed signals to the greater Islamic world that the U.S. is trying to court so badly across the globe. Critics of Ramadan have alleged that he is anti-Semitic, infer that he is tied to al-Qaeda and say he is generally supportive of Islamic militancy. They inevitably mention that, starting with his grandfather, Hasan al-Banna, Ramadan’s family has had long history with militant political Islamic movements, namely the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, as if that “proves” Ramadan’s “terrorist credentials.”

Daniel Pipes (left), the equally controversial American academic, has called Ramadan a member of “Islamist royalty,” whose visa should have been revoked ( Critics such as Pipes present, very selectively, pieces of Ramadan’s extensive writings and research as clear evidence that he is a real and present danger to U.S. national security. In addition to insinuating that he has connections to al-Qaeda, they also allege that Ramadan is a blind supporter of the militant National Islamic Front, which currently rules Sudan. The truth, however, is that Ramadan has frequently criticized violence and terrorism committed in the name of Islam and his lengthy and extensive body of work is proof of this. He has called for Muslims to return to the sources of their religion, namely the Qur’an and Ahadith traditions, in order to reach a deeper understanding of how to live their faith in the modern, contemporary world. He has spoken out for human rights, women’s rights and against persecution of Jews. His criticism of certain Israeli governmental policies or pro-Israeli academics in France is hardly reason enough to label him an anti-Semite, a term that seems to be tossed around with little thought by some. Could he more strongly condemn Palestinian militants? Yes. However, this does not justify his demonization by his critics.

Ramadan was supposed to be the keynote speaker at the 33rd Annual Conference of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists in late September 2004, which was co-sponsored by George Mason University’s Center for Global Studies (CGS) and chaired by CGS Director Peter Mandaville (right). Unfortunately, Ramadan was unable to attend in person, but he did address the conference via satellite and was able to share his vision of a pluralistic and contemporary Islam.

For more on the conference, see:

In days when radical Muslims are murdering people across the globe and tarnishing the good names of their non-militant brethren, Ramadan’s voice of reason is badly needed. In a recent editorial published in numerous newspapers around the world, he wrote, “Promote, from where you are, the universal principles of justice and freedom and leave the societies elsewhere to find their own model of democracy based on their collective psychology and cultural heritage.” That sure sounds like the words of an al-Qaeda ideologue to me.

Ramadan is the future of Islam. He is one of the great, influential Muslim voices of the modern age and his works will be read, I think, in the coming centuries. At a time when Muslim communities are engaged in internal debates about what it means to be religious in the modern age, Ramadan has provided the framework for balancing Islam and the secular, democratic world prevalent in the West.

To understand exactly what Ramadan believes, visit his web site (linked in the first paragraph) where he has many articles, and also read his books. His latest book is Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, published by Oxford University Press. (