|Tariq Ramadan and the Quest for a Moderate Islam: Part-2|
|Published by tislam|
|Saturday, 19 May 2012 20:01|
Preventing Extremism TogetherOn July 7, 2005, three bombs exploded within 50 seconds of each other on three London Underground trains. An hour later, a fourth bomb exploded on a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square. The bombs were home-made organic peroxide-based devices, packed into rucksacks and detonated by the bombers themselves, all four of whom died. Fifty-six people were killed and 700 were injured. The bombings were carried out by four Muslim men, three of British Pakistani and one of British Jamaican descent. Two weeks later, four more British Muslim men launched another attack on the London Underground, but their bombs failed to detonate. The fact that all of the terrorists in these attacks were British nationals, many of whom seemed well integrated, alarmed government officials.
The shock of terrorist attacks being perpetrated by seemingly well-integrated “cleanskins” without criminal records prompted British Prime Minister Tony Blair to convene Preventing Extremism Together (PET), a committee that brought together imams, activists, academics, and government officials who would encourage the practice of healthy religion and discourage the practice of terrorism. PET participants visited 10 Downing Street to advise the Prime Minister. They also visited British mosques to hear complaints and offer solutions. Ramadan was an invaluable member of this team, as he had the credibility to shore up the government’s legitimacy on the “Muslim street” at a time when Blair’s popularity was at an all-time low. Ramadan became a regular guest on BBC, where he relished his role as intermediary and commentator (Kepel 2008: 191).
But Tariq Ramadan paid a high price for his participation in Preventing Extremism Together. By 2007, his relationship with the Prime Minister who supported the Iraq War had damaged his standing among Muslim youth. On June 4, 2007, Ramadan published an inflammatory 943-word article in the Guardian that blasted the British anti-terrorist policies that he had been supporting for the last 2 years. Ramadan said that Britain’s problem was not the Muslim failure to adopt British values. Rather, he bemoaned fact that “Justice is applied variably depending on whether one is black, Asian, or Muslim. Equal opportunity is often a myth. Young citizens from cultural and religious ‘minorities’ run up against the wall of institutional racism.” He also wrote that “the illegal invasion of Iraq, blind support for the insane policies of George Bush, British silence on the oppression of the Palestinians—how could these issues not have a direct bearing on the deep discontent shared by many Muslims?” Gilles Kepel called this article Ramadan’s “farewell to Britain.” Tony Blair had nothing left to offer Ramadan. “Bush’s lapdog” was being forced out of office by his own Labour Party, and Ramadan needed to buttress his standing with his militant base. The day the article was published, Ramadan declined an invitation to a conference on “Islam and Muslims in the World” organized by Tony Blair (Kepel 2008: 194).
In the next issue of Prospect, editor-in-chief David Goodhart published an “open letter to Tariq Ramadan” expressing the “disappointment” of a liberal British intellectual who had “spent quite a lot of time in the past year or two defending you against the French-American view that you are a dangerous extremist.” Goodhart described as “nonsense” the claim that “all this Muslim extremism in Britain is someone else’s fault, probably the British government’s” and asserted that “British Muslims are among the politically freest and richest in the world.” For Ramadan to say that Britain “is a kind of apartheid state where justice is applied variably depending on whether one is black, Asian, or Muslim is such an absurd exaggeration that it undermines Ramadan’s credibility.” While it is important to reform British society, it is “at least as important to change the mentalities and ideologies that radicalize British Muslims, making terrorism a major, recurrent problem in Britain.”
Missteps in Rotterdam
David Goodhart’s remarks received no reply. In 2007, Tariq Ramadan took up a new position as Visiting Professor of Identity and Citizenship at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. In Rotterdam, Ramadan’s duties included teaching alongside well-known Dutch academics, contributing to public debate, and promoting his vision of Islam in Europe—all financed and supported by the city of Rotterdam. (Kepel 2008: 211).
Ramadan quickly became the most visible intermediary between the Dutch political establishment and the Muslim community. Ramadan developed a framework that encouraged Muslims living in Holland to follow shari‘a law in cases where there was no conflict between shari‘a and Dutch law. This framework relied on the Dutch tradition of “pillarization” (verzuiling), a nineteenth-century institutional arrangement in which Catholics, Protestants, socialists, and liberals lived in separate worlds with their own schools, newspapers, trade unions, and social clubs. The metaphor of the pillars evoked the image of a Greek temple with its roof supported by a number of separate pillars. (Kepel 2008: 211).
Pillarization fit in quite well with the multiculturalists’ rejection of the inclusive politics of citizenship in favor of an exclusive politics of identity. In contrast to mediating institutions like religious, civic, or professional associations, multicultural “communities” would govern the lives of immigrants. Christopher Joppke writes that such cultural communities are “collectively represented, loaded with emotional significance, and tied to the construction of ingroup-outgroup boundaries.” Gilles Kepel argues that although multiculturalists and Islamists have similar visions for Europe in the short-term, in the end, the Islamists see pillarization as a means toward Islamizing Europe. Kepel writes, “This concept of ‘minority Islamic law’ . . . advocates reaching necessary compromises with European societies, until such time as the whole of Europe becomes Islamic . . . as the Byzantine Empire had done before it” (Kepel 2008: 212).
On March 21, 2009, a gay Dutch newspaper, Gay Krantz, published the texts of some audiotapes in which Ramadan made controversial statements about homosexuality. On these tapes, Ramadan said that “God has established norms, and the norm is that a man is meant for a woman and a woman is meant for a man,” and “The word of Islam is very clear on this point: homosexuality is not allowed.” Ramadan replied that he was quoted out of context. He said that he had always stressed the rights of homosexuals “but it cannot be denied that Islam and Christianity and Judaism all prohibit homosexuality.” In response to this article, the right-wing liberal party (VVD), accused Ramadan of spreading “homophobic ideas in the name of the city of Rotterdam,” and it demanded that Ramadan’s contract with the city of Rotterdam be terminated.
The city of Rotterdam ordered that 54 of Ramadan’s taped lectures be translated and examined for signs of homophobia. City officials determined that the Gay Krantz article was misleading, and Ramadan’s contract with the city was extended for 2 years. On April 23, two VVD aldermen, Mark Harbers and Jeannette Baljeu, submitted their resignations in protest over Ramadan’s rehire. Harbers said that Ramadan’s views are at odds with “the freedom of the individual to choose his or her own lifestyle.”
In August 2009, another controversy erupted over Ramadan’s hosting of Islam and Life: A Weekly Talk Show on Press TV. Press TV is an English-language Iranian broadcaster, which was started by President Ahmadinejad in 2007 and is financed by the Iranian government. In an editorial published in NRC Handelsblad, Persian-Dutch law professor Afshin Ellian wrote, “Day in and day out we witness the atrocious actions of the Iranian government against defenseless civilians. And what does our bridge builder Ramadan do? He makes programs that are directly financed by the Iranian government. If a Muslim dies in the Palestinian territories, there is no end to the fury of Ramadan and his people. But the raped, abused, and murdered young Iranians should not count on any sympathy . . . Anyone who works for the immoral, extremely violent and anti-Semetic Iranian regime . . . may not and cannot ever build bridges with Dutch money. And if Ramadan has unexpectedly built a small bridge, we should destroy it as quickly as possible, because [at] the other side of that bridge [lies] Islamic fascism.”
As a result of the Press TV scandal, nearly all of Holland’s political parties demanded Ramadan’s immediate termination. As a result, the city of Rotterdam and Erasmus University fired Ramadan on August 18. In a joint statement, the city and the university said that “Ramadan continued to participate [work for Press TV] even after the elections in Iran, when authorities there [brutally] stifled the freedom of expression.” This behavior is “irreconcilable” with Ramadan’s duties as integration adviser and professor.
Ramadan responded with “An Open Letter to my Detractors in The Netherlands,” which is posted on his website. He wrote, “When I accepted the offer from Press TV, I did so with the clear condition that I would be free to select my topics and that I would have full editorial freedom within the parameters of a weekly program dealing with religion, philosophy, and contemporary issues. My method, from the start, has been to explore these issues without lending support to the Iranian regime, and without compromising myself.” Ramadan wrote that “the present controversy says far more about the alarming state of politics in The Netherlands than about my person . . . When they single out a ‘visible Muslim intellectual’ for attack, their real agenda is the politics of Muslim-baiting and fear.”
Europe: A Beautiful Idea
In 2005, the Dutch government hired German Muslim scholar Bassam Tibi to help lead an initiative entitled “Europe: A Beautiful Idea” that would encourage Muslim immigrants to embrace a European identity. At the same time that Ramadan was setting up a Muslim pillar in Rotterdam, Tibi was in Rotterdam exhorting Muslims to be more than just legal citizens of European countries. They must also become “Citizens of the Heart” by appropriating European values and integrating into European society. “Citizenship means more than receiving a passport: it must resemble membership of a special club, one with rules,” Tibi said. Tibi opposes Ramadan’s efforts to create parallel and separate Muslim communities within mainstream European society. Instead, he argues that a Muslim’s identity as a European citizen should stand above his or her religious identity. Whereas Ramadan prioritizes Islam above all other identities and promotes its application in law, society, and politics, Tibi argues that religion should be practiced privately. In public, “citizen” is the only relevant identity, and citizenship binds Muslims with non-Muslims in a common civic project. “The multicultural vision of two different worlds living peacefully side by side is a deception,” Tibi writes. “Collective identity politics” is an “instrument against the civilizational identity of Europe itself.” Tibi was born in Damascus in 1944, and he became a German citizen in 1976. Tibi studied philosophy with Jewish scholar Max Horkheimer, a Holocaust survivor and a member of the Frankfurt school of social research. Through Horkheimer, Tibi learned to appreciate the idea of Europe as an “island of freedom in an ocean of despotism.” Europe is responsible for an ugly colonial past, two World Wars, and Nazi atrocities, but Europe has another side, which promotes freedom, democracy, pluralism, and individual human rights. Horkheimer wrote that it is “an obligation on those who subscribe to critical theory” to be committed to Europe and the West, and to defend it against “all varieties of totalitarianism.” With the Enlightenment, Europe gave birth to a “disenchanted world” with “inclusive,” universal values that transcend ethnicity and religion. Europeans need to be true to their Enlightenment heritage by giving up “blood and soil” concepts of citizenship. In response, immigrants need to “bring their identity into harmony with Europe and its cultural system.” Muslims can do this because they, like Europeans, are heirs of Hellenistic rationalism.
In 1992, Tibi coined the word Euro-Islam to describe an alternative to Islamist visions of Europe’s future. Tibi criticizes Tariq Ramadan for adopting the word Euro- Islam to describe his salafist project, “presumable with the intent to deceive.” Tibi writes that Muslims can become Europeans without relinquishing Islam only on the condition that they embrace secular European laws and constitutions that separate religion from politics. Tibi shows how there can be no Europeanizing of Islam without rejecting the heritage and theology of al-Banna and relinquishing salafist concepts like shari‘a and jihad. Euro-Islam also rejects the salafist’s call to Islamize Europe through da’wa (witness) and hijra (migration). Muslims must give up loyalty to an imagined umma and adopt cultural reforms that would encourage submission to a non- Muslim imam (ruler).
“It must be candidly stated that the integration needed for Muslim immigrants to become European citizens cannot take place alongside claims that run counter to secular civil and open society,” Tibi writes. Tibi warns that “if an enlightened Muslim position should now fail in favor of a multi-cultural communitarianism that admits different laws and different treatment of people from different cultural communities, then Islamization will doubtless be the future of Europe.” He continues, “As a Muslim who is committed to freedom and rationality, and who fled the despotism and authoritarianism that prevails in the world of Islam, I do not like to see the political culture of Islamism establishing itself in the Islamic diaspora in Europe.” “As a prodemocracy Muslim and a European by choice, the contemporary jihadist Islamism, and its call for a world revolution to remake the world in revolt against the West incorporates the most recent variety of totalitarianism to be countered by all those who are committed to the open society. Here there can be no tolerance in the name of cultural diversity and multiculturalism.”
Tibi distinguishes Islamism, which is a rigid political ideology, from Islam, a “religious and cultural system” that takes liberal, mystical, and apolitical forms. Whereas Islamism is incompatible with democracy and pluralism, Islam is compatible, provided that religious reforms take place within Islam. European Muslims can accept what Tibi calls the Leitkultur (the leading or guiding culture) without compromising their integrity as Muslims. In the European context, the Leitkultur includes the Enlightenment ideals of human rights, pluralism, and religious freedom. Muslims will benefit from embracing these values “because Islam, unlike the West has not experienced an Enlightenment.” This means that “Islam has no tradition of either autonomous institutions designed to protect human dignity or of tolerance toward dissenters.”
“We are left with the following imperative.” Tibi writes, “Those who seek to come to Europe must strive to become part of its community, adopting the democratic consensus expressed in its value system.” Immigrants must want to become European and to participate in European identity, rather than seeking to alter it. “Muslim Europe or Euro Islam, these are the only two options available,” Tibi writes, “The [only] alternative to cultural segregation [in Islamic enclaves] is inclusive Europeanization.”
The Europeanization of Islam or the Islamization of Europe?
For most of Muslim history, Muslims viewed Europe as a remote place from which there was nothing to learn and little to be imported except slaves and raw materials. Christendom meant, primarily, the Byzantine Empire, which gradually became smaller and weaker until it finally disappeared with the Turkish conquest of Constantinople. The military and political successes of the caliphate supported the prejudice that Christianity had been superseded by the final Islamic revelation and that the Christian’s best hope was to be incorporated into the house of Islam, which offered the benefits of religion and civilization (Lewis 2002: 4). This changed in the nineteenth century, when the Arab-Muslim universe fell under European control. At first, Muslims responded to this loss of power and dignity by trying to modernize their religion along European lines. They tended to agree with the Europeans that traditionalist Muslim views of politics, religious authority, and women had to be tailored to fit modern sensibilities. Concepts like secularism, separation of church and state, nationalism, and liberalism made sense to these reformers and formed the basis for their ideologies of modernization. Other Islamic scholars were horrified by these attempts to update Islam. They were convinced that Muslims were weak and marginalized because they had made too many compromises with the West. What was needed was a return to the “true” Islam of Muhammad and the right guided caliphs. These jurists and activists called themselves salafis, “followers of the forefathers.” The divide between the modernists and salafists have defined the great debates that have taken place among sunni Muslims since the turn of the last century.
During most of the twentieth century, the modernists had the upper hand in these debates. A generation ago, Muslim youth in Europe tended to be socialists of one sort or another, and they were loyal members of the anti-racist, anti-imperialist, non-religious European left. Secondgeneration European Muslims rarely practiced the “folk” Islam of their parents’ generation, which seemed moribund and irrelevant to urban life. David Warren writes that most Muslims looked forward to “a world that would be, if anything, post-Muslim and post-Christian—to the triumph of a kind of universal civil order that would be socialist in its economy.” In 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, this all changed. The European left was largely discredited, and Marxist categories suddenly became irrelevant to most Muslims. European Muslims responded to this new environment by returning to the mosques in great numbers.
Tariq Ramadan’s political mixture of salafism, globalism, and socialism quickly replaced Marxism as the new medicine that could rescue the underclass from poverty and humiliation. Today, Ramadan huge following makes his liberal critics look marginal and irrelevant. Bassam Tibi admits that Ramadan has millions of followers in Europe, whereas “maybe a few thousand” European Muslims subscribe to his progressive, secular views. Tibi has recently given up on Europe. In 2006, he announced that he was moving to the United States, where his views are respected and where he will not feel like an outsider in “ethnically exclusive” environments.
Sociological factors work to keep salafism popular in Europe. In defiance of traditional immigration patterns, second and third generation Muslims are less integrated into European culture than were their parents or grandparents. Throughout Europe, Muslims remain, for the most part, uneducated and poor. European labor rules protect workers from exploitation and layoffs, but they also prevent employers from hiring immigrants, and they make it difficult for immigrants to start businesses. Social welfare programs that are funded through employees’ and employers’ contributions drive up the cost of hiring and stifle job creation. Ian Buruma writes: “Immigrants appear to fare better in the harsher system of the United States . . . The necessity to fend for oneself encourages a kind of tough integration. Immigrants do not feel the entitlements in the United States that they do in Europe.” Afshin Ellian writes, “Five years ago, my Afghan sister-in-law emigrated to the United States, where she now works, pays taxes and takes part in public life. If she had turned up in Europe, she would still be undergoing treatment from social workers . . . and she still wouldn’t have gotten a job or won acceptance as a citizen.” Condemned to permanent unemployment by a culture that contemptuously feeds and clothes them, Europe’s Muslim youth find dignity in closed communities that separate them from their environment. In this respect, Europe’s Muslim ghettos function as Islamic jurisdictions or “colonies” sealed off from the rest of Europe.
Demographic trends suggest that history is on the side of the Islamization of Europe. The number of Muslims in Europe has doubled over the last decade, and is expected to double again by 2025. Native populations of Europe are reproducing slowly and aging fast. Today, only Malta has a naturally growing population. If current birthrates continue, by 2050 the number of Germans will shrink from 83 million to 63 million; native Italians will shrink from 57 million to 44 million. Italy expects its working age population to plunge by 41 percent by 2050. One quarter of all German men and a fifth of young German women say that they have no intention of ever having children. These demographics contrast sharply with patterns in the United States, which has a naturally growing population (2.1 births per woman as against 1.5 in Western Europe and 1.4 in Eastern Europe). These trends suggest that Muslims could soon be the majority in Europe. Most of the Muslims will be young; and most of the Europeans will be old. A popular t-shirt among European Muslim youth declares “2030— then we take over.”
Another factor in the strength of Islamism in Europe is the demise of Christian religious adherence. The energetic faith of European Muslims stands in sharp contrast to the anemic faith of European Christians, and this leads many Muslims to see Europe as a place that is ready for conversion and domination. London is home to seven times as many born Christians as born Muslims, but more Londoners attend mosques on Fridays than churches on Sundays. Muslims often perceive the West as a wasteland of addiction, pornography, depression, and teenage pregnancy. Aatish Taseer writes that “for many secondgeneration British Pakistanis, the desert culture of the Arabs holds more appeal than either British or subcontinental culture.” Theodore Dalrymple, a harsh critic of Islam, admits that Muslim girls in Britain are “vastly superior in manners, outlook, and intelligence to their white counterparts” (quoted in Bernhard 2006: 143). Even atheist Michel Houellebecq, who called Islam the world’s “stupidest” religion, admits that Islam offers a moral code that rescues people from drug addiction, alcoholism, and sexual promiscuity. British convert to Islam Abdal-Hakim Murad writes that Muslim immigrants are preserving values that Europeans relinquished during the sexual revolution. “The lifestyle of the average Muslim,” Hakim writes, “is redolent of the 1940s and 1950s.” This makes Muslims “the sole defenders of values” which would be “recognized as legitimate” by earlier generations of Europeans (www. islamfortoday.com/murad08.htm).
Tariq Ramadan’s vision for Europe is polarizing, illiberal, and riddled with contradictions. Yet he has gained a huge following by addressing the profound problem of spiritual, cultural, political, and ethical alienation that plagues young European Muslims. He has also worked to construct a counter-culture that provides an alternative to the frenetic hedonism, materialism, and individualism of Western youth culture. European secularists have responded to this challenge with vague concepts of self-actualization, social security, and peaceful coexistence, often laced with cynicism. This is no answer to Islamism. As German jurist Udo Di Fabio asks: “Why in God’s name should a member of a vital world culture want to integrate into Western culture, when Western culture . . . is not [reproducing itself], no longer has any transcendental idea, [and] is approaching its historical end? Why should he get caught up in a culture . . . that offers no higher ideal of the good life beyond travel, longevity, and consumerism?”
|Last Updated on Saturday, 19 May 2012 20:03|