US: Tariq Ramadan's talk

US: Tariq Ramadan's talk

Tariq Ramadan's talk at Cooper Union is available online.  The talk was titled "Secularism, Islam, and Democracy: Muslims in Europe and the West".  During the Bush years Ramadan was banned from the US.

PEN, the ACLU, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and Slate will join forces to present Tariq Ramadan's first public appearance in the United States since he was barred from entering the country in 2004. PEN, the ACLU, and the AAUP won a Supreme Court case against this instance of intellectual exclusionism to allow Ramadan—one of Europe's most respected Islamic scholars and chair of Oxford University's Islamic Department—back into the U.S. The April 8 event will offer a unique opportunity to hear Professor Ramadan talk about issues relating to secularism, Islam, and democracy, along with Dalia Mogahed, George Packer, Joan Wallach Scott, and Jacob Weisberg.

I summarize the points brought up in the talk below. 

Tariq Ramadan:

Tariq Ramadan first gave an introductory talk, where he listed how he sees Muslim in the West:

Islam is a Western religion because there are Muslims who are citizens.  Muslims already do the 3Ls: I abide by the law, I speak the language, I am loyal to my country and to our values (critically and constructively).  We're past talking about integration, we're now talking about contributing to society.

The question whether you're Muslim or American (or European) first is a silly question, as it depends on the context.  We all have multiple identities.  Ramadan points out that he's European by culture.

The question to western societies is: do you think you could learn from you Muslim citizens?  

The fear of the Muslim presence is discriminatory, and is in itself contrary to Western values.  We should have humility, respect and consistency.  The West should be consistent with its own values: democracy, equality.  And this is also true for the Muslims who promote racism.

Muslims should go back to their sources.  People of all faiths lack knowledge their own religion and history.

The problems with Muslims in the West are social, not religious (for example, French riots)

A true citizen is allowed to criticize and voice his opinion.

Dalia Mogahed:

American Muslims vs. European Muslims

American Muslims are less disaffected than European Muslims because:
- American Muslims more educated
- American Muslims immigrated for education, while European Muslims immigrated for work
- biggest group of American Muslims are African-Americans, and are not immigrants

American Muslims not less religious than European Muslims

European Muslims are loyal

European Muslims are just as likely, if not more, to identity with their nation, with their faith (which seems competing, but isn't), and to trust democratic institutions in their countries.  Significant minorities in the West don't trust the loyalty of Muslims.  Muslims 'are seen' as having dual loyalty, but that is not seen in research.  Muslims are not more likely (and sometimes less likely) to sympathize with violence against civilians.  The minority who do, aren't more likely than the mainstream community to be religious. They do not use religious justifications, they use political and social justifications.

Oppression of Women

Gender equality and status of women in Islam diverts attention from the discrimination against Muslims and from gender inequality in the West.  Besides which, many women choose to wear the hijab or burka.

A discussion ensued here about who's more oppressed, women in the Islamic world or in the West.  Mogahed pointed out that women are politically represented in Iran. 

She supports Ramadan's suggestion for a moratorium on stoning.

Ramadan: one of the problems of women in Islam is men.  Muslim majority countries have many problems, but in many such countries women are more educated and are challenging the male hierarchy.  They say: we don't want westernization, but we want freedom.  [Interestingly enough, Ramadan uses the words 'we' and 'us' here for both Muslim majority countries and for the West].

George Packer:  Tariq Ramadan is an open book and not two-faced.

Muslim Brotherhood and Nazism

Packer asked Ramadan about Hassan al-Banna's (Ramadan's grandfather) support for the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem throughout the 1940s.  He wrote that Hitler was a model for the Muslim Brotherhood.  Ramadan wrote about al-Bana but did not write about those statements, and why he did not condemn them, as those are statements which are repeated today.

Ramadan: Al-Banna's statements should be seen in the context of the resistance against the European colonizers.  He respects some things his grandfather did, and has criticized other things.  Al-Banna supported the Mufti in the context of the struggle against the silent colonization of Palestine and against the Jewish terrorist groups.

Ramadan says that what al-Banna said about Nazism and Fascism is that it's a distortion of European nationalism, and that if anybody can find a true quotation of his grandfather praising the Nazis or calling to kill Jews, then he condemns it.  [Ed: Packer focused on the MB-Nazism connection, to which Ramadan responded that al-Banna criticized the Nazi focus on Nationalism.  I think that's true enough, the MB are anti-nationalists, and see every place where Muslims live as Muslim land.  It would have been interesting if somebody would have asked Ramadan about that].

Al-Banna, like all Muslims, was against the state of Israel, he was against Fascism, and his views need to be contextualized.  when Packer objected that long-term support of the Nazi propaganda machine in the Middle East can't be contextualized, Ramadan repeated that al-Banna supported the Mufti because of his opposition to the State of Israel.

Human Rights

Packer: Where do rights come from?  Many Muslims in Europe don't think the right of freedom of expression includes the right to mock other people's religion.

Ramadan: The fundamentals of Islam are everything regarding worship.  The legal issues can be interpreted, using rationality, and that's part of the Islamic tradition.  This separation of authority is something Christianity took from Islamic and Jewish legal traditions.

Regarding the cartoons: Danish Muslims did not react to the Mohammed cartoon, and did not say it's not allowed.  The Muslim ambassadors wanted to meet with the Danish PM, and he refused, so they went back to their home countries and played political games.  The same goes for Wilders' Fitna.


Ramadan was also asked about homosexuality and Islam, what he wrote in the past on the subject, and whether it's possible to be gay and a good Muslim.

Ramadan answered that in a pluralistic society it should be possible to disagree with homosexuaity, but to respect the right of people to be gay.  And if somebody says "I'm gay and Muslim", it's not up to anybody else to decide whether he's Muslim or not.


Another question: Westerners see Muslim women as oppressed, while Muslims see Western women as sexualized. How do we get past that?

Ramadan: We should come to a critical discussion.  For example, in France the only Feminist attitude should be to tell women 'you dress the way you want'.  But they should also be paid equally for equal labor.  Fundamentals of Islam are about protecting dignity, personal integrity, and these are protected more in the West today.  Ramadan pointed out he's banned from 6 Muslim countries.

People should be consistent with their values, and focus on themselves, not on what other peole are doing wrong.  The West shouldn't go to Iraq and kill innocent people in order to impose democracy, but rather look at their own democracy and whether they're consistent with it.

Hirsi Ali

Asked about Hirsi Ali, Ramadan responded that she says that Islam itself is problematic, and so the discussion is over.  Saying that the only way to be a good Muslim is an ex-Muslim, and that's very close to racism.

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