Preying on Western Naivete
Shortly after 9/11, I was invited to give a lecture on terrorism to a group of government immigration lawyers, at a conference in St. Louis. Probably as a result of its Missouri location, the conference organizers were able to secure the attendance of my boss at the time, Attorney General John Ashcroft. In his remarks, he alluded to the famous words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, the American icon that signaled to arriving aliens that they had arrived in the New World.
Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
His point – where he was trying to bring these words into the post-9/11 world - had the intended effect on me: People who think that the American enthusiasm for immigrants is unconditional need to read these words again. The tired, poor and huddled masses we seek are specifically those who yearn to breathe free. The welcome mat seemingly does not apply to those who seek to turn the U.S. into a place in which Islam is the official religion, or a place where everyone is compelled to become Muslim or accept Shari'ah law under penalties of death. Aliens committed to this goal might not qualify for the blessings promised by Lady Liberty. After all, we ask applicants for visas and citizenship whether they are Nazis or ever advocated the persecution of people based on their race, religion or national origin.
How about Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss academic who is now involved in litigation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security over whether he should be granted a visa to accept a position at the University of Notre Dame? Does he yearn to come to the U.S. to breathe free?
It is not easy to tie Ramadan down. He claims to be a voice of moderation, even though he is a familial and cultural descendent of the original leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. "Freedom" to him does not include the right for persons born of Muslim parents to abandon Islam. When the Caliphate is re-established, non-Muslims will not be required to convert, but they will not be permitted to question whether the Shari'ah should be applied in all its forms. While he is sometimes portrayed as a moderate because he advocates Muslim involvement in their adopted communities in the West, Ramadan has never abandoned the Muslim Brotherhood's ethos of an all-encompassing pure political Islam where morals are enforced, homosexuality is banned, and the proper place for women is in the home where they can be beaten by their husbands in accordance with the instructions of the Koran for violations of family honor. Famously, in a televised debate with the current president of France, Ramadan refused to condemn the practice of stoning adulterers, and instead suggested that a "moratorium" be declared until a consensus could be reached among Islamic scholars. More recently, he had the audacity to claim that the British subway bombers were justified in acting out against their oppressors. In Bruce Bawer's Why Europe Slept, Ramadan is cited in a CNN interview as saying that the attacks may be understandable because "This [British] government is helping Iraqi people to be killed."
Still, Tariq Ramadan finds himself invited to join elite American institutions like Notre Dame.
So Ramadan is a tough nut to crack. In many ways, he is the Muslim equivalent of a hardcore Christian Fundamentalist of the type secular American investigative journalists like Salon.com reporter and author Michelle Goldberg have no trouble following and exposing. This may be part of the reason Ramadan is so attractive to Notre Dame. He is nothing if not a social conservative. Why is he given so much deference by the Left? It may be that those who would be most inclined to oppose his social views are dazzled by his attacks on globalism, capitalism, and imperialism, and this gets Ramadan a free pass. Besides, the Muslim Brotherhood does have many of the same views as liberation theology. It seems strange that Ramadan is not attacked by the secular humanists who have no trouble condemning Pat Robertson or James Dobson. There is also this little problem: Ramadan's speeches and writing are so deadly boring that would-be critics get tired at looking at them even if one can get them translated. This makes him easy to ignore.
Fortunately, not everyone on the Left is so easily discouraged, or blinded by Ramadan's salvos to anti-Americanism. Caroline Fourest, a French feminist, published a book in 2004, entited Frere Tarik. Recently, it was translated into English and published by Encounter, in a book called Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tarik Ramadan. It is, quite simply, the only book-length treatment of the mystery of Tariq Ramadan, and what the West risks by ignoring him or treating him as a quaint polemicist (excluding the 28,000 word New Republic article by Paul Berman last summer).
Brother Tariq is divided into two parts. The first involves Ramadan's life, including how his father, Said Ramadan, escaped Egypt and ultimately settled in Geneva, where the Muslim Brotherhood tasked him with making political Islam palatable on the Continent. Tariq nearly failed to have his Ph.D. dissertation accepted, a development that required him to re-work it and convene a second jury. The thesis, "On the Origins of the Muslim Renaissance," was ultimately accepted, though without honors. Since then, the younger Ramadan has been the voice of political Islam in Western Europe, and involved in efforts to protect the rights of Muslim women to wear a veil in French society, which he couches in terms of civil rights rather than patriarchal oppression. He came into wide attention in the 1990s, when he led a campaign to stop the performance of (get this) a Voltaire play because it was offensive to Muslims. A Man of the Enlightenment he is not. If he ultimately succeeds in entering the U.S., we might expect more picket lines at controversial American theatrical performances. The American movie he most despises? It was "Titanic." Fourest does not seem to know why, beyond noting Ramadan thought Muslims who saw it might be encouraged to accept un-Islamic values.
The most significant contribution of Brother Tariq, however is the second half of the book, in which Fourest accepts the difficult challenge of analyzing his words. Despite the tedious task, she has done her homework, demonstrating that Ramadan has become adept at using terminology that seems to mean one thing to recipients while intending something entirely different. This seems to be Muslim Brotherhood tradecraft, and it takes advantage of the Western tendency to take people who speak calmly at their word rather than suspecting that something more sinister is at play. Whatever his academic failings, at this skill Tariq Ramadan has become a pro.
The remarkable thing is that Ramadan is on record describing how those who fight for Muslim dominance need to interact with their prey in Western Europe. In Ramadan's words to his adherent, "You must know how to speak to those who don't come from the same background we do," and "You must attune your speech in accordance with the ear that is listening to you. It's essential, but to attune your speech to the ear that is listening, you must also know that ear's disposition." Ramadan has written, "In Islam, the whole conception of man is different … In fact, what is asked of reason is to show us the way of faith in our hearts, not explore its limits so as to extent our faith." You get the picture?
This strategy was on display in a recent essay by Ramadan in the New York Times Book Review, in which he argued that non-Muslims are incapable of understanding the Koran, which requires that reading be done through an attitude of faith ("the language of the heart," as opposed to the head). How convenient. This means that Western secularists have no business trying to understand Islam, since they are not equipped to be apologists for the more controversial aspects of Islamic doctrine, and we must instead outsource this task to faithful Muslims. Is this trick effective? One Christian Times reader commended the Ramadan essay, saying that it reminds him of how he views the Bible. This appreciative reader does not mention that neither the Bible nor the most extreme "mainstream" Christian activists go as far as the Muslim Brotherhood spiritual guide Yusuf Qaradawi, who claimed "There is no dialogue between the Jew and us except by the sword and rifle." Of course, Ramadan was wise enough not to mention his friend Qaradawi when writing for the New York Times, lest people be turned off by his associations.
Fourest concludes that Ramadan is not an agent of peace but an agent of radicalization – all the more feared because he is so difficult to pin down. It is clear that he is occasionally guilty of some outrageous lies. Ramadan claims that he won a slander trial against French writer Antoine Sfier, when in fact he lost. He claims that he has no functional connection to the Muslim Brotherhood, but this is laughable in light of his writings which consistently argue the Brotherhood worldview, and given his dissertation, devoted to explaining Brotherhood founder Hassan Al Banna, his maternal grandfather.
Some lies can be expected, and are necessary to pass the Muslim Brotherhood off as a political movement committed to democracy. What is perhaps more interesting than the dissembling is his choice of words designed to impact judgment.
Al Qaida's actions, for example, are not terrorist attacks, but rather "interventions." Anwar Sadat was not assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood, but instead "executed." Hamas suicide attacks qualify as "resistance." "Jihad" appears in the Muslim Brotherhood Manifesto, and they claim the term is entirely peaceful. This explanation fails to answer how this squares with the Manifesto's words that "dying in the cause of Allah is our highest mission." Peaceful indeed. Within days of 9/11, Ramadan seemed to throw in with the conspiracy theorists, noting that the U.S. and Israel had the most to gain by the attack.
It is no surprise that Ramadan is eager to pick up stakes and relocate to South Bend. As Fourest describes him, he views himself as somewhat a hit-and-run activist, whose effectiveness requires him to light a spark and then quickly leave town. He is no longer welcome in Egypt, or in France. Moving on to his next geographic location is a good way to avoid being tied down.
I must say that I am somewhat sanguine about the prospect of him coming to the U.S. In some ways, having Ramadan at Notre Dame may be a blessing, since - compared to Europe -we seem to have more commentators who are accustomed to the reality of politico-religious extremism and the reality that its practitioners actually act in accordance with their beliefs. Chances are, Ramadan will not get as much a free pass as he has received from our colleagues overseas, and it will be good theater. If he succeeds in getting here, you will not find me complaining, since Ramadan in the American heartland may be good for business. Still, I cringe somewhat at prospect of him interacting with the best Catholic American college students. It is not because they might be influenced to blow things up but rather because Ramadan might waste their time that could be better spent at football games.
Fourest is unique among people who have looked at Ramadan, as she has done it so carefully. What is her ultimate take? It comes near the very end of Brother Tariq:
When I began my inquiry, I had, as you can imagine, certain preconceptions about Tariq Ramadan. Having read a number of his books, I expected to be analyzing a form of discourse that was deceptive in its complexity but not necessarily duplicitous. I was convinced that the portrait I would gain would not be a progressive anti-globalist, but of a bigot and a moralist – though not especially a fundamentalist. I thought I would come across the Muslim Brotherhood, or at least their influence; but I still believed Ramadan when he claimed he was an independent thinker. I do not believe him any longer … Do we have here a providential man we can expect to modernize Islam and encourage dialogue between civilizations? The answer is no. And it is high time we put an ended to our naivete lest we become accomplices.
These are strong words, coming from a French feminist. Hopefully, some enlightened American scholars will accept Fourest's challenge, and engage Tariq Ramadan in some of the classic D's we have imported from France: "discourse" or "dialogue," or maybe a little "deconstruction."
Jeff Breinholt is Director of National Security Law at the International Assessment and Strategy Center (www.strategycenter.net). The views in this article are the author's own and do not reflect those of the Department of Justice.