Tariq Ramadan and this adminstration’s need to dehumanize Muslims

L’affaire Tariq Ramadan lives on.  [HT:  American Leftist].

Why I’m Banned in the USA – washingtonpost.com

I am increasingly convinced that the Bush administration has barred me for a much simpler reason: It doesn’t care for my political views. In recent years, I have publicly criticized U.S. policy in the Middle East, the war in Iraq, the use of torture, secret CIA prisons and other government actions that undermine fundamental civil liberties. And for many years, through my research and writing and speeches, I have called upon Muslims to better understand the principles of their own faith, and have sought to show that one can be Muslim and Western at the same time. 

My experience reveals how U.S. authorities seek to suppress dissenting voices and — by excluding people such as me from their country — manipulate political debate in America. Unfortunately, the U.S. government’s paranoia has evolved far beyond a fear of particular individuals and taken on a much more insidious form: the fear of ideas.

TR’s right of course about this administration’s fear of dissenting ideas, but the bigger issue is the committment of some influential segments of the American political establishment to gerrymandering what passes for debate in the Beltway on the Middle East so that Muslims and Arabs continue to be represented in American consciousness by fist-pumping extremists and creepy men with funny accents. 

Far more dangerous to this administration’s neocon political agenda than an actual terrorist slipping over the border would be the arrival on American shores of a new face among Muslim leaders like Ramadan who is an urbane, genuininely moderate, and highly telegenic reformer who openly speaks out against the blatantly pro-Israeli bias that has been foisted on America by political elites in Washington.

Not because TR’s some postmodern Madhi who’ll put AIPAC and the neo-cross-burners at LittleGreenFootballs out of business.  As much as I admire him, I have no illusions about his (or any other single individual’s) potential to turn the tide in the so-called debate in Washington.  That’s not why he’s being kept out, either. 

American Leftist hit the nail on the head when he observed, "Nothing is more dangerous to the neoconservatives than the humanization of Muslims and Islam".  This is about preventing the humanization of Muslims and Islam in American life.

He’s been banished be because he’s an "Obama" rather than a Mahdi.  He’s a fresh new leader whose unconventionalness threatens to expose the unreality of the simplistic categories that are so skillfully deployed today in Washington to innoculate the public from sympathy for Muslims or Arabs.  Just as it’s impossible to tar Barak Obama with the typical rightwing slurs against leftists, so is it impossible to squeeze Tariq Ramadan into one of the preferred categories of Muslimness that make being pro-Israeli the shibboleth of political moderation and religious enlightenment.

Ramadan is a brilliant and innovative thinker and activist (and one that, I immodestly note, I discovered years before his arrival in North America during my studies in France in the early 1990s) who would greatly enrich the Muslim community and the broader intellectual climate in America, but when you really get down to it this ban isn’t really about him or ideas.  It’s about keeping out all Muslims who can’t be safely typecast and silenced.

That’s also why there was an uproar over Salam Al-Marayati’s nomination in 1999 by Dick Gephardt for inclusion on a Congressional commission on terorrism.  The minute there was a risk of this cleancut, moderate Muslim leader to get a seat at the big table in Washington, a lynch mob emerged to send this uppity Moslem back in his taxi.  A veteran of two decades of interfaith dialogue with close connections to the Bay Area Jewish Community was noneless pilloried as a raving anti-Semite.  Zionist Organization of America president and Muslim-baiter extraordinaire Mort Klein sank so low as to ludicrously compare him to David Duke.  Ultimately, Gephardt caved to the hysteria and withdrew the nomination.

All manner of Jewish, Christian and secular hardliners are permitted on such a committee, but apparently a clean cut, well spoken Muslim leader with a track record of moderation  contributing is dangerous. 

Like patriotism, the charge of anti-Semitism is a preferred refuge of a certain class of scoundrel today, so Ramadan has also been accused of being an anti-Semitic hate monger, and on the flimiest of charges (see my piece in MuslimWakeUp in 2004 "How Not to Fight Muslim Anti-Semitism: The Revocation of Tariq Ramadan’s Visa Fuels Bigotry" to see how absurd these charges are).

The truly sad thing is by working so constantly (and visibly) to politically disenfranchise American Muslims the most prominent "defenders" of Israel in Washington make dialogue between Muslims and Jews on the Middle East incredibly difficult, if not impossible.  Debates on the Middle East don’t have to be a bleak struggle pitting Muslims and Arabs against Jews in an existential battle–whether on the ground in the Middle East or in American political life–but these shortsighted policies and vicious smear campaigns against Muslims who like most of the world have problems with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians (and, now, the Lebanese) make this a completely, tragicly, zero sum game, and one that inexorably leads to new hatred and violence on all sides.

Then there’s the irony of ideologues who advocate inane policies that reinforce every paranoid conspiracy theory of Jewish power and Israeli animosity towards Muslims having the gall to demonize Muslims for ignorant attitudes that they themselves repeatedly fuel.  Ah, the humanity.   A depressing topic for another post.

On the positive side, the fact that this matter is still getting attention, and in so prominent an outlet as The Washington Post, is cause for cautious optimism.  (I’m sure the goons at AIPAC are hopping mad that Tariq Ramadan’s absurd plight is back in the news.)  Clearly, there are a few people left in the Beltway with some commonsense and a sense of fairness.

Update:  I  changed the title, which was "L’affair Tariq Ramadan lives on".

  • A.

    you mention twice in your post “a clean cut, well spoken Muslim leader” and admire TR for being a muslim who defies categorization into any single camp.
    While I understand entirely and agree with you as to the unquestioned desirability of these attributes, I can’t help also feeling bitter about the fact that half the muslim population CANNOT appear ‘clean-cut’ and defy categorization in today’s climate. In the muslim ummah today, there is persistent absence of recognition of the fact that hijab and purdah for women today are understood as symbols of extremism, no matter how well-schooled, personally clean cut and moderate the person walking inside them might be. They are understood as such by most westerners and by a fair number of muslims (with a have and have-not’s type of dynamic going on in muslim circles). Ignoring that there is a problem with one’s public appearance as a muslim woman means that there is also no ‘out’ for moderate muslim women. Muslim women cannot appear clean cut and moderate if they choose to wear hijab… and if they choose to leave it, they must struggle with the existential issues of how their actions will be judged, given that the muslim world at large is not standing by their actions. I am not making a rabid argument about about women’s rights here – this is just the internal alienation of muslim women that I’m writing to you about – when does the clean-cut ideal become accessible to each and every muslim, with the support of their communities and leaders, when it is such a pressing need for us today, if we want to keep our wits and our faith about us?

  • http://abusinan.blogspot.com Abu Sinan

    Do you think that they believe there is such a thing as a “moderate Muslim”? I am becoming convinced that many of these people see Islam as the problem, hence there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim.
    I think many of them, privately at least, subscribe to the Robert Spencer school of thought. This being that the extremists within Islam are the ones with the proper view of Islam. They view Islam itself as the source for the extremism.
    Hence, moderates such as you, Tariq Ramadan and myself, are not really following Islam. If we were, we would be jihadis.
    I think this is what is going on here. For these people it is certainly a war against Islam. They do not view a reformation of Islam as possible, because they view the very basics of Islam as the problem itself.
    The only “Muslims” that will be acceptable will be people like Irshad Manji and Asra Nomani, ie basically people who disavow the religion almost completely.

  • http://omar.dgatto.com OmarG

    Salam Svend, I think that the Israel-Palestine issue is what is keeping him out, yes. But, I don’t think that the American ummah will get value from T.R. if he came here to fight that conflict on our soil. I think we get value out of him when he helps Muslims get past the phobia of being native Westerners while still being authentic Muslims. In fact, if he came and concentrated on fighting a conflict most of us ahve no personal stake in, we would be loosing out big time on the domestic front, something which deeply affects us every minute of the day. So, we choose: fight a foreign war which is tangental to our existence and loose our place in our own land, or choose to be “selfish” and empower ourselves first, as an authentic native Muslim community. I vote for the latter!

  • http://abusinan.blogspot.com Abu Sinan

    Tariq has spoken on that issue Omar. I believe that Svend and myself were both present at one such event here at Mason University.
    Ramadan should have been let in the USA, for a variety of reasons. I think the fact that the US did not let him in shows us that there is no such thing as a “moderate” Muslim to these people, unless of course you are a Lesbian who completely redefines Islam to her own benefit(Manji) or you are a free love advocate who thinks having children outside of wedlock is fine(Nomani).
    No other Muslim need apply, thank you. I think there are anti-Muslim forces out there, such as AIPAC and right wing Christian Zionists who have made it their goal to demonise any Muslim to adheres to their faith.
    We cannot ignore this. One group, AIPAC, does so to further their support of a foreign nation. The other group does so to further their religious ideology and do their part to bring in “the end times.”

  • http://www.progressiveislam.org/blogs/omar OmarG

    Yes, I think he definately should have been let in. As I understand, he had a visa from the State Dep, but Homeland security revoked it at the last minute. This is precisely why I thought a “Homeland” security agency would be bad for us, American and/or Muslim.
    Sadly, I think it only underscores the damage done to us because we have some American Jews and American Muslims who want to duke it out over Palestine. I’m convinced that the only reason that the far right has recently come to hate Muslims is because of the Palestine issue. Before the Palestinian conflict was Islamized by Hamas, they used to go after secular Arabs; now they’re coming after all Muslims. That whole Palestine issue is such a poison for all of us the longer it goes on. And, I just don’t see any solutions realistically occuring in the near or even distant future. Its pretty depressing to see us held hostage over this, all of us, no matter what our ethnicity is. I wish we could go back to the old days when the worst steretypes we had to face were belly dancers, hookas and camels…

  • http://revoltinthedesert.blogspot.com Lawrence of Arabia

    i think it became pretty clear what a farse the us govt was playing out when they denied him a visa to teach at notre dame. as notre dame pushed them on the issue over the next year or so the govt had no good answer as to why the visa was not given, but it also became increasingly clear that it simply was not going to be given. one has to say that when they are keeping out well recognized muslim scholars who have been invited to a relatively conservative institution like notre dame they lose a great deal of credibility.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/dbrutus/ TM Lutas

    Probably not the favorite of anybody here but it would be useful to have a link to the accusations against Tariq Ramadan (http://www.danielpipes.org/article/2043). Frankly, I don’t know the man but if there’s hard evidence out there of the following, the visa denial was correct:
    Intelligence agencies suspect that Mr. Ramadan (along with his brother Hani) coordinated a meeting at the Hôtel Penta in Geneva for Ayman al-Zawahiri, deputy head of Al-Qaeda, and Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheikh, now in a Minnesota prison.
    Mr. Ramadan was banned from entering France in 1996 on suspicion of having links with an Algerian Islamist who had recently initiated a terrorist campaign in Paris.
    While some of the rest of the indictment seems a bit exaggerated or strained, these two accusations are legitimately problematic in my opinion. It’s difficult to tell from outside what is the truth of these accusations but such problems certainly rise above the level of unjustified prejudice.
    DHS’ border control section, BCIS, would likely have denied entry based on this sort of thing did they know about it even prior to 9/11 when they were just customs/INS. It’s just that with the intelligence/law enforcement barriers up high, they would likely not have known about it.

  • http://akramsrazor.typepad.com Svend

    Thanks for all the feedback, folks.
    First, I should note that I am by no means uncritical of Muslim attitudes towards hijab. I consider the fixation of many contemporary Muslim hijab to be a major intellectual and spiritual stumbling block. Take a look at this article by me on the hijab controversy in France to for more.
    So I agree that there is serious “internal alienation” on this. The bottom line is that many Muslim women are denied the right to make moral choices by both sides of this debate. Many Muslims who treat hijab the alpha & omega of a Muslim woman’s faith and many Westerners wrongly assume that hijab is inherently oppressive or a indicative of subservience.
    Nonetheless, I don’t agree with your point here. The bigger problem here IMO is that non-Muslims wrongly assume that wearing hijab automatically signals extremism (or even conservatism), not the fact that Muslim women find themselves compelled to wear hijab and therefore are labeled as extremist.
    Also, politicizing a woman’s choice of dress in this fashion is a rejection of all the convictions that Western observers claim to hold. Is is “her body” or is her it? If it is, then mind your own business.
    Abu Sinan:
    There certainly are a lot of political leaders today who profess opposition merely to “Islamic fundamentalism” but agenda is clearly to demonize Islam and Muslims. The fact that many of those who scream the loudest are evangelicals that view Islam as their last remaining serious competitor for missionary work is surely no coincidence. This is evangelism by other means.
    I vote for both. As a Muslim, a person committed to American values of justice and freedom, and a humanist I feel very personally implicated in the conflict. I don’t see it as either/or. Advocating justice in Palestine not only does not conflict with or distract one from America’s needs, it would greatly promote American interests by solving one of the greatest risks to international stability and American security.
    TM: If there were hard evidence or even reasonably strong suspicions of this having taken place, this fact would be all over the air waves and TR’s career would be toast. I find this vague and tentatively worded charge quite unconvincing, especially coming from so partisan a source.
    Second, I’ve seen firsthand how dishonest, cynical and politically motivated a lot of these witch hunts can be today. An organization I was closely involved in (the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy) at all levels from its very birth and which is squeaky clean—to the extent of sometimes being far too pro-US Government than I felt was appropriate as an academic and an activist—was viciously and groundlessly smeared as an Islamic terrorist front by Pipes in 2004 (http://www.danielpipes.org/article/1650). The charges were ridiculous and utterly, laughably disconnected from reality. The best part was the “proof” of us being Al-Qaeda types: the slight involvement in the org of a person who once belonged to a group that later evolved into a politically extreme one but who personally was now so *extremely* liberal and pro-USA that he’s viewed as a patsy by a good chunk of the activists and conservatives. He’s so pro-US govt that he recruitment appeals for the CIA on his mailing list. He also happens to be a friend of mine.
    Oh and 3 years later that supposed hotbed of radical Islamism is holding joint events with Freedom House and AEI! I guess all those bleeding heart liberals at FH and AEI have been totally duped, too, getting in bed with a radical Islamic terrorist front at the very same time that they’re attacking Muslims left and right.
    This was an incredibly transparent, politically motivated smear job. Pipes and his proxy were clearly trying to prevent a new org that could provide some dissent from his agenda from getting a seat at the table in Washington. Not unlike what’s happening with Tariq Ramadan.
    And I won’t even get into how little reason we have to trust these assurances from anonymous officials at anonymous agencies given how fast and loose this administration has played with facts and intelligence briefs (e.g., WMDs, accepting fake intel from the likes of Judith Miller).
    Finally, the idea that a terrorist would have such an incredibly elaborate and unlikely cover is simply absurd. It’s like think saying that Hans Kung is secretly a sleeper for the Red Army Faction. It’s just absurd. They guy’s one of the most influential and credible advocates of reform and dialogue in the Muslim world. He’s been called a “Martin Luther” for a reason. And he’s DESPISED by real fundamentalists.
    But facts and common sense have little to do with this.

  • http://omar.dgatto.com OmarG

    I find it impossible to take Pipe’s seriously on anything. His antecs helped him shed his academic credibility a long time ago, and it doesn’t seem he regrets that.
    Svend: that’s a huge burden to want to carry. I elect not to, almost entirely because I’m not actually there to know the low-down or the behind the scenes and because I have no control over either side…not at this distance and not at this status of powerlessness (literal in a sens of being able to influence the actors, not philospophical). I can give the issue no more than lip service realistically. In practice, I give domestic issues all of my attention and representing myself differently is mere pretense on my part. And then, while fully respecting your personal stance, I would feel compelled to give other foriegn issues equal attention, like Kashmir, Mindanao, S. Thailand, Chechnya, Darfur…the list is nearly endless and I don’t think I can philosophically choose one over the other. Yet, by caring about them all, am I not the jack of all, master of none? Yet, by concentrating on one, I implicitly rank the suffering of one people as being more important than another. I just can’t bring myself to do that. Thus, I choose to locate myself Islamically where *I* am physically located. Its the only realistically fair thing I can think of for myself at this time. But, this is just my rationalization, so you don’t think I’m heartless or indifferent to the suffering of others.

  • http://akramsrazor.typepad.com Svend

    I understand where you’re coming from, Omar, and for the record wasn’t assuming anything about you. At times it is overemphasized and Arabs frankly sometimes are a bit clueless about non-Arab Muslim issues but I don’t think it therefore follows that the cause is in any way less worthy of support or pressing.
    ‘Nuff said.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/dbrutus/ TM Lutas

    Svend – The standard of proof required for a conviction, even an indictment is much lower than for a visa refusal. When you stand at that kiosk and ask for a passport, a little god stares at you. At discretion they may deny you a visa. When you arrive at the border, you face another little god. They are not obligated to honor the visa and may turn you away despite the visa. The justification they need give for their denial may be as minimal as the applicant did not convince them that they would honor the terms of their visa/entry request, scary isn’t it? The level of permissible discretion of a prosecutor and a border agent or visa issuer are vastly different and thus the lack of prosecution means nothing regarding the validity of the visa renege.
    As for Pipes, his article came up on a google search and I couldn’t find anything as well written that laid out a public “J’accuse” of TR so I used what I found. Up to that point, the accusations seemed cartoonishly incomplete. At least with Pipes’ article you get a sense that the US wasn’t completely insane in doing what it did. It still might be completely wrong, but insane? No.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/kactuz/ kactuz

    There are no ‘moderate’ Muslims – only those who kill and preach violence and those those that make exuses for the first group. You cannot be against terror and for Mohammed. In case you haven’t read the Quran and hadiths, they are full of hate and violence aginst non-Muslims.
    When I see Muslim facing these issues and willing to talk about these things, then there can be dialogue. I am pessimistic. I have never seen a single Muslim willing to be honest about the hate in the Quran or the vile actions of their dear prophet, a man they consider a great moral example. That says it all.
    So, considering the hate Mohammed preached, and the fact that Islam’s own traditions say he killed, tortured, raided villages and caravans, enslaved, took women and let his men rape them, and even beat his own wife – and Muslims write PHUM after his name. How can I accept people like this as men and women of good will? How can I believe they are honest?
    All I hear from Muslims – all Muslims – are denials or excuses – and silence. I see Muslims blaming others for everything. It is always somebody elses fault (Bush, America, Hollywood, the Jews, Capitalism, Imperialism, Colonialism, Evangelicals, the crusaders, the POpe, Bugs Bunny, you add your own name here…). It is never Islam’s fault, is it?
    If you want an explanation for the terror and oppression in Islam and Muslim societies, why not look at the Quran and the life of your dear prophet? Maybe, just maybe, that explains a great deal. Maybe the words “I have been made victorious with terror” might offer a clue.
    Oh yes, I don’t have to demonize Muslims. They do it quite well on their own. As to the ‘dehumanizing’ – well, based upon my view on humanity, Muslim are very human. In fact, if given a choice I would renounce the human race entirely and join the hamsters or beetles. As for the hajib, I really don’t care if they wear it or not, or even throw an extra blanket on top. The clothes do not make a person an extremist. The veil and hajib do, however, tell me that that woman loves and respect a person that murdered, tortured and enslaved men women and children. I think that is a reasonable conclusion based upon the facts.
    I also hope that you Muslims are not so foolish or deshonest to think that I can’t back up these serious accusations with links and references to Islamic texts – not that these have ever made any difference to Muslims. Believe me, I have never gotten a Muslim to admit that a text says what it says. It would be amusing if it weren’t so tragic. Believe me, I have tried a hundred times, with links and references. What the heck.. Here is a typical example:
    Notice the quotes and links. Do I take things out of context, or do words actually mean something? I wonder. Don’t ethics and morals apply to Mohammed and Muslims, or are they exempt from the rules of morality? Remember those thing are written by friends and fiollowers of Islam’s prophet, not infidels.
    As far as I am concerned, TR is just one more Muslim that pretends to be a moderate, but like other Muslims, follows a faith than teaches hate. He never talks about the hate and violence in Islam, or the evil things M. did. When are Muslims going to renounce the hundreds of verses that teach hate and violence against infidels? When are they going to say that murder and oppression are bad, even when done by Mohammed? The “out of context” “bad translation” “you don’t understand” “that was then” excuses are not acceptable to this old man.
    Oh yes (reading my post above) I had forgotten about the geckos….. Why did Islam’s prophet hate geckos so much? Maybe killing a lizard, or 100 lizards, gets you an extra virgin on Paradise. Who knows? Quien sabe?
    Thats it for today.
    This is old man John Kactuz signing off. Too old to care, too tired to give a damn
    PS: Svend, thank you for your blog. I stop by a few times a week even if I don’t comment too much. You are a brave man, but you should really consider these things. I have a bad feeling about the future – it won’t be nice. I blame Islam (partly only, but I wont bore you with my other peeves). Hum, tomorrow the Pope goes to Turkey. I hope that he says what needs to be said. Wouldn’t it be fun if he got up and read from certain passages in the Quran and hadiths? That would make an interesting dilemma for Muslims, wouldn’t it?
    Take care.