Tariq Ramadan and this adminstration’s need to dehumanize Muslims

Tariq Ramadan and this adminstration’s need to dehumanize Muslims November 20, 2006

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".

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