Tariq Ramadan is a 42-year old Arab Islamic philosopher, born in Switzerland and teaching at the University of Fribourg. He was recently invited to Notre Dame University, in South Bend, as Henry B. Luce Professor of Religion, Conflict, and Peace Building, affiliated with the Catholic institution's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.
However, his entry into the U.S. was made impossible when his visa, issued by the State Department, was revoked at the insistance of the Department of Homeland Security.
The Ramadan case has touched off a significant debate in some circles. Academics who make it their business to attack the U.S. government over such matters have issued their typical condemnations; other public voices have alleged that Jewish pressure led to Ramadan's exclusion. The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the most shrill and agitated of the secular advocacy groups for Middle Eastern radicals, issued an uncharacteristically mild set of cautionary declarations, describing its reaction to the decision as "deeply troubled," but then, with its customary arrogance, demanded an apology to Ramadan and offered to work with the DHS on a resolution of the issue, i.e. reissuance of the visa.
Both ADC and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the chief entity in the "Wahhabi lobby" which, with Saudi Arabian backing, stifles the intellectual life of American Muslims, while claiming to speak for no less than seven million of its coreligionists on these shores, had the rather considerable nerve to criticize Ramadan's visa cancellation as "censorship."
These outcomes were predictable. Neither the professional defenders of Islamist extremism in Middle East studies on campus, nor the well-heeled front groups for Arab radicals and Wahhabi reactionaries, will accept that a visit to the U.S. is not a right guaranteed to every foreigner.
Ramadan should not be admitted to the U.S. He has written extensively on the challenge of assimilating Islam in Europe, but has shown by his public statements there that he is not an Islamic moderate at all, but a man committed to quite radical postures. Even Hicham Chehab, news editor of the Beirut Daily Star , a newspaper obviously dedicated to Arab interests, was forced to admit early this month that "During the controversial visit to Britain last July by Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, himself accused of sanctioning suicide bombers, Ramadan defended Qardawi on the BBC television program 'Hard Talk.'"
Qaradawi, an Islamist bigot resident in Qatar, is more than "accused of sanctioning suicide bombers." He was recently compelled -- not for the first or, one may be certain, the last time -- to dissociate himself from one of his own fatwas acclaiming violence against U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq, by "clarifying" that he supports "resistance" but not kidnapping, hostage-taking, or slaying of civilian contractors. At the same time, he accused the U.S. of trying to "change the religion" of Muslims in the Middle East
The Daily Star's Chehab also noted that on the BBC show professor Ramadan, for his part, "did use, like some Muslim clerics, a double language and failed to denounce Palestinian suicide bombings. While Ramadan condemned the killing of civilians, he also denied there was definite proof that Al-Qaeda was behind the attacks of September 11, 2001." An exponent of such views clearly should not be welcome in the U.S. on the third anniversary of those horrors, and in the aftermath of the latest terror atrocity, in Beslan, supported by the international Wahhabi cult.
Nevertheless, the Ramadan controversy is of far greater interest in what it reveals about attitudes toward Islam among non-Muslim Americans, whose own moderation is unquestionable, but who now fall quite easily into one of two traps when it comes to dealing with someone like professor Ramadan.
The first trap is that of seeking representatives of a "Muslim Reformation." A whole category of Western pseudo-experts and semi-intellectuals has emerged since September 11th, who on the basis of a quick paging through Qur'an or a superficial review of their Western Civilization courses in college 30 years ago, have decided that Islam needs "a Luther" and "a Reformation." Most of these amateur pundits seem not to know the difference between the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, or the role played in the development of new thought in medieval Christian Europe by Arab and Arabic-speaking Jewish translators of the Greek philosophical classics.
Thus, the Daily Star's article on the Ramadan case appears under the headline, "To the West, Tariq Ramadan is hardly a 'Muslim Luther.'" But is a "Muslim Luther" a desirable concept? Luther expressed extreme hatred of the Jews, writing:
"set fire to their synagogues or schools and. bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us. it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know. Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them. Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb...Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews."Even if Luther had not expressed himself in so brutal a fashion against the Jews, the same religious reformer demanded the suppression of Aristotle from the curricula of European universities, on grounds of paganism. The Spanish Arabic philosopher Ibn Rushd (1126-98), known as Averroes in the West, remains one of the glories of Islamic civilization for his commentaries on Aristotle. The greatest of the Jewish philosophers, Maimonides, followed Averroes' path. Should Muslims emulate Luther and cultivate hatred for Aristotelian philosophy, as well as for the Jews? Obviously, some already have, and Islam has arguably had its Luther, in the form of Muhammad Ibn abd Al-Wahhab, founder of Wahhabism and the most famous protagonist of a "Muslim Reformation," as well as the inspirer of Osama bin Laden.