ROMA A Muslim intellectual has achieved star status in French-speaking Europe. He draws crowds of young immigrants and speaks to them with charismatic fervor. He enchants the anti-globalization left and the readers of Le Monde Diplomatique. He cites with equal mastery the Koran and Nietzsche, Heidegger and the sayings of the Prophet. He is admired by Fr. Michel Lelong, the leading Islams scholar of the Church in France. He sells thousands of cassette recordings of his sermons. His name is Tariq Ramadan.
Ramadan lives in Geneva, where he was born 42 years ago. He studied as imam in Cairo and, back in Switzerland, took an undergraduate degree in French literature and two doctorates, in Islamic studies and the philosophical thought of Friedrich Nietzsche. He teaches at the universities of Geneva and Fribourg and has for years taken his students into Third World countries to get field experience and meet Catholic exponents of Liberation Theology and the Dalai Lama. Since 1993, he has dedicated himself with growing intensity to preaching in Switzerland, France, and Belgium, with frequent engagements in the United States. He is the author of over a dozen books: the one entitled To Be a European Muslim, published in 1999, has been translated into 14 languages. He is listened to as an expert at the European Parliament. He is married, with four children.
In recent months he has been accused of anti-Semitism. He has had harsh confrontations with influential Jewish intellectuals such as Bernard-Henri Levy, André Glucksmann, and Bernard Kouchner. Le Monde and other important newspapers have published critical reviews about him. But for Ramadan, this is all proof of the rightness of his position and of the Wests innate hostility toward Islam.
The phenomenon of Tariq Ramadan wasnt born in a vacuum. His maternal grandfather, an Egyptian, is Hassan Al-Banna, who in 1929 founded the Muslim Brotherhood, the most important Islamist movement of the twentieth century. His father, an exile in Geneva, was one of its most active promoters. And his brother Hani with whom Tariq denies having connections directs, also in Geneva, an Islamic center accused of contact with the terrorist network of Al-Qaeda.
But his ideological allegiances are more important than his ancestry. Tariq Ramadan working within the very heart of the West weaves together Islamic politics and the radical criticisms of Western rationalism made by Nietzsche, Heidegger, Cioran, Guénon, and neo-Marxist and anti-global currents.
Other twentieth-century Muslim intellectuals went down this road ahead of him, frequently studying in European universities. One of these is the Indian Muhammed Iqbal, another the Iranian Ahmad Fardid. One of the latters important followers, Djalal Al-e Ahmad, published in Tehran in 1962 an essay that, as implied by the title of the French translation, Loccidentalite, locates Islams deadly malady in the West, against the backdrop of an apocalyptic and nihilistic vision that seems to presage the emergence of the universalist radical terrorism of an Osama bin Laden.
But a path even more similar to that of Tariq Ramadan is that of another Egyptian, Hassan Hanafi. He too frequented the Muslim Brotherhood; he too studied the European philosophers; he too traveled between Cairo and Paris, where he spent ten years at the Sorbonne; he too visited and investigated the United States. As the dean of the philosophy department at the University of Cairo, he clashed with the ulema of Al-Azhar, who did not share his radicalism.
And for Hanafi, the absolute enemy of Islam is the West. Sometimes it is dominated, as during the first seven centuries after Mohammed, the period of Muslim world supremacy; sometimes it is dominant, as during the following seven centuries. But for him the 21st century is the century of the reversal, and the beginning of another period of seven centuries in which the roles will be inverted again: The West will begin its new decline, and the Arab-Islamic world, its renewal.
Tariq Ramadan also sees the West in decline. And into the spiritual void left by Judaism and Christianity, Islam can enter and overcome, no longer enduring modernity, but islamicizing it. The Western public likes Ramadan because his vision includes elements of democracy, equal citizenship, and free expression. He debates both secularized Muslims and those who separate themselves in closed communities. He announces the birth of a fully European Islam. And he ventures on this long journey armed with the doctrine of the taqiyya, or the art of dissimulation, a typical Islamic practice on enemy soil.
In Italy, the most acute analysis of this anti-Western soul from a Muslim point of view is found in the book Global Islam by Khaled Fouad Allam, an Algerian, professor of Islamic studies at the universities of Trieste and Urbino.
In the Christian camp, one critical voice raised against Tariq Ramadan is that of Olivier Clément, an Orthodox theologian and intellectual who lives in Paris. What follows is a part of an article that Clément published in the December, 2003 edition of Vita e Pensiero, the magazine of the Catholic University of Milan:
Be careful of Ramadans model of Islam
by Olivier Clément
The question of school girls wearing veils in France and the debate about the crucifix in an Italian school room are, in spite of appearances, strictly connected, and pose the problem of the behavior of Muslims in these two countries. [...]
We must emphasize immediately that the two cases, French and Italian, are provocations launched by intellectuals or pseudo-intellectuals recently converted to Islam. [...] They are thus exceptions, but they were provoked intentionally and are doubtless revealing.
In France, the two sisters expelled from school, not only because of the veil but more generally for their way of dressing and their behavior, are the daughters of an agnostic lawyer of a Jewish background, named Lévy. He was the one who encouraged them, to demonstrate the intolerance of our society.
In Italy, the father of the two children who said he was scandalized by the crucifix hung on the wall of their school is named Adel Smith, and converted to Islam in 1982. [...]
These isolated provocations seem to me clear testimonies of a new course within the ideological motivations of the Muslim communities. There have certainly always been in France, and there still are, fundamentalist currents of complete hatred and refusal toward Western culture. But these instances from other times have never been able to demolish or even exploit the juridical and mental structures of our society.
The new ideology is now well defined. Its spokesman, at least in France and all of Western Europe, is Tariq Ramadan. Ramadan does not hide himself or devise conspiracies. While affirming his Muslim faith, he presents himself as a great Western intellectual. Young and handsome, he speaks with mastery and clarity the language of the intelligentsia of Western Europe. He teaches philosophy, French literature, and Islamic studies at the University of Geneva. At the same time, he works for Muslim groups like Young Muslims of France, and has assured himself of a role as an expert among the commissions that revolve around the European parliament. His media presence does not cease growing. He is author of more than a dozen works, including Les musulmans dans la laïcité, Aux sources du renouveau musulman, and Les musulmans doccident et lavenir de lislam. He is a frequent guest on television and radio, and he circulates pamphlets in French or Arabic among young Muslims.
He proposes a reformist and all-encompassing Islam. His aim would seem to be that of bringing forth a body of values beginning from Islamic sources, an embodiment of the universal vocation that would take the place of the values of Western civilization. What matters to him is affirming Muslim identity and presenting it as the source of true universality.
Beginning from the statement that the fulcrum of historical movement is now constituted by the Europe-North America combination, with the Muslim countries relegated to the periphery, Ramadan notes how there are nonetheless many Muslims, especially intellectuals, who have succeeded in becoming part of the nucleus. He thus invites them to refashion it and, little by little, islamicize it: References to Judaism and Christianity are being diluted, if not disappearing altogether (Les musulmans doccident e lavenir de lislam, Actes Sud-Sinbad, 2003). Only Islam can achieve the synthesis between Christianity and humanism, and fill the spiritual void that afflicts the West (Islam, le face à face des civilisations, Tawhid, 2001).
And again: The Koran confirms, completes, and corrects the messages that preceded it (Les messages musulmans doccident). Some Christian personalities whose charitable works cannot be misconstrued Mother Teresa, Sister Emanuelle, Abbé Pierre, Fr. Helder Camara are exceptions who show only that all good people are implicitly Muslims, because true humanism is founded in Koranic revelation. Thus, both directly and through this humanism, the Muslim City can be founded upon the earth. Today the Muslims who live in the West must unite themselves to the revolution of the antiestablishment groups from the moment when the neoliberal capitalist system becomes, for Islam, a theater of war [
] The revelation of the Koran is explicit: whoever engages in speculation or cultivates financial interests eneters into war against the transcendent (Pouvoirs, 2003, n. 164).
Tariq Ramadan then insists justly on the long-neglected intellectual riches of the great Muslim thinkers like Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes, but he forgets to situate them in their relation to Greek, Jewish, and Christian thought, and presents them as the true originators of humanism.
Jacques Jomier has efficiently summed up the goal that drives Tariq Ramadan: His problem is not the modernization of Islam, but the islamification of modernity (Esprit et Vie, February 17, 2000). We must not forget that Ramadan is the nephew of Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Islamic movement of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a man Ramadan considers an eminent representative of reformist Islam, capable of bringing about an endogenous alternative culture from within modernity (Peut-on vivre avec lislam?, Favre, 1990).
In his opinion, all forms of contrast must be avoided: around 1995, Ramadan praised Hassan Al-Turabis activities in Sudan. Hes not like that anymore (but his brother Hani, who finances the publishing house Tawhid, doesnt share his reservations, particularly regarding the trials and sentences against adulterous women in Nigeria). Tariq Ramadan prefers to appeal to the freedom of conscience guided by the judgment imparted by Koranic revelation. Some Muslim scholars, using arguments taken from the Koran and the Sunna, have prohibited music and even drawing and photography (and thus television and cinema). It is one opinion among many, and as such it must be respected [
]. But others, like ourselves, should determine a selective approach in these matters, as in others (Les musulmans doccident e lavenir de lislam). The same can be said about the veil: we must leave this choice to women, while revealing to them its true significance.
What can be done in the face of this new situation? [...] In France, where the Muslim community is very numerous and the debates rage on both the right and the left, the parliament is close to voting on a law that would ban the display of religious signs in school buildings. This prospect disturbs the Catholics, according to whom this sort of law would seem to the Muslims like a form of stigmatization and rejection on the part of the national community. [...] But it seems that the more intelligent Muslims are secretly hoping for a law that would favor this exclusion, which would be open proof of the innate islamophobia of French society. [...] Tariq Ramadans thought confers an unexpected scope upon the current provocations. For our part, we are called to a more profound and lucid Christianity, one able, at the same time, to both welcome and illuminate everything.
Note 1. On Hassan Al-Turabi
Among the twentieth-century Muslim thinkers admired by Tariq Ramadan, Olivier Clément cites the Sudanese Hassan Al-Turabi.
Al-Turabi was also close to the Muslim Brotherhood in his youth. He studied philosophy in Europe, at the Sorbonne in Paris. He speaks a language very familiar to European culture. He sees in the West a post-Christian society, and in Islam the fulfillment of Christianity. He says he is a supporter of religious dialogue.
But throughout the 1990s Al Turabi was much more than an intellectual. He was the éminence grise of the military rulers in Sudan. He tried to create a new Islamic state that would be a model for the entire Muslim world. He hosted Osama bin Laden and was the mentor of Al-Qaedas strategist, the Egyptian Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Until his fall from grace with the military regime in 2000, he was the Islamic ideologue most seen on the Al-Jazeera television channel.
In 1994, he managed to be received in a private audience by an unsuspecting John Paul II, in the Vatican.
Here is a link to a long interview with Al-Turabi conducted in 1994 by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach for Lyndon LaRouches Executive Intelligence Review:
> Sudanese leaders deal with the issues
Note 2. On Giacomo Cardinal Biffi
The alarm for an islamicization of Europe, that Olivier Clément attributes to Tariq Ramadan, has much in common with what Giacomo Cardinal Biffi, the archbishop of Bologna, said at the conclusion of one of his famous and debated conferences, on September 30, 2000. Here are the last three paragraphs:
In an interview about ten years ago, I was asked candidly and with enviable optimism: Do you also hold that Europe will either be Christian or not be? It seems to me that the reply I made then is well suited to the conclusion of my statements today.
I think I said then that Europe will either become Christian again or become Muslim. What seems to me to be without a future is the culture of nothing, of freedom without limits or content, of scepticism hailed as an intellectual conquest, which seems to be the attitude mainly dominant among the European peoples, more or less rich in means and poor in truth. This culture of nothing (supported by hedonism and libertine insatiability) will not be able to bear the ideological assault of Islam, which will not be lacking. Only the rediscovery of the Christian drama as the only salvation for man and thus only a decisive resurrection of the ancient spirit of Europe can offer a different outcome to this inevitable confrontation.
Unfortunately, neither the secularists nor the Catholics seem to be aware of the drama that is approaching. The secularists, hammering at the Church in every way possible, do not realize that they are fighting the strongest source of inspiration and the most valid defense of Western civilization and its values of rationality and freedom: perhaps they will realize it too late. The Catholics, allowing their awareness of the truth they possess to fade and substituting for apostolic zeal pure and simple dialogue at any cost, are unknowingly preparing (humanly speaking) their own extinction. The hope is that the gravity of the situation can, at some moment, bring about an effective reawakening of both reason and the ancient faith.
A link to the cardinals entire conference:
> Giacomo Biffi: Sullimmigrazione
The magazine of the Catholic University of Milan, from which the contribution of Olivier Clément was taken:
> "Vita e Pensiero"
The website of Tariq Ramadan:
In Italy, an interview by Nina zu Fürstenberg with Tariq Ramadan was published in edition number 78, July-August, 2003, of the magazine Reset directed by Giancarlo Bosetti:
A book indispensable for understanding the antithesis between Islam and the West according to the greatest Muslim intellectuals of the twentieth century:
Khaled Fouad Allam, Lislam globale, Rizzoli, Milan, 2002, pp. 210,16,00 euros.
An international Muslim movement that maintains positive relations with the West:
> The Other Islam. The Peaceful Revolution of the Ismaili Shiites (3.11.2003)