September 13, 2004
Learning from Tariq Ramadan
Martin E. Marty
Last month, Notre Dame's R. Scott Appleby, at a seminar we led in Aspen, described
his university's new star scholar, Tariq Ramadan. He expressed the importance
of hearing Ramadan's voice in American academe, in open conversation with non-Muslims
(Notre Dame being largely un-Muslim, last we heard). A few days later, we learned
that the Swiss citizen's approved visa had been revoked suddenly, at the behest
of the Homeland Security Department. Dr. Appleby, speaking for the Joan B. Kroc
Institute for International Peace Studies, has since described how thoroughly
a 10-person team had vetted Professor Ramadan.
We have read the scatter-gun attacks on him by Richard Pipes and others. We have also read Ramadan's point-for-point and, to us, convincing response, showing each charge to be torn out of context, a distortion, or unrepresentative. Pipes indicts Ramadan for not sufficiently criticizing the September 11 attackers and -- I agree -- for not sufficiently condemning French anti-Semites. Notre Dame continues to call him "a distinguished scholar and a voice for moderation in the Muslim world." The Middle East Studies Association and the American Academy of Religion are among those protesting the U.S. action, and The Chronicle of Higher Education (September 10) provided three pages of criticism, including Alan Wolfe's claim that such acts are "harming the war on terrorism."
Despite being recognized as an agent for integrating Islam in the West (Time lists him among the world's most influential people), Ramadan's detractors begin by connecting him with his firebrand grandfather, a founder of the Muslim Brotherhood -- a group that Ramadan often criticizes. As a feminist, he has, of course, also alienated conservative Muslims. Some U.S. critics have even faulted him for criticizing McDonald's, as Kroc money is McDonald's money. Few holders of named chairs withhold criticism of donors; "my" University of Chicago, from day one, housed opponents of John D. Rockefeller.
Writes Wolfe, "It is precisely because Ramadan is such a devout Muslim that the U.S. should be doing everything in its power to make friends with him." Maybe Ramadan sometimes does talk out of both sides of his mouth as he relates to various constituencies and circumstances, suggests Wolfe, but the U.S. officials speak out of only one -- the intolerant side.
It is hard for non-Muslim Americans, who have always been distant from Muslims, to hear their many factions, many voices, many nuances. Yet are we all the same? The Muslim world does itself a disservice if it sees our anti-Muslim ideologues (even more vehement than most of our anti-Semites), the Jerry Falwells and William Franklin Grahams, as being representative of all American Christianity. Unlike Islam, Judaism does not often get called a "wicked" and "evil" religion, however opposed to Israeli policies the attackers may be.
Had Ramadan been permitted to go beyond our arbitrarily closed gates and been heard, there is no way "we" would all agree with him. We might, however, have learned from him, and, incidentally, deprived militant Muslims of new converts to hyper-anti-Americanism.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.