An online poll provided by the American Foreign Policy magazine in 2009 placed Ramadan on the 49th spot in a list of the world’s top 100 contemporary intellectuals."
i) Ramadan on Islamic Extremism
ii) Moderate Muslims are Like Us?
iii) Orientalism: Good and Bad Muslims
Ramadan on Islamic Extremism
There is something very fishy about something Tariq Ramadan has said. It can be translated thus:
Once we have the compulsory condemnations out of the way, which I’m afraid is something we ‘moderate’ Muslims have to do, then we can rationalise or justify what the ‘violent extremist groups’ have done.
And what they have done, according to Ramadan, is both a response to political situations and a political act. Or, as Ramadam puts it, ‘we must move forward and place their political positions in context’. What if the actions of Islamic terrorists or ‘extremists’ are religious as well as political? Indeed what if they are solely religious? Commentators like Ramadan in one breath stress the importance of Islam in every ‘Muslim struggle’ against ‘oppression’ or against many other things. Yet when that religious struggle expresses itself in terrorism, or other violent and extreme acts, he feels a strong desire to explain them solely in terms of political realities and political rationalisations. Suddenly Islam becomes less important when the actions discussed are extreme or violent.
Moderate Muslims are Like Us?
Ramadam says that there are
‘those in the west today who are keen to define moderate Muslims as those who are invisible, or look just like us, who support us, or even as those who have accepted the terms of their subjection.’ (2010)
Thus, Ramadam must be defending, implicitly of course (he says a lot implicitly rather than explicitly) those Muslims
who are very visible, who don’t look like us, who don’t support us, or even those who have rejected the terms of 'their subjection'.
If think this is a fair version or translation of what it is that Ramadam actually meant. I wouldn’t have been that sure about it, however, if it weren’t for those two words at the very end – ‘their subjection’. Thus it is absolutely clear that Ramadam believes that ‘those moderate Muslims as those who are invisible, or look just like us, who support us’ are suffering ‘subjection’ at the hands of ‘the West’. There is no other way to read what he has written. The fact that he didn’t offer my version is of no consequence. The fact that these positions are tacitly hidden underneath what he does say is of no consequence. The fact is that on so many issues, and on so many occasions, Ramadan knows, as we know, that he can’t be explicit and open about what it is he really believes if he wants to retain his image as a 'moderate reformer of European Islam'.
In addition, what would it mean for Muslims to be visible, in Ramadan’s terms? Is that in-your-face visibility, or just plain visibility? Is he talking about the burkha or just the hijab? Is he talking about louder chants from more and more mosques in more and more places? Is he talking about Muslims getting down to pray in the middle of Oxford Street or in Manchester city centre? Is he talking about Sunni or Shia rituals taking place in the streets of Cambridge or Bradford? I don’t know because he doesn’t say. Of course he doesn’t say. This is Tariq Ramadan we’re talking about here.
In any case, what is intrinsically wrong with Muslims who ‘support us’? It depends, I suppose, on what is meant by ‘us’ here. He doesn’t include Muslims from European as ‘us’ because he has already artfully separated all Muslims from the ‘us’ by nature of his very comments. Does he mean the ‘support’ of the British or French nation in wars or in conflicts? What’s so bad about that? What is this something which Ramadam seems not to expect from his fellow Muslims? What about ‘supporting us’ in out attitudes to wife beating, or animal cruelty? What’s wrong with expecting Muslims to be ‘just like us’ in these areas? Or being ‘just like us’ in our support for parliamentary democracy and so on? It seems that Ramadam is trying to separate Muslims from the rest of ‘us’ at the very same time that he says (in public) he is trying to bring Muslims and non-Muslims together. But this is Tariq Ramadam we are talking about! So any position, even a contradictory one, is possible.
The other point is that Ramadan thinks that Muslims who ‘are just like us’ must be ‘subjugated’. That is, forced to be ‘like us’. And if Muslims weren’t forced, or subjected, to be just like us, then they would be quite unlike us. Again, at the very same time that Ramadam attempts to bring Muslims and non-Muslims together he also tries to split them apart. But this is Tariq Ramadan we are talking about! I would also like to know what a Muslim in Europe or the UK does when he is not suffering from European ‘subjection’. Does he, say, become an Islamist, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, or even join Hizb ut-Tahrir? What about becoming a terrorist or a ‘freedom fighter’ in Palestine, Iraq or Afghanistan?
Orientalism: Good and Bad Muslims
One can easily see that Ramadan has accepted Edward Said’s position on how ‘the West’ sees Islam (although there are many other writers who basically share Said’s standpoint on these matters). Even down to accepting the Saidian nomenclature of ‘Orientalist’ and ‘the Other’, one can see the influence of Said and other concomitant writers of the ‘post-colonialist school’ (or the ‘antithetical school’). And just like Said, Ramadan has nothing to say about the many writers of ‘the colonialist period’ who rather than classify Muslims in the ‘binary’ manner of ‘good and bad’, as Ramadan suggests, actually went the opposite way and saw all things Muslim, or all things Arabic, in a positive and romantic light. This might well have been an example of what some people now call ‘inverted racism’.
Clearly, Ramadam does not mention this phenomenon either as it was in the colonialist period, or as it is today. Instead he argues that
‘”Good” Muslims were those who either collaborated with the colonial enterprise or accepted the values and customs of the dominant power. The rest, the “bad” Muslims, those who “resisted” religiously, culturally or politically, were systematically denigrated, dismissed as the “other” and repressed as a “danger”.’ (2010)
Although Ramadan’s binary distinction of ‘good and bad Muslims’ is neat and tidy, he completely ignores such facts that the British colonialists (or the British Empire), as well as other colonial powers, systematically allowed much cultural and religious autonomy when it came to the lives of the colonised peoples. This was especially true in India and with Indian Muslims and Hindus. Of course there wasn’t a blanket and unequivocal policy of tolerance vis-à-vis culture and religion, and it has been said that such tolerance as there was, was simply a means to rule - or ‘divide and rule’ - the subject nation. However, ‘the other’, in his otherness, was not completely suppressed or oppressed. Why else are there still thousands of Hindu temples and Muslim holy places on Indian territory today? (Interestingly enough, the Islamic empire that preceded the British Empire had the same policy of cultural tolerance during certain parts of its tenure, though the imperialist Muslims were not quite as understanding when it came to religious toleration.) It is even the case that many imperial powers have displayed a similar cultural and religious tolerance, from the Greeks to the Romans and even to the French. Though, again, there were periods and examples of extreme intolerance and brutality which can be seen when we survey the whole history of imperial power and foreign conquest.
Tariq Ramadan, 2010, ‘Good Muslims, Bad Muslims’, Tariq Ramadan: Official Website, http://www.tariqramadan.com/spip.php?article11022