Tariq Ramadan is not our ally

The Islamist writer Tariq Ramadan is a top-billed speaker at the ESF in London in October.

The following text gives some information on the debate in France about Tariq Ramadan and his politics.

It was originally published (in French) as a leaflet and distributed at the European Social Forum in Paris on 12–16 November 2003 by the “Feminist Collective for a Secular Alternative Globalisation”. We translate it in the interests of informing activists.

Tariq Ramadan is dangerous not because he is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and originator of a political Islam which has wreaked havoc across the world, but because he has never distanced himself from the ideological heritage of his grandfather, whom he continues to present as the “most influential of the Muslim reformists of the century” [1] when that reformism consisted of wanting to go back to the baseline of Sharia law.

Tariq Ramadan is worrying not because he is the brother of Hani Ramadan, an Islamist theoretician who endorses stoning for adultery and considers AIDS to be a divine punishment, but because he himself reckons that one cannot be both Muslim and homosexual, even if he does not advise physical punishment for homosexuals. “God wanted things in order. And that order is ‘man for woman’ and ‘woman for man’,”, he explains in his lectures to young Muslims [2]. By taking up the Koran in a literal way, he endorses the doctrine of a divine and natural order which we would not accept from a Christian fundamentalist.

Challenged to demarcate himself from his brother, Tariq Ramadan does so only very ambiguously. Instead of condemning physical punishments and demanding their abolition, he contents himself with proposing a “total and absolute moratorium, to give us the time to go back to our fundamental texts… and to determine precisely the necessary conditions”.

Equally he does not dispute the right of a man to use conjugal violence, even if he emphasises that the Koran envisages it only as a “last resort” [3].

Tariq Ramadan recognises the equality of men and women before God, but believes in a complementarity — and thus a difference — of the sexes on the social and family level. “Islam offers a frame of reference in which is outlined a global conception of the human being, the man, the woman and the family. Two principles are essential: the first based on the idea of equality between the man and the woman before God, the second that of their complementarity on the social level. In this conception, it is the man who is responsible for the management of the family space, but the role of the mother is central there” [4].

Tariq Ramadan is a fundamentalist leader who wants to go back to the baseline of the Koran. His positions are certainly preferable to the obviously fanatical recommendations of some other Islamists. But he locates himself in a reactionary perspective, incompatible with a progressive alternative globalisation, because it is about making men and women live in the terms of a book which is sanctified and decreed timeless although it was written more than 14 centuries ago.

There are secular and progressive Muslim currents, so why offer Tariq Ramadan the status of a representative of Islam and of European Muslims? Tariq Ramadan calls himself secular, but he defines secularism as a neutral space which should welcome all faiths and cults. That is also the definition of Christine Boutin [a prominent politician of France’s governing right wing]. But it cannot be the definition of activists who struggle for a world liberated from all fanaticism, and thus for a secularism asserted as a positive value.

Tariq Ramadan does not conceal his distaste for rationalism and modernity, even though he is careful to disguise it as an anti-capitalist discourse. “Because they give priority to rationality, efficiency and productivity for progress, our societies are on the brink of the abyss” [5], he explains in his book on The Meeting Point of Civilisations: Which Progress for Which Modernity?

It must be understood that his hate of modernity is not only to do with commercialisation but also changing attitudes on the family, on which he explains: “If modernity comes at this price, it will be understood that both the Koran and the Sunna say no to the realisation of this modernisation”.

Tariq Ramadan is not an anti-semite but he gives lists of Jewish intellectuals (or reckoned to be Jewish), whom he accuses of being fanatically pro-Israel on grounds of their Jewish identity… Would one accuse the defenders of the Palestinians of taking that position because they are “Arabs” or “Muslims”?

We struggle against anti-Muslim racism but we reject the term “Islamophobia” introduced to France by Tariq Ramadan. It is a concept invented by the Islamists to discredit feminists, liberal Muslims and all those who try to secularise Islam by calling them racists when they are simply secular and/or critical of religious dogmas.

We demand the right to be both anti-racist and critical of religions, for religions are human ideologies, and ones which have mostly served to legitimise social inequality and oppress human beings, especially women.

For all these reasons, we refuse to consider Tariq Ramadan as an ally and we will continue to defend an egalitarian, feminist, rational, modern and secular alternative globalisation.

[1] Tariq Ramadan, Etre musulman européen, étude des sources islamiques à la lumière du contexte européen, Tawhid 1999, p.460.

[2] Tariq Ramadan, La conception islamique de la sexualité. Innocence, responsabilité et maitrise, audio cassette distributed by Tawhid Editions.

[3] Le Courrier, Geneva, 13 November 2002.

[4] Alain Gresh and Tariq Ramadan, L’Islam en question, Arles, Actes Sud, 2002, p.280.

[5] Tariq Ramadan, Islam, le face-à-face des civilisations. Quel projet pour quelle modernité?, Tawhid, p.25-26.

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