Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Tariq Ramadan Defends Himself

In a calm and forthright manner, Ramadan paints a picture of being trapped in an echo chamber of opinion feeding on opinion, in which innuendos repeated often enough come to seem like established facts.

n 20 years of studying and teaching philosophy, I have learned to appreciate the inherent difficulty in defining the truth. Descartes put it simply: "A clear and distinct idea is true," while Kant aptly added the needed word "consistency."

Over the years, I have also learned that in the world of the mass media, truth is not based on clarity but on frequency. Repeated suspicions become a truth; an assumption said three times imperceptibly becomes a fact. There is no need to check because "it is obvious" - after all, "it is being said everywhere."

I was reminded of this lesson during the past few weeks, when, after having been granted a visa to teach at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, by the U.S. government, it was revoked without explanation at the last minute, causing grief for my family and me.

I remain in Switzerland, hoping this mistake will be rectified and reflecting on how I am constantly being told the "truth" about who I am: "You are a controversial figure." "You engage in double talk, delivering a gentle message in French and English and a radical, even extremist one in Arabic or to Muslim audiences in private." "You have links with extremists." "You are an anti-Semite." "You despise women." And so on.

When I ask about the source of this information, invariably the response is: This is well-known; check the Internet and you will find thousands of pages referencing it.

A closer examination reveals journalists and intellectuals quoting each other, infinitely repeating what others have said. The response to this finding is: "Well, there has to be some truth in all that." A strange truth indeed!

I have written 20 books and 700 articles, and 170 audiotapes of my lectures are circulating. I ask my detractors: Have you read or listened to any of this? Can you prove the "links" to terrorists? To repeat allegations is not to prove. Where is the evidence of my "double talk?" Have you read the articles in which I call upon fellow Muslims to condemn unequivocally radical views and acts of extremism?

What about my statements on Sept. 12, 2001, calling on Muslims to condemn loudly the terrorist attacks and to acknowledge that some Muslims betray the Islamic message? What about the articles in which I condemn anti-Semitism and criticize Muslims who do not differentiate between the political dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the unacceptable temptation to reject Jews because they are Jews?

Are you familiar with my writings promoting women's rights and an Islamic feminism, and rejecting every kind of mistreatment and discrimination?
From everything I've seen and heard so far, what he says has the ring of truth to it; if Tariq Ramadan is a danger to the American public, he's done an awfully impressive job of hiding the evidence of it thus far. What sort of dangerous Jew-hater does interviews with Haaretz in which he condemns anti-semitism?

For those inclined to see dark conspiracies behind anything said by a Muslim anywhere, it's a very convenient accusation to make that Ramadan is particularly dangerous for being somehow "two-faced" by promoting a reasonable and tolerant facade, as if those who make such claims have privileged access to Ramadan's beliefs that the rest of us do not, even though they've yet to bring forward any such evidence they may possess. The sort of dishonest argumentation used by Daniel Pipes to tar and feather a man those who truly wish for a more tolerant and open Islam ought to be cheering on only brings discredit on those who make it, and I think it's fair to suspect that the real reason for Ramadan's visa revocation is to be found in the machinations of politically influential propagandists like Daniel Pipes rather than in any purportedly dangerous actions the man's taken or is about to take.

If Ramadan's "crime" is to believe that Islam is the only true religion and the key to the eventual salvation of all mankind, then all the Christian clergymen of the world are united with him in his error. What ought to concern us isn't whether or not he makes exclusive claims for his own brand of religious irrationality, but whether he seeks to legitimate violence as a valid means of pressing the claims of his particular superstition, and for this the evidence is nonexistent.