Middle East studies in the News
Tariq Ramadan, A Star of Europe's Muslim Intelligentsia, Confronts Accusations of Rape
ONE way or another, Europe's Muslim landscape will be altered by the drama that is now swirling around one of the continent's best-known Islamic thinkers.
It was announced this week that "by mutual agreement" Tariq Ramadan was taking a leave of absence from his job as a professor of Islamic studies at Oxford University. The 55-year-old scholar, born in Switzerland to a famous Egyptian family, is facing multiple accusations of rape and sexual misconduct to which he has reacted with vigorous denials and counter-suits.
The careful wording of the announcement suggested a painstaking negotiation between the university and Mr Ramadan, who commands a vast personal following, especially in francophone Europe. It said:
"An agreed leave of absence implies no presumption or acceptance of guilt and allows Professor Ramadan to address the extremely serious allegations made against him, all of which he categorically denies, while meeting our principal concerns—addressing heightened and understandable distress and putting first the well-being of our students and staff."
Last month a former follower of the conservative Salafist school of Islam, who is now sharply critical of the philosophy she once espoused, made a formal judicial complaint to the effect that she was raped by Mr Ramadan in a Paris hotel in 2012. A few days after that complaint, a second unnamed woman alleged to the police that she had been sexually attacked by the philosopher in Lyon in 2009. Through his lawyers, Mr Ramadan issued a firm denial of these allegations, described them as part of a plot by his adversaries and said he would be suing for defamation.
He has lodged a judicial complaint against persons whom he alleges to be distorting the course of justice by exercising improper influence over witnesses. The professor confirmed this by retweeting a newspaper article about his legal action.
It has also been reported in the Swiss newspaper La Tribune de Geneve that four women in that country have told the police of being sexually assaulted by Mr Ramadan when they were minors. The philosopher responded by tweeting to his 640,000 followers:
"Anonymous allegations have been made against me in Geneva, accusing me of the abuse of students who were minors nearly 25 years ago. I categorically deny all of these allegations and am today filing a complaint against X for libel."
To get a sense of the shockwave these developments have triggered, it helps to understand Mr Ramadan's unique position in the Islamic firmament, as somebody with a high profile both in academia and on the Muslim street.
His Egyptian grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, was the founder of the global Muslim Brotherhood, yet he strongly denies that his own thinking is merely a reiteration of Brotherhood ideology. His theology is quite conservative but he insists that far from self-segregating, European Muslims should play an active role in society. He has suggested that there is a natural role for Muslims as part of a broad-left anti-capitalist coalition.
In 2004 he was unable to take up an academic post at America's Notre Dame university because the authorities refused his application to enter and work in the United States. He fought a long legal battle to gain admission to that country, which he finally won in 2009. He has held high-profile public debates with famous atheists and secularists including Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the late Christopher Hitchens. He has condemned suicide bombing and other terrorist acts such as the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly. But he also calls for understanding of Muslim grievances, whether in Europe or Islam's heartlands. He denounced Charlie Hebdo for publishing drawings which upset an already "stigmatised" Muslim community.
The discourse of Mr Ramadan is very traditional, in the sense of paying close attention to Islam's founding texts, and very hip and modern, as befits somebody who is well attuned to the anti-establishment politics of the 21st century. For young Muslims in the West who are defensive of their identity but want to move on from their parents' traditional culture, that is a winning combination.
That's why the outcome of Mr Ramadan's saga will be followed closely, from the ivory towers of Oxford to the streets of Brussels and Marseilles.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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