Middle East studies in the News
Tariq Ramadan and the Three Public Faces of Islam
There are three images of Islam competing for space in the public mind.
One portrays Islam as a violent and predatory religious force seeking to overthrow the West by fire and sword. The standard bearers of this version are the orthodontic disasters we see in the media from time to time, screaming into the camera, hoisting placards promising death to America and setting bonfires in which American, British, and Israeli flags are reduced to char.
Another and more heraldic image depicts Islam as a noble and courageous faith, born in the harshest of environments, which it overcomes through the exercise of the manly virtues and a sense of heroic style mediated by the romantic aura of the flowing galabieh, a revered tradition, and elegant rituals of hospitality. We see this fetishizing of the Arab and his faith at its most flamboyant in T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and at its most insidious in Robert Kaplan's The Arabists.
The third and perhaps most pervasive mental icon of the faith today is that of a socially and spiritually liberating institution whose ancient pedigree is not only capable of doctrinal flexibility and modernization but offers a vision of stability and assurance in an increasingly chaotic world. The most conspicuous representative of this perception of Islam is Tariq Ramadan, an erudite, supple, and persuasive Western-tailored "intellectual" whose soothing rhetoric operates as an ideological narcotic. For in reality he is the most deceptive and oleaginous of Islam's new breed of warrior, who penetrates our defenses from beneath our historical ramparts. In the words of French social critic Caroline Fourest, from her La tentation obscurantiste, "Tariq Ramadan est devenu un virtuose du désamorçage rhétorique et sémantique." ("Tariq Ramadan has become a virtuoso of rhetorical and semantic defusing" — in the sense of downplaying a crisis.)
Ramadan's grandfather Hassan al-Banna was the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. His father Said founded the World Islamic League and later established the Islamic Center of Geneva, whose function was to bring Islam to the West. His brother Hani chairs the board. As Robert Sibley writes in the Ottawa Citizen, "Normally, you don't hold a man's family against him. In Ramadan's case, however, it is permissible because he makes so much of his heritage." And this heritage encloses within its core the central principle of the grandfather, who believed, as Nick Cohen puts it in What's Left?, that "only a restored and pure Islamic Caliphate could end the humiliation of the Arabs." Al-Banna then organized "his followers into 'falanges' modeled on General Franco's, and admiring Hitler's brown shirts."
The crucial element in this campaign against the cultural integrity and, indeed, the ultimate survival of the West is the subterranean agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood, which since its formation in the Egyptian city of Ismailia in 1928, has been at the source of internecine violence, assassinating two prime ministers, Mahmoud Fahmi Nokrashi and Anwar Sadat — in the latter case, via its offshoot Islamic Jihad, despite its verbal renunciation of violence in 1970. The Brotherhood's emblem is a Koran with crossed swords. In an interview reported by the Middle East Research Institute (MEMRI), in the organization's General Guide, Muhammad Mahdi Akef, who resigned in 2010 (to be replaced by the equally hard-core Muhammad Badee), affirmed that "the movement supports martyrdom operations in Palestine and Iraq in order to expel the Zionists and the Americans."
Those who try to launder the Brotherhood's infusorial project might be advised to study its 1991 memorandum, the "General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America," which proposed a "Civilization-Jihadist Process" and stated that Muslims "must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and sabotaging its miserable house."
The Brotherhood recommends different modalities of action: violence where effective, infiltration where appropriate. In the first case, one need only consult well-attested reports of a document called "The Project," discovered in the home of Youssef Nada, director of the Al-Taqwa Bank in Lugano, Switzerland, which recommended a revival of terrorist activities and announced the 1987 creation of Hamas. A recent book by Azzam Tamini, a London-based member of the organization, entitled Hamas: A History, is replete with pertinent details showing the connection between the Brotherhood and Hamas. Indeed, Hamas was once known as the Gaza Branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Hamas Covenant, or Mithaq, itself states that "the Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine" and that the Brotherhood is characterized by "its complete embrace of all Islamic concepts of all aspects of life … and conversion to Islam."
In the second case, the Brotherhood has become expert at what we might call a new variety of ideological phishing, hacking into the majority culture with a view to gaining control of its "operating programs." Here it does not state its goals openly, practicing the time-honored strategy of taqiyyah, deriving from Koranic surahs 16:106 and 3:28; that is, the dissimulation of one's true beliefs and convictions in times of peril. What constitutes a time of peril clearly allows for considerable latitude of interpretation.
There seems to be little understanding in the West of the stealth jihad pursued by the Muslim Brotherhood and its multiple offshoots, exemplified by the svelte ruminations of Western-seeming Islamic intellectuals such as Tariq Ramadan who work like sappers beneath a mantlet of calming assurances and exquisite manners. In entertaining such cultural underminers as Ramadan, we have simply moved the adversary's clock forward. This form of continental drift, both theological and demographic, should no longer come as a great surprise. Ottoman thinker Said Nursi prophesied nearly a century ago, in his famous Damascus Sermon, that "Europe and America are pregnant with Islam. One day they will give birth to an Islamic state." Nursi dedicated himself to reviving a slumbering and decadent Islamic world, projecting his vision of hope and change for the future.
Nursi's writings repay consulting, if only because they prefigure the themes addressed by Ramadan. Nursi believed that, in the course of time, Christianity, "following the Qur'an … will unite with Islam." Confirming Nursi's prophecy, in a BBC interview on February 7, 2008, Anglican primate Rowan Williams argued in favor of recognizing certain aspects of shari'a law, which in any case "seems unavoidable," and that Muslims should not have to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty." The capitulation is well advanced.
For Ramadan, Islam will, amoeba-like, absorb the West. Given our Pavlovian response to the muezzin's call, we are making the job all the easier by our apparent agreement and practical collaboration. It has become an Islam dunk. What is now happening in Europe and America is the movement of the future and a tragic denouement to a play that has lost its direction and raison d'être. A "new" and far more vigorous historical force is gradually but inexorably replacing a tired, self-indulgent, and oblivious civilization that appears — to use Arnold Toynbee's formulation — to have no response to the challenge which confronts it. And the challenge is most effectively posed by the ophidian subtlety of de facto spokesmen for the Muslim Brotherhood such as Tariq Ramadan.
To make matters worse, more than once in Radical Reform, he respectfully cites the infamous Yusuf al-Qaradawi … who issued the fatwa to Hamas legitimating suicide bombing. For all his emollient slogans, Ramadan remains the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the son and brother of two of that movement's most virulent ideologues. With Ramadan, one always has the uneasy sense that 'the hard men' are standing nearby, in the shadows of his suavity.
Ramadan has revived the project of his grandfather, but with a twist. His "falanges" are lieutenants like his Swiss compatriot Salah Basalama, double-jointed propagandists wearing not brown shirts but Brunello Cucinelli lavender luster. We should make no mistake about this: they are carrying out the same agenda. And the "hard men" in keffiyehs are waiting patiently in the wings.
David Solway is a Canadian poet and essayist. He is the author of The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity, and is currently working on a sequel, Living in the Valley of Shmoon. His new book on Jewish and Israeli themes, Hear, O Israel!, has just been released by Mantua Books.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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