The Return of Tariq Ramadan

Inside the world-view of a master deceiver.

Islamic apologist Tariq Ramadan has returned to the U.S., the ban against his entry to the country, issued under the Patriot Act, having been lifted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. After addressing audiences in New York, Chicago, Detroit and Washington, he will revisit Canada where he will speak at the Palais de Congrès in Montreal. The question is: What is he really up to? Ramadan is used to meeting with rock star type adulation, but a skeptical attitude may be rather more appropriate.

In a talk given at Olivieri Bookstore in Montreal on January 3, 2007 to promote his book La tyrannie de la pénitence, philosopher Pascal Bruckner argued that the failure of Muslim immigrants to integrate into European society is owing largely to the multicultural tendency to promote special interest groups and extraterritorial ethnicities. At the same time, as Bruckner stresses in the book itself, “On oublie qu’il existe un despotisme des minorités rétives à l’assimilation si celle-ci n’accompangne pas d’un statut d’extraterritorialité.” (“We forget that there exists a despotism of minorities that resists assimilation if the latter is not accompanied by a status of extraterritoriality.”)

This “resistance” is precisely the situation that Tariq Ramadan is attempting to remedy, but in a way that does not augur well for the host societies of the West. Pulpiting the ideal of Muslim social integration and positing a supposed underlying affinity between what are clearly two opposing creeds and cultures, Ramadan intends something very different from what we usually understand by “assimilation” and “accommodation.” Assimilation for Ramadan really works in reverse and means, in effect, the gradual absorption of the West into the social and political construct of Islam. Accommodation seems to imply mutuality but, again, its ultimate aim is somewhat different from what we might expect. Accommodation is what must presently be accorded to the Muslim community, which may in the course of time graciously accommodate us in turn should we convert to the faith or pay the jizzya (poll tax). Ramadan’s discourse sounds at first like he’s using a terminology of reconciliation but it’s all bling and glitz meant to embroider an ulterior purpose, something initially nebulous but no less sinister for all that. Ramadan’s agenda is not to enlighten but to distract.

Thus he is heavily into the redefinition of certain pivotal terms as they enter the mainstream discussion in order to advance the political structure he is advocating. At a French language public lecture delivered at the Université de Montréal on November 6, 2009, he closed on what he called the “three L’s” Muslims are enjoined to grasp and manipulate, translated from the French as: “the language of the country you live in, the knowledge of the legal framework…[and] loyalty.” Though his lexicon of choice appears inoffensive at first blush, it is the epitome of equivocation. The subtext of the passage is obvious to anyone who has tracked Ramadan’s modus operandi. The knowledge of language and law is necessary to further the Islamic cause to which, it is implicitly understood, Muslims are required to be loyal.

As political commentator and founder of the Point de bascule (English: The Tipping Point) website, Marc Lebuis, sees it, Ramadan “basically ‘participates’ in the democratic process only to redefine our classical liberal definition of citizenship with the intent to Islamize our institutions” (personal communication). Similarly, Quebec parliamentarian, Fatima Houda-Pepin, campaigning against the introduction of shari’a law into the body politic, warned: “One of the strengths of Islamists is that they know you very well. They know our history, they know our culture, they know our justice system.” This is uniquely the case with Ramadan, whose real purpose is to move Muslim immigrant society from the ghetto into the citadel, from a “status of extraterritoriality” into the nucleus of the public domain, where it will eventually proceed not to integrate but to dominate.

For Ramadan, therefore, “reconciliation” is not a coming-to-terms between Islamic particularism and Western multicultural hospitality, but a way of insinuating Islamic law, custom and usage into the center of Western public and institutional space. As he proposes in _Western Muslims and the Future of Islam_, Muslims must bring “the overall philosophy of the Islamic message” into Western education, assuming “their Islamic frame of reference as a starting point.” Non-Islamic readers who might be alarmed at his thesis are assured that Islam is a Western religion, that Islam’s major philosophers are really “European Muslim thinkers,” and, to clinch the matter, that Islam is perfectly compatible with Western norms and values.

The facts suggest otherwise, whether we are considering the imperious summons to violence in the pages of the Koran and the Hadith, the undoubted truth, as Samuel Huntington put it in _The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order_, that “the borders of Islam are bloody,” the tradition of gender apartheid in the Islamic world or the incidence of domestic terrorist attacks upon non-combatant citizens. All this is hidden under Ramadan’s thick impasto. One must observe him closely, follow his discursive peregrinations, catch him in those unguarded moments and occasional slip-ups when he gives the game away and his shadowy gospel begins to emerge.

To take just a few examples. Speaking before a captivated audience, he refers to a hypothetical encounter with a Muslim American who believes Islam is in a state of war with the West, which justifies the deployment of ruse or deceit. Ramadan replies to his fictive interlocutor: “_la ruse en temps de guerre, bien sur_” (“ruse in a time of war, quite certainly”). Since this is also a war of words and images, as he goes on to emphasize, the language of ambiguity, which he calls a “double discours,” is essential. Of course, skilled casuist that he is, he tends to bob and weave, alluding to the importance of the social contract in an era of peace. But the implication is undeniable. At other times, he will become transparently insistent, as at the above-mentioned conference at the Université de Montréal. Irritated by a probing question—according to Le Presse columnist Nathalie Petrowski—he was suddenly transformed into a fundamentalist preacher, “stressing the virtues of modesty in clothing and denouncing Western vulgarity…and shameless sexuality.” Here it is not even a question of tonal innuendo or conjectural illustrations but of direct utterance. Interestingly, Rotterdam’s city administration has recently recognized the discrepancy between Ramadan’s self-presentation and his deeper convictions, dismissing him from his post as an adviser on civic integration when it surfaced that he was hosting a weekly show for Iranian TV.

Little by little, the kliegs of disclosure are being switched on, revealing a virtuoso of duplicity at work—at least for those not blinded by poor judgment, intellectual laziness or an ideological parti pris. As David Rusin writes in Islamist Watch, Ramadan “has justified bombings in Israel, Russia, and Iraq as legitimate resistance; he went no further than calling for a “moratorium” against stoning while the practice is debated; he supports restrictions on the public lives of women; he demands that integration take place on Muslims’ terms; he led a boycott against the 2008 Turin Book Fair because it honored Israel; and on and on. He is no moderate; he is a master of taqiyya.”

Taqiyya is a Koranic concept which sanctions various forms of lying under certain prescribed conditions: self-defense (Koran 3:28) or coercion (Koran 16: 104-110). The latter passage guarantees that “those who are forced to recant while their hearts remain loyal to the faith shall be absolved.” But the principle has been expanded to apply to a multitude of disparate situations in which deceit is justified to attain approved ends, as in the prototypical ten-year Treaty of Hudaybiya in 628 C.E.,  which Muhammad ratified with his Meccan enemies and broke two years later when he judged his military strength sufficient to the task of conquest. War is deceit, Muhammad famously said (Bukhari hadith 52: 269) and the Koran also informs us that “Allah is the supreme Plotter,” variously translated as the “best of planners” and “the Best of Schemers” (3:55), depending on which English edition of the Koran we are consulting. But we get the point.

Taqiyya is alive and well in the contemporary world among the bearers of the Islamic message. In the words of Raymond Ibrahim, director of the Middle East Forum: “the doctrine of taqiyya goes far beyond Muslims engaging in religious dissimulation in the interest of self-preservation and encompasses deception of the infidel enemy in general… Islamic law unambiguously splits the world into two perpetually warring halves—the Islamic world versus the non-Islamic—and holds it to be God’s will for the former to subsume the latter. Yet if war with the infidel is a perpetual affair, if war is deceit, and if deeds are justified by intentions—any number of Muslims will naturally conclude that they have a divinely sanctioned right to deceive, so long as they believe their deception serves to aid Islam.” For, he continues, “from an Islamic point of view, times of peace—that is, whenever Islam is significantly weaker than its infidel rivals—are times of feigned peace and pretense, in a word, taqiyya.”

Acts of blatant terrorism, of course, are by no means ruled out, but terrorism need no longer be exclusively violent. The jihad against the West has now adopted a double strategy. Along with its standard method of spreading fear and destruction among civilian populations at large, it has conscripted to its cause a new breed of ostensibly peaceable ambassadors, smooth talkers, subtle academics and spiffy front men, summed up in the présence muselmane of Tariq Ramadan.

For one thing, his personal manner, plausible, urbane, eloquent, affable, is tailored to reassure and convince. One recalls the insight that Hamlet sets down in his tables: “one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” For another, most of the time Ramadan’s textual vehicle just purrs nicely along in cruise control so the reader, lulled into a kind of waking coma, can appreciate the pleasant scenery rolling by, unaware that he is heading for a collision. Aside from such instances as those flagged above, there is little in Ramadan’s public appearances or voluminous writings that resembles what in the auto industry is acronymed NVH—“noise, vibration, harshness.” On the contrary, Tariq Ramadan is a wizard of the art of, let’s say, DBD—deft, buttoned-down dissimulation. He is quite simply the best in the field. Anyone who doubts this should remark his performance as a guest on the French TV-5 program On n’est pas couché, where he reduces a panel of experts to something akin to prostration. He plies the very summa and distillation of taqiyya, so much so that I’m tempted to call it tariqiyya.

And many of us have fallen for it big time, succumbing to the boiling frog syndrome as the water heats up slowly so that we remain comfortably in the pot. One way or another, we have become—to use Plutarch’s term in his denunciation of Herodotus whom he thought too lenient toward the enemy—philobarbaros, a friend to the barbarians, allies of those who would subdue us. As Plutarch writes in _The Malice of Herodotus_, “Deceitful are the phrases, deceitful the figures of Herodotus’s speeches, unsound and full of ambiguities.” This charge may or may not be true with respect to Herodotus but it certainly seems apposite with regard to Ramadan. His technique and influence are succinctly described on the Canucki Jihad website: “Tariq Ramadan is like a virus hidden inside an email.” And we have been infected. On the one hand bedazzled by his swank delivery, on the other consumed by a sense of our own exalted tolerance of the “other,” we have generally failed to detect what lurks beneath his rhetoric.

Indeed, too many of us do not seem able to comprehend that the variety of terrorism now operating on the international stage is something completely unprecedented in the unrestricted nature of its scope, the global extent of its funding, the deep dye of theological pigmentation and its flaunting of the rules of engagement. But its most potent weapon in the so-called asymmetrical war that Islam is waging against the Christian and secular West is an insidious form of persuasion that both clouds the mind and corrupts the will of its human targets. It is as if we are participating in a festival of self-immolation.

This, it seems, is the way in which we celebrate Ramadan.