The U.S. government is so convinced that Tariq Ramadan is dangerous, it revoked the Muslim scholar's visa to teach at the University of Notre Dame. Some in Europe think Ramadan is an anti-Semite who preaches moderation out of one side of his mouth and hate out of the other. Others, though, think he's the man to reconcile Islam with modernity. So, who is right? Excerpts below:
Foreign Policy: What do you think is more of a problem in Europe today: Islamophobia or Judeophobia?
Tariq Ramadan: I think that both are problematic. I think that, yes, we have Judeophobia, and this is unacceptable and we have to condemn it. To tell you the truth, beyond discussing and comparing Islamophobia and Judeophobia, there is a new wave of racism arising in many European societies. And I think we don't have to put a hierarchy between this and that. All racism is unacceptable. Some Muslims today feel they are targeted because they are Muslims or Arabs, and this is the case. But it is dangerous to speak in that way. Especially in Europe now, there is a competition: Are the Arabs or Muslims more targeted than the Jews? I think that all together, if really we are citizens -- and it's exactly the same in the United States -- all kinds of racism are wrong. If we see acts of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, we should condemn them not simply as Jews or Muslims. As citizens, we have to condemn all these cases.
FP: Would you like to see Europe become a Muslim-majority continent?
TR: No. Not at all. For me, the most important challenge is for everyone to remain who he or she wants to be. The challenge today is to make Muslims understand [that] you don't have to be less Muslim to be more European. You can be both. And this is also what I am saying to the converts…. Remain European. Do not Arabize yourself, or Turkishize yourself, or Pakistanize yourself! Remain who you are. The pluralistic society I want is a society where anyone can chose what he or she wants to be and [remain] faithful to his or her principles. So for me the point is not to Islamize Europe. The only thing I want is for Muslims in Europe and America to be able to remain who they want to be and to live with others.… I don't want to spread my religion. I just want to share with people, knowing that when I encounter the other, he or she helps me to be more of who I want to be. The dialogue between the other and me is the richness I want to keep.
FP: Do you think there is a special role for Arabs within Islam?
TR: No! I am telling the Muslims and the Arab Muslims to be careful. The Arabic language is the language of Islam. But the Arab culture is not the culture of Islam. I am saying this to the Western Muslims and also the Asians. I visited Indonesia last year, and sat with the Majelis Ulama, which is the council of scholars. And there, among the 30 scholars, were seven women; and this is not happening in the Arab world…. The Arabs should learn from others, because this is the best way of facing new challenges. And in the near future, the Western Muslims are going to send new answers to the Arab world.
FP: You've said that you believe that Israel has the right to exist. Do you hope that one day, Israel will become part of a broader Middle Eastern common market? Is that the solution?
TR: My point is that Israel is here. I hope beyond that. I want [Israel] to be an open society where there is equal citizenship for all people. This is what I am advocating, and in that way, of course, it will be part of an open market. It will be part of the reality of the region. But my hope is not just for Israel. I want Egypt, Jordan, and other countries to promote the same universal values…. In every country it shouldn't be [that] if you are a Muslim or Jew, you have more rights than others. Let us be consistent. When I say there are second-class citizens in Israel, I can say exactly the same for Egypt…. And I'm saying it for Saudi Arabia, where there are not even citizens who are not Muslims.
FP: You've criticized some French intellectuals for abandoning their universal principles in favor of an almost unconditional support of Israel. Would you make the same criticism of Jewish-American intellectuals and politicians?
TR: I don't know. I don't know them. My point was not to criticize people just to criticize them.… I was not only speaking about Jewish intellectuals. I knew some of them were not Jewish before [I criticized them]. But one of them, [Pierre-André] Taguieff, said…[that] 3 million Muslims -- this is the figure he had of Muslims in France -- are 3 million potential extremists. And I said, be careful when you say this. [Alain] Finkielkraut says that the new anti-Semitism in France is mainly coming from Arabs and Muslims. So the way they are now targeting a specific community is to have a sectarian way of dealing with our common challenges. So let us come to universality and avoid dealing or indulging in this perception of reality. This was one part of my criticism. And this is why the article was called "Critiques From the New Sectarian Scholars." And I didn't put "Jewish" here because I knew that some were not.
The second point is that when we speak about oppression throughout the world, all the oppressed people should hear you saying that you protect them. So my point was that you are keeping silent -- the majority of you -- about the Palestinian reality. So please say something about this. You can speak about Chechnya, Kosovo, Iraq, but the point is that you are forgetting the oppression in Palestine. Let us be consistent .…When I criticize Saudi Arabia, I'm not Islamophobic. And when I criticize Israel, I'm not anti-Semitic. This is the central point for me. I said in the article that the future belongs to the people…from the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and agnostic traditions [who] will be able to go beyond their belongings and to speak in terms of common universal values and denounce oppression.
FP: How do you feel when Islam is used to justify terrorism?
TR: Horrified. But responsible. When the Luxor terrorist attack took place [in Egypt] eight years ago, long before 9/11, I wrote a letter from a Swiss Muslim to his fellow citizens saying that this is not acceptable…. We have to condemn this as Muslims and as human beings. And we have to do whatever possible within Islamic communities to spread better understanding about who we are and what we can do to deal with other people. We can have a legitimate resistance to oppression, but the means should be legitimate. Terrorism, which kills innocent people, is not Islamically acceptable. Within Islam there is an accepted diversity -- you can be a literalist, a Sufi mystic, or a reformist, so long as you don't say others are less Muslim than others -- and we must never say that terrorism or violence is part of this accepted diversity.