Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The worst that can happen to a democratic society is to see its citizens being transformed to passive victims paralysed by fear. The proponents of the global clash of civilisations theory shall win if we accept to be individually colonised by emotional caricatures and suspicion towards people of other faiths and cultures.
Tariq Ramadan, 9 July 2005
The Sun’s leader column claims that Ramadan is ‘more dangerous’ than extremist clerics Abu Hamza or Omar Bakri because “he is a soft-spoken professor whose moderate tones present an acceptable, -reasonable- face of terror to impressionable young Muslims.”
This shows a dangerous inability to distinguish between the progressive Islam promoted by Ramadan, a best-selling author whose work focuses on the compatibility of European and Muslim principles, and the proponents of the terrorist attacks on London. Ramadan himself unreservedly condemned the London bombings in a statement on 7 July, stating that “The authors of such acts are criminals and we cannot accept or listen to their probable justifications in the name of an ideology, a religion or a political cause.”
The Sun’s attack on Tariq Ramadan repeats the Islamophobic myth that even moderate Muslims are extremists in disguise. To repeat uncritically a series of unfounded claims made by neoconservative commentators would be irresponsible journalism at any time. But at a time when Britain’s Muslims are facing increasing numbers of racist attacks, it reads like an incitement to violence.
“An oft-repeated truth”
Ramadan is no stranger to smear campaigns against him, which directly contributed to the revocation of his US visa shortly before he was due to take up a position as Professor of Islamic Studies and ‘Luce’ Professor in charge of the ‘Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding’ programme at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana last August.
That move provoked outrage amongst academics, with the American Association of University Professors condemning it as “manifestly at odds with our society’s respect for academic freedom” and others claiming that the case exhumed the ghost of McCarthyism.
Ramadan’s exclusion also drew criticism from Muslim community leaders: “it sends the disturbing message that even moderate and mainstream Muslims will now be treated like terrorists,” said Nihad Aawa, Executive Director of the Council for American Islamic Relations.
Writing in The Guardian last August, Tariq Ramadan responded to the news of having his US visa revoked by analysing how unfounded allegations gain the status of ‘truth’:
“Over the years, I also learned that in the world of mass media, ‘truth’ is not based on clarity, but on frequency. Repeated hypotheses or suspicions become truth; a three-time-repeated assumption imperceptibly becomes a fact. … When I ask about the source of this information, the response is: this is well known, check the internet. A closer examination reveals that what we have is journalists or intellectuals repeating and reporting what others said yesterday with caveats. Strange truth indeed!”
These words look prophetic when read alongside yesterday’s Sun, which dedicates its whole front page, a two-page spread, a leader article and the Richard Littlejohn comment piece to the story that Ramadan – who has lectured to audiences of world leaders, academics and fellow Muslims around the globe – is to speak at the “Middle Path” conference in London on 24 July, an event partly funded by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and the Metropolitan Police.
The neo-con connection
Most of the claims made against Ramadan in The Sun, and repeated in its Murdoch-owned stable mate The Times, appear to have been cut and pasted from an article written last year by neoconservative US commentator Daniel Pipes. And the paper’s reliance on self-appointed ‘experts’ does not stop here.
“Terrorism expert Steven Emerson says: ‘The telegenic, soft-spoken and charming professor is just the modern, westernised face of the same enemy that wears a different mask on other battlefields’,” according to The Sun. But the paper does not report that Emerson (a friend of Pipes) is a discredited source whose 1994 US television documentary “Jihad in America” was widely denounced for its Islamophobic content, or that the same commentator claimed that the 1995 Oklahoma bombing showed “a Middle Eastern trait” because it “was done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible” (CBS News, 19 April 1995).
Further column inches are given to The Sun’s own neocon Islamophobe Richard Littlejohn, who duly denounces Ramadan as a ‘fanatic’. Yet all his “You couldn’t make it up” ranting can’t hide the fact that the allegations made against Ramadan are based on ideologically-motivated inventions and distortions.
Take, for example, The Sun’s front page headline that Professor Ramadan is “banned in France for links to terrorists.” This is simply untrue, as Ramadan has a flat and a permanent office in Saint Denis, Paris. The basis for the claim arises from the fact that he was briefly barred from entering France in 1996, but no reason was ever given for this and the ban was quickly overturned after it was revealed to be a case of mistaken identity.
The Sun also claims that “Ramadan denies that there is any proof that Osama bin Laden – said to have studied with his dad Said – master-minded the 9/11 slaughter.” In fact, Ramadan immediately condemned the 9/11 attacks in the strongest terms, and there is no evidence that Ramadan or his father ever met bin Laden.
Most damningly, The Sun claims on its opening page that Ramadan is “An Islamic academic who says suicide bombings are justified”, a claim repeated in a Times article headed “Police fund visit by academic who justifies suicide bombings”.
Yet the only evidence offered for this is an unattributed comment on Palestine that directly contradicts Ramadan’s own published views, which he repeated today:
“I never justified suicide bombings. My statements were always explicit. To kill innocent people is to be condemned. I have been going on repeating that we must understand and analyze the political contexts and environment in order to understand why people are using these ways to resist. For more than 40 years, the Palestinians have not used suicide bombings and they started to do so in 1994. Why? It was three years after the Barcelona agreement, one year after Oslo and just after the massacre in Hebron. They then had the feeling that they were lost, isolated and forgotten by the world. Suicide bombings started after this series of events. One can explain why it happened; it does not mean that one is justifying it. To explain is not to justify. This is my stand, this has always been my stand.”
I could go on, but it seems unnecessary when Ramadan himself has previously issued a point-by-point rebuttal to all of the allegations repeated in The Sun and Times when responding to Daniel Pipes.
Stirring up the clash of civilisations
There is a wider issue at stake here, however. In attacking a leading progressive Muslim scholar, The Sun is promoting Islamophobia more widely. That is why anti-racist campaigners were quick to condemn The Sun’s coverage. As Ruhul Tarafder of The 1990 Trust puts it:
“The Sun’s sensationalist, disgraceful and irresponsible front-page story is simply an attempt to fuel Islamaphobia. Tariq Ramadan is a highly respected moderate Muslim scholar and was one of the first to condemn the London bombings, as he has condemned previous outrages. This demonisation does nothing but promote hostility towards Muslim communities. At a time of high emotions and the need for strength and unity between all faiths and communities, the inaccuracies and lies in this account only seek to encourage divisions. The Sun should issue an immediate apology to both Tariq Ramadan and the Muslim community.”
Since these words were spoken and in the time that I have been writing this article, strong evidence has emerged that the London bombers were young British Muslims. According to The Sun’s logic, this will no doubt make Ramadan’s visit all the more controversial, as it continues to deploy the rhetoric of Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson and Fouad Ajami (who claims that Ramadan’s “moderate face hides his radical heart”) to attack him as a Muslim wolf in sheep’s clothing.
This is a particularly dangerous kind of nonsense. It sends out the message that Islam and terrorism are intrinsically connected, by perpetuating the racist myth that extremism is lurks behind the moderate façade.
For such commentators, what is threatening about Ramadan is precisely the fact that he doesn’t fit the “extremist” caricature. His very presence is an affront to the belief that a clash of civilisations is just around the corner, because his work expresses the strong commonalities between European and Islamic principles, and invites European Muslims to embrace their connections with the society in which they live without giving up on their faith identity. Moreover, he does this by offering a vision of social justice that moves beyond the perspective of religious “minorities” to argue that Muslim values can contribute to the construction of universal values of social justice – and so help breach the divide that a culture of terror widens to an insurmountable chasm.
The events of the last week make this message more relevant than ever, since Ramadan’s approach represents an articulate political and theological response to the literalists who would claim that British and Muslim values are incompatible. And it does so in a voice that neither requires an impossible or secularist compromise, whereby the only “good” Muslim is one who has effectively given up her or his faith, nor ignores the social injustices that lie at the root of alienation within our society.
It may be impossible to ever full understand what motivated the London bombers, but the effect that they sought – to divide society and to spread fear – is more easily discerned. The Sun’s reporting on Tariq Ramadan highlights the risk that the media will regard British Muslims with caution and suspicion, a sure way to close off the path to mutual understanding. For if we make mistrust the basis of our exchanges then we are doing the terrorists’ work for them.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power