Today’s New York Times article, A Muslim Scholar Raises Hackles in France, outlines some of the controversial views of Tariq Ramadan, a European Muslim intellectual who has excoriated French Jewish intellectuals for their support of the effort to topple Sadaam Hussein. After doing further research, I came across Watch: Covering the War on Terrorism which features Tariq Ramadan accused of anti-Semitism, a translation of an October 10th article that appeared in Le Monde. This article portrays the Ramadan controversy in much greater depth and with more nuance than the Times version.
Here’s how the Times characterized the debate:
Mr. Ramadan touched off a verbal firestorm last month after he posted an essay on a Muslim Internet site suggesting that a number of French intellectuals (whom he identified as Jewish) took political positions because of their Jewishness.
Even before the most recent Israeli-Palestinian crisis, he wrote, “Jewish French intellectuals, who until then we had considered universal thinkers, started to develop analyses on the national and international front that were more and more biased toward the concerns of their community.” Their interests “as Jews or as nationalists or as defenders of Israel” came before equality and justice, he added.
He criticized, among others, three of the most high-profile intellectuals in France–Bernard-Henri Levy, Andre Glucksmann and Bernard Kouchner–for supporting to varying degrees the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Ramadan’s views of his own community are equally provocative. As best I can summarize them based on this article, Ramadan believes that European Muslims should become militant within their respective societies in their pursuit of both their rights as Muslims and their responsibilities as citizens. He calls this a “silent revolution” and urges his fellow European Muslims to be “bombs” within their communities.
What Ramadan seems to lose sight of is that French Jewish intellectuals struggle with the very same issues within their own communities as he does within his own; and often their responses are not that dissimilar. If they chose to, could not Jewish intellectuals accuse Ramadan of the very same narrow and parochial pursuit of religious interest?
As for whether Ramadan’s characterization of the French intellectuals as “biased toward the concerns of their community” is anti-Semitism–that may be pushing things too far. What one can say is that Ramadan’s critique is wrongheaded. By being concerned with the interests of their fellow Jews, they do not necessarily lose the right to be called “universal thinkers” any more than Ramadan himself, by urging Muslims to take their rightful place as Muslims in European society, deserves to be called “biased towards his own community.”
Another troubling aspect of Ramadan’s attack is that he contends that their support for the Iraq War constitutes a retreat from “universal thinking” and is biased toward the concerns of their community. Knowing of Sadaam’s deep hatred toward Israel and Jews, knowing of the missles he launched which landed in Israel killing many innocents, does any Jew need to explain why he believes Sadaam a menace and believes that world would be well rid of him?
I must add at this point, that I myself did not, and do not support the Iraq War; not because of any sympathy for Sadaam Hussein. But because George Bush’s policy, strategy and tactics toward Iraq seemed based on fantasy, ideology and anything but cold hard reason. So in a sense Ramadan and I might agree on a few things. But I would never attack, criticize or suspect the motives of Levy, Glucksmann or Kouchner for supporting the War. There are plenty of good reasons to think that toppling Sadaam is a good idea. I just utterly oppose Bush’s prosecution of the War as being the worst possible way of going about doing that.
Ramadan’s misrepresentation of Levy, Glucksmann and Kouchner reminds us once again of how little Muslims and Jews understand each other. What the Jew does, says or believes becomes immediately suspect even though it might perfectly mirror what the Muslim does, says or believes. It is a sorry reflection of the disintegration taking place on a larger and more destructive stage in the Middle East itself.
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