I’ve just had one of those giddy moments one sometimes gets through blogging and spending lots of time tracking down links and resources on the web. Those who read my blog regularly (the few of you that there are) know that I’ve written several posts in defense of Tariq Ramadan’s right to teach at Notre Dame (the State Department renounced his visa for vaguely specified reasons connected to the Patriot Act). In my posts, I said it was a shande (shame) that more leaders and publications in the Jewish community have not spoken up on this matter. Jews more than most groups know that if the civil liberties of a minority are threatened then the Jews arent’ far behind. Yet only two local Jewish groups in the Midwest have supported Ramadan. From national organizations there has been only silence.
This fall, I wrote to Susannah Heschel a national co-chair of Tikkun suggesting that Tikkun Magazine would present a perfect venue for posing a Jewish response to Ramadan’s persecution at the hands of the U.S. government. She told me to write to Michael Lerner with my suggestion, which I did. Since I never heard back from Lerner, I assumed my idea had fallen on deaf ears (not an uncommon fate for some of my best ideas!).
Lo and behold, Tikkun published on December 22nd An Interview with Professor Ramadan conducted by Mark Levine. It’s quite a comprehensive and persuasive dialogue in which Ramadan lays out his ideas about resistance to political oppression, Arab-Jewish relations, and freedom of speech among other topics. I strongly recommend the interview to those of you interested in reading the views of a prominent moderate Muslim voice.
I did strongly take issue with Ramadan’s response to a statement by Levine which suggested that those oppressed who resort to violence against their oppressors are committing a major disastrous blunder. Ramadan replied:
What is often overlooked is that it is easy to promote non-violence when one lives in a protected context never experiencing violence. So for those of us living in North America and Europe, safe from the daily violence lived by many in the world, the responsibility we shoulder is great. We cannot and should not expect people living the daily reality of violence and injustice to promote justice and non-violence resistance, when those protected from all that cannot bother to go beyond lip-service calls for non-violence. We should be serious about promoting social justice for everyone everywhere; it should be a real transnational movement of people working from their specific contexts promoting justice for themselves and others, challenging their governments and demanding consistency of its policies, urging their fellow citizens to uphold the ideals of human rights and dignity. We in the West should be voice of the voiceless in the world, and only then can we expect and demand non-violence resistance from those suffering the endless cycle of violence.
Ramadan shows that he has not studied King or Gandhi sufficienty to know that it is precisely in those situations where oppression is greatest and where resources to defend oneself are small that non-violence proves its true value as a strategy of resistance. Both Gandhi and King practiced non-violence with their lives and the lives of their followers under constant threat of attack and death. In fact, both men gave their lives for their cause. So I cannot accept the false distinction Ramadan here creates between practicing non-violence in a protected environment and praticing it while exposed to all the violence the oppressor can bring to bear.
It may’ve taken Tikkun a while (too long really) to get this project going but they’ve done well by Ramadan and the struggle for the free and open discussion of ideas in this society.