In the 1990s, Western liberals, alarmed at the presence of Islamic fundamentalists in their midst, turned in desperation to Muslims whom they dubbed "reformers" or "modernizers." They hoped that these figures would have a moderating influence on disaffected Muslim youths who refused to integrate into Western society. One such "reformer" is Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss-born academic. Ramadan has won the confidence of many in the West, including the British government, which asked him to serve on its task force for preventing Islamic extremism. But as Caroline Fourest shows in her superbly documented book, which first appeared in French in 2004, Ramadan is not a worthy figure.
Fourest reveals Ramadan's art of duplicity, which encompasses an entire repertoire of rhetorical subterfuges, from doublespeak and equivocation to euphemism and lies of omission. Ramadan claims that he accepts the law in Western democracies—so long as the law "does not force me to do something in contradiction with my religion." He calls the terrorist acts in New York, Madrid, and Bali "interventions." He claims to be a "reformist," but defines the term to exclude the concept of "liberal reformism." He tells a television audience that he believes in the theory of evolution, but neglects to mention that his book, Is Man Descended from the Apes? A Muslim View of the Theory of Evolution, argues for creationism. He criticizes Saudi Arabia as "traditionalist and reactionary," but fails to mention that his own revered father helped the Saudis become the sponsors of Wahhabism. It's no surprise that, according to the Belgian Permanent Committee for the Control of Intelligence Services, "State security also reported that the moderate speeches that Tariq Ramadan gives in public do not always correspond to the remarks made in confidential Islamic settings, where he is far more critical of Western society."
Ramadan's doublespeak is part of a carefully calibrated, long-term strategy of dissimulation, perfectly justified by the Islamic doctrine of taqiyya, a doctrine of "pious fraud" or religious dissimulation. That Ramadan is an impostor is evident even in the titles that he freely accords himself. He claims that he is "Professor of Islamic Studies (Faculty of Theology at Oxford)," and the biography in the inside flap of his Western Muslims and the Future of Islam describes him as "Professor of Philosophy at the College of Geneva and Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland." But as journalist Gudrun Eussner has shown, Ramadan is merely a research fellow at St. Anthony's College, Oxford, where has has given just three lectures. Nor is he a professor at Geneva, especially not at the university there. He was a teacher at a sub-university level in the Collège Saussure, and he served as a "scholarly associate" at the University of Fribourg, teaching a two-hour course every two weeks, "Introduction to Islam."
That Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna—founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a fundamentalist fanatic who wanted to impose Islamic totalitarianism on the world—would not be fair to hold against him if not for his laudatory writings on his grandfather. In television interviews, Ramadan proudly displays a photograph of al-Banna. "I lay claim to this heritage since, if today I am a thinker, it is because this heritage has inspired me," he told the Belgian Journal du Mardi in 2004. He was even more explicit in his interview with Alain Gresh of Le Monde diplomatique: "I have studied Hassan al-Banna's ideas with great care and there is nothing in this heritage that I reject. His relation to God, his spirituality, his mysticism, his personality, as well as his critical reflections on law, politics, society and pluralism, testify to me his qualities of heart and mind. . . . His commitment also is a continuing reason for my respect and admiration." In fact, Ramadan wrote a university thesis on al-Banna that was nothing short of hagiography. The jury at the University of Fribourg rejected it for being too partisan and unscientific.
In November 2003, in a televised debate with Nicolas Sarkozy, then France's interior minister, Ramadan was asked about his brother Hani, who had justified stoning adulterous women to death. Instead of condemning the custom outright as barbaric, Ramadan replied, "I'm in favor of a moratorium so that they stop applying these sorts of punishments in the Muslim world. What's important is for people's way of thinking to evolve. What is needed is a pedagogical approach." In other words, Ramadan wanted, as my dictionary entry on the word informs me, "a legally authorized postponement of the fulfillment of an obligation"—a temporary ban.
Fourest provides many examples of Ramadan's brazen lies, but one stands out. It involves the al-Taqwa bank—founded by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and shut down by the Swiss government in December 2001 for sponsoring terrorism, with links to Hamas, al-Qaida, and the GIA in Algeria. Ramadan claims that his family had no involvement with al-Taqwa: "We never had any sort of contact with the bank. The fact that our name appears in its address file doesn't mean a thing." This is untrue; Said Ramadan, Tariq's father, was one of the founders of al-Taqwa. (Other al-Taqwa founders were active supporters of Hitler during World War II.)
Does Ramadan condemn terrorism? Again with much ambiguity, he claims that terrorist acts are justified "contextually." At the height of the riots by young Arabs in France in 2005, Ramadan told the television channel France 5, "The violence is legitimate." Though Ramadan has always denied having any contact with terrorists in Europe, Jean-Charles Brisard, an international expert on terrorism financing, has gathered evidence suggesting otherwise. Brisard cites a 1999 Spanish Police General Directorate memo, for example, that states that Ahmed Brahim (now serving a ten-year sentence on charges of inciting terrorism) maintained "regular contacts with important figures of radical Islam such as Tariq Ramadan." Brisard also points to Djamel Begal, who in his first court appearance after his indictment by a French judge for participating in a foiled terrorist attack against the U.S. Embassy in Paris, stated that before 1994, he "attended the courses given by Tarek Ramadan"—an indication of the influence that Ramadan's teaching has had on budding Islamist radicals. Beghal was sentenced to ten years in prison in March 2005. Brisard cites prosecution documents chronicling Beghal's interrogation by UAE authorities in which Beghal states that "his religious engagement started in 1994," when "he was in charge of writing the statements of Tariq Ramadan"—by which he meant, according to a translation from the Swiss daily Le Temps, that he helped prepare Ramadan's speeches. Finally, Brisard cites a Swiss intelligence memo of 2001 that states that "brothers Hani and Tariq Ramadan coordinated a meeting held in 1991 in Geneva attended by Ayman Al Zawahiri and Omar Abdel Rahman." Al Zawahiri is a major al-Qaida leader and one of Osama bin Laden's lieutenants; Rahman was the planner of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, now serving a life sentence in the United States.
Fourest has rendered an invaluable service. She demonstrates with great skill that Ramadan is a dangerous radical who, far from modernizing Islam, is in fact attempting to Islamize modernity. Of undoubted ability and charisma, but with no respect for or allegiance to Western values of liberty, Ramadan is poisoning the minds of young Muslims in the West. He spreads his message through personal appearances and with the sale of tens of thousands of cassettes through Tawhid, an Islamist publishing house with close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Under Ramadan's influence, Islamist youths develop a hatred for Western values and dream of creating a totalitarian Islamic theocracy, not only in the heart of Europe, but eventually the entire globe, until, in the words of al-Banna, "the Islamic banner . . . waves supreme over the human race."
Since 1998, Ibn Warraq has edited several books of Koranic criticism and on the origins of Islam, including Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out, Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism, and Which Koran? (forthcoming).