Tariq Ramadan will now rejoice, effective October 1, in the position of 'His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies'. Quite a mouthful. But the jaw-dropper is that this position is at the University of Oxford.
Readers will remember that Tariq Ramadan, born in Switzerland, leapt to international attention in 2004 when the US Department of Homeland Security refused to allow him a visa to begin teaching at Notre Dame University. Ramadan's personal effects had already arrived in Indiana, but their owner was not allowed to join them. A debate ensued in which the left-wing press attempted to portray Ramadan as a poor suffering victim of the Bush administration's unwillingness to allow a critic into the country. Ramadan himself went about saying that he had been barred from entry because he was critical of Bush - which would certainly have come as news to anyone who noticed the anti-Bush industry thrive happily and unhindered for eight years.
In fact the reasons Ramadan could legitimately have been forbidden a visa were succinctly laid out at the time by Daniel Pipes (link: http://www.danielpipes.org/2043/why-revoke-tariq-ramadans-us-visa). Not least of the problems in Ramadan's past were his ban from entry into France in 1996 on suspicion of links with an Algerian terrorist, his 'routine contact' with another terrorist and his alleged funding of a Hamas-supporting charity.
But Ramadan and others successfully shifted the focus of attention over his ban, and the row turned into one over alleged academic censorship. There was a terrible inevitability about what happened next. Ramadan had been banned from entering France and was banned from entering the US. Why would Oxford University not have given him sanctuary? It is exactly the sort of stand that a certain type of academic likes to take in order to hold up their impeccable liberal credentials. And so Ramadan was given a visiting position at St Anthony's College, Oxford.
Fellow St Anthony's figures like Timothy Garton-Ash repeatedly pushed Ramadan forward as a liberal Islamic reformer even while showing, repeatedly, that they were almost entirely unaware of his noticeable lack of academic credentials or his proliferation of dodgy associates and extremist attitudes.
Ramadan's academic credentials consist of an initially failed thesis about his granddad, the Islamist founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hasan al-Banna. As Caroline Fourest has shown at book-length (Brother Tariq), Ramadan's academic career is based on the poorest imaginable foundations. Having tried to create a career in France, Ramadan ended up with his career in tatters, not least after debating the now-President Sarkozy on live television and stumbling over the matter of whether or not women should be stoned to death. In the now-famous show-down, Sarkozy hammered Ramadan over his claim that there should be a mere 'moratorium' on stoning for adultery.
With his reputation battered in France and Switzerland, Ramadan has, since 2004, used his position in Britain to attempt to rebuild his influence again from scratch. Oxford has been a useful place to do it from, and invitations to advise the government and appear on media platforms have proliferated from this position of influence.
For those of us who have followed Ramadan's career for some years, his elevation into a voice of moderate Islam is wrong-headed as well as baffling. In Britain his success seems to arise in part from a set of terrible misunderstandings. Aside from the considerations about his past, what is most extraordinary is that Ramadan is thought to be informed and lucid when in fact his debates and his writings are filled with half-truths, untruths and a prose style so circumlocutious that most of the time it is impossible to tell what he is trying to say. It takes a while to realize that either he doesn't know what he is saying or, rather more often, that he is simply taking advantage of current Western academia's vulnerability to gobbledegook. Just about the only thing in the Archbishop of Canterbury's infamous pro-sharia speech that made sense last year was the inevitable point at which he quoted Tariq Ramadan. So that's what he's been reading.
Now, starting this term, Ramadan finds himself with a proper chair at a proper university. It is a position for which he is utterly unfit. Ramadan was once accurately described by the author Theodore Dalrymple as 'the second-hand car salesman of Islamic fundamentalism'. From his new position at Oxford he will now be looked up to by students as unaware as their tutors apparently are of their new professor's dubious intellect and his still more dubious opinions.Ramadan has found a place from which to re-open his shop. It is to Oxford's lasting disgrace that they have provided this dangerous and unpleasant fraud with such a prestigious showroom.