It was a Frenchman who gave his surname to the term chauvinism, and it was a Frenchman, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose prosecution for sexually assaulting a hotel maid in New York in 2011 now looks like the earliest tremor of the #MeToo movement.
In mid-October, as the Weinstein affair was breaking over here, the journalist Sandra Muller called French women to the barricades under their own hashtag: #balancetonporc, or "Denounce your pig." Yet the first major figure to be caught in its net was not a Frenchman—if only because his application for citizenship had recently been rejected by the French government.
In late October, Henda Ayari, a Salafist turned feminist, accused the Swiss-born political philosopher Tariq Ramadan of having raped her in a Paris hotel room in 2012. Almost immediately followed "Christelle," a disabled convert to Islam who remains anonymous, claiming Ramadan beat and raped her in Lyon in 2009. "Yasmina" came next, adding that Ramadan had harassed her with "pornographic" messages and then blackmailed her into silence. Four Swiss women announced that Ramadan had harassed them when they were his students in the late 1980s and early 1990s. One of them claimed Ramadan had coerced her into sex when she was under the age of consent. On February 2, a Paris court charged Ramadan with two counts of rape.
Tariq Ramadan is a much more important figure than Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, or Matt Lauer. He is not just an Oxford professor and sought-after lecturer and talking head. He is an adviser to governments and the most visible proselytizer for radical European Islam. Since the early 1990s, he has positioned himself as a one-man peacekeeping force in the clash of civilizations, performing a kind of shuttle diplomacy between Western liberalism and Islamism.
As the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ramadan possesses hereditary legitimacy. He is a prince of Islamism. But, born and educated in multilingual Geneva, he is also a European. He trims his beard short and wears Armani suits. He fluently discusses the crisis of Christianity in Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche. He speaks the language of natural rights and citizenship and insists that Europe's secular universalism is compatible with the theological universalism of Islamic tradition.
The tensions and contradictions in Ramadan's public persona are more than philosophical. He has counseled Tony Blair and the European Union on the harmony of Islamic and Western values. But he aligns Islam with "resistance"—with anti-capitalism, anti-Americanism, and anti-Zionism, a message that has long endeared him to the French left.
In 1995, he was temporarily banned from traveling to France because of his associations with Algerian terrorists. He is currently banned from Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. He is not especially welcome in the United States, either. In 2004, he was unable to take up a professorship at Notre Dame because the Department of Homeland Security revoked his work-visa due to his donations to a pro-Hamas charity.
Ramadan's online life reflects his strained medley of Sixties radicalism and Salafist tradition, something he calls "Islamic socialism." On his website, endorsements of Norman Finkelstein and Glenn Greenwald mingle with screeds claiming that racism is "a synonym for Zionism" and requests that "sisters in humanity of ALL faiths/backgrounds" should "wear the hijab in solidarity with Muslim women around the world" on World Hijab Day.
According to the account "Christelle" gave French Vanity Fair, Ramadan's digital life also includes romance. Their relationship began when she wrote to him for religious advice in April 2009, and he pursued her by Skype and cell phone.
Ramadan claims that he is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, even though his grandfather founded it, his father brought it to Europe, and his brother Hani is an imam in Geneva who preaches the stoning of female adulterers, the wickedness of homosexuality, and the idea that 9/11 was an inside job. "Christelle" says Ramadan asked her to read his grandfather's Fifty Point Manifesto, the founding document of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ramadan also denies that he is a conduit for terrorist recruitment, but his romantic patter to "Christelle" included sweet nothings like "Are you ready to fight for Allah, and for your brothers and sisters in Palestine?"
By September 2009, Ramadan, a father of four, was telling her that he was "factually unmarried" and wanted her to live with him in London, where she could look after his children. His knowledge of Islam, moreover, permitted him to enact a "temporary marriage" over Skype, he promised.
Some weeks later Ramadan was in Lyon to speak at a conference. They met in a hotel for coffee, she alleges. Ramadan said he wanted privacy and suggested they go to his room. She agreed and her complaint to the police describes what she says followed: "blows to the face and body, forced sodomy, violation with an object and various humiliations, including being dragged by the hair to the bathtub and urinated upon." According to Vanity Fair's Marion van Renterghem, a photograph taken immediately afterwards shows an "unrecognizable" "Christelle": "Her swollen face has doubled in volume."
In her testimony to a panel of judges in Paris, "Christelle" noted that Ramadan has a small scar on his groin that can only be seen at close quarters. In the judicial interrogation last week, Ramadan admitted to having such a scar.
The French press, citing unknown "sources," claim that other women who spoke to police during the three-month investigation may also file rape charges.
"I have been silent for several years because of fear," Henda Ayari wrote on her Facebook page. "He did not hesitate to threaten me and tell me that they could also go after my children." She has received death threats and is under police protection. "Christelle" is afraid to be identified. "If you saw the fundamentalist imam that the young men in my neighborhood worship, you'd understand why I don't really want to show my face. I'm not afraid of Tariq Ramadan, but of Ramadanists, completely lobotomized and convinced of doing right. They could stick a knife in me in the name of Allah."
It would be a mistake to rush to judgment. As Ramadan said of Osama bin Laden a few days after 9/11, "The probability of his guilt is large, but some questions remain unanswered."
Some of Ramadan's supporters claim that the charges are all part of a Zionist conspiracy. He has rarely been so explicit, though he did accuse several "French Jewish intellectuals," one of whom was not Jewish at all, of betraying "universalist" French values by supporting Israel in 2003. In Islam: The Essentials (2017), Ramadan claimed that "the media" are out to get him because he is a "Muslim intellectual," without specifying who drives their "dubio,us agendas and objectives." An Islamist lobbying group, Resistance and Alternative, has been set up to defend him against the "smear campaign."
And there have been public smears against his accusers. Writing in the New Yorker, Adam Shatz described Henda Ayari as "something of a heroine in the extreme-right circles of the fachosphère, where Islamophobia is a ticket of admission"—the implication being that Ayari is untrustworthy and a malicious accuser, and anyone alarmed by the advance of Islamism in Europe is a neofascist. The satirical paper Charlie Hebdo, though, at least weighed in with a cartoon in which Ramadan, an erection visible through his pants, calls himself the "sixth pillar of Islam."
Who knew? That is the question that is roiling Paris. In 2016, Ayari described her rape by a charismatic and popular Islamist in a memoir. Manuel Valls, the center-left and anti-Islamist ex-prime minister, has accused one of Ramadan's supporters, the Trotskyite former editor of Le Monde Edwy Plenel, of knowing about the allegations and not investigating them. Bernard Godard, who worked for Valls in the interior ministry, has said that he had heard similar allegations against Ramadan.
"For more than five years," the feminist Souad Betka wrote, "numerous militant Muslim activists of my acquaintance have testified to me that they have been the victim of insults, manipulation, and sexual harassment by that man." Muslim and anti-racist groups, Betka alleged, did not pursue these claims because they assumed they were conspiracies and would fan "Islamophobic" sentiment.
"A number of associates who were very close to him were aware of his sexual escapades, and they protected him," Omero Marongui-Perria, sociologist and ex-member of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Le Parisien. "They even criticized people who denounced the preacher's contradictions. A priori—but here I use the conditional—some of his relatives would also have known of his violent behavior in the private sphere towards women. If this allegation is proven—I take every precaution—it is obviously more serious. There are people who make religion into a real business, and who are now in a logical bind."
The topic of Islam in Europe is so charged, and Ramadan so loathed or cherished for identifying himself with it, that his private motives were a matter of public speculation and political opportunism long before Ayari accused him of rape. Ramadan's defense against the charges of being a fork-tongued fundamentalist—speaking one language in public and another in private—has always been that his character is as ethically consistent as his philosophical statements. He made himself into a test case. Now his character is on trial and, along with it, the characters of his Islamist associates and his left-wing supporters.