Rape. Blows to the face and body. Forced sodomy. Dragged by her hair to the bathtub and urinated on. These chilling scenes are not part of a distasteful horror movie plot. Rather, they are an account of a handicapped woman who accuses Oxford university professor and 'esteemed Islamic scholar' Tariq Ramadan of committing all of the said abuse and leaving her in a semi-unconscious state. The anonymous disabled woman, who walks with crutches and is a convert to Islam, revealed her ordeal to the French edition of Vanity Fair magazine, accusing Tariq Ramadan of inviting her to his hotel room after a lecture on Islamic values in 2009.
The disabled women claims the assault took place in a French Hotel when it was still daylight. Ramadan was there to attend a conference titled 'Living together, Islamophobia and Palestine'. Ramadan denied the claim, asserting that he didn't land at the Lyon-Saint Exupéry airport until 6:35 pm, whereas the organisers of the Conference published the time of his arrival 11:15 that weighs the account of the disabled woman.
However, this is just one of many sexual assault allegations that Ramadan is facing – allegations that, unsurprisingly, he fervently denies. Ramadan is also accused of seducing four of his teenage pupils in 1980s and 1990s when he used to teach in his hometown of Geneva.
French feminist, former Salafi, and head of the women's organisation Les Libératrices, Henda Ayari, was the first to speak up against the vicious sexual assault she suffered when she used to be a follower of Tariq Ramadan. She later denounced her Salafist practices and joined the movement to defend the rights of persecuted women. Since revealing the assault claim, however, she now lives under police protection.
A French official Bernard Godard, who had previously served French Ministry of interior as 'Monsieur Islam', told French magazine L'Obs he was aware of Tariq Ramadan's violent behavior with women he had sexual encounters, but he denied having any knowledge of rape.
"That he had many mistresses, that he consulted sites, that girls were brought to the hotel at the end of his lectures, that he invited them to undress, that some resisted and that he could become violent and aggressive," he said.
Ramadan is the grandson of one of the most influential Islamists of the last century, Hassan al Banna, who founded Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. Ramadan, though a darling of Islamists, is equally loved by the 'enlightened' world despite providing moral support to clerics who preach horrors like female genital mutilation (FGM).
Since being arrested, Oxford University administration has decided to send Ramadan on leave instead of expelling him. This has been met with criticism, with many arguing that if serious allegations of a similar nature had been levelled against an employee from any other prestigious institution in the West, the accused would doubtless be refused work by the administration until their name is cleared.
On the one hand, one could argue that justice is working better in this particular case – Ramadan sits in jail, while other monsters like Weinstein still walk free. Many have argued that putting one's reputation on trial in the court of public opinion alone can in some ways be more dangerous, and in other ways be still insufficient. And yet, given the widespread campaigns as of late against Weinstein and the sexual abuse against women more broadly, there is a rather eerie silence from the very people who normally would be holding this powerful man accountable in the public square. While modern feminist groups are typically quick to extirpate sexual abuse, especially those keen to target high-profile figures in power, there is a rather hollow protestation in Ramadan's case. And though perhaps the telling of such stories is not a sentence in a court of law, silence on this issue still endangers women in the future – women whose stories may similarly go ignored due to the unique nature of cases such as Ramadan's.
It is noteworthy that the incident described by the disabled woman is far more graphic than any of the detestable accounts we have heard so far levelled against Weinstein. Nobody seems to buy Weinstein's counter-arguments. In fact, sexual accusations against Weinstein are spreading like wildfire across the world, prompting robust #metoo and #timesup campaigns led by various feminists. However, what many who oppose sexual injustice find consternating is that Weinstein's accusers are enjoying the limelight, with proper media coverage and marches in their support, whereas those who dare accuse a notable Muslim in the West are seeking round-the-clock police protection.
For what reason, though, can we explain this disparity in disapprobation? In my opinion, it is since the accused belongs to a putatively-persecuted group, a group few are reluctant to heap reproach upon out of fear of being called 'racist' or 'islamophobic'. A similar phenomenon has been well documented in the UK when political do-gooders stymied discussion surrounding the Rochdale grooming gangs out of fear of being tarnished as bigots. However, there is a legitimate discussion to be had about the link between the culture Ramadan comes from and his sexual behaviour. This is especially legitimate given that Egypt's Interior Ministry's figure revealed 20,000 rapes take place every year in the country, although activist Engy Ghozlan argues that rapes are 10 times higher than the stats given by Interior Ministry, making it 200,000 per year. Moreover, according to a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, 83% of Egyptian women said they had experienced sexual harassment, as did 98% of women from overseas while in Egypt. Moreover, a 2013 study in Egypt by UN Women found that 99.3% of female respondents said they had been sexually harassed.
Ramadan's sympathisers, which number 110,000+, such as 5pillarsuk journalist, Hafsa Kara-Mustaphaare, are also trying to paint his arrest in voguish colours by calling it an 'Islamophobic' act, ignoring the fact that their simulacrum of goodness faces grievous rape and assault charges. Oddly, we see a disturbing shortage of resistance to these apologetic narratives from the very people who claim to have had enough of sexual exploitation committed by powerful men.
Those defending Ramadan can be divided into two groups. The first includes non-Muslims in the West, who see the Muslim world as oppressed at the hands of the West. Seeking to level the playing field, as it were, they commit bigotry of low expectations – that is to say, they lower standards when the subject belongs to a minority group, even when he or she expresses misogyny, chauvinism, bigotry, or anti-Semitism. The second group comprises fellow Muslims, those who see their group as victims with a monopoly on proper, God-ordained sexual conduct.
What is especially worrying in all of this is that Ramadan's legions of followers are not a group to mess with, having made threats against satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in November after they released an issue with Ramadan on the front page sporting a giant erection, with the caption: "I am the sixth pillar of Islam."
What the case of Ramadan represents is a significant predicament in the distribution of justice. What is to be done when accusers fear for their lives if they speak out against those who've contravened their human rights? Moreover, what is to do be done when the very accused have a plethora of supporters, many of whom are willing to intimidate any who deride their idol?
There is also a serious challenge ahead of those who want gender equality in all pockets of society. Continuing to empower minorities, all egalitarians must administer justice under the pretext of fundamental human rights no matter the class, race, or creed of the accused. If we fail to put in order this balance, we are going to see exacerbated levels of abuse, predominately at the hands of men, in the developed world.
Now is the time for both governments and society broadly to defend the principle that no matter how integral or sacred the accused perpetrator may be to a minority group or religion, any practices violating fundamental human rights will not be tolerated. As Judith Lewis Harman stressed, we must not forget that in practice the standard for what constitutes sexual abuse is set not at the level of women's experience of violation but just above the level of coercion acceptable to men.