"All the same, it is quite absurd that a Muslim has been confidently attempting to impose a controversial Islamic convention in a Christian state school. It's true that Mrs Azmi has just lost her discrimination case - mainstream culture has not yet entirely lost its nerve - but her lawyers are ready to take it to the European Court of Justice. "
"Let us pray we have an end to faith schools." (South Asia Citizen's Wire)
by Minette Marrin, The Sunday Times, October 22, 2006
An alarming image dominated the front pages of Friday's newspapers. It was a photograph of a slim British woman shrouded in black except for a flash of her skilfully painted eyes, and naked toes.
She was Aishah Azmi, the young Muslim teaching assistant in the now notorious veil dispute, on the day she won £1,100 for her hurt feelings. She might have been one of the emblematic figures of a medieval morality play, medieval as she looks. In contemporary Britain, she represents cultural chaos.
I'm not only thinking of the disjunction between the total veiling of extreme Islamic modesty, and the provocation of her eyes and toes. And I'm not questioning the woman's freedom in a free country to wear what she chooses, any more than I question other people's freedom to say how offensive they find it or their freedom to question her motives. What concerns me is her role as a teacher, and with faith schools in general.
Mrs Azmi was demanding the right as a Muslim to be fully veiled while working as an assistant in a Church of England junior school. One can hardly blame her, given the way that for decades multicultural orthodoxy has encouraged minorities to emphasise their cultural differences. All the same, it is quite absurd that a Muslim has been confidently attempting to impose a controversial Islamic convention in a Christian state school. It's true that Mrs Azmi has just lost her discrimination case - mainstream culture has not yet entirely lost its nerve - but her lawyers are ready to take it to the European Court of Justice.
What Mrs Azmi stands for, so to speak, is what many people fear about Muslims, no matter how tolerant they would like to feel. A woman shrouded in veils represents deliberate cultural separation, voluntary apartheid, a pre-Enlightenment religion and a view of relations between the sexes that the mainstream culture in this country can no longer accept and rejects in law. Such a woman is teaching and setting an example to young children in a Christian school. Her image points up with extreme urgency the problem of faith schools.
State-funded faith schools never used to be much of a problem, if only because people in this country tend to wear their faith lightly. Even the education department's definition of a religious school is faith-lite; it is merely a school with a religious character. Even those who would much prefer a secular system, as I would, still feel they owe a lot to the great ethical and aesthetic traditions of faith schools. And there's some evidence that religious state schools are better than others, both academically and pastorally.
But faith schools are a British anomaly. It can't be right that in a state education system there are some schools that are not open to everyone; that is divisive. However, the real reason for alarm now is the growth of Muslim schools.
There are more than 100 private Muslim schools and eight state-funded Muslim schools. Yet as David Bell, the then chief inspector of schools, said in January last year, the growth of Muslim faith schools runs the risk of undermining the coherence of British society. He worried that "many young people were being educated with little appreciation of their wider responsibilities and obligations to British society". We "must not allow our recognition of diversity to become apathy in the face of any challenge to our coherence as a nation", he added.
That would strike most people as blindingly obvious, although it must have taken considerable courage to say it before the impact of the July bombs changed everything. Now it seems ministers are so aware of the dangers of sleepwalking to apartheid, in Trevor Phillips's phrase, that they can hardly stop talking about it. Yet what was Tony Blair's response last year, after the July bombings, to David Bell's cautious advice? It was not to put an end to new faith schools of any kind, as an anomaly which was no longer tolerable: it was to expand the numbers hugely.
He decided the government would offer voluntary aided status to 120-150 independent Muslim schools, bringing them in line with the existing 6,850 Christian and Jewish schools - in other words it will create masses of Muslim state schools. The heart sinks. How, in the name of integration, familiarity and trust, can it possibly be a good idea to have lots of state schools that are exclusively Muslim, with Muslim teachers, Muslim traditions and intense Islamic education?
Presumably realising that this might segregate Muslims more than ever, Alan Johnson announced that all new faith schools (for which read Muslim) would have to make a quarter of their places available to those outside their faith. At least they will sort of have to, by agreement or on demand. Then, almost immediately, Johnson hinted that all faith schools would have to do the same - to be fair to new Muslim schools.
Misguided tinkering leads to more misguided tinkering, and to glaring new injustices. It is plainly unjust to permit faith schools, and then exclude some of the children of the faithful, so as to shoehorn in some reluctant unbelievers. Quota is a dirty word. Jews and Christians will resent this just as much as Muslims. Do ministers seriously think they could make this work? No, clearly they don't, because in an amendment to the education bill before parliament, they are passing the buck for dealing with it to education authorities, empowering them to impose the 25% quota where necessary on new faith schools.
Nice one. Education authorities will also be responsible for urging schools to get together, arrange "twinning", exchange teachers and "promote community cohesion" - in other words for endless fuss, bother, travel and jobsworthy bureaucracy rather than education proper.
There is an alternative to all this meddling. It should be possible to agree that for various reasons, many of which are politically embarrassing, the time of state-funded faith schools is past. Faith is no better a criterion for attending or running a state school than race. No new ones should be created; the old ones should gradually lose their religious identity as many have done already and as they probably will do naturally. Religious indoctrination and observance don't belong in state schools, in a multifaith society, not any more.
Is Paris Burning
By Robert Spencer
FrontPageMagazine.com | November 4, 2005
Riots have now continued for eight days in and around Paris. Thursday night, November 3, Muslim rioters burned 315 cars. In the previous week, they torched 177 vehicles and burned numerous businesses, a post office, and two schools. They have rampaged through twenty towns and shot at police and firemen. In an episode that summed up the failure of France’s efforts to create a domestic, domesticated Islam, when moderate Muslim leader Dalil Boubakeur, head of the Paris mosque, tried to restore calm, his car was pelted with stones and he had to rush away.
The riots began on October 27 when two Muslim teenagers ran from police who were checking identification papers — why they ran is as yet unclear. The police did not chase them, but evidently the teenagers thought they were being chased; they eventually hid in an electrical power sub-station, where they accidentally electrocuted themselves. That night young Muslims took to the streets for the first time, throwing rocks and bottles at police, burning cars, and vandalizing property. The next day rioters, throwing rocks, bottles, and Molotov cocktails, injured twenty-three police officers in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. The violence continued over the next few days: more destroyed vehicles and injured police officers. Then on Sunday, October 30, a tear gas shell hit a mosque, further enraging local Muslims; French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy stated somewhat cryptically, “I am, of course, available to the imam of the Clichy mosque to let him have all the details in order to understand how and why a tear gas bomb was sent into this mosque.” Since then the riots have continued unabated, defying appeals for calm from French President Jacques Chirac and others. The crisis now threatens to swamp the French government.
Why have the riots happened? From many accounts one would think that the riots have been caused by France’s failure to implement Marxism. “The unrest,” AP explained, has highlighted the division between France’s big cities and their poor suburbs, with frustration simmering in the housing projects in areas marked by high unemployment, crime and poverty.” Another AP story declared flatly that the riots were over “poor conditions in Paris-area housing projects.”
Reuters agreed with AP’s attribution of all the unrest to economic injustice, and added in a suggestion of racism: “The unrest in the northern and eastern suburbs, heavily populated by North African and black African minorities, have been fuelled by frustration among youths in the area over their failure to get jobs and recognition in French society.” Deutsche Presse Agentur called the high-rise public housing in the Paris suburbs “a long-time flashpoint of unemployment, crime and other social problems.”
One might get the impression from this that France is governed by top-hatted, cigar-smoking capitalists, building their fortunes on the backs of the poor, rather than by socialists and quasi-socialists who have actually strained the economy by spending huge amounts of money on health and welfare programs. Nor does the idea that the rioting has been caused by economic inequalities explain why Catholics and others who are poor in France have not joined the Muslims who are rioting. Of course, all the news agencies have either omitted or mentioned only in passing that the rioters are Muslims at all. The casual reader would not be able to escape the impression that what is happening in France is all about economics — and race.
The areas hardest hit by the riots, according to Reuters, are “home to North African and black African minorities that feel excluded from French society.” AP shed some light on this feeling of exclusion: “the violence also cast doubt on the success of France’s model of seeking to integrate its large immigrant community — its Muslim population, at an estimated 5 million, is Western Europe’s largest — by playing down differences between ethnic groups. Rather than feeling embraced as full and equal citizens, immigrants and their French-born children complain of police harassment and of being refused jobs, housing and opportunities.”
So evidently France’s failure to live up to its policy of playing down the differences between ethnic groups has bred the simmering anger that has now boiled over in the riots. However, in fact France has done just the opposite of playing down the differences between ethnic groups. In her seminal Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, historian Bat Ye’or details a series of agreements between the European Union and the Arab League that guaranteed that Muslim immigrants in Europe would not be compelled in any way to adapt “to the customs of the host countries.” On the contrary, the Euro-Arab Dialogue’s Hamburg Symposium of 1983, to take just one of many examples, recommended that non-Muslim Europeans be made “more aware of the cultural background of migrants, by promoting cultural activities of the immigrant communities or ‘supplying adequate information on the culture of the migrant communities in the school curricula.’” Not only that: “Access to the mass media had to be facilitated to the migrants in order to ensure ‘regular information in their own language about their own culture as well as about the conditions of life in the host country.”
The European Union has implemented such recommendations for decades — so far from playing down the differences between ethnic groups, they have instead stood by approvingly while immigrants formed non-assimilated Islamic enclaves within Europe. Indeed, as Bat Ye’or demonstrates, they have assured the Arab League in multiple agreements that they would aid in the creation and maintenance of such enclaves. Ignorance of the jihad ideology among European officials has allowed that ideology to spread in those enclaves, unchecked until relatively recently.
Consequently, among a generation of Muslims born in Europe, significant numbers have nothing but contempt and disdain for their native lands, and allegiance only to the Muslim umma and the lands of their parents’ birth. Those who continue to arrive in Europe from Muslim countries are encouraged by the isolation, self-imposed and other-abetted, of the Islamic communities in Europe to hold to the same attitudes. The Arab European League, a Muslim advocacy group operating in Belgium and the Netherlands, states as part of its “vision and philosophy” that “we believe in a multicultural society as a social and political model where different cultures coexist with equal rights under the law.” It strongly rejects for Muslims any idea of assimilation or integration into European societies: “We do not want to assimilate and we do not want to be stuck somewhere in the middle. We want to foster our own identity and culture while being law abiding and worthy citizens of the countries where we live. In order to achieve that it is imperative for us to teach our children the Arabic language and history and the Islamic faith. We will resist any attempt to strip us of our right to our own cultural and religious identity, as we believe it is one of the most fundamental human rights.” AEL founder Dyab Abou Jahjah, who was himself arrested in November 2002 and charged with inciting Muslims in Antwerp to riot (Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said that the AEL was “trying to terrorize the city”), has declared: “Assimilation is cultural rape. It means renouncing your identity, becoming like the others.” He implied that European Muslims had a right to bring the ideology of jihad and Sharia to Europe, complaining that in Europe “I could still eat certain dishes from the Middle East, but I cannot have certain thoughts that are based on ideologies and ideas from the Middle East.”
What kind of ideologies? Perhaps Hani Ramadan, grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan Al-Banna and brother of the famed self-proclaimed moderate Muslim spokesman Tariq Ramadan, gave a hint when he defended the traditional Islamic Sharia punishment of stoning for adultery in the Paris journal Le Monde. In Denmark, politician Fatima Shah echoed the same sentiments in November 2004. That same month, filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who had made a film, Submission, about the oppression of women by Islamic law, was murdered in Holland by a Muslim, Mohammed Bouyeri. Bouyeri later declared in court: “I did what I did purely out my beliefs. I want you to know that I acted out of conviction and not that I took his life because he was Dutch or because I was Moroccan and felt insulted.” In other words, his problem was religious, not racial: Van Gogh had blasphemed Islam, and so according to Islamic law he had to die. Significantly, Bouyeri maintained during his trial that he did not recognize the authority of the Dutch court, but only of the law of Islam.
How many European Muslims share the sentiments of Mohammed Bouyeri? How many of these are rioting this week in Paris? Alleviating Muslim unemployment and poverty will not ultimately do anything to alter this rejection of European values by growing numbers of people who are only geographically Europeans. And the problem cannot be ignored. For France is not alone: Muslims in Århus, Denmark have also been rioting this week. And in France, Sarkozy recently revealed that this week’s riots are just a particularly virulent flare-up of an ongoing pattern of violence: he told Le Monde that twenty to forty cars are set afire nightly in Paris’ restive Muslim suburbs, and no fewer than nine thousand police cars have been stoned since the beginning of 2005.
Blame for the riots in France has thus far focused on Sarkozy’s tough talk about ending this violence. On October 19 he declared of the suburbs that “they have to be cleaned — we’re going to make them as clean as a whistle.” Six days after this, Muslim protestors threw stones and bottles at him when he visited the suburb of Argenteuil. He has been roundly criticized for calling the rioters “scum”; one of them responded, “We’re not scum. We’re human beings, but we’re neglected.” However, as a solution the same man recommended only more neglect, saying of the Paris riot police: “If they didn’t come here, into our area, nothing would happen. If they come here it’s to provoke us, so we provoke back.” Others complained of rough treatment they have received since 9/11 from police searching for terrorists: “It’s the way they stop and search people, kneeing them between the legs as they put them up against the wall. They get students mixed up with the worst offenders, yet these young people have done nothing wrong.”
But of course, all these problems are exacerbated by the non-assimilation policy that both the French government and the Muslim population have for so long pursued: the rioters are part of a population that has never considered itself French. Nor do French officials seem able or willing to face that this is the core of their problem today. It is likely that the riots will result only in intensification of the problems that caused them: if French officials offer an accommodation to Muslims, it will probably result only in further intensification of the Islamic identity, often in its most radical manifestations, among French Muslims. The French response to the riots is likely to unfold along the lines of a decision by officials in Holland last May: they declined to ban a book called De weg van de Moslim (The Way of the Muslim), even though it calls for homosexuals to be thrown head first off tall buildings. The Amsterdam city council did not want to contravene “the freedom to express opinions.”
That decision is a small example of what the Paris riots demonstrate on a large scale: the abject failure of the multiculturalist philosophy that disparate groups can coexist within a nation without any idea that they must share at least some basic values. The French are paying the price today for blithely assuming that France could absorb a population holding values vastly different from that of the host population without negative consequences for either.
That French officials show no sign, on the eighth day of the Paris riots, of recognizing that this clash of values is the heart of the problem only guarantees that before they will be able to say that their difficulties with their Muslim population are behind them, many more cars will be torched, many more buildings burned, and many more lives destroyed.
 Bat Ye’or, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005. P. 97.
 Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, “Ex-Hezbollah charged with inciting rioting,” London Daily Telegraph, November 30, 2002.
(Background Article #3)
WOMEN LIVING UNDER MUSLIM LAWS: STRUGGLES AGAINST FUNDAMENTALISM IN EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA
(Excerpted)‘Religious’ demands made in Europe and North America to give visibility and specificity to ‘Muslims’ have all been done under the control of fundamentalists with an exclusive focus on the control of women. In France, Muslim fundamentalists demanded the following:
• the end of co-educational schools;
• separate swimming pools for men and women, or different days for men’s
and women’s use;
• entirely female wards in public hospitals including all female personnel
(doctors, nurses, helpers and cleaners) for female patients (while France is
now short of male and female doctors);
• a different curriculum for girls in state schools that includes a banning of
sports, music, graphic arts, biology (like Christian fundamentalists in the
US, they refuse Darwinism and want creationism to be taught—at least to
• the ‘right to veil’ for girls under age (much discussed around the world).
It is important to note that fundamentalists have already succeeded in some French cities in obtaining from Mayors and other local authorities sex segregation in swimming pools.
They have had similar success in the UK where they have won a different curriculum for girls in Muslim schools despite the fact that these may be funded by the state. Demands for separate religious laws in family matters have been made in most European countries. They are close to being won in the UK, and elsewhere where decisions are pending. This is not a new strategy. Already some thirty years ago, the Dutch Parliament debated whether or not to allow female genital mutilation on the soil of the Netherlands for the ‘concerned sections of the population.’ This was done in the name of cultural rights.
Let us examine for a minute the much debated question of the so-called Islamic veil in France. On the one hand, this cannot be separated from the aforementioned other demands that are made by Muslim fundamentalists. On the other hand, the French government position has been wrongly constructed as an exclusive attack on Muslim freedom of religion. In his defense of French secularism the progressive Muslim theologian Soheib Bencheikh rightly argues that secularism and the law of separation between religion and the state is precisely what guarantees him the right to freely practice his religion in France.2
This important commitment to secularism is little known and often decried outside France and so must be clarified. It is often understood to mean equal tolerance of all religions by the State. However, to me, this is hardly secularism, especially if one considers the UK (where the Queen is both Head of State and Head of the Anglican church) or Germany (where the Landers collect religious taxes for financing the various churches as part of general taxes) or the U.S. (where one testifies in court by swearing on the Bible) or Canada (where God is mentioned in the Charter of Rights). The French concept of secularism must not be confused with this tolerance of religions.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the French state has stepped totally out of religious matters. The State will not interfere in, nor fund, any religion, and the institutions of the Republic reflect this ideological stand. Religion and State are now separate.
2 See his Marianne et le Prophète - l’Islam dans la France Laïque, Grasset, Paris, 1998.
Henri Pena Ruiz, renowned French philosopher and expert on secularism, explained in a recent article3 that the Act of Separation of Church and State of 9 December 1905 opens with two indivisible articles grouped under the single heading
Section 1: the Republic shall ensure freedom of conscience. It shall guarantee free participation in religious worship, subject only to the restrictions laid down hereinafter in the interest of public order.
Section 2: the Republic may not recognise, pay stipends to or subsidise any religious denomination. Consequently, from 1 January in the year following promulgation of this Act all expenditure relating to participation in worship shall be removed from State, region and municipality budgets.
Grouped under the same heading, the two articles of the law are obviously inseparable and are clearly referred to as principles. Religious freedom is but one version of the freedom of conscience (Section 1) and is viewed only as a particular illustration of the freedom.
Having to coexist with the freedom of choosing to be an atheist or an agnostic, the freedom of opting for a religion obviously belongs to a more general category which is the only one mentioned by the law. Insisting on ‘religious freedom’ is in fact preserving the privilege of a spiritual option when the law actually rejects all such privilege. This is why Section 1 is inseparable from Section 2 which stipulates that the Republic does not recognise any religious denomination. This strictly means that it has passed from recognising certain selected denominations (before 1905—Catholicism, Lutheran and Reformed Protestantism and Judaism) to renouncing all recognition. It is not passing from a recognition of some to a recognition of all, as a multireligious or communitarist interpretation would have it, but from a selective recognition to a strict non-recognition.
This principle of non-recognition is to be understood in its legal sense which confirms the fact that no stipend or direct subsidy may be paid to any religious body by the State. It does not entail, of course, that the social existence of different denominations or that the atheistic or agnostic forms of conviction are ignored. Equality of all is a key issue for such legal provision as it is likely to remind one that the State is only concerned with the general good. The 1905 Act does not just stipulate that all churches are henceforth legally equal.
It extends this equality to all spiritual choices, whether religious or not, by dispossessing the Churches of any public law status. Assigning religions to the private sphere entails a radical secularization of the State. The State henceforth declares itself incompetent in matters of spiritual options, and therefore not able to arbitrate between beliefs or to let them encroach on the public sphere to shape common norms.
As to the essential principle of respect for religious neutrality, Section 28 of the 1905 Act
It is henceforth forbidden to build or affix any religious sign or emblem on public monuments or on any place whatever, with the exception of religious buildings, burial places in cemeteries, funeral monuments as well as museums or exhibitions.
3 France: Secularity and the Republic, News and Views, Women Living Under Muslim Laws, June 27 2005.
< http://www.wluml.org/english/newsfulltxt.shtml?cmd=x-157-406385 >
This is the logic behind forbidding any sign of political or religious affiliation in the schools of the Republic and in public administration when the civil servant is in contact with the public in his/her professional capacity of representing the Republic in France. I grew up under this law in colonized Algeria, and despite the discriminatory colonial context, Christians were no more allowed to wear crosses inside the premises of state schools, than were Jews allowed to wear a kippa or Muslims to wear a veil. Children were there as citizens and freed from representing a ‘community.’ Yet all these signs were allowed, in the name of freedom of conscience, as soon as one had gone beyond the doorstep of locations that both belonged to and represented the Republic.
This law clearly speaks to a tension between two fundamentally opposed visions of society: citizenship by choice versus communities by birth. Pena Ruiz (2005) discusses it as follows:
"The secular recasting of the state, initiated in France with the acts of 1881 and 1886, then the Act of separation of Church and State of 9 December, 1905, corresponds to the meaning enclosed in the very etymology of the word Res Publica which addresses everybody, believers, atheists and agnostics alike and cannot therefore favor anybody. What pertains to some cannot be imposed on all or even privileged. The unity of a population is then based on the fundamental correlation between freedom of conscience and the equality of the rights of all men, whatever their spiritual choices.
The French word for secularity, laïcité, is derived from the Greek word laos meaning population and therefore refers to a principle of union of the population grounded on values or requirements, ensuring that nobody will be the victim of pressures on his conscience, or of discriminations because of their spiritual choices."
In that sense, secularism is akin to universalism, which is the essence of the republic. But it could not occur spontaneously. There had to be a movement to emancipate the existing law from submission to any specific religious persuasion. Hence, the republic is now legally neither atheistic nor religious. It no longer arbitrates between beliefs but arbitrates between actions to be assessed only terms of the general interest. This evolution puts an end to the confusion between the temporal and the spiritual, and in a way liberates them from the corruptions each inflicts on the other.
At the same time, the ethical liberty of the private sphere is guaranteed. No conception of what ‘the good life is’ can monopolize law or illegitimately extend the normative function of the law beyond the interest of the community of citizens. The law tends to evolve from prescription to proscription. The respect of the private sphere as independent from the public sphere places limits on the state in order to preserve the autonomy of each person from supervision—whether of one’s life ethics or religious choices. The effect is to protect people’s inner life from any intrusion of the state which emancipates religious as well as atheist spirituality.
Kant argued that the paternalist figure of the prince trying to dictate to his subjects how to be happy was the worst type of covert despotism. Making people childish in this way
preserves in fact that they are considered as neither free and autonomous nor lucid. And who is to decide on this but a self-proclaimed authority which stands purposely apart from the people it dominates? The republic is not made up of subjects. They are not subjected to anyone or anything. The republic is composed of citizens who, as Rousseau pointed out, are both the authors of the laws and the people who must obey them. The two meanings, both active and passive, of the word ‘subject’ become reciprocal in a democratic sovereignty—the collective form of political autonomy. The people themselves promulgate their own law and must obey it. Such an autonomy, with all its variety of forms for the individual as well as for society, raises the individual to the status of a ‘subject of rights’ while setting the people up as ‘the sovereign authority.’
The type of union formed on that model cannot be interpreted in terms of communities, for it would mean that some people had a right over a community’s members just as the king had a right over his subjects—that would be unilateral domination instead of reciprocal sovereignty belonging to each and to all.
It follows that the demand for the ‘right to veil’ for girls under 16 in secular French schools was a straightforward attack on the very principles of the Republic and a step towards reintroducing religion as a way to govern. It is at the roots of the fundamentalist agenda to impose theocracy. Thanks to the growing ideology of multiculturalism that leads to communalism, a minority of Muslim fundamentalists have successfully labelled this wonderful and respectful law on secularism ‘a law against the veil’ and it is now
considered discriminatory against Muslims. We will discuss later the enforced identity that ‘communities’ may represent versus secular citizenship.
It is because of such widespread, deliberate and coordinated entryist policies in Europe and North America that I can say with some certitude that Canadian women have won a battle but not the war and that they should be ready for further attacks from Muslim
Let us now examine the reactions of the various social actors to fundamentalist demands in Europe and North America. And let us first note that these demands always concern primarily women through their position within the family. It is always family laws that are claimed first as the preferential symbol of Islamic identity. Other specificities of so-called Muslim Laws such as the Huddud laws (the laws concerning punishment), that condemn thieves to the amputation of limbs and adulterers to be stoned to death, have not yet been proposed or demanded as legitimate symbols of Islamic identity in Europe and North America—although we may be getting there.
At the time of the heated discussion on the veil in state schools in France, a fundamentalist preacher who manages to pass himself off as both an intellectual and a theologian, and as a ‘moderate Islamist’ (this terminology will be discussed later), Tariq Ramadan refused to condemn publicly the stoning to death of adulterers during an interview on French TV. The most he could envisage was ‘a moratorium.’ Governments (as already mentioned) are preoccupied with keeping ‘communities’ at peace with each other and with themselves.
They are fully prepared to trade away women’s rights unless a strong social movement forces them to reconsider their position. This is the reason why the crafty strategic entry points of fundamentalists in their policy of de-secularization of the State are measures that affect primarily women.
Why is it that women from the Muslim community sometimes find it so difficult to take a clear-cut position against fundamentalists’ demands against women’s human rights? We cannot ignore here the double bind in which they are caught. Religiously minded or not,
they see (just as we all do) the growing racism, discrimination, exclusion, and marginalisation that so-called Muslims face, especially since 9-11. (Note: a critical discussion of the descriptor ‘Muslim’ follows below). As members of this community, they face these difficulties themselves, as well as being sensitive to what their male folks face.
When they stand up in defense of women’s human rights, they are immediately labeled traitors: Traitors to their community, to their family, to their culture, to their religion, but also, and not less excruciating, traitors to the oppressed of the world, to the revolution, etc.
For those of us who are atheists and come from social movements, condemnation comes additionally from a larger and larger section of the Left and from human rights organizations that give precedence to the defense of communities over the defense of women.. For those of us who are religious, condemnation comes additionally from authorities of a faith that is dear to their hearts… (Excerpted)
(Background Information Article # 4)
The furore over Tariq Ramadan
Mohamed Sid-Ahmed discusses the case of a maverick Islamic personality
The French daily Le Monde devoted the main story on the front page of its 23 December issue to Tariq Ramadan, the controversial Islamic activist and grandson, on his mother's side, of Muslim Brothers founder Hassan El-Banna.
The Le Monde article leads with the question "Who is Tariq Ramadan?" and then goes on to identify him as the central figure of Islam in France today, even though he is a Swiss national. With a population of seven million, the Muslims in France have become the second largest religious community in the country, after the Catholics and before the Protestants. Ramadan was thrust into the limelight following his recent participation in a meeting organised by the European Social Forum (ESF) and his heated debate on television with French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.
Tariq Ramadan says he is not part of the Muslim Brothers. He has even said that he differed with his grandfather over a number of issues related to Islamic teachings. But whether he likes it or not, his importance lies in the fact that he belongs concomitantly to two discordant identities, an Islamic identity due to his family ties and a European identity due to his upbringing in Switzerland. In the context of the radical changes now underway in the entire world system, the potential for clashes between the two facets of his dual identity has never been higher. Indeed, Ramadan's thinking and behaviour are, to a considerable extent, a product of the constant tug of war between these two facets and the problematics this raises.
Ramadan's father, Said, was a leading member of the Muslim Brothers. He was both El-Banna's son- in-law and his favourite disciple. Exiled by Nasser in 1954, the elder Ramadan lived for a few years in Saudi Arabia before moving with his family to Switzerland, where his sons Hani and Tariq were born and raised. They continued their studies there, and speak French like native speakers.
Today Tariq Ramadan is in the eye of a political storm, villified by the French media as an anti- Semitic, sexist and reactionary Islamist. The campaign against him has acquired dangerous proportions reminiscent of the Inquisition. The question is why so much importance is being given to Tariq Ramadan.
In 1961, Said Ramadan founded the Islamic Centre in Geneva. The following year, Tariq was born into a home environment marked by a sense of alienation coupled with the hope that integration was possible. The young Tariq first devoted his efforts to abstract studies. He studied philosophy, concentrating mainly on Nietzsche, then became a philosophy teacher at the Lycee of Saussure. On reaching adulthood, he visited Egypt with his wife and children in a quest for his roots. In Egypt, he discovered the other side of his identity.
His personality developed beyond the traditional Islamic frameworks, and he became known for his independent views, forceful arguments and debating skills. He has been accused of cleverly using the Internet, particularly on the occasion of the ESF meeting, to emerge as a force to be reckoned with among Europe's growing Muslim population. Contrary to the Islamic movement in Europe taken as a whole, Tariq Ramadan adopted a stand against religious schools in France, which he described as a trap. He opposed them, he said, because they exposed the pupils to isolation and marginalisation, making them victims in a society that disliked both Arabs and Muslims.
However, his views on the matter did not save him from the charges of anti-Semitism levelled against him by prominent French intellectuals who are proud to call themselves secular and claim to have a universalist outlook, such as Andre Glucksmann, Pascal Bruckner and Bernard Kouchner. This was in retaliation for Ramadan's criticism of their support for the American war in Iraq, which he said was to "serve Israeli interests". Ramadan also accused the writer Alexander Adler of analysing events "from the viewpoint of Israel", and attributed Bernard Henri Levy's description of Sharon's recent visit to India as "historic" to the fact that what brought India and Israel together was the enmity towards Pakistan.
Actually, Ramadan is not anti-Semitic. The reason he has earned the enmity of these intellectuals is that his stands now enjoy the support of thinkers and intellectuals of the calibre of the late Edward Said, Naom Chomsky, Francois Bugart, Edgar Morin and Norman Finkelstein, some of whom are Jewish. Tariq Ramadan developed a constructive dialogue with Alain Gresh, editor-in-chief of Le Monde Diplomatique, and with Bernard Cassen, one of the leading figures of the world anti-globalisation movement. He also tried to find common ground with the French peasant leader Jose Bove, famous for destroying a MacDonald's to protest France's Americanisation in the globalisation process now underway.
The youth in the "ghettos" that have developed in the suburbs around France's large cities listen to what Ramadan has to say with great interest. They feel he speaks in their name and expresses their aspirations. He is particularly popular among Muslim youth, even in the United States where he is often invited to deliver lectures.
Ramadan is the author of a book entitled The Muslims in a Secular Environment, by which he means Europe. His problem is how to make European Muslims live their faith and citizenship in a coherent manner. He says, "Whatever does not oppose our values we should take up and add to our legacy." This has been the theme of countless lectures Ramadan has given in Europe, America, Asia and Africa.
But despite the uproar over Tariq Ramadan in France and elsewhere in Europe. Egypt -- and indeed the whole Islamic world -- remains curiously silent in his regard. There has been no attempt to join the debate he has provoked, let alone to defend him. It is hard to explain why he is conspicuously absent from our public discourse, not only because the issues at stake touch on the future of the West's relations with Islam, but because of his relationship with the founder of the Muslim Brothers.
Is it because his independent thinking does not operate only towards French society but also towards Arab and Muslim societies? Is his independence frowned upon because it has gone too far, raising the problematic of Islam in western societies, and to what extent accommodation is required to avoid confrontation and Huntington's "clash of civilisations" scenario?
In fact, the issue goes beyond Ramadan as an individual. It has its origins in the undeniable duality between the Islam to which Ramadan attributes himself and the Western Judeo-Christian environment in which he was brought up and with which he is forced to interact.
Ramadan's critics argue that he cannot be part of the European Social Forum as long as he subscribes to a philosophy that rejects the notion of progress and does not condemn the veil. In their televised debate, the French Interior minister tried to embarrass Ramadan by raising the issue of Islamic punishments such as stoning women who commit adultery and amputating the hands of thieves. Ramadan resorted to ijtihad (one of the four sources of Islam that is used to find the doctrinal solution to new problems) to come forward with alternatives to such practices.
The Sarkozy/Ramadan debate was part of a series of televised debates between the interior minister and a number of key figures, including Christophe Aguiton, representative of the Porto Allegre "other globalisation", and Le Pen, leader of France's extreme right. Sarkozy is planning to present himself in France's next presidential elections, and these debates appear to be preparing the groundwork for his campaign. It seems Ramadan is playing a key role, albeit from the standpoint of an ever more significant Islamic opposition, in establishing the features of France's future policies. In such a context, can we continue to ignore Tariq Ramadan?
Background Article # 5
Tariq Ramadan: The Muslim Martin Luther?
The author of "To Be a European Muslim" discusses terrorism, the problem of Saudi Arabia and whether Islam can peacefully coexist with the West.
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By Paul Donnelly
Feb. 15, 2002 | Tariq Ramadan is not a household name in the United States, but the Swiss professor could be one of the most important intellectuals in the world. Ramadan's thinking, his methods and his personal history are all connected to the same question: Islam's encounter with the modern world. Can the youngest of the world's three great monotheisms co-exist harmoniously with the Western world and its Enlightenment legacy? Or is it fated to be reactionary, closed off from the world, an excuse for terrorism and failure?
Ramadan's books, mostly in French, focus on the growth of Muslim populations in Western Europe -- that area once called Christendom. For America, founded on the separation of church and state, the presence of religious minorities is simply a fact of life. Centuries of Americanizing newcomers (and expanding American identity to include them) tends to obscure how revolutionary -- and rare -- that is for the rest of the world. The questions in Ramadan's English-language book "To Be a European Muslim" identify just how profound a shift being Muslim in a non-Muslim country is for Islam itself: "Early in Islamic history ... [jurists ruled that] it was not possible for Muslims to live [outside of Muslim-ruled states] except under some mitigating circumstances. What bearing does this have on those Muslims who came to work and are now living in the West with their families? What about their children and their nationality? Can they ... be true, genuine and complete citizens, giving allegiance -- through the national constitution -- to a non-Islamic country?"
At the start of the 21st century, there can be few more important questions.
Ramadan's theological inquiries cut to the heart of the motivations of the Sept. 11 terrorists, of the apocalyptic claims of Hamas and Hezbollah and the Iranian mullahs. Above all, however, they are concerned with that disputed terrain where Islamic tradition collides with modernity.
Ramadan has the credentials and credibility to confront Islam's modern identity on its own terms. Muslim scholars recognize that no one is more orthodox in his methods and sources, or more innovative in his conclusions. He is genuinely radical, rather than reactionary. Quiet, thoughtful and deeply religious, he closes an e-mail: "May the Light protect you and go with you and all the people you love."
Ramadan's personal history is inextricably tied to his thinking. Born in Switzerland in 1962, Ramadan received a classical Islamic education (he wrote his dissertation on Nietzsche) and went on to become a high school principal and later a professor at prestigious European universities (College of Geneva and Fribourg University). Ramadan's grandfather was Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian schooteacher and founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the journalist Milton Viorst called "the flagship of fundamentalism in the Arab world." It was al-Banna who most effectively connected Islamic fundamentalism with the struggle against colonialism. That struggle still reverberates in countless ways today -- many of them deeply alarming to his grandson, interviewed by phone from Geneva.
If Islam is beginning what in a Christian context would be called a Reformation, you might be cast for the Martin Luther role. Do you have a list that you would nail to a church door?
I don't have a list. I know what might be the priorities when we think about reform and revival within the Islamic landscape. And the first thing for me is the way Muslims today are reading our text. There are a lot of misconceptions within the Islamic communities. We have to come back to a very thorough understanding of what it does mean to have a text coming from God. This is an Islamic credo, and at the same time we have to know that some principles are universal and eternal, and some prescriptions should be understood in a specific context.
It is also important to understand the way that scholars, from the very beginning, tried to present some normative tools to read the Quran. For example, when someone says there is no difference in Islam between politics and religion, we have to say that the sources are the same, for example the Quran and the Sunna [lessons from the life of the Prophet], but the methodologies are different. This is the problem we have today in the Muslim world : we repeat slogans, but we don't know exactly what they mean.
When I am speaking about worship and social affairs, there is a crucial difference. In worship we have to do what is written and in social affairs everything is open, except what is strictly forbidden. And these differences are extremely important.
Islam is now the excuse for the world's premier us vs. them ideology.
You wrote in "To Be a European Muslim" that Muslims need to get past the us vs. them worldview, the old concept of Dar al-Islam, the Islamic world, opposed to the non-Muslim world (the Dar al-Harb, the House of War), and propose the new concept of a House of Testimony, a Space of Witness, available to Muslims anywhere.
That is exactly what I was saying about the way we are reading the text. Some Muslims are saying, "We are more Muslim when we are against the West or the Western values" -- as if our parameter to assess our behavior is our distance from or opposition to the West. They are promoting this kind of binary vision of the world that comes from a very long time back in the Muslim psyche. We have to get rid of this kind of understanding and evaluate if an act or a situation is Islamic or not, on the scale of the Islamic ethics and values per se, not against any other civilization
Our values are not based on "otherness." Our values are universal. We have to come to the understanding that it's not "us against them," it's us on the scale of our own values. This defines the place I live in. That is to say, my role in this world is to understand that I am a witness to the Islamic message before mankind.
We need an intellectual revolution within the Muslim world. We are Muslims according to our spirituality and these universal values, and not against the West, not against the Jews, not against the Christians, not against secular people. The way I'm trying to re-read our texts is based on the awareness that this message is universal: that is why, for instance, the definition of our Muslim identity could by no means be a closed one against the others. This definition will help, God willing, in the way we deal with others.
The concept of Dar al-Islam is a hindrance today within the Muslim world. Even when we speak of Dar al-'ahd [the House of Treaty, which stipulates that Muslims living as a minority among unbelievers should live peacefully but without truly joining these societies], it means peaceful coexistence but it also promotes this kind of binary vision, "us and them." It does not allow us to feel that we are part of the Western societies, that we are sharing with others our values and belonging.
It's always, "OK, I'm with you but ..." It's not enough for me. It's still a very old understanding of our belonging to Islam. When I'm speaking of Dar-ash-Shahada, the abode, the space of testimony, I'm saying we have to get past these tendencies.
In the modern context, what does Dar al-Islam, the House of Submission, mean?
It means the space where the Muslims are in the majority. People will say it is where the rules of Islam are implemented, which is not the reality for the majority of the people who are speaking about Dar al-Islam. We have other definitions: the Hanafi school of thought, for instance, says that Dar al-Islam is the space where we are at peace, where we are safe.
Which of the two definitions is for me the [most] accurate, today? Am I not in a safer place, in the West, than in the majority of the so-called Islamic countries experiencing dictatorship?
It's very difficult for Muslims, we don't have a safe place [to call Dar al-Islam]. So even this word, for me, is relatively outdated. It's not because we are in the majority that we are faithful to our principles. It's not because we are in the majority that we are in a safe place. That is why, in my perception, we have to say that all these concepts are outdated, and come to new concepts.
But it is more than that. I was talking to Muslims in the States, and they said: "Oh, it's just new concepts." I said, no, it is a new understanding of our texts. It's a new understanding of our universal values and these universal values, we can share them with others -- with Christians, with all our fellow citizens in our countries. And this will help, in the near future, Muslims throughout the world to understand their own references.
You wrote that for the last seven centuries Islam has followed a path of blind imitation, and that in applying thoughtful judgment it isn't so much that Islam will modernize, as that it will renew itself. What did you mean?
We are not against modernity. The problem is that mainly, since the 13th century, we have not read our texts in order to face up to reality of modernity, but to take a defensive posture in order to fight against Western hegemony, to fight against "the other." And to withdraw within ourselves and be preoccupied with speaking of halal [lawful] and haram [unlawful]. You know, this kind of discussion and obsession of limits is not all that Islam is about. This is not the real message of Islam. Yes, we have limits, but we have to face the reality to reform the world, not just to resist aggression or indulge in the feeling that we are oppressed by others. This has to change.
My perception is that what we need has to come from within. Sometimes when I am speaking to non-Muslims, I say, don't ask us just to follow your models, your ways or paths, what we need is something from within. We need Islamic tools that will help the Muslims to understand better what the main message of Islam is.
What are the tools we can use? First and foremost is ijtihad, which, as you know, is the reasoning effort of creativity according to our sources, but facing our context and our environment. To achieve it from within takes time but it is the only way.
If I'm speaking to Muslims today, and tell them that we have to imitate Western society, the Western models, they're not going to listen because they are still in the binary perception of reality. I have to come back to find something from within, and promote this kind of contextualization and promoting of Islamic values.
For example, the way Muslims for the last 20 years have answered the question "What is the Islamic identity?" is revealing: they were confusing Islamic principles and their culture of origin, which is wrong. The Pakistani or the Turkish or the Egyptian culture have nothing to do with Islamic principles. They are but the dress of these principles.
The fact that we are living in the West, helps us to come back to this deep understanding of what are the Islamic principles. Now we have to face a new culture and take from that culture what does not contradict our principles, and face new challenges. I think this is now helping Muslims.
For decades what the press lumps together as radical Islamic groups have committed terrorist attacks, with the Sept. 11 attacks taking this to a whole new level. Your grandfather Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood, historically the most important and inspirational of radical Islamic groups. He said that Islam is "all-inclusive ... a home and a nationality, a religion and a state ... a book and a sword."
The problem is that that was a slogan used in a specific situation under English colonization. He was using slogans against the Western presence in Egypt, and trying to understand from the Islamic sources the kind of project he wished to implement. It was in Egypt, but it was wider than that. This is one thing I'm trying to communicate to Muslims, especially to the Muslim Brotherhood: they repeat Hassan al-Banna slogans, but they do not always understand what he meant.
His point to the English colonizers was, you have to go away. We don't want you here. We want a society here that is based on our Islamic principles. In one way, he was a reformer, saying that we have global principles in our text and a new context in which to read the text. He said, speaking about the Quran, for example, we have the Shura [a council that advises government], and we can take from the concept of consultation we have in our source, but also take from the West organizations that they have promoted from their history, and try to adapt them to our history. He was of the opinion that we can take the parliamentary system, and adapt it to the Islamic context.
[Hassan al-Banna] founded more than 2,000 schools, and he believed that we have to take the pedagogy that we find in the West, and adapt it, because it is very effective. This was completely new for people. His point, with which I agree, was that we don't have to look at the West as a monolithic reality.
He was very young when he started, and he changed his opinion on many issues, for example pluralism. He believed that the English were trying to create political parties to divide the Egyptian resistance. He thought it was a game the colonizers were playing against them, and he thought, "we have to be united." But at the end of his life [al-Banna was assassinated in 1949, during Egypt's struggle for independence], he said, we can use the plural parties. We can ask the Muslim Brotherhood to join any party you want, and play the political role you want in this society. He changed.
If we read what he said at this time about sharia [Muslim law], it was absolutely not all about the penal code. He was promoting social justice. This is why, afterwards, we had two groups within the Muslim Brotherhood, people who believed "we have to educate people, we have to implement social justice," and others following the other aspect of some of his statements, which were dealing with government, dealing with power, saying that we need a khalifa [a restoration of Ottoman-style Muslim rule]. I think he was very engaged in the society with tools and the means to change it. He wanted an Islamic society, and he understood that the state is but a means. But after Gamel Abdul Nasser took over, he persecuted the Muslim Brotherhood. In jail, some of the followers understood the message in a different way. They were upset with those in power. They said, what we want is to kill them, to take over the government: we reject Gamel Abdul Nasser's authority. There was a shift within the Muslim Brotherhood.
You are a Swiss citizen.
Yes. When I speak about citizenship, I am a Swiss with a Muslim background. But when I speak of philosophy, my perception of life, I am a Muslim with a Swiss nationality. In French, we have the problem of which word is the first: "Français musulman ou musulman Français" [French Muslim or Muslim Frenchman] and we make a big problem out of this formulation or phrase. It is an artificial dilemma: when we are speaking of philosophy, and you ask me which comes first, I am a Muslim. If you ask about my civic and political involvement, I am a Swiss. It is as simple as that.
Isn't there a difference between what your grandfather said and what you mean by this? Who are you first?
Of course there is a difference. What I took from him and from all the reformists throughout Islamic history was not their conclusions, but rather their methodology. This is important for me. They said: We have the Quran, we have to understand the Quran through contextualized reading. They did that, adapting the reading to their own environment. Now, I am in Europe -- and it is the same for those in the States -- we face the same situation. We have to follow similar methodology. You have a philosophy of life, which enables you to think that your life has meaning, and after this life you will be called to account before God. This is part of my philosophy -- my life has a meaning, but also ethics and values. It's exactly the same situation for a Jew or a Christian or a humanist.
Now, as a citizen, I have to ask myself: what could I take from the culture I live in, but also from my sources, which can help me to be a true citizen? My loyalty to my country must be genuine -- this is why I am coming back to my sources, and taking elements or values, which are universal.
Let me give you an example that applies three principles. When I have to vote for someone, am I going to say that I am going to vote for the Muslim only? Or only the one who is telling me, "I am going to give you a mosque, or some advantages"? Or should I vote for the one who holds universal values, which are consistent with my Muslim values and at the same time can help our common society? We have three very important values, or principles, that are our references.
First, I have to vote for the more competent man or woman. Competence is a specific feature. I am not going to vote for you just because you are a Muslim, I want you to be competent.
Second point: intellectual probity. Honesty. Integrity. That is important for me. If I'm supporting you, I want you to be upright.
The third principle, is that I want you to work. I want you not to forget about the people for five years, and then come back asking me for a new vote. I want you to be active at the grassroots level, and to serve the people who elected you. This is your duty.
These three principles are completely in accordance with the Islamic references. But they are based on values that are universal. These are new answers. Of course Hassan al-Banna or others during the '40s, or in an Islamic society today, might have other answers in other social, economic or political fields because of difference in the context. But my point is, that my living in a secular society in the West helps me to understand the universality of my message, common values with my fellow citizens. This is a complete shift in our perception of our new societies.
Let's talk about economics. I know Muslims who accept that the Quran prohibits lending money at interest, period. They have a problem with the whole of the modern, globalized economy -- and much of the Muslim world is an economic basket case. Other religions, like Christianity and Judaism, had a similar prohibition, and resolved it by saying simply: times have changed. Can Muslims do that?
When we speak about ribbah [Arabic for "usury" or "interest"], the text is explicit. When the text is explicit, you can't say it is not, because that would be saying: we'd have to change the text. If you have to face the contemporary economy, if you want to play a role, of course we have to find solutions. But in the end, the principle is that we have to avoid ribbah.
I know which way we have to go. I know the path. At the end of the day, what we have to find is an alternative, to promote an economy without ribbah. Why? It's not only to help me to respect formally the Islamic proscription, but also because I'm sure the contemporary economy does not necessarily promote justice and development for all the people of the world. My point is that this kind of liberal economy based on speculation and ribbah is not the solution.
At least what we have to know is that Allah asks us to find alternatives, find new solutions ... I was discussing once with Michel Camdessus, who was the president of the International Monetary Fund, that at least at the grass roots level, we have micro-credit programs to try to avoid this kind of ribbah. To think locally, and to create bridges with other economists, who are trying to avoid speculation, which is part of the ribbah process.
I know what's reality. But I'm not going, in the name of performance, to forget the Islamic proscription. The Islamic proscription is pushing me to be more creative and dynamic to find alternatives at least at the grass roots levels.
My forthcoming book, "Western Muslims: Facing the Future," will be about practical issues, about education, social involvement, political participation, cultural and economic alternatives and I will speak about that aspect of our activities. This will make some noise in the Muslim communities, because I'm trying to say that we have to go in, in order to find a way to go out. When looking for solutions it's not possible for always to speak outside the economic process. People are stuck, because they don't know how to deal as Muslims with the classical economy.
Is this possible, or is this a dream? [laughs] For many it's a dream. I think it is the only way. But at least it helps to be resistant. In any case, a dream which helps you to live your reality with dignity and justice is a good dream.
You and many others make distinctions between Islam and terrorism, and many other anachronisms, crimes and distortions. But at some point the hairsplitting among scholars comes smack up against the Salman Rushdie fatwa. I was struck that in your book, you didn't use it as an example.
Because it is not a strict matter of itjihad [reasoned judgment]. From the very beginning, I was against the fatwa. The fatwa is not an Islamic answer to what [Rushdie] did. In that field, what we need is not itjihad, we need intra-community dialogue. This is the other aspect of our struggle today -- we need also to acknowledge that we have a problem of authority within the Muslim world. We need to know who is speaking in the name of what -- that is to say, who is legitimate to speak. This was also my position after Sept. 11, that we have to be self-critical within the Muslim world.
But it's not enough. We have also to say where we draw the line, to say that this act is Islamic and can be legitimized, and that one is not. Even if someone is part of the Islamic landscape, we have to be able to say, for example, that to say you can kill a Jew, a Christian or an American, only because they are American, Christian or a Jew, has nothing to do with Islam. To ask the people to kill Salman Rushdie because he wrote a book, telling people that you are going to be paid for that, this is not Islamic.
This is the responsibility of the Muslims, in the States, and in Europe and throughout the Muslim world, that we have to agree on the essentials of our religion, and to say: this is not Islamic. This stance is lacking today.
It becomes an institutional question.
It could be, yes.
I was particularly struck by your concept of the House of Witness, and your application of the surah that calls for competition in good works between Muslims and unbelievers. But of course, Islam has no pope. Strictly speaking, one reason Islam does not have a separation of church and state is because Islam is not a church.
So, from a purely institutional point of view, how would you have this dialogue within Islam that would say, we don't care that he's an ayatollah, he's wrong?
This may be the main challenge we are facing now. In the beginning, the fact that there is no church in Islam, in our minds, was an asset. It was something that was positive. But if we don't know how to deal with it, it would become a weakness. We don't have a church, which in our perception was a way to accept diversity, to accept different tendencies and to let the people find their own way. But now there is a lack of authority. Even bin Laden, who is not a scholar, could say things -- and some Muslims are not following him because he is Islamically right, but because he is giving them some kind of pride ... This is not the solution.
In the near future, Muslims in the West are going to help Muslims in the Islamic world. Because we are facing challenges and we can do things that are forbidden in the so-called Islamic countries. We need to think about think tanks, platforms, councils that would share views and opinions that could be critical toward Islamic authorities. For the time being, we are afraid of that. We are not self-confident. We are a bit afraid of being branded as out of Islam, or too Westernized. People are speaking from Medina in Saudi Arabia with this kind of influence that is coming from a kind of literalist Salafism, sometimes called Wahabi [the sub-branch of Islam closely associated with the Saudi ruling family], and their strong financial support is helping this school of thought to settle, so to speak, in the West. That poses a problem.
We have to think about institutions, organizations, platforms, think tanks, councils, which will help the Muslims. We have one example, the European Council for Itjihad and Research, with Muslim scholars from the West and also from Islamic countries. But it's not enough.
Are we talking about an organized House of Testimony?
No, no. To organize the Muslims in order to have a voice, which is pluralistic, but which at the same time is legitimate and authorized to say something. One that, like you said, can say "Okay, he's an ayatollah, but we don't agree with him." Having many legitimate voices within is important, but also we need a unified voice authorized to criticize some opinions within the Islamic world that we may disagree with. We need people who are ready to say, we don't agree with, for example, what is coming from Saudi Arabia.
How much of a problem is Saudi money and Wahabi influence?
It is a problem. They are a minority group today, but they are very active. Their number is growing today because of their money. The approach to Islam they are promoting is for us a real catastrophe.
They are not going to help us. I respect their views, as long as they have their views for themselves, and try to live in accordance with their own principles. But now we have a very strong problem from this school of thought, coming with money and planting these ideas throughout the world, playing upon the feelings of Muslims. That way, there will be more Muslims who will be against the West, believing that everything that is Western is against Islam. That to be a Muslim means to act against the West, or to act far from Western values. This kind of understanding is today promoted by these kinds of schools of thought and we have to be very, very careful about that.
Let me be clear: It's your view that Wahabism spread through money and intellectual influence out of Saudi Arabia, out of Medina and Riyadh, is intentionally promoting an anti-Western philosophy?
By them, of course. But also by Western governments. We know that.
What do you mean by Western governments?
Many Western governments keep quiet about what they are doing, because [the Saudi Wahabis] have money and they can pay. They are also promoting and presenting a very bad image of Islam.
Let me be very frank and honest about that. If someone wants to demonize Islam, it could help to let [the Wahabis] work. Afterward, you can say: "look at what the Islamic reality is" and you show the Wahabi posture. It could help you today, but tomorrow it will promote fractures within Western societies. It is a very short-sighted and dangerous strategy. Even in the States, if you want to build a mosque, it is sometimes easier for someone coming with Saudi money, than it is for some Muslim citizens in America who do not have money, whereas if there is a state behind you, well, we know the money will help.
Western governments are sometimes very blind, or apparently blind, about what is behind the Saudi politics, the Saudi policy. We have to be very careful. It's the responsibility of the Muslims in the West to say something, and to be very critical. This is why, in the West, I am promoting financial and political independence -- in order to bear witness to our message in the West, and to be completely free. To work as European citizens and American citizens, we have to be completely free.
Let me tell you, some governments are not happy with me, because I am very critical. This was said to me here in Switzerland, don't speak so harshly against the Saudi government, because we have $450 million in trade with them. Because of the money, we don't want Muslims to be vocal about the reality.
I was very critical since '96 about the Taliban -- but at the same time, I was saying that the Saudi government, other Islamic governments, were [also] supporting tendencies that would be damaging. Just look at what's going on in central Asia, in Indonesia, in Malaysia -- these same kinds of trends are happening there, and no one is speaking out. A dictatorship is a dictatorship, with or without money, religious or secular, pro or against the West ... at the end of the day these qualifications are not the question. A dictatorship is not acceptable and must be rejected as such.