Outrageous: Hosting Tariq Ramadan to Fight 'Intellectual Exclusionism'

Tariq Ramadan, grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and a contentious figure in recent years, was in Ottawa last week at the invitation of the College of the Humanities and the Carleton Centre for the Study of Islam. His talk was titled "Identity and Engagement: Western Muslims and the Public Sphere."

On April 7, a panel discussion was held at New York’s Cooper Union. It was organized by PEN American Center, the ACLU, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and Slate magazine. This was Ramadan’s first public appearance in the United States since 2004. At that time, Ramadan -- who had been offered a position at Notre Dame University as chair of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies -- saw his visa revoked by the Department of Homeland Security, testing the balance between liberty and national security in a country still in the throes of a long war against terror.

PEN’s press release read:

The ACLU and the AAUP won a Supreme Court case against this instance of intellectual exclusionism to allow Ramadan.

But Ramadan was not only barred from entering the U.S. -- he has also been denied visas many times from France and Belgium.

Ramadan, a pillar in the Arab-Islamic world, is a master of hyperbole. Paul Berman, a journalist who teaches at New York University and the author of studies on totalitarian ideology, is one of the only American scholars who not only understands Ramadan’s ancestral legacy of raging Islamic imperialism but his modus operandi as a spin doctor for religionist crusaders. In a recent essay, Berman offers this most insightful analysis:

Ramadan comes across as reasoned and moderate, but his reformist image is compromised by his admiration of and abiding attachment to extremist Muslim ideologues, including his father and grandfather. The problem lies in the terrible fact that Ramadan’s personal milieu -- his grandfather, his family history, his family contacts, his intellectual tradition -- is precisely the milieu that bears the principal responsibility for generating the modern theoretical justification for religious suicide.

In 2005, my father Siamak Pourzand -- an Iranian journalist and political prisoner -- was made a PEN honorary member. At the time, I was in touch with Larry Siems, PEN PEN American Center's Freedom to Write program director, regarding my father’s case. PEN had published a few press releases regarding my father’s imprisonment as a gesture, though it never did anything on the scale that imprisoned writers in countries like Iran deserve.

So when I read that Ramadan was being given pomp and circumstance by the very same organization, I was repulsed -- though not surprised. I wrote an email to the contact person whose name was on the press release, only to get a rather flippant response a couple of hours later by the very Larry Siems with whom I had been in touch several years ago:

We are committed to freedom of expression and opposed to attempts to censor or suppress voices. We were involved in challenging the exclusion of Professor Ramadan from the U.S. because it is an example of a kind of "censorship at the border" that our government has attempted to impose from time to time. As Americans, we believe we have a right to do what the citizens of countries throughout Europe can do: hear Professor Ramadan speak for himself and challenge his ideas face to face. I would note that by banning Professor Ramadan from traveling to the U.S., our government was in fact behaving like the Iranian government, which has barred him from speaking in Iran.

I found Mr. Siems’s comparison of the U.S. not giving the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood a visa to enter the U.S. to the behavior of the regime in Iran outrageous and crass beyond words.