Righteous Arabs Uptown, Tariq Ramadan Downtown.
Tonight, Manhattan surrendered. Tonight, Manhattan, my own hometown, was “taken” by its own desire to turn Arabs and Muslims into heroes.
On the Upper East Side, where I now live, I saw a very important documentary about three — three! — known North African Muslims (referred to throughout as “Arabs”) who saved a number of North African Jews whom the Vichy French and German Nazi armies hunted down in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. It took the researcher nearly eight years to find and verify these stories. Nevertheless, the audience was packed, and eager to believe-and-be-saved.
The filmmakers and their funders hope that this view of Arab-Jewish relationships (based on three cases) will somehow “heal” the tattered relationship….which once was so Golden. Well, I don’t think so. Yes, biblically, the Jews and the Muslims are half-siblings, cousins; we are both Semites. Yes, things were always easier for wealthy Jews in Arab lands but most Jews were very poor. Yes, things were better for everyone, both Muslims and Jews, when modernization, feminism, and the separation of mosque and state were afoot, at least in Turkey and Egypt, at the turn of the early twentieth century–than they have been for the last fifty years.
Things soured Big Time after the end of the Second World War and the creation of Israel. See Pierre Rehov’s film, The Silent Exodus,the first of its kind which documents the persecution and flight of Arab Jews.
Don’t get me wrong. The documentary is useful and informative. For example, I had not known that the Nazis and their French collaborators had built concentration and labor camps in North Africa, where they worked North African Jews to death and tortured a good number along the way. (They also sent some poor unfortunate souls back to Europe.) In one instance, a Jewish North African father and his two sons were guillotined; the father was forced to watch the beheading of his sons before he himself was also decapitated. Nor had I known that the major imam of Algeria had issued an edict which prohibited any Muslim from helping himself to confiscated Jewish possessions.
According to Marion Dreyfus, (who was sitting two rows in front of me):
“Where(as) the European aspect of the murder of more than 6 million Jews was copiously recorded in film, photography, records (the meticulous Germanic obsession) and personal histories captured in book and tape and Spielberg’s Shoah recordings, few today have ever heard of this North African contingent of Holocaust that murdered so many, with so little remnant left. Professor Satloff is owed a huge debt, an enormous debt, for his massive digging in stubbornly opaque libraries and hamlets now crumbling.”
True, if a film can document the existence of the European Holocaust in North Africa, and can also show that at least three Muslims (there may be many more about whom we know nothing) saved Jews from Hitler’s executioners, then obviously, Arab and Muslim Holocaust Denial or Holocaust Indifference is being seriously challenged–and in the most “positive” of ways. The three Muslims are the heroes of the film, as is the author who set out to find them. His on-camera search and interviews constitute the film’s story.
Of course, I loved the film’s depictions of archways, winding lanes, bazaar street scenes, splendid mansions, colorful ceramic and tile work, natural vistas, as well as the grace, charm, generosity, emotionality, and beauty of the people shown on camera both now and long ago in Muslim North Africa. It’s my weak spot.
Beyond that, the film made me a little crazy because it neatly, carefully, smoothly, sidestepped the thundering herd of elephants in the room right now.
I am, of course, talking about the premiere of author Robert Satloff’s film Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust in Arab Lands. The press release reads, in part, as follows: “Seeking a hopeful response to the problems of Holocaust ignorance and denial in the Arab world, and in the wake of 9/11, Middle East expert Robert Satloff set out on what would become an eight-year journey to find an Arab hero whose story would change the way Arabs view Jews, themselves, and their own history. Along the way, Rob Satloff found not only the (three) Arab heroes for whom he started his quest but a vast, lost history of what actually happened to the half-million Jews of the Arab lands of North Africa under Nazi, Vichy, and Fascist rule.”
Satloff and Robert McNeil, of the McNeil-Lehrer Report (whose production company produced the film) were on hand to take questions from a packed auditorium at the Alliance Francaise, on East 59th St. Satloff is congenial, witty, enormously self-confident, and acts as if he hasn’t a worry in the world. Maybe this is what is so disquieting. He should have at least a few, discernible worries.
The film will air on Monday night on 95% of all PBS stations in the United States and thereafter, throughout the world. Maybe a clip will even appear on Al-Jazeera. No, Satloff’s book has not yet found a French publisher — the French feel his documentary footage of the Vichy government in action is prejudicial to them, unfair. Mais certainment, the footage is true, but it still makes them look bad. The Egyptians pirated a copy of his book but have now arranged to publish an “authorized” edition. The Israelis, for reasons Satloff could not comprehend, have thus far resisted airing the film.
Now, let’s go downtown to one of my old haunts, Greenwich Village, a place where I once worked, lived, attended meetings, planned demonstrations and partied; verily, I say unto thee: Now, let’s go down to Egypt, “way down in Egypt’s land” — to Cooper Union’s Great Hall near Cooper Square.
First, it was Obama. Now, it’s Tariq Ramadan.
Ramadan was received as a hero by a crowd of six hundred people in Greenwich Village. As a rock star, a jet-setting professor-orator, a demagogue — a smooth operator. He spoke in the Great Hall where President Abraham Lincoln once spoke. Words fail me on this one but I know I should say something. The death of our civilization comes to mind. The lines were huge.
Journalist Fern Sidman went down to cover it for me. Here is her report with a little editing by me.
Tariq Ramadan to Cooper Union
By Fern Sidman
On Thursday evening, April 8th, the vaunted hero of the American “politically correct” left made his appearance at Cooper Union in New York City. In a panel discussion entitled, “Secularism, Islam and Democracy: Muslims in Europe and the West”, Tariq Ramadan, the formerly “exiled” professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University took center stage at the forum sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Association of University Professors, PEN American Center, the American Academy of Religion and Slate Magazine. The audience of approximately 600 people consisted of those who call him “slippery,” “double-faced,” “dangerous,” and those who describe him as “brilliant,” a “bridge-builder,” and a “Muslim Martin Luther.”
Controversy has swirled around Ramadan for the better part of his adult life. He is the grandson of Hassan al Banna, who, in 1928, founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He is the son of Said Ramadan who is credited with bringing the Muslim Brotherhood to Germany where it eventually spread throughout Europe.
Born in Switzerland, when his father was exiled from Egypt by Gamal Abdul Nasser, Ramadan studied philosophy, literature and social sciences at the University of Geneva and pursued a Master’s degree in philosophy and French literature. He received his Ph.D in Arabic and Islamic studies. He is best known for his dangerously duplicitous positions on Islamic radicalism. His passive and ostensibly reasoned posture while speaking to Western audiences hides his essentially bellicose commitment to the furtherance of Sharia law which he reserves exclusively for Muslim only gatherings.
The web site of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy says of Ramadan:
“Ramadan is a self proclaimed Salafi-reformist whose version of reform appears to basically be a modernization of the political system prevalent at the time of the Prophet Mohammed rather than advocacy for individual liberty and the separation of mosque and state. A ‘rock star’ among the many European Muslims, namely Islamists, Ramadan is considered the most cited individual on Islam in Europe. Ramadan uses language in a way that seems to support the precepts of non-violence and assimilation, yet he does not distance himself in any way or nearly adequately from the supremacy of political Islam and the concept of the Islamic State. His excuse is that he is speaking ‘from within Muslims’. But this prevents a real understanding of his ideas about political Islam, the Islamic state, and Sharia law versus constitutional republics and the establishment clause. It prevents a real understanding of his position on the Muslim Brotherhood and thus becomes actual tacit support of the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood. ”
Ramadan has been unacceptably deceptive on issues related to Sharia such as its laws against apostasy, proscribed punishments under Islamic law, state law versus Sharia law, and real and universal equality for women. His positions remain in line with the Muslim Brotherhood–which endangers both other Muslims and the world at large. Ramadan’s easy access to media suggests that other Muslims are all like him–which is not true. His larger-than-life media presence silences and hides other kinds of Muslim voices.
In 2004, Ramadan accepted the tenured position of Henry R. Luce Professor of Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame University. But that August, U.S. Customs officials denied Ramadan entry into the country under the “ideological exclusion provision” of the Patriot Act. The university filed a petition on Ramadan’s behalf but hearing nothing from the government, Ramadan resigned from the post later that same year. Subsequently, Ramadan could not obtain a visa to honor speaking engagements with the ACLU, the American Association of University Professors and the PEN American Center, all of whom wanted to host him and who argued on his behalf in the ensuing legal wars. A federal judge ordered the government to make a decision on Ramadan’s pending visa request but, in 2006, his application was denied. A U.S. consular officer concluded that the academic’s actions “constituted providing material support to a terrorist organization.”
The government’s evidence was $940 that Ramadan had given to two charity groups that the U.S. Treasury Department had linked to Hamas in August 2003.
On January 20, 2010, the American State Department, under a different administration, decided to lift the ban which prohibited Ramadan (as well as Professor Adam Habib from South Africa) from entering the United States. Our very own Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, signed this document.
At Cooper Union, Ramadan was introduced by Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, which litigates cases concerning dissent, discrimination, detention, surveillance and due process. Jaffer was counsel to the plaintiffs in American Academy of Religion v Chertoff, the lawsuit that ended the ban on Ramadan. Hailing him as the sacrificial lamb of the Bush administration’s anti-Islamic agenda, Jaffer said this evening was dedicated “to creating a safe political space for the exchange of ideas”.
The panel was moderated by Jacob Weisberg, the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of The Slate Group, which publishes Slate Magazine and other web sites. Weisberg introduced the other members of the panel, but noted that the evening would focus on the philosophies of Tariq Ramadan, and that he’d be asking some hard hitting questions. The other panel members included Dalia Mogahed, a Senior Analyst and Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies; Mogahed is the co-author of a book entitled, Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think; George Packer, a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq; feminist Joan Wallach Scott, professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton and the author of The Politics of the Veil. Wallach has also been a strong advocate of boycotting and divesting in Israel. She is also a gender theorist.
Ramadan took the lectern and thanked the sponsoring groups for championing his rights and then went on to say that while he is sharply critical of American policy vis-a vis Iraq and Afghanistan, he is not anti-Western and feels that Muslims in Europe can maintain a pro-Western lifestyle while closely adhering to their Islamic beliefs. He said that Islamic women were now taking their place in the forefront of those who frame the debate about the dual role of Muslims in a secular European culture and those who remain faithful to Koranic principles.
However, one of those Islamic women at the forefront is Ayaan Hirsi Ali whom Ramadan has scorned. Shamefully, he did so again.
Ramadan said, “Islam is really a Western religion and Muslims in Europe can and should be loyal citizens of the countries in which they live. Many people are afraid of the Muslim presence in Europe, but we know that we can integrate diversity through secularism, humility, respect and consistency. Muslim women are informing the process and if you look at them you think they’re oppressed but when you hear the way they think and speak, they’re clearly a driving force in Islam.”
Concerning his thoughts on the Bush administration, Ramadan intoned, “Bush implied that all Muslims were ‘others’, they were different and somehow dangerous. While I a vocal opponent of US policy in the Middle East, all I am saying is that I am against the murder of Iraqi civilians and I am waiting for the new administration to be an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am still waiting because I don’t see it as of yet in the Obama administration.”
Honestly, the man needs glasses.
Ramadan’s detractors view his rhetoric quite differently. “Tariq Ramadan’s entry into America needs to be met with open dialogue from the Muslim Community, non-Muslim organizations and the media on the real threat of Political Islam,” says M. Zuhdi Jasser, the president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD). “It is incumbent on all Americans, especially American Muslims, to engage Ramadan at any opportunity to demonstrate that the US Constitution trumps the construct of the Islamic State.” He went on to say, “To give Ramadan an unfettered platform for his dissimulation while also perpetuating his message of victimization is to give him and his clerical colleagues a status which will forever retard real reform within Muslim thought. Real reform comes from those Muslim leaders with the personal strength of character to call for an end to the Islamic state and the separation of mosque and state. Ramadan has not. Rather he is a soft tongued global instrument of political Islam against the bulwark of real freedom and liberty as we know it in the United States.”
Panelist George Packer asked Ramadan why he never condemned his grandfather, Hassan al Banna for strongly supporting the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who spent years in Nazi Germany and advocated the mass extermination of the Jews. Ramadan danced around the question saying that his grandfather was misquoted and that he never supported a fascist regime, but only supported the Mufti in terms of his fierce opposition to the creation of the State of Israel. Packer pressed Ramadan on this point and asked how his grandfather could support and work with someone who advocated such a pernicious philosophy of classical anti-Semitism. Ramadan refused to admit that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was anti-Semitic, but rather claimed that he was righteous in his beliefs that Palestine should not be colonized by the Jews of Europe or the West.
Pajamas Media columnist and prolific author, Phyllis Chesler, stated in a March 25, 2010 article entitled, “Bin Laden Threatens America, NYC Welcomes Tariq Ramadan”, “Ramadan is not my problem, I know him for the snake he is. Rather, it would be the sight of so many Americans who’ve glamorized him, who are fooled by him, who have come to worship Death at his feet.”
Charges of anti-Semitism have dogged Ramadan since he penned an article in 2003 entitled, “Critique of the (New) Communalist Intellectuals.” Ramadan’s main argument was that “French Jewish intellectuals” — like Bernard-Henri Lévy, Alain Finkielkraut, Bernard Kouchner, André Glucksmann and Pierre-André Taguieff (in fact not Jewish at all) — who used to be “considered universalist intellectuals” had become knee-jerk defenders of Israel and thus “had relativized the defense of universal principles of equality and justice.” Ramadan was trying to turn the tables on those who accuse Muslims of obsessing about their victimhood by accusing “Jewish intellectuals” of doing precisely that, thinking of just their own tribal concerns, while Ramadan’s pursuit of justice for Palestinians was supposedly part of a universalist project.
On the question of the rampant oppression of women in the Muslim world, panelist Joan Wallach Scott, a Ramadan supporter, asserted that the issue of gender equality “has been used as a veil” to divert attention from the “social inequality” of Muslims in the Western hemisphere. Citing purported discriminatory practices against Muslims in such countries as France, Scott said that “unemployment is higher for Muslims in France than it is for French nationals” and that Muslims are viewed as “inferior” in the West. From a historical perspective she described Muslims as a “colonized people”, subject to prejudice in its most banal form.
Refusing to address such pervasive misogynistic practices in the Islamic world as forced marriages, stonings, beatings, immolations and honor murders of women, Scott pointed to what she perceived as the sheer hypocrisy of the Western patriarchy which she claims is trying to interfere with the reproductive rights of American women, but are “suddenly concerned and overly involved in the oppression of Muslim women.” She concluded by saying that Muslim women wear head scarves, veils, burqas and hijab of their own volition and not because they are coerced by the religious dictums of Islamic culture. She called gender equality a “political tool” that has nothing to do with protecting the rights of Muslim women.
As I noted, above: Ramadan also heaped criticism on Dutch intellectual, feminist activist, writer, and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who also happens to be a prominent critic of Islam. “Ali believes that Islam is problematic and that one cannot be a Muslim and open to democracy at the same time. She believes that the only way to be a Muslim is to become an ex-Muslim”, Ramadan exclaimed. He remained silent on the issue of the religious dogma of Islam that opposes any government that is not ruled by Sharia law or the practice of religious apartheid that is practiced in many Muslim countries.
When questioned about his statements pertaining to homosexuals being anathema in Islamic law and how the Muslim world is being forced to accept homosexuality in order to appear politically correct and more Westernized, Ramadan deftly skirted the question by figuratively tipping his hat to “political correctness” by saying “this is how Muslims perceive the world is viewing them, not how they perceive themselves. You can disagree with someone being gay but we should respect that person and not tell him or her that they are not a Muslim because of this.”
The evening concluded with the reading of several questions from audience members that were read aloud by the moderator. It was not at all difficult to see that Ramadan had not fooled everyone since very challenging questions were presented to him by the audience. Several people commented that in order to understand the real Tariq Ramadan, they should read the books entitled The Islamist, The Journalist, and the Defense of Liberalism: Who’s Afraid of Tariq Ramadan? by Paul Berman and Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan by Caroline Fourest.
Ramadan continues his charade in the next few weeks in such cities as Chicago, Detroit, Washington and Garden Grove, California. May the forces of truth persist in confronting this purveyor of mendacity.