Cooper Union in New York City is one of America’s old and most prestigious centres of learning. It is known for the Great Hall, a hallowed place in America’s history where some of her more famous political leaders such as Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Woodrow Wilson came to speak. The most famous Cooper Union speech given was by Abraham Lincoln in February 1860 in which he spelled out his position on freedom and slavery ahead of the presidential campaign that year.
Last week a collection of America’s liberal-left organizations headed by the American Civil Liberties Union sponsored the appearance of Tariq Ramadan. He is the grandson of Hasan al-Banna (1906-49), the Egyptian founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Said Ramadan, Tariq’s father, was Hasan al-Banna’s most earnest student, disciple, and married to his teacher’s favourite daughter Wafa.
Tariq is surrounded by controversy. He cannot avoid it since his work and his genealogy are inseparable. If it were not so Tariq would not be accorded the sort of attention in the West from politicians, academic intellectuals and the media reserved for pop stars.
As the founder and supreme guide of MB, al-Banna set for his organization the task of pushing Egypt and other Muslim societies to reconstitute the first model of Islamic state from the 7th century Arabia under modern conditions. Such a state is to be governed by shariah or Islamic laws constructed by men of religion during the classical age of Islam – the 8th through 11th century.
Sunni Islam is the overwhelmingly majority sect in Islam, and in the opinion of most Sunni authorities shariah is a closed system. As a pre-modern legal doctrine the premise of shariah is incompatible with the modern age. It is based upon three fundamental inequalities: the superiority of Muslims over non-Muslims, of men over women, and of free people over slaves.
The politics of MB – and splinter organizations such as those responsible for the murders of Egypt’s President Sadat in 1981 and Algeria’s President Boudiaf in 1992 – might be termed Islamism, and it is about waging struggle by any means including violence or holy war (jihad) to establish shariah-based rule. Outside of the Muslim world Islamism is the political engagement to bring non-Muslim majority societies in Europe and North America to concede to the legitimacy of shariah requirements for their minority Muslim populations, and then establish segregated enclaves where shariah directives can be practiced by Muslims.
European colonialism disrupted Muslim rule and the primacy of shariah. The ingenuity of Hasan al-Banna was to found MB in Egypt in 1928 as a social organization with the political mission to repair this damage. A Muslim society, in this view, that rejects shariah or is in non-compliance with its directives is considered to be in a state of pre-Islamic ignorance, or worse at war with God’s commands. In such circumstance it is incumbent on Muslims as part of their religious obligation – according to MB it is doing jihad – to compel that society to re-instate shariah.
Said Ramadan was forced into exile by the Egyptian dictator Nasser following his mentor’s death. He lived in Pakistan, Jordan and Saudi Arabia at different times before eventually settling with family in Geneva, Switzerland, where Tariq was born in 1962. He opened an Islamic Centre in Geneva to spread the teachings of Hasan al-Banna into Europe and North America, and this became the family business which Tariq with his elder brother Hani inherited following their father’s death in 1995.
Tariq skilfully works to reassure the West he is a Muslim reformer at home politically and culturally in Europe, and Islam is as much Western as a result of Muslim immigration in recent decades as is Christianity and Judaism. He speaks in the tongue of Montesquieu and Rousseau, and invites his Western liberal audience to extend the same courtesy of recognition and respect to Muslims as Christians and Jews. But as the grandson of Al-Banna he speaks to his Muslim audiences the language of his grandfather and father, promotes Islamism and questions the faith of those Muslims who reject it unconditionally. Moreover as a protégé and ally of the Qatar-based MB leader Sheikh al-Qaradawi – notorious for his 2003 Islamist ruling that suicide attacks against Israelis are lawful – Tariq has much dissembling to do to confound his Western audience.
Caroline Fourest, a French journalist who has studied the written and spoken words of Tariq over several years, has written the most detailed biography titled Frere Tariq (an English translation as Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan
Tariq counters the charge of doublespeak is evidence of Islamophobia (fear of Islam) in the West. He is abetted in this by the politics of multiculturalism and political correctness, and what is considered to be the requirements of diplomacy between the West and the Muslim world, especially the oil-producing Arab states.
But Muslims with tragic experiences of devastations wrought by Islamism are keenly aware of Tariq’s doublespeak as he engages in family business. Doublespeak and dissembling are the effects when someone strives to reconcile the irreconcilable as Tariq does in insisting on the compatibility of liberal democracy based on individual rights with the requisites of shariah-based rule.
It is truly bizarre that America’s liberal-left organizations sponsored Tariq Ramadan to speak within the hallowed walls of the Cooper Union. How bizarre this is would be to imagine a descendant of Jefferson Davis invited to speak in defence of his confederacy politics from where Lincoln spoke. And the situation is compounded when Islamist organizations, such as the Muslim Association of Canada, invite Tariq to speak at fund-raising events as those recently held in Ottawa and Montreal.
Additional good reading on the subject here:
· “Tarek Fatah: Montreal welcomes an Islamist extremist in sheep’s clothing”
· “Controversy swirls around Muslim scholar’s visit”