(Op-Ed): Scholar under siege defends his record

by Op-Ed

Tariq Ramadan responds point by point to the `unfounded allegations’ of a critic

By Tariq Ramadan. _Tariq Ramadan was appointed to be the Luce Professor at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame

_ The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, without offering an explanation, has revoked a visa that was granted to me to teach at the University of Notre Dame. In Sunday’s Chicago Tribune on the Commentary page, Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, provided his “explanation” for this action. In what follows I respond to his unfounded allegations.

- Pipes claims that I have praised the brutal Islamist policies of the Sudanese politician Hassan al-Turabi.

Nothing of what I said about al-Turabi’s policies is remotely favorable. After visiting Sudan in 1994, I wrote: “Nonetheless, one must clearly say that the present regime does not offer minimal guarantees for political pluralism, that opposition parties are muzzled and that cronyism is the rule. Muslims are called to remain vigilant, for the opposition of the United States and Israel is not enough to support the `Islamic’ character of a project.”

- Pipes notes that I was banned from entering France in 1996 on suspicion of having links with an Algerian Islamist who had recently initiated a terrorist campaign in Paris.

Yes, I was indeed banned from entering France between November 1995 and April 1996, but a reason was never given for this ban, and it was later revealed to be a case of mistaken identity. I challenged the ban and won the case in 1996. Any assertion that this ban was for having “links with an Algerian Islamist” is baseless.

- Ahmed Brahim, an Algerian indicted for Al Qaeda activities, had “routine contacts” with me, according to a Spanish judge in 1999.

I was asked about contacts with this individual last year and I unequivocally denied ever meeting or speaking to him. This was investigated by Frederic Chambon, a reporter for the French daily newspaper Le Monde, who on Dec. 23, 2003, issued reports that Brahim’s daughter was able to confirm from her jailed father that he did not have contacts with me.

- Djamel Beghal, leader of a group accused of planning to attack the American Embassy in Paris, stated in his 2001 trial that he had studied with me.

When Djamel Beghal was first arrested in Dubai, he claimed that in 1994 he was attending my course and wrote my speeches. He changed his story when he was extradited to Paris and only claimed to have attended the course in 1994. That, too, was inaccurate since my courses did not start until 1997.

- Along with many Islamists, says Pipes, I have denied that there is “any certain proof” that Osama bin Laden was behind Sept. 11, 2001.

Pipes distorts the facts by selective references. My post-Sept. 11 stance is clear. On Sept. 13, 2001, I put out an open letter to Muslims calling for them to unequivocally condemn these acts and wrote: “Do not hide yourself behind conspiracy theories: Even if we don’t know who did it, you know as I know that some Muslims can use Islam to justify killing an American, a Jew or a Christian only because he/she is an American, a Jew or a Christian; you have to condemn them and to condemn these attacks.” On Sept. 20, when investigations were still ongoing, I said: “The probability [of bin Laden’s guilt] is large, but some questions remain unanswered. … But whoever they are, bin Laden or others, it is necessary to find them and that they be judged.”

- I refer, Pipes claims, to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Bali and Madrid as “interventions,” minimizing them to the point of near-endorsement.

The term “interventions” was not mine, but was used by journalists in the French magazine Le Point (April 22, 2004) following a phone interview with me. I have always condemned the terrorist attacks in New York, Bali, Madrid and elsewhere in the strongest terms.

- Intelligence agencies suspect, Pipes charges, that I coordinated a meeting at the Hotel Penta in Geneva for Ayman al-Zawahiri, deputy head of Al Qaeda, and Omar Abdel Rahman [the blind sheik, now in a Minnesota prison].

This is nonsense. The Swiss intelligence cleared my name of these accusations when it publicly confirmed that Ayman al-Zawahiri had never entered Switzerland. I never met him or Omar Abdel Rahman.

- My address, Pipes avers, appears in a register of Al Taqwa Bank, an organization the State Department accuses of supporting Islamist terrorism.

In fact, neither my name nor my address appears in a register of Al Taqwa Bank. I never met nor talked to its director.

- There is the “intriguing possibility,” Pipes speculates, that Osama bin Laden studied with my father, Said, who founded the Islamic Center of Geneva (Switzerland) in the early 1960s.

My father did not know bin Laden and I have neither met nor talked to bin Laden. It is possible, however, that Pipes is confusing Osama with his half-brother, Yaslem bin Laden, whom I met once for exactly five minutes after a lecture I gave in Geneva in 2003 and who also is known to be in contact with high-level American politicians.

Anyone who has read any of my 20 books, 700 articles or listened to any of my 170 audio-taped lectures will discern a consistent message: The very moment Muslims and their fellow citizens realize that being a Muslim and being American or European are not mutually exclusive, they will enrich their societies. Since Sept. 11, I have lectured at countless American universities and civic organizations. The French consul of Chicago invited me in 2002 for a lecture trip in the United States, and I spoke at the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. I was invited to speak at the U.S. State Department and spoke at an event organized by former President Bill Clinton and was invited again this year by him. I engage in similar activities in Europe and worked closely with Scotland Yard and many European governments.

If there were any truth to any of the malicious allegations that have been circulating, does anyone really believe that these international agencies and groups would not have prosecuted me?

The American public ought to know a few other facts about me. I take pride in my faith as a Muslim and the West as my home and birthplace and I make no apologies for taking a critical look at Islam and the West. In doing so I am being true to my faith and the ethics of my citizenship. Instead of mere theoretical criticism, I propose practical solutions to the challenges the world faces. I not only speak to ordinary citizens of many faiths, religious leaders and academics but also to politicians, world leaders and organizations.

Western Muslims can make a critical difference in the Muslim majority world. Becoming full, independent Western citizens, working with others to address social, economic and political problems, will allow Western Muslims to assume this role. However, that can only happen if their governments and other citizens do not cast doubt on their loyalty every time they criticize government policies. This critical and constructive loyalty of their Muslim citizens enriches Western societies, and it is the only way for Western Muslims to be credible in Arab and Islamic countries to assist in bringing about freedom and democracy.

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