The pompous Tariq Ramadan, grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, explains in this SwissInfo interview how it is and how it should be.
Swiss intellectual Tariq Ramadan tells swissinfo that Muslims in Europe should not be defined by religion, but seen as members of the society in which they live.
Ramadan, who recently took up an advisory role for the British government on Islamic extremism, says that Islam is now a European religion, and should be recognised as such.
swissinfo: Does your new position at Oxford compensate the fact that you were barred from a teaching position in the US?
T.R.: No, and there is no need for compensation. I was ready to move to the US permanently. Academic circles there gave me huge support when the American authorities revoked a visa I got after two months of clearance procedure. Even in the Bush administration people like [former Secretary of State] Colin Powell understood that they made a mistake and asked me to re-apply. Other people in this administration do not want my strong critical voice to be heard in the US.
When I see how this administration behaves, to be banned by it is more a recognition than a humiliation. But I don’t hold a grudge. The position I have now in Britain is interesting and there seem to be some good opportunities for the future.
British society is more knowledgeable about the Muslim world than Americans are. The British have a different approach to the US. But we shouldn’t confuse the United States with the few neo-conservatives who are close to President Bush and ruling the country.
Why? Because the Brits allowed Mr. Ramadan to settle in their country?
swissinfo: Some sections of the media don’t seem to like you. Why?
T.R.: There are a lot of people who support my work, just like there are many who criticise it. I knew from the beginning that not everybody would appreciate my work. I try to build bridges between two worlds that don’t know each other very well. There are people who consider that I am too much of a Westerner and others who think I am too Muslim. I disturb people because what I say goes against their old certainties, some of their prejudices and even their doubts. I accept the criticism I face in the Muslim world, just like I take criticism from Westerners.
The vast majority of my critics come from France. I think I disturb people [there] because I talk about religion, which has always been, beyond Islam, a hot-button issue. There is also a problem for some with the fact that Muslims are now French citizens who want the same rights as everyone else. I’m not appreciated because I tell the French they need a reality check and I personify their fears. I accept that as well, it is a transitory but necessary tension.
swissinfo: You seem to be saying there are second-class citizens in France. Given the events taking place there now, has integration of other communities, such as Muslims, failed?
T.R.: I think it’s wrong to say a system has failed. Each society can find solutions to problems such as those faced by France if there are politicians brave and creative enough to take them on. But it’s true that in France the debate on Muslims has focused on religion, secularism and the veil — which is in my view wrong – rather than the fact that most Muslims are perfectly culturally and religiously integrated.
We have to realise that Islam is now a European religion, that French Muslims are first French citizens and democrats. The problems are social and we are dealing with a socio-economic crisis. The situation in France is such that there are second-class citizens who are not recognised by society and have no access to jobs or decent accommodation.
swissinfo: So what is the place of a Muslim in Europe today?
T.R.: Our identities have multiple dimensions. I am used to saying about myself: I am a Swiss by nationality, my culture is European, my heritage is Egyptian, I am a Muslim by religion and my principles are universalist. To be able to say this means that you are self-confident. It’s when you don’t feel comfortable with yourself, with society, that you reduce your identity to one single and closed dimension.
To be confident, you have to respect yourself, feel respected, understand the diversity of society, and be recognised by that society. A contemporary European Muslim today must be a citizen of his country, be a witness to his beliefs and be coherent in his actions. And I feel this should be the same for a Jew, a Christian, a Buddhist or an atheist.
Please read it all.