Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The U.S. blacklisted me. Let's talk.

Prof. Tariq Ramadan wrote in the Christian Science Monitor that the US should not exclude academics who are critical of its policies. I think it depends more on what are the consequences instead of the person's opinions of US policies. The US gave a nutjob President from Iran a pass to come here and speak to an audience at Columbia U. Apparently criticism of US policy was not a factor in that decision, and the consequences of Teheran media reporting was not good for the US.

I do not fear the same kind of dire consequences with the professor that I feared with Iran's president. I disagree with him on religion and on politics, but I do not fear him. He sees himself as a devout Muslim, and he is irked when others tell him what Muslims believe. Oddly enough, it reminded me of the reaction Mitt Romney has when others tell him what Mormons believe.

Here is a snippet of an interview he had with Prospect magazine

Q Parts of the Koran are clear about accepting other people of the book, the Jews and Christians. But other parts are pretty intolerant of anybody who is, say a polytheist, and by implication anybody who is an atheist. You have said that the acceptance of Jews and Christians should now be extended to others too.

A In the Koran we have very strong verses against polytheists and, in some situations against Jews or Christians. But, again, we have to put things into context. We have to ask: why was it so in this particular situation? Was it because the Prophet was resisting oppression? Remember that the Prophet himself had connections with polytheists all his life. When he had to flee Mecca for Medina, he was guided by a polytheist. The emissary of peace he sent from Medina back to Mecca was a polytheist. His close uncle, [Abu Talib who had raised him as a child] chose not to become a Muslim, but the Prophet never said: "I'm going to kill you because you are a polytheist." So here we have freedom of speech and freedom of conscience for a close member of his family who decided that he did not want to become a Muslim.

Q What about apostasy? What happens if you are born and educated a Muslim but then say: I have now decided that Islam is not for me. Would you accept that someone born into a Muslim family has a right to say that they no longer believe, and that families and communities must respect that?

A I have been criticised about this in many countries. My view is the same as that of Sufyan Al-Thawri, an 8th-century scholar of Islam, who argued that the Koran does not prescribe death for someone because he or she is changing religion. Neither did the Prophet himself ever perform such an act. Many around the Prophet changed religions. But he never did anything against them. There was an early Muslim, Ubaydallah ibn Jahsh, who went with the first emigrants from Mecca to Abyssinia. He converted to Christianity and stayed, but remained close to Muslims. He divorced his wife, but he was not killed.

Q But realistically, how far can you go in a non-literalist interpretation of the Koran? Let's take the issue of whether someone can be both gay and Muslim. In Christianity you'll get a variety of answers. Broadly speaking, in Catholicism homosexuality is a sin. But like all other sins in Catholicism, a little bit of penance can get you out of it before judgement day. In some versions of evangelical Protestantism, homosexuality is a complete sin because evangelicals tend to be literalists. But in the Church of England there are a large number of openly gay Anglican clergy. The argument being that the Old Testament has to be contextualised. Is it possible to have a similar reading of the Koran? Or is it that homosexuality is simply wrong. Could you imagine there ever being a homosexual imam in the same way that the Anglican church in the US has just consecrated a homosexual bishop? Would that be possible?

A It could happen if such an imam did not declare that he was homosexual. You cannot expect to see homosexuality being promoted within the Islamic tradition. Homosexuality is not perceived by Islam as the divine project for men and women. It is regarded as bad and wrong. Now, the way we have to deal with a homosexual is to say: "I don't agree with what you are doing, but I respect who you are. You can be a Muslim. You are a Muslim. Being a Muslim is between you and God." I am not going to promote homosexuality but I will respect the person, even if I don't agree with what they are doing.

Q Why can't you go to Tunisia, Egypt or Saudi Arabia?

A Why? Because they know exactly what I am saying. I criticise the fact that they are dictatorships and that the Saudi government is betraying Islamic teachings. When I called for a moratorium on Islamic punishments (death penalty, corporal punishment and stoning) I said it on French television when 6m people were watching, as well as in Islamic majority countries.

Some people are going to disagree with me. They will argue that we do need to blacklist this professor because he is someone to be feared. Daniel Pipes directed me to an article in the American Prospect
magazine that argues with their reasons for why we should be afraid, very afraid of this professor. I also got directed to another article by Ayaan Hirsi Ali who nobody characterizes as an apologist for islamists.
I think the US may eventually let this prof. enter the country and lecture at University Notre Dame in my home state of Indiana. I refuse to live in fear over this, and anyone is welcome to tell me why I'm wrong. I am a persistent cuss, however.

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