Tuesday August 31, 2004
The accusations made against me, leading to my US visa being revoked, are based on repetition not on facts In 20 years of studying and teaching philosophy, I have learned to appreciate the inherent difficulty in defining and recognising “the truth”. Descartes put it simply: “A clear and distinct idea is true.” Kant aptly added the need for “consistency”. Over the years, I also learned that in the world of mass media, “truth” is not based on clarity, but on frequency. Repeated hypotheses or suspicions become truth; a three-time-repeated assumption imperceptibly becomes a fact. There is no need to check because “it is obvious”; after all, “it is being said everywhere”.
_ I have been reminded of this lesson during the past few weeks, during which the US government granted me a visa to teach at the University of Notre Dame – only to revoke it at the last moment, without explanation. As a result, I can’t start my job. I have also to alert former president Bill Clinton that I will be unable to attend the conferences to which he has invited me.
I remain in Switzerland, hoping this mistake will be rectified, and reflecting on how I am constantly being told “the truth” about who I am: “You engage in double-talk, delivering a gentle message in French and English, and a radical, even extremist one in Arabic”; “You have links with extremists, you are an anti-semite”; “You despise women.”
When I ask about the source of this information, the response is: this is well known, check the internet. A closer examination reveals that what we have is journalists or intellectuals repeating and reporting what others said yesterday with caveats. Strange truth indeed!
I have written 20 books and 700 articles; 170 audiotapes of my lectures are circulating. I ask my detractors: have you read or listened to any of this? Can you prove the “links” to terrorists? Have you read the articles where I call upon fellow Muslims to condemn radical views and acts of extremism? What about my statements, issued on September 13 2001, calling on Muslims to condemn the terrorist attacks and to acknowledge that some Muslims betray the Islamic message? What about the articles in which I condemn anti-semitism, criticising Muslims who do not differentiate between the political dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the unacceptable temptation to reject the Jews because they are Jews?
Are you familiar with my writing and lectures promoting women’s rights and rejecting mistreatment and discrimination? Finally, are you acquainted with my extensive study of the Islamic scriptural sources and efforts to promote a new understanding, a way for Muslims to remain faithful to their principles and, at the same time, face the challenges of the contemporary world?
_ Very often, I encounter individuals, even academics, who are not familiar with my work but have formed a strong opinion of me. When their baseless allegations are refuted, their final argument is: “Well, aren’t you the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood?” This is taken as proof of the accusations.
_ My response is: is one to be judged by another’s words and deeds? Do one’s morals and ethics descend from the vices or virtues of one’s pedigree? Those focused on my genealogy ought to examine my intellectual pedigree, which, along with my grandfather and father, includes Descartes, Kant, and Nietzsche. They should examine the years I spent working with Dom Helder Camara, the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Abbot Pierre and countless ordinary South Americans, Asians, Africans, Europeans, Americans, Christians, Jews, agnostics and atheists. For 20 years, each has educated me, nour ished my soul, and strengthened my conviction.
_ Clarity and consistency are not enough: the quest for truth requires humility and effort. My experience of living with people of diverse religions and cultures taught me that one will never be at peace with the other if one is at war with oneself. This simple truth is the essence of my message to Muslims throughout the world: know who you are, who you want to be, and start talking and working with whom you are not. Find common values and build with fellow citizens a society based on diversity and equality. The very moment you understand that being a Muslim and being American or European are not mutually exclusive you enrich your society. Promote the universal principles of justice and freedom and leave the societies elsewhere to find their model of democracy based on their collective psychology and cultural heritage. Our collective success hinges on breaking out of our intellectual ghettos, collaborating beyond our narrow belongings, and fostering mutual trust – without which living together is nearly impossible.
_ My move to America and my post at Notre Dame were to enable me to share this message with the Muslim communities and fellow citizens. Is this a threatening contribution? Is it not a much needed and urgent message in America in the post-September 11 world?
• Tariq Ramadan has been appointed professor of religion, conflict and peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. His books include Western Muslims and the Future of Islam (OUP)