‘We must not forget the body’

More Tariq Ramadan. Maybe a little more Buruma, too, although I made at least one reader very cross the last time I disagreed (somewhat) with Buruma. Anyway, mostly Ramadan.

Buruma notes that he says different things in different contexts, then talks to Scott Appleby, who tried to get Ramadan to Notre Dame.

He is accused of being Janus-faced. Well, of course he presents different faces to different audiences. He is trying to bridge a divide and bring together people of diverse backgrounds and worldviews. He considers the opening he finds in his audience. Ramadan is in that sense a politician.

Okay. Fair point. He is trying to bridge a divide; he is a politician. Okay; but then that does tell us that what he says and writes is not necessarily entirely reliable. It’s as well to be aware of that.

Just as Marxists claim a universal validity for their political ideology, Ramadan says he believes that religious principles, as revealed in the Koran, are universal. It was as a universalist that Ramadan promoted the right of Muslim women to wear the veil at French schools. “Rights are rights,” he said, “and to demand them is a right.”

How about the right of Muslim women to be confined to the house, forbidden to drive, forbidden to travel without the permission of a male relative? Is it as a universalist that Ramadan promotes those rights? How about the right to be stoned to death for adultery? Or, to put it another way, how about the right of people to reject the ‘universal’ religious principles ‘as revealed in the Koran’? Does he take that to be a right?

“Whatever your faith,” he explained to me, “you are dealing with your fundamental principles. The message of Islam is justice. The neoliberal order leads to injustice.”

‘The message of Islam is justice.’ Is it? Justice for whom? ‘Ramadan’s defense of certain practices rooted in Islamic tradition creates much suspicion among those who might otherwise agree with his politics.’ Well, good; I’m very glad to hear it. Hold that thought.

Two media-driven controversies helped to make Ramadan both famous and notorious. The first was an exchange on French television in 2003 with Nicolas Sarkozy…Sarkozy accused Ramadan of defending the stoning of adulterers, a punishment stipulated in the section of the Islamic penal code known as huddud. Ramadan replied that he favored “a moratorium” on such practices but refused to condemn the law outright…“Personally,” he said, “I’m against capital punishment, not only in Muslim countries, but also in the U.S. But when you want to be heard in Muslim countries, when you are addressing religious issues, you can’t just say it has to stop. I think it has to stop. But you have to discuss it within the religious context. There are texts involved.”

Well that’s exactly where we differ, and why I want no truck with his universal religious principles as revealed in the Koran. No truck at all. I know there are texts involved, and I don’t want to negotiate or bargain or compromise with them, I want to ignore them and do better. I think you can, precisely, say it has to stop. Period. Not temporize or shuffle or suggest a moratorium, but say No. Forget bridging divides if it means shuffling on questions like this. Just say it has to stop.

The main reason his European critics, Jews or non-Jews, have turned against Islam, and political Islam in particular, is not Israel so much as a common fear that secularism is under threat. That fear is coupled with a deep disillusion, in the wake of failed Marxist dictatorships, with the kind of anticolonial leftism that Ramadan now promotes in the name of universal principles rooted in the heart of Islam…On global capitalism he speaks like a 1968 left-wing student revolutionary, but on social affairs he can sound like the illiberal conservatives whom those students opposed…The question of women is key to this.

It is. The question of, you know, more than half of the population. Hardly a minor issue.

I wanted to know what exactly Ramadan meant by “Islamic femininity”…He replied…”We must have the struggle for equal rights of women. But the body must not be forgotten. Men and women are not the same. In Islamic tradition, women are seen in terms of being mothers, wives or daughters.”

Right. And that again is (it should be needless to say) why I want nothing to do with it and why I find all this shuffling so frightening. It’s because I’m a woman. Let me explain: I don’t want to be seen in terms of being mother or wife or daughter. It’s very simple. Does he? Would he like to be seen in terms of being father, husband, son, full stop? It doesn’t look as if he would, does it. So I don’t want his ‘justice’ or his universalism.

Which is why I disagree with Buruma’s emollient concluding sentence: ‘His politics offer an alternative to violence, which, in the end, is reason enough to engage with him, critically, but without fear.’ No it isn’t. This is one of the things I disagreed with in his reply to Bruckner. Violence isn’t the only problem. I’m sorry, but I do fear people who say we must not forget the body, men and women are not the same, women are mothers or wives. I may be forced to engage with them, but I’m not going to pretty that up as a good thing, because I don’t think it is.

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