Tariq Ramadan is one of the top-billed speakers at the European Social Forum, appearing on a panel to present “Voices of resistance and alternatives from the global South”.
In fact Tariq Ramadan is not from “the global South”, but a professor in Switzerland. His Islamism, presumably, is supposed to authorise him to speak for “the South”.
This choice by the ESF organisers is a betrayal of Muslim socialists and democrats, and secular and non-religious people in mainly-Muslim countries and communities.
A dossier in the French Marxist magazine Critique Communiste (spring 2004) explains what Ramadan represents politically.
A subtle, sophisticated, not to say slippery, speaker and writer, he has constructed a version of Islamic fundamentalism smooth enough to reach out to young, educated, and socially integrated Muslims in Europe. He constructs an ideology which stays loyal to the mainstream Islamic fundamentalism of his grandfather — Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood — never disavowing or contradicting it, while at the same time never sharply disavowing basic secular and democratic values.
In the mainly-Muslim world, he claims, “‘secular’ means ‘dictatorship’, when you look at the historical balance-sheet of political regimes like Turkey, Syria, Tunisia, and others” (Alain Gresh and Tariq Ramadan, L’Islam en question, p181). His alternative? Iran. “The country which has advanced most towards democratic institutionalisation is Iran, out of the orbit of the big powers… In twenty years, Iran has transformed itself more — not only on the political level but also on that of ideas and modes of relating to scriptural references — than any other apparently progressive Muslim country” (p119, 129).
He says that “equality of man and woman before God” is an “essential principle”. But “the man is responsible for the management of the family space, while the role of the mother is central there” (p280). That “central” role should “take priority over financial considerations and personal professional success” (Tariq Ramadan, Islam, le face-à-face des civilisations, p51).
The Koran says that a daughter should inherit only half the portion of a son. Ramadan does not dispute this: he only suggests that “the public authorities [should] compensate for these inequalities (wages for housewives, a compensatory payment from the state)” (L’Islam en question, p273).
He proposes a “moratorium” on such Islamic punishments as stoning to death and chopping off hands (p284).
Ramadan is an Islamic fundamentalist, firm on the idea that the Koran and other ancient Islamic texts should literally, unchallengeably, govern life today. “I oppose some of our spokespeople who say that one should no longer be faithful to the texts. That is not reasonable” (p283). Only he is the soft cop.
Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty helped build a speaking tour in Britain (organised by No Sweat) in 2001 for the Indonesian socialist and trade union leader Dita Sari, who is a Muslim. In recent months we have organised two debates on socialism and Islam with the Muslim group Just Peace. We were active in support of the mainly-Muslim people of Bosnia and Kosova when many of those socialists who now denounce any criticism of Islamic fundamentalism as “Islamophobia” were saying that the main thing was to stand with Serbia and Milosevic against “imperialism”.
But to give credit to Islamic fundamentalism — deviously presented — as a progressive “alternative from the global South” is not one bit better than giving credit to Christian or Hindu fundamentalism.