The State Dept. Was Right
To deny Tariq Ramadan a visa.
Oct 16, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 05 • By OLIVIER GUITTA
ON SEPTEMBER 20, the State Department denied a visa to Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan on the grounds that he had contributed around 600 euros to a French charity classified as a terrorist organization since 2003 because of its relationship with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. This latest exclusion follows on the revocation of Ramadan's visa to live and work in the United States while teaching at Notre Dame in 2004, a step taken at the express request of the Department of Homeland Security. While the American Civil Liberties Union and the leftist literary group PEN, among others, present Ramadan as a moderate and accuse U.S. authorities of intolerance, the background and views of Tariq Ramadan suggest the government's move was entirely justified.
For starters, Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, the highly influential Islamist organization born in Egypt in 1928. It was the Brotherhood that invented the now-familiar Islamist modus operandi of covert organization, assassination, and extremist theology. Its goal was to overthrow the Egyptian regime, install a fundamentalist Muslim government, and impose sharia (Islamic law) as the new constitution. Tariq's father, Said Ramadan, was a major figure in this organization, expelled from Egypt by Gamal Abdul Nasser for Islamist activity.
Said Ramadan took refuge first in Saudi Arabia, where he was a founder of the World Islamic League, one of the largest Saudi charities and global missionary groups. He then moved to Geneva, where in 1961 he created the Islamic Center, a combination mosque, think tank, and community center. The philosophy of the Muslim Brotherhood influenced a generation of wealthy Muslim kids, including Osama bin Laden. Interestingly, Said Ramadan also had U.S. connections: He had a close relationship with Malcolm X and was personal mentor to Dawud Salahuddin, a black convert to Islam who murdered an Iranian dissident, Ali Akbar Tabatabai, in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1980. After fleeing the United States, Salahuddin spent a few days in Geneva visiting Said Ramadan before taking refuge in Iran. Profiled in the New Yorker in 2002, Salahuddin confirmed that Ramadan remained his adviser and spiritual guide until Ramadan's death in 1995.
Said Ramadan was one of the most important Islamist thinkers of the 20th century. He is probably the author of "The Project," a 14-page document dated 1982 found by the Swiss secret service in 2001. "The Project" is a roadmap for installing Islamic regimes in the West by propaganda, preaching, and if necessary war. (It can be read here.)
Tariq Ramadan was born in 1962 in Switzerland. After toying with a career as a professional soccer player, he settled into the family business as an Islamic scholar. He became a teacher of philosophy and theology in Swiss universities. Most European secret service agencies are convinced that, at the end of the 1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood chose Tariq Rama dan to be their European representative. In 1991, he went to Cairo to study with Islamist professors. Upon his return to Switzerland, he founded the Movement of Swiss Muslims. His objective was to reach Muslim youth by Islamizing modernity rather than modernizing Islam.
Charming and smooth, Ramadan holds out Islam as the solution to all the problems of Muslim youth--in keeping with the slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood, "Islam is the solution." The first indication of his fundamentalism came in 1993, when he lobbied to outlaw a play called Mahomet, being produced in Geneva, which represented the prophet in a light that did not fit with Ramadan's views. In 1995, Alaa el-Din Nazmi, an Egyptian Secret Service agent assigned to watch the Ramadan family, was murdered in Geneva. No one has been arrested for the crime.
Ramadan is also a pragmatist. When he realized that his Swiss venture was leading nowhere, he turned to France. There he won the support of one of the main Muslim organizations linked to the Brotherhood, the UOIF (Union des Organisations Islamiques de France), along with the main Muslim youth organization, the UJM (Union des Jeunes Musulmans). His notion of Islam as the solution was favorably received by many French Muslim youths and partly explains the radicalization of this community. But his popularity really took off when he threw in his lot with the antiglobalization crowd. Rama dan is an opportunist, and saw the appeal of this growing movement. Thanks to this alliance, he quickly became a media star in France.
By 2004 Ramadan was de facto spokesman of the French Muslim community, spending most of his time in Lyon, France's second-largest city, instructing the young Muslim population. His charisma and gift for public speaking made him a hit in the French suburbs, where high-rise public housing projects have become Islamic ghettos. Ramadan cultivated a "moderate" reputation by taking part in interfaith seminars and sitting on a commission on "Islam and Secularism." Indeed, some view him as a brilliant intellectual preaching a modern and tolerant Islam. The European Union has made him an adviser on religious issues.
But not all who know him are buying. One of Ramadan's interfaith partners, Fr. Christian Delorme, had this to say in 2001:
For all his interfaith zeal, an examination of Ramadan's work fails to turn up any positive discussion of Christianity or Judaism. He calls Arabs "my brothers and sisters" while addressing all others as "madam," "sir," or without any honorific. When Ramadan faced off with Nicolas Sarkozy, the French interior minister and presidential hopeful, in 2004 on French TV, he repeatedly called the minister "Sarkozy" instead of the usual "Mr. Sarkozy" or, as the French say, monsieur le ministre. During this debate, Sarkozy pressed Ramadan to condemn the stoning of adulterers, a form of capital punishment endorsed by his brother, Hani Ramadan, head of the Islamic Center in Geneva. Tariq declined to go beyond his previous call for a moratorium on corporal punishment and the death penalty while Islamic scholars study the matter.
More to the point, Ramadan has multiple links to terrorism. In 1995, in the midst of terrorist attacks in Paris orchestrated by the Algerian Islamist group GIA, Jean-Louis Debré, French interior minister, denied Ramadan entry to France because of his links to the group. According to Roland Jacquard, who runs a terrorism watchdog website, Ramadan is not directly involved in terrorist activities, but many of his supporters are. For example, Ramadan greatly influenced Djamel Beghal, a French citizen arrested for plotting to bomb the U.S. embassy in Paris and sentenced to 10 years in jail in March 2005. Sylvain Besson of the Swiss daily Le Temps quotes court papers showing that Beghal "was a speechwriter for Tariq Ramadan." Ramadan denies ever meeting Beghal, although Beghal was living in Leicester in 1998 while Ramadan was studying there.
And Ramadan often speaks equivocally. Commenting on the September 11 attacks ten days after they occurred, he explained that one couldn't say for sure that bin Laden was behind them. He then asked, "Who profits from the crime?" noting that no Arab or Muslim cause was the better for it. This is an argument used by Islamist conspiratorialists who accuse Israel of perpetrating 9/11. In an interview with the French newsmagazine Le Point, Ramadan used the neutral term "interventions" when speaking of the major terrorist attacks in New York, Bali, and Madrid. And when asked recently by an Italian magazine whether car bombings against U.S. forces in Iraq were justified, he was quoted as saying: "Iraq was colonized by the Americans. Resistance against the army is just."
Ramadan's views about Israel are unsurprising: He strongly favors the elimination of the Jewish state. As one French DST (equivalent to the FBI) agent told the magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, Ramadan's long-term goal is to bring about the legal extinction of the state of Israel through a major Muslim lobbying campaign, first in Europe, then in the United States.
For her 2004 book Brother Tariq, Caroline Fourest, a French expert on Islamic fundamentalism, studied Ramadan's 15 books, 1,500 pages of interviews, and--most important--his 100 or so tapes, which sell tens of thousands of copies each year. Her conclusion: "Ramadan is a war leader." When an interviewer from the weekly L'Express asked Fourest how she could be so sure that Ramadan was indeed the "political heir of his grandfather," Hassan al-Banna, here's how she replied:
In response to her book, Ramadan calls Fourest an agent of Israel but doesn't refute her findings. Predictably, as soon as her book was published, an Islamist website threatened Fourest and posted her address and the pass code to get into her building.
Fourest is not the only one who has seen through Ramadan's game. Prominent moderate Muslims also accuse Ramadan of double talk. For instance, the head of the largest French antiracism association, SOS Racisme, Malek Boutih (an Arab Muslim), told Ramadan after talking with him at length: "Mr. Ramadan, you are a fascist."
But while the French have come to see Ramadan as one more Islamist, the British have honored him with a fellowship at Oxford University and, more important, a seat on the Blair government's committee tackling extremism. As one stunned European diplomat told Radio France Internationale, "It's like putting a diabetic in the middle of a pastry shop."
But Ramadan has learned from his mistakes and is taking ever greater pains to conceal his true identity. In fact, his writings over the past year have been almost above reproach: He has even gone so far as to criticize some of the excesses in the Muslim world after the pope's recent remarks about Islam.
Ramadan's stint in England has refurbished his credibility and given him a new start. This is handy, from his point of view, as the United Kingdom is the ideal launching pad from which to reach the main objective: For the Muslim Brotherhood, the big prize has always been the United States.
Olivier Guitta is a foreign affairs and counterterrorism consultant in Washington.