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Tariq Ramadan Practices Free Speech at Cooper Union

4:49 PM, Apr 9, 2010 • By JOHN ROSENTHAL
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It is difficult to say if the vacuousness of Ramadan’s discourse provides a true measure of his intellect or if it is not rather a byproduct of his tailoring his discourse for a “western,” non-Muslim audience, as he has been so often accused of doing. But for evidence that his specifically “Muslim” texts written for a Muslim audience can be perceived as equally vapid, see my interview with the Algerian-born linguist and novelist Latifa Ben Mansour here. “I have to say that I’ve already dedicated a lot of time to this character,” Ms. Ben Mansour told me when asked about Ramadan, “As far as I’m concerned, his case provides a good example of the way in which the western media are capable of making a respectable authority out of a lot of hot air.” (For further evidence of the disdain in which Ramadan is held by moderate Muslim intellectuals in France, see the translated exchange between him and the Franco-Tunisian author Abdelwahab Meddeb here.)

But the premise that Ramadan’s “exclusion” from the United States was a function of his ideas or opinions is clearly belied by numerous details of his case. These include for instance:

  • Evidence of apparent ties, via the Islamic Center of Geneva, to the Al-Taqwa bank. The Islamic Center was founded by Ramadan’s father Said Ramadan and is headed by his brother Hani. Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Al-Taqwa was placed on both the U.S. and UN lists of terrorist entities on account of its connections to al Qaeda and presumed involvement in terror financing.
  • The testimony of the Franco-Algerian jihadist Djamel Beghal, who was found guilty by a French court of having plotted to attack the American embassy in Paris. Beghal told investigators that he took courses with Tariq Ramadan in the mid-1990s, apparently at a time that roughly corresponds with his own process of religious radicalization.
  • The observations of Antoine Sfeir, the director of the prestigious French journal of Middle Eastern studies les Cahiers de l'Orient. In a January 2002 interview, Sfeir estimated that some fifty residents of the Lyons region had left France to fight with Osama Bin Laden against American troops in Afghanistan. Sfeir linked the success of jihadist recruitment in the Lyons area to, among other things, the influence of Tariq Ramadan.
  • A 2001 Swiss intelligence memo that, according to the French counterterrorism expert Jean-Charles Brisard, states that Tariq and Hani Ramadan arranged a 1991 meeting in Geneva between Ayman Al Zawahiri, the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and later al Qaeda “number two man,” and Omar Abdel Rahman. Rahman, who has been tied to the 1993 World Trade Center attack, is currently serving a life sentence in an American prison for his role in a plot to blow up other targets in the New York City area, including the Lincoln and Holland tunnels 

Needless to say, Tariq Ramadan has vociferously denied having any personal connection to terror networks, and any or all of the allegations against him in this regard could, of course, turn out to be unfounded. But they are obviously not merely matters of free speech, as the ACLU, the PEN American Center, and all the other self-styled heroic champions of Tariq Ramadan’s “cause” would like one to believe.

John Rosenthal writes regularly on European politics and transatlantic relations for various both old and new media. More of his work can be found at the Transatlantic Intelligencer blog (


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