Tariq Ramadan entered the United States this month with much fanfare and homage to a victory for the freedom of speech. While we will have to agree to disagree with Mr. Ramadan on why he previously was excluded from entering the United States, he would do well to understand another critical provision of the First Amendment - that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
He is a self-described “Salafi reformist” who deceptively seeks a modern version of the Prophet Muhammad’s political system, and so Mr. Ramadan’s departure from the inviolable sanctity of religious freedom and of the U.S. Constitution itself necessitates serious scrutiny while he is here. In this regard, our critique of Mr. Ramadan is distinctively American.
Mr. Ramadan’s history in Europe is rife with controversy. His Muslim Brotherhood lineage is well-known and was reaffirmed proudly last week on the Muslim Brotherhood’s London website. Mr. Ramadan tries to distance himself from the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet his tour includes stops for several Brotherhood-affiliated groups. He revealingly commented that “the Palestinian resistance or the Iraqi resistance is legitimate,” leaving many to question why American Muslims would have any sympathy for someone who endorses attacks on their friends, relatives and compatriots serving in Iraq and elsewhere.
His message has changed over time, but in essence, he argues that Muslims can integrate fully into Western societies without fearing incompatibility with their religious beliefs. The problem with Mr. Ramadan’s vision for integration rests in his dangerous whitewashing of political Islam. His work and interviews evade legitimate concern that Shariah is given primacy to all other legal systems within political Islam, or even in non-Islamic societies, while still paradoxically speaking about full integration. This is hypocritical. The Islamic state is inherently incompatible with American - and Western - democracy.
Where we diverge with Mr. Ramadan is on the relationship of religion and state in democracies such as the United States. His bandwidth is filled with platitudes and misses the substance of real reform against Islamism. As individuals who are deeply committed to the protection of religious freedom and other basic rights from interference by the government, we find that Mr. Ramadan’s remarks on American soil thus far have given us more than enough cause to be concerned.
When pushed to state his position on Shariah and the stoning of women during an interview with CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour, Mr. Ramadan avoided condemning the practice outright. Instead, he pointed to the inability to do anything when Western governments work so closely with oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia. George Packer of the New Yorker asked him whether rights were inherent in human beings or if they must be granted by the authority of religious texts and was clearly disappointed by Mr. Ramadan’s response. Mr. Packer remarked that “Ramadan is building a worthy bridge on a rotten foundation.” Mr. Ramadan’s remarks to both Ms. Amanpour and Mr. Packer reflect his tendency to criticize the West’s hypocrisy rather than affirm the primacy of universal standards on human rights in Muslim societies.
Mr. Ramadan’s mantra of victimization, which propelled him to stardom among the immigrant Muslim population in Europe, is far less relevant in the United States, where 3 million-plus American Muslims experience great freedom and opportunity in the political, economic and social realms. American Muslims hold dearly their government built on individual liberty, and they understand from personal experience - as our Founding Fathers did as well - that theocratic governments can never equally honor the rights of every citizen blind to faith.
Yet Mr. Ramadan clearly is disconnected from the reality of American Muslims and continues to propagate dangerous apologetics for Islamist terrorism that, if adopted, would isolate American Muslims from the country and freedoms they cherish. In his discussion with Democracy Now! Mr. Ramadan was asked about Imam Anwar al-Awlaki’s call for American Muslims to rise up against the United States. Mr. Ramadan did not jump to declare Mr. al-Awlaki an enemy of America and American Muslims - the message young Muslims should hear. With his direct link to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, charged as the perpetrator of the Fort Hood massacre; the so-called Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; and at least two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, Mr. al-Awlaki has made clear his position toward America. Yet Mr. Ramadan rushed to declare that the U.S. does not have the right to kill Mr. al-Awlaki. More disturbing is his silence on Mr. al-Awlaki’s Islamism while having the further temerity to blame the United States for the cleric’s slide toward radicalization.
Mr. Ramadan dismissed Mr. al-Awlaki’s radical views with a “you reap what you sow” mentality, avoiding any message of Muslim responsibility for his ideology. He is quick to condemn American actions in Iraq and Afghanistan and then blames America for the actions of a radical Islamist connected to the deaths of potentially thousands of Americans. And he still wonders why we believe his views are irrelevant to the experience of American Muslims who believe in their nation and do not apologize for Islamists.
In this war of ideas, ideologues like Mr. Ramadan need to be constantly matched with engagement by liberty-minded Americans and particularly American Muslims who disagree with him. Putting out a blind, victim-obsessed welcome mat from media, government and academe will miss one of the greatest opportunities for publicly engaging political Islam’s anointed leader in the West. As Mr. Ramadan continues his parade across the United States, it is important that the public is aware of the danger of the ideologies he holds dear and, most notably, how his ideas endanger the fundamental freedoms preserved for all in America.
Mr. Ramadan needs to learn how people of all faiths can coexist freely in a nation that respects religious diversity and protects religious liberty for all by ensuring that government follows one law based in reason. American Muslims, when given the opportunity, will demonstrate that in this nation, Mr. Ramadan would be better served by becoming less a teacher about “his” Islam and more a student on liberty.
Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, is co-founder of the International Religious Freedom Caucus and serves on the Human Rights Commission Executive Committee. Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser is president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and a former U.S. Navy lieutenant commander.