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March 19, 2016

Islam is a religion for peace, Tariq Ramadan

Reuel S. Amdur

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"I never say that Islam is a religion of peace. No, it is a religion for peace," Tariq Ramadan told an audience in a packed 742-seat auditorium at the Adult High School in Ottawa on November 22.

He was speaking at a session arranged by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East and was introduced as a professor at Oxford. 

Expanding on his explanation about the nature of Islam, he argued that, in the case of Palestine, people have the right to resist the oppressors and colonizers.  “No justice, no peace.”  “For saying that, I was banned in the United States.”  He also noted that he has been banned in six Arab countries because of his criticism of their corruption, oppression of their people, and selling out to the West.

He also took issue with those who say that terror is incompatible with Islam.  He said that the terrorists do in fact cite Islamic scripture to justify their behavior, but it is a distorted interpretation.  As for Palestine, while Palestinians have a right to battle oppression, that right does not include the right to kill innocent civilians.

As opposed to Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations, Ramadan proposed a clash of perceptions, perceptions of both self and other.  “We”—the West—see our wars in defense of our values, democracy versus Islam, etc.  The war in Iraq was to liberate it and free women.  The Muslim perspective, on the other hand, was that the West hates them.  But all of this is smoke and mirrors, “a strategic distraction.” 

So what is the reality? 

He sees it with two foci, economics and geopolitics.  Why the wars?  As the saying goes, “Follow the money,” though he did not use these exact words. The other element is geopolitical. 

The interest is in Western domination of the Middle East.  It is the same dirty politics whether it is Bush, Clinton, or Obama. The goal is to perpetuate low intensity conflict, as in Libya and Syria, maintaining the status quo. 

He sees the Middle East as a market for which nations are competing.  China is a new player.  The West will not deal with Hamas, but China says that they were elected, so China is prepared to deal.  Mubarak was also prepared to deal with China.  Then there is Turkey, rebuffed by the European Union because it is Muslim.  Turkey is now actively developing relations with China and setting up diplomatic missions throughout Africa.

When Ramadan spoke to an American policy maker, he was told that American interests in the Middle East were threefold: security, oil, and Israel.  So face it: “There will be no Palestinian state.”  Netanyahu has made that clear, in just so many words, at least during his time in office.  The domestic implication of the support of Israel, even under Netanyahu is clear: the growth of Islamophobia.

We need, he urged, to be consistent on human rights.  Our hearts bleed for Paris, but what of Beirut and Mali?  Apparently when it happens to them it is just normal. 

But we cannot just blame the West for the Middle East mess.  The first responsibility is the corrupt Arab governments and their relying on a Salafist, populist, fanatical strain of Islam.  “We are corrupted,” he charged, “because we were corruptible.” 

As for the niqab element in the election, he said that it was “a distraction which creates an atmosphere which is dirty.”

We should, he urged, promote one humanity with equal dignity for all, not just for Paris.  We must never support the likes of the Islamic State, and we need not to be naïve about strategic interests that get in the way of decency.

He was asked about the Morsi government being confronted by a demand for fresh elections.  His response was that institutions should be respected and the government should have been allowed to run its course.  This view fails to acknowledge the ways in which Morsi was undermining the democratic structure. 

We asked about the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in terrorism in Egypt.  His first reaction was one of confusion.  We gave the examples of the terrorism in the Sinai and the attacks on the Copts following Morsi’s ouster.  His response was that the Brotherhood is legalistic and not terrorist.  He sees no evidence of Brotherhood terrorism, but if there is such, he would be against it as in the case of any terrorism.

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