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Islamophobia Watch

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and Tariq Ramadan: A Case History of Islamophobia



Alan Clarke’s amendment adopted by the NUS NEC

Statement from Tariq Ramadan in response to the NUS motion submitted by Alan Clarke

Notes on NUS, Tariq Ramadan and the ESF’, by Alan Clarke

Tariq Ramadan is not our ally’, by the Feminist Collective for a Secular Alternative Globalisation

Why NUS was correct not to implement the decision of the previous NUS NEC’, by Peter Leary, Pav Akhtar and Tom Whittaker

Resolution: Reviewing NUS’ decision on Tariq Ramadan

NUS Black Students’ Campaign press release: ‘NUS congratulated for defending Muslim participation’


In October 2004, Alliance for Workers’ Liberty supporter Alan Clarke persuaded the national executive committee of the National Union of Students to adopt a resolution calling for leading Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan to be banned from speaking at the European Social Forum, which was to be held in London later that month. It quickly became clear that the motion had been based on an entirely false account of Professor Ramadan’s views. The NUS refused to implement the resolution and at its next meeting in December the NEC formally rescinded it. The material reproduced here is taken from the Workers’ Liberty and Student Broad Left websites.

Alan Clarke’s amendment adopted by the NUS NEC on 5 October 2004

Amendment to ESF Campaign – NEC/NUS Motion

NEC believes:

1. One of the ESF’s keynote speakers will be Tariq Ramadan an "Islamic scholar" and grandson of Hassan al-Banna (founder of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood). Tariq Ramadan:

• Defends the application of sharia law in majority-Muslim areas, in which women, LGBT people and those who wish to convert from Islam are denied basic human rights.

• Defends conjugal violence as "a last resort".

2. That as a sponsor of the ESF, NUS has a responsibility to raise its voice in defence of progressive values and therefore against Tariq Ramadan speaking. NEC resolves:

• To continue to support the ESF, but mandate the President to write to the organisers asking them to withdraw Tariq Ramadan’s invitation to speak and produce a press release explaining our position, and reproduce this on our website.

• To join with the Middle East Centre for Women’s Rights, Women Against Fundamentalism and Outrage in producing a leaflet opposing both Islamophobia and Islamism for distribution at the ESF.

Statement from Tariq Ramadan in response to the NUS motion submitted by Alan Clarke

I am surprised to read such statements about my thoughts and my books spread by student organisations that ought to promote a critical mind, intellectual probity and strict quotations’-checking. In my books, and very explicitly in the last one Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, I refer to the concept of shari’a meaning "the way towards faithfulness" rejecting the idea that it is a set of law to be implemented without taking the context into account. The four principles we have to respect, as to the social and political field, are 1. rule of law; 2. equal citizenship (whatever the religious or non religious belonging); 3. universal suffrage; 4. accountability of the leaders. These are clearly democratic values. I said, and repeated, that domestic violence is, in any case, against the Islamic teaching. I wrote it in my book Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity (1995).

I am sorry and sad to see students repeating such baseless allegations without checking their sources. This should be the starting point of their intellectual commitment: I condemned all the autocratic regimes, stoning, corporal punishment and death penalty in the Islamic world and I strongly criticized the Egyptian regime when it put in jail homosexuals explaining that religion should not be instrumentalised to legitimize a repressive policy and to avoid the very question of political freedom. For some one advocating the birth of Islamic feminism, it is moreover disappointing to hear that the progressive should condemn my stance.

Notes on NUS, Tariq Ramadan and the ESF

By Alan Clarke, NUS National Executive
(October 10th 2004)

On October 6th 2004, NUS NEC passed my motion arguing that, since Swiss academic Tariq Ramadan is an Islamist reactionary (albeit of a soft, reformist type) we should oppose his invitation to speak at the European Social Forum. Not only has this decision aroused major controversy, but the National Secretary has so far refused to carry out the mandates included in my motion. What follows is a brief attempt to clarify the issues involved.

1. Islamophobia (See also appendix)
A key argument for those who wish to reverse the NEC’s decision seems to be that criticising the politics of any Muslim public figure is Islamophobic. Thus to criticise Tariq Ramadan is apparently a blow against all Muslims and even people of Muslim background. The Black Student Officer and National Secretary’s responses to my NEC motion do not include any specific, point-by-point rebuttal of its content; rather they rely on the unjustified idea that criticising Tariq Ramadan is necessarily Islamophobic. The implication of this view is that political disagreement and debate should be reserved for non-religious white people, since they are not appropriate for anyone else, least of all Muslims.

In fact, Muslims and people of Muslim background are as divided by class position, political ideology, worldview etc as anyone else. Tariq Ramadan’s defenders are trying to essentialise "Muslims" as single, homogenous constituency of which Islamists of various shades are necessarily the spokespeople. In fact, Islamists are still thankfully a small minority among Muslims; but even if they possessed majority support, that would not demand that progressive organisations endorsed or allied with them, any more than majority support for reactionary parties in any population makes those parties progressive.

Let us be extremely clear: what is being argued over here is NOT the fact that a Muslim has been invited to speak at the ESF. In 2002, the No Sweat campaign took Indonesian trade union leader Dita Sari on a speaker tour of the UK. Sari is a religious Muslim, but she is also a workers’ leader, a feminist and a socialist. She and Ramadan share the same religion, but they are not at all the same politically. The point is that promoting Tariq Ramadan as a spokesperson for "Muslims" as a bloc is a betrayal of people like Dita Sari, ie Muslim democrats, socialists and feminists, as well as secular and non-religious people in mainly-Muslim countries and communities.

2. Who should speak at the ESF?
My basic contention is that it is wrong for the ESF – a forum devoted to the theme that another and better world is possible, and which obviously chooses its main plenary speakers as a tight selection from a vast range of people who would like to get to the top tables there – to invite Tariq Ramadan as a top-billed speaker representing "the Muslim point of view". It is wrong because the ESF should not be put together with speakers representing religious constituencies, and because Tariq Ramadan represents a very particular strand in Muslim thought, one that seeks to promote the reactionary ideology of Islamism in Europe by constructing a version of it tailored to blur all clashes with democratic values. To object to Tariq Ramadan being a top-billed speaker at the ESF is not saying that he is a "demon", or a fascist, or anything like that; I also object, for example, to Ken Livingstone being top-billed at the ESF. The amendment did not say that Tariq Ramadan could not speak anywhere, or that NUS should oppose the campaign against the US government’s refusal to allow him entry to the US, or that NUS should demand he be sacked from his academic job in Switzerland. It did not suggest that it would be wrong for organisations or universities to invite Tariq Ramadan to take part in debates.

3. Is NUS "in opposition" to the trade union and global justice movements?
The Black Students Officer argues that the NEC’s judgement of Tariq Ramadan is "in clear opposition to the judgement of the rest of the trade union movement, NGO sector and civil society groups" and that opposing Ramadan’s invitation to the ESF will therefore expose us to "ridicule among the trade union movement for having presumed that they would wittingly compromise their political integrity and commitments to equality". There is a general point to be made that, in a democratic, rational society, being in a minority does not require you to shut up, turn off your brain and mouth agreement with the majority; but beyond this, I think the Black Students Officer’s equation of the leading ESF organisers with the majority of the labour and global justice movements is questionable to say the least.

It is not the whole or even the leaders of the trade union movement that made the decisions about which speakers to invite to the ESF, but committees dominated by precisely the forces which on NUS NEC have protested against my stance (eg the SWP and Socialist Action/Student Broad Left in the form of Livingstone’s full-time advisers). As the National Secretary has noted, many NEC members had never heard of Tariq Ramadan before last week’s meeting; is it not then reasonable to suppose that many ESF-supporters in the broad movement had not heard of him either and simply assumed – wrongly, as it turns out – that anyone invited to speak at the ESF must be a left-winger?

4. Tariq Ramadan’s politics
So what is the reality of Tariq Ramadan’s politics? He is a writer who tries to construct an ideology loyal to the basic traditions of movements like the Muslim Brotherhood – but rebranded so that he can rope back European Muslims into a world-view centred on centuries-old texts without directly affronting basic values of democracy and equal rights in a way that would marginalise him among those Muslims in the same way as Hizb-ut Tahrir and al-Muhajiroun are marginalised. He wants to make contact with a wide range of readers and listeners – but in order to pull them backwards, not to take them forwards.

This is the full extent of my claim. Nowhere have I used words like "demonic": the Black Students Officer has simply invented the phrase "demonic Muslim caricature" in order to misrepresent my argument.

a) Because ambiguity is essential to his project, Ramadan is not clear and straightforward as a writer and speaker. He evades and elides fundamental issues; and he significantly changes the emphasis of what he says depending on who his audience is. His is a soft-sell version of Islamism, but that does not make it fundamentally anything other than reactionary.

b) Ramadan claims allegiance to democratic and progressive values, saying that they can be derived from the Islamic holy texts just as well as from other sources. At the same time he does not disavow the political tradition of his grandfather Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Defining himself repeatedly as a "Muslim reformist",[1] he describes al-Banna as the "most influential of the Muslim reformists of the century".[2] To give a more specific example: when asked if he thought there was any contradiction between his proclaimed opposition to anti-semitism and the Muslim Brotherhood’s persecution of Jewish people in 1940s Egypt, Ramadan replied that "it is necessary to present each of the positions, my grandfather’s and my own, in their political context. Al-Banna lived a time when the state of Israel was being formed and he, like others, defined its establishment as an act of colonisation which in his opinion justified resistance... clearly there is a difference between what he said in his day and what I am saying... There are some things of my grandfather’s with which I agree and others with which I don’t agree. I have taken from my grandfather what in my opinion is Muslim reformism."[3] A long reply to a simple yes/no question (I have only quoted part of it), but at no point does Ramadan say that there is a contradiction. He reaffirms that he and al-Banna are part of the same broad tradition.

Now let us be quite clear what exactly it is Ramadan is expressing this general sympathy with. In 1946, while he still lived in Palestine, socialist writer Tony Cliff (founder of the SWP) wrote a survey of the Muslim Brotherhood’s politics and in particular its attitude to Jewish people.[4] Describing the Brotherhood as "clerical-fascist", Cliff noted that its leaders had expressed a wish for cooperation with the British empire against Palestine’s Jewish population, arguing that Arabs should "not fight Britain ... but fight against Jewish settlement".[5] On November 2nd, the anniversary of the Balfour declaration promising a Jewish national home in Palestine, the Brotherhood attempted to incite Muslim Arab workers in Cairo and Alexandria to attack those cities’ Jewish and other minority populations, only to be frustrated by the united, anti-racist action of the Egyptian trade union movement.

The question of anti-semitism is typical of how Ramadan waxes progressive but fails to disassociate himself from the ultra-reactionary tradition of the likes of Hasan al-Banna.

c) Ramadan does indeed claim to oppose state persecution of gay people and be in favour of women’s rights. But on this as other questions, those general claims are not at all the end of the story. For instance, he recently argued in a lecture to young Muslims that one cannot be both Muslim and gay, since "God wanted things in order. And that order is ‘man for woman’ and ‘woman for man’".[6]

Instead of clearly opposing physical punishments and demanding their abolition, he instead proposes a "total and absolute moratorium, to give us the time to go back to our fundamental texts ... and to determine precisely the necessary conditions." In his letter to FOSIS concerning the NEC’s decision, he pointed out that his 1995 book Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity he wrote opposing conjugal violence; but in 2002 he put it a bit differently: the Koran envisages such violence as a "last resort".[7] In similar vein, he has explained his conception of sexual "equality" as follows: "the man is responsible for management of the family space, while the role of the mother is central there".[8] That "central" role "should take priority over financial considerations and personal professional success".[9]

Gay sex and relationships are unnatural; we should stop stoning people for adultery and cutting off their hands for theft until we’ve had a chance to discuss it properly; men should rule over their families while women devote themselves to the domestic sphere. We would not accept or excuse such reactionary nonsense from a Christian or Hindu fundamentalist, so why should we accept them from Ramadan?

d) Similarly, in his letter to FOSIS and elsewhere, Ramadan claims to be in favour of democratic values and institutions. He says that, for him, shari’a is not a "set of law to be implemented without taking the context into account"; the National Secretary cites this as evidence in his favour. But in his interview on the Open Democracy website, Ramadan explains in more detail exactly what he means by adding: "We must think about the law when trying to be faithful to a specific goal... I reject the notion of al-fiqh (the body of law) coming first. It is not first for me." More specifically, he says that he thinks a "literal understanding" of the Koranic prescription to cut off the hands of thieves is wrong.[10] In other words, he does want a legal system based on the shari’a; he is in favour of laws based on Islamic scripture and its interpretation, but thinks that this should be implemented flexibly ("taking into account the context"; not "first", but after considering them more general requirements of Islamic jurisprudence), not rigidly as a more radical Islamist might advocate.

It should be understood that this flexibility does not distance Tariq Ramadan from the Muslim Brotherhood tradition. Although politically the Muslim Brotherhood has been what Middle Eastern socialists saw as "clerical fascism" (see above), theologically the Brotherhood’s "attitudes have generally been in line with the reformist approach of Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida ... to create an up-to-date Islam suited to modern conditions... Theologically, Banna’s views were fairly close to those of Abduh and ... Rashid Rida... Some of his followers [argued] that the thief should have his hand amputated only when the perfectly just Islamic society, in which there was no want, had been realised... [For them] Islam was an ideal to be worked for ... within its framework, development was not only possible, but also desirable and necessary. The Sharia, however, must reign supreme..."[11]

In his response to NUS, Tariq Ramadan lists four democratic principles to which he subscribes. Then in his Open Democracy interview (Rosemary Bechler, 14 July 2004) he declares that even if those principles can be found in what he calls "the western model of democracy", they "can also be extracted from Islam", and that for him "justice and equality come from my Islamic teaching". "I want to sustain these four principles, but to elaborate specific models in the Islamic world that respect them. Every society should respect its culture, its memory and its collective psychology. A specific model that embodies established, respected principles is the aim."

So, Tariq Ramadan wants democracy, but an Islamic democracy. All this is very vague, so let us look at what he means in practice. He claims that in the mainly-Muslim world "‘secular’ means ‘dictatorship’, when you look at the historical balance sheet of political regimes like Turkey, Syria, Tunisia and others".[12] One might reply that "Islamist" has also meant "dictatorship", for instance in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. In any case, what’s Ramadan’s alternative? "The country which has advanced most towards democratic institutionalisation is Iran... 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".[13] As far as we know, Tariq Ramadan does not defend Iran as a perfect, ideal Islamic state – it would be very much not his style to do that – but he plainly gives it great credit. Iran does have universal suffrage and a parliament; it is also indisputably a theocratic and extremely repressive state. NUS activists, who have a proud tradition of supporting their Iranian brothers and sisters against the fascistic regime ruling their country, will have a better idea than most about what Iran’s sort of "democracy" means for ordinary people – state violence, destruction of the labour movement, super-exploitation, the suppression of women, anti-semitism and war.

In interpreting all these statements by Tariq Ramadan, we must bear in mind who is speaking, and to whom. If a speaker in a village where religious traditions weigh with the unshaken weight of centuries, where people have very little possibility of considering alternative world-views, and where it is hard for young people even to conceive the possibility of not regarding the Koran as superseding all human wisdom – if such a person were to advocate having a moratorium on chopping off thieves’ hands, or stoning women guilty of adultery, then that might be a tremendous step forward. Tariq Ramadan was born and brought up, and lives, in Switzerland. He writes mostly in French. His chosen audience are young, educated, socially-integrated European Muslims, most of whom would find the idea of chopping off thieves’ hands as far-fetched as the villagers might find the idea that the Koran was written by a human being. For him to tell them that the idea of chopping off thieves’ hands should be put on hold while Islamic scholars further examine the sacred texts has exactly the opposite significance to the imagined village speaker saying the same thing.

In conclusion, Tariq Ramadan is very much at the soft, reformist end of the Islamist spectrum, but he is still part of it. Such a thinker has no place speaking at the ESF.

Appendix: The unhelpfulness of demagogy
Among the requirements of rational discussion are an avoidance of insult, insinuation and demagogy. These standards have not been consistently maintained in the debate over Tariq Ramadan. It is perfectly reasonable (though in my view wrong) to argue either that I have mischaracterised Tariq Ramadan’s politics (i.e. that he is not a reactionary) or that I draw the wrong conclusions from my characterisation (i.e. that NUS’s adherence to progressive, egalitarian values, particularly with regards to the ESF, is misguided). It is emphatically not reasonable to suggest that those who share my views on this issue do not oppose Islamophobia – or worse, as the Black Students Officer implies in one email, that we are unconcerned about racist violence against Muslim asylum-seekers in Britain. If I was going to respond to cheap demagogy with slightly less cheap demagogy, I might – to take just one example – point out that Alliance for Workers’ Liberty campaigned for the rights of the mainly-Muslim peoples of Bosnia and Kosova when many of those now shouting about Islamophobia were implicitly supporting their suppression. But I would rather deal with the issues actually in dispute.

1. For instance in one of the interviews that the National Secretary cites, at www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-5-57-2006.jsp
2. Etre musulman européen, étude des sources islamiques à la lumière du contexte européen, p.460
3. See interview at www.labournet.net/world/0205/ispa255.html
4. Written in Jerusalem on July 8th 1946 and published in the British Trotskyist press
5. Proclamation issued on September 4th 1936, quoted in Cliff
6. La conception islamiques de la sexualité. Innocence, responsibilité et maitrise, audio cassette
7. Both quotes concerning violent punishments come from Le Courrier, Geneva, 13 November 2002
8. L’Islam en questions, co-written with Alain Gresh, p.280
9. Islam, le face-à-face des civilizations, p.51
10. See note 1
11. Malise Ruthven, Islam in the World, pp.318, 307-8
12. L’Islam en questions, p.181
13. Ibid, pp.119, 129

Tariq Ramadan is not our ally

By the Feminist Collective for a Secular Alternative Globalisation

This piece, which formed the basis for the accusations against Professor Ramadan in the motion passed by the NUS NEC, was published in the 23 September 2004 issue of Solidarity, paper of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, who added the following introductory note:

"The Islamist writer Tariq Ramadan is a top-billed speaker at the ESF in London in October. The following text gives some information on the debate in France about Tariq Ramadan and his politics. It was originally published (in French) as a leaflet and distributed at the European Social Forum in Paris on 12–16 November 2003 by the ‘Feminist Collective for a Secular Alternative Globalisation’. We translate it in the interests of informing activists."

A reply to the leaflet by French feminist and socialist Catherine Samary, ‘Tariq Ramadan Has His Place in the European Social Forum’, can be found in this section of the What Next? website.

Tariq Ramadan is dangerous not because he is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and originator of a political Islam which has wreaked havoc across the world, but because he has never distanced himself from the ideological heritage of his grandfather, whom he continues to present as the "most influential of the Muslim reformists of the century"[1] when that reformism consisted of wanting to go back to the baseline of Sharia law.

Tariq Ramadan is worrying not because he is the brother of Hani Ramadan, an Islamist theoretician who endorses stoning for adultery and considers AIDS to be a divine punishment, but because he himself reckons that one cannot be both Muslim and homosexual, even if he does not advise physical punishment for homosexuals. "God wanted things in order. And that order is "‘man for woman’ and ‘woman for man’", he explains in his lectures to young Muslims.[2] By taking up the Koran in a literal way, he endorses the doctrine of a divine and natural order which we would not accept from a Christian fundamentalist.

Challenged to demarcate himself from his brother, Tariq Ramadan does so only very ambiguously. Instead of condemning physical punishments and demanding their abolition, he contents himself with proposing a "total and absolute moratorium, to give us the time to go back to our fundamental texts ... and to determine precisely the necessary conditions".

Equally he does not dispute the right of a man to use conjugal violence, even if he emphasises that the Koran envisages it only as a "last resort".[3]

Tariq Ramadan recognises the equality of men and women before God, but believes in a complementarity – and thus a difference – of the sexes on the social and family level. "Islam offers a frame of reference in which is outlined a global conception of the human being, the man, the woman and the family. Two principles are essential: the first based on the idea of equality between the man and the woman before God, the second that of their complementarity on the social level. In this conception, it is the man who is responsible for the management of the family space, but the role of the mother is central there".[4]

Tariq Ramadan is a fundamentalist leader who wants to go back to the baseline of the Koran. His positions are certainly preferable to the obviously fanatical recommendations of some other Islamists. But he locates himself in a reactionary perspective, incompatible with a progressive alternative globalisation, because it is about making men and women live in the terms of a book which is sanctified and decreed timeless although it was written more than 14 centuries ago.

There are secular and progressive Muslim currents, so why offer Tariq Ramadan the status of a representative of Islam and of European Muslims? Tariq Ramadan calls himself secular, but he defines secularism as a neutral space which should welcome all faiths and cults. That is also the definition of Christine Boutin [a prominent politician of France’s governing right wing]. But it cannot be the definition of activists who struggle for a world liberated from all fanaticism, and thus for a secularism asserted as a positive value.

Tariq Ramadan does not conceal his distaste for rationalism and modernity, even though he is careful to disguise it as an anti-capitalist discourse. "Because they give priority to rationality, efficiency and productivity for progress, our societies are on the brink of the abyss",[5] he explains in his book on The Meeting Point of Civilisations: Which Progress for Which Modernity?

It must be understood that his hate of modernity is not only to do with commercialisation but also changing attitudes on the family, on which he explains: "If modernity comes at this price, it will be understood that both the Koran and the Sunna say no to the realisation of this modernisation."

Tariq Ramadan is not an anti-semite but he gives lists of Jewish intellectuals (or reckoned to be Jewish), whom he accuses of being fanatically pro-Israel on grounds of their Jewish identity.... Would one accuse the defenders of the Palestinians of taking that position because they are "Arabs" or "Muslims"?

We struggle against anti-Muslim racism but we reject the term "Islamophobia" introduced to France by Tariq Ramadan. It is a concept invented by the Islamists to discredit feminists, liberal Muslims and all those who try to secularise Islam by calling them racists when they are simply secular and/or critical of religious dogmas.

We demand the right to be both anti-racist and critical of religions, for religions are human ideologies, and ones which have mostly served to legitimise social inequality and oppress human beings, especially women.

For all these reasons, we refuse to consider Tariq Ramadan as an ally and we will continue to defend an egalitarian, feminist, rational, modern and secular alternative globalisation.

1. Tariq Ramadan, Etre musulman européen, étude des sources islamiques à la lumière du contexte européen, Tawhid 1999, p.460
2. Tariq Ramadan, La conception islamique de la sexualité. Innocence, responsabilité et maitrise, audio cassette distributed by Tawhid Editions
3. Le Courrier, Geneva, 13 November 2002
4. Alain Gresh and Tariq Ramadan, L’Islam en questions, Arles, Actes Sud, 2002, p.280
5. Tariq Ramadan, Islam, le face-à-face des civilisations. Quel projet pour quelle modernité?, Tawhid, pp.25-26

Why NUS was correct not to implement the decision of the previous NUS NEC

By Peter Leary, Pav Akhtar, Tom Whittaker, NUS NEC

The motion to the 5 October NUS NEC calling for the withdrawal of the invitation to Tariq Ramadan to speak at the European Social Forum was based on a complete misrepresentation of Ramadan’s views. In this note we set the record straight.

There were two main accusations against Tariq Ramadan in the motion Alan Clarke presented to the NEC. These were, first, that Ramadan "defends the application of sharia law in majority-Muslim areas, in which women, LGBT people and those who wish to convert from Islam are denied basic human rights"; and, secondly, that he "defends conjugal violence as ‘a last resort’". Both of these accusations were entirely without foundation.

The charge that Tariq Ramadan defends the application of sharia law in the sense stated in the resolution – as a repressive, state-imposed legal system – demonstrates ignorance of Ramadan’s interpretation of sharia. It was with people like Alan Clarke in mind that Ramadan wrote, in his book Islam, the West and the Challenge of Modernity:

"Nowadays reference to the Shari’a, in the West, has the effect of a bugbear. To see it applied is to start the sordid, detailed account of amputated hands, floggings, and so on and so forth. It is further seen as men’s moralist repression through which they impose on women the ‘wearing of the chador’ as well as considering them legal minors. Fed by such imagery, references to the Shari’a appear as obscurantist confinement, medieval stubbornness, and fanaticism."[1]

As Tariq Ramadan has explained, he entirely rejects this caricature view of the sharia:

"Sharia, by my definition, is not law ... sharia is something extracted by human rationality in order to pave the way towards faithfulness.... This is a system of values, and not a ‘political system’.... This is what I say to the literalists (such as the Hizb ut-Tahrir): ‘what is this political system you talk about?’ We have to respect some universal principles, but there is no Islamic state. To imitate what was done in 7th century Medina is not only a dream. It is a lie. You cannot do that now."[2]

If it is false to accuse Tariq Ramadan of arguing for sharia as a state-imposed legal system, it is even more slanderous to suggest that he supports state repression of homosexuality. As Professor Ramadan states in his letter to the NUS NEC, he publicly condemned the prosecution and imprisonment of gay men by the Mubarak government in Egypt.

As for the charge that Tariq Ramadan "defends conjugal violence as ‘a last resort’", this is a complete invention. In his celebrated television debate with French minister Nicolas Sarkozy in November 2003, Ramadan was challenged by Sarkozy over his position on domestic violence. Ramadan replied indignantly: "my position is extremely clear, conjugal violence and violence towards a woman is unacceptable under Islam, that is what I say, and I say it forcefully."[3]

Alan Clarke’s accusations against Ramadan were taken from a single leaflet produced last year by an obscure French group, the "feminist collective for an alternative secular globalisation", which was published in the 23 September issue of the Alliance for Workers Liberty’s paper Solidarity. Alan Clarke made no effort to find out whether these accusations were accurate. As Professor Ramadan says in his reply to the NUS NEC, Alan Clarke’s method amounted to "repeating ... baseless allegations without checking their sources".

Tariq Ramadan is a respected figure in both the Muslim and academic worlds. A lecturer at the University of Fribourg and the Collège de Genève, he is the author of numerous books and articles, most recently Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, published by Oxford University Press, He also serves as expert on various committees linked to the European Parliament. John Esposito, a leading US specialist in the field of Islamic studies, has described Professor Ramadan as "an established academic ... with a strong record",[4] while Madeleine Bunting referred to him in the Guardian as "one of the foremost thinkers on Islam in Europe".[5] Indeed, Time magazine recently numbered Professor Ramadan among the hundred leading scientists and intellectuals in the world today.

It is difficult to believe that Alan Clarke would have adopted a similarly light-minded attitude towards the facts had he been criticising a non-Muslim academic of Professor Ramadan’s stature.

When the resolution adopted by the NUS NEC was challenged, Alan Clarke responded with his "Notes on NUS, Tariq Ramadan and the ESF", which purports to offer a more detailed justification of his charges against Ramadan. The document features a number of erudite-looking footnotes citing various French language publications. In reality, they are lifted second hand from two sources – the leaflet that formed the basis of Alan Clarke’s original motion, and a selection of quotations from Ramadan published earlier this year in the journal Critique Communiste.

It is quite evident that Alan Clarke has consulted none of the articles or books by Ramadan that are cited, and has made no attempt to establish context. Rather, he has cherrypicked some quotations to back up his preconceived notion that Professor Ramadan is an "Islamist reactionary" and "religious obscurantist" who should be banned from the ESF.

Let us start with one example, because it illustrates Alan Clarke’s procedure. In order to suggest that Tariq Ramadan holds contradictory positions on domestic violence, he quotes Ramadan as saying that "the Koran envisages such violence as a ‘last resort’". Though the Geneva publication Le Courrier is given as the source of the quotation, Alan Clarke in fact took it from the French feminist leaflet published in Solidarity, and clearly didn’t bother to try and to locate the original article.

A brief look at the actual interview with Tariq Ramadan in Le Courrier demonstrates what a travesty of Ramadan’s position this is. Tariq Ramadan argues against the view that domestic violence is legitimised by the notorious verse 4:34 of the Qur’an, which does indeed appear to accept that a woman may in the last resort be struck by her husband. Ramadan’s argument is that the Qur’an was written over a period of years, that early Islamic scholars quickly interpreted 4:34 to mean a symbolic "non-violent" blow with a twig, and that by the end of the process "violence was rejected" in any form.[6] In other words his argument is the precise opposite of that attributed to him by the French "feminist collective" and unquestioningly repeated by Alan Clarke.

This, it should be noted, is the article that was used to justify the accusation in Alan Clarke’s original motion that Ramadan himself (rather than the Qur’an) "defends conjugal violence as ‘a last resort’"!

No less misleading is Alan Clarke’s insinuation that Tariq Ramadan’s clear expression of disagreement with the attitude towards Jews held by his grandfather, Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, somehow calls into question Ramadan’s own opposition to anti-semitism. Alan Clarke fails to mention that the quotation he uses is taken from an article on Tariq Ramadan in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz entitled "My fellow Muslims, we must fight anti-Semitism", in the course of which Tariq Ramadan is reported as stating:

"To my regret, anti-Semitic utterances have been heard not only from frustrated and confused young Muslims, but also from certain Muslim intellectuals and imams.... There is nothing in Islam that gives legitimization to Judeophobia, xenophobia and the rejection of any human being because of his religion or the group to which he belongs. Anti-Semitism has no justification in Islam, the message of which demands respect for the Jewish religion and spirit...."[7]

Asked by the Ha’aretz interviewer whether he "sees a contradiction between his tolerance and the ideological heritage of his grandfather Hassan Al-Banna, the founder and leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members persecuted Jews in Egypt during the 1940s", Ramadan states quite plainly he disagrees with his grandfather:

"Clearly there is a difference between what he said in his day and what I am saying today.... There are some things of my grandfather’s with which I agree and others with which I don’t agree.... Sometimes I express a critical position toward some of my grandfather’s ideological heritage and I take full responsibility for this. Therefore, my grandfather would not necessarily have agreed today with everything that I am saying now."[8]

And how does Alan Clarke summarise Ramadan’s reply to that question? Alan Clarke tells us that "at no point does Ramadan say that there is a contradiction" between his own position and that of his grandfather!

Nor can there be any suggestion that Ramadan was tailoring his message to an Israeli audience. In November 2003 a reporter from the Boston Globe reported on Ramdan’s message to Muslim audiences in France:

"One young man wants to talk to Ramadan about the common perception that the Arab community is anti-Semitic. How can they accuse us of anti-Semitism when we are Semites? he demands. That’s just deflective word play, says Ramadan: We know very well that there are Muslims who hate Jews, and we should stand against them.

"I saw Ramadan exhort hundreds and even thousands of Muslims against anti-Semitism in Rennes, Lille, and elsewhere. ‘There is no Islamic legitimacy for anti-Semitism’, he told a crowd in Corbeil."[9]

As for Alan Clarke’s attempt to associate Tariq Ramadan with the Muslim Brotherhood, he again succeeds only in demonstrating his own ignorance. In the book L’Islam en questions Ramadan gives a full and informative account of his attitude towards the Brotherhood, in the course of which he says:

"I have ... developed a profoundly critical attitude towards those who have often presented themselves as the sole disciples and guarantors of the thought of Hassan al-Banna. I have retained a number of contacts, of course, and essentially through family relationships, but I have no organic and organisational links with the Muslim Brotherhood. My thinking is independent and is not developed within the framework of their structures, which I am not part of and do not represent ...."[10]

In a further attempt to discredit Tariq Ramadan, Alan Clarke offers a quotation from L’Islam en questions (which of course he hasn’t actually read) where Ramadan presents what appears to be a favourable view of Iran. However, even Alan Clarke accepts that "Iran does have universal suffrage and a parliament", and this is essentially the point Ramadan himself makes, contrasting Iran to certain secular states in which democratic institutions are less developed. His argument is that secularism by no means guarantees democracy. At the same time he expresses strong reservations about the rule of those he calls "the conservative Iranian clergy".[11]

Alan Clarke further concedes that "Tariq Ramadan does not defend Iran as a perfect, ideal Islamic state", though this of course ignores the fact that Ramadan is against the establishment of such a state in any form. In L’Islam en questions he reiterates the point that "to speak of an ‘Islamic model’ of government or of an ‘Islamic state’ as an archetype to be realised is meaningless".[12] Ramadan’s position is that he rejects the secular/Islamic state dichotomy, arguing instead for a form of government based on general democratic principles, which he says can be inspired by religious belief.

Alan Clarke even manages to find fault with Tariq Ramadan’s demand for a "total and absolute moratorium" on those physical punishments supposedly justified by the Qur’an. In fact, as Tariq Ramadan has explained, his call for a moratorium is a tactic adopted in relation to those sections of the Islamic world dominated by conservative religious traditions.

His position is defended by Catherine Samary, a leading French feminist and socialist, in the reply she wrote last year to the "feminist collective for an alternative secular globalisation" and their leaflet. She quotes Ramadan’s response to one critic, where he says:

"You imply that my position on stoning is vague. You carefully avoid mentioning that, in the article you quote, I state that in my opinion ‘it is never applicable’. That is far from the case with Islamic scholars today: my aim therefore is to open a fundamental debate in the Muslim world beginning by demanding an absolute moratorium on all corporal and capital punishments because their application is absolutely iniquitous and today falls exclusively on the poor and on women. Can I put it more clearly?"[13]

Alan Clarke tells us that Ramadan argues that women should "devote themselves to the domestic sphere". Once again, this is a blatant misrepresentation of his position. Tariq Ramadan takes issue with conservative Muslim attitudes towards women in his book Islam, the West and the Challenge of Modernity, where he writes:

"At one time women used to trade, and participate in meetings; they were even in charge of the market at Medina under Caliph ‘Umar. Furthermore, they engaged in social life in the seventh century. Is it possible to posit that a process of ‘Islamisation’ at the end of the twentieth century will be rendered by a definitive return to home, house confinement and infantilisation? By what twist of the mind have we managed to disfigure the Islamic message while asserting a willingness to defend it? ... It is, therefore, necessary to return ... to the original teachings of Islam and allow women, at all levels of social life, to take an active part in the achievement of the reforms that we would like to bring forth. This is the prolongation of the education which they have a right to and which will allow them to run their affairs, to work, to organise themselves, to elect and be elected.... Women must be able to play a social role." [14]

On the subject of homosexuality Alan Clarke quotes Tariq Ramadan as saying that "God wanted things in order. And that order is ‘man for woman’ and ‘woman for man’". The quotation is again taken from the leaflet produced by the French feminist group. In her reply to them, Catherine Samary says:

"It is true that Tariq Ramadan considers that it [homosexuality] is a practice which Muslims should abstain from, as ‘not desired by God’. We reject this interference of religion in the judgement of sexual behaviour. But, when we know the terrible repression of gays in Egypt and the ideological climate that prevails on this question, particularly in the Muslim world, then not to see as ‘progressive’ the fact that he opposed this repression of gays is criminal on their part!"

She points out that, while conservative attitudes to homosexuality must be challenged, at the ESF and anywhere else, such attitudes are "widespread in many, non-Muslim, circles that we shall meet in the world forums".[15] So why should it be only Muslims who are banned from the ESF on this basis?

Alan Clarke objects that Tariq Ramadan promotes "a world-view centred on centuries-old texts without directly affronting basic values of democracy and equal rights". But this would be an equally good description of those radical tendencies within Christianity who combine adherence to the Bible with active involvement in social reform. Indeed, Alan Clarke says that "the ESF should not be put together with speakers representing religious constituencies".

But one of the sessions advertised at this year’s ESF was "An Ecumenical and Interfaith Perspective for the European Union", the theme of which was described as "Against Racism, Discrimination and the Far Right: For Equality and Diversity". It featured Tariq Ramadan as a speaker alongside British and Italian representatives of Pax Christi and a Catholic theologian from Spain. Yet, of all these speakers representing religious constituencies, it was only Professor Ramadan whose exclusion from the ESF was demanded by Alan Clarke.

Tariq Ramadan himself has noted the contradiction here. When Christians involve themselves in politics, he has pointed out, a distinction is made between right-wingers promoting reactionary views and those who defend social engagement and the defence of the poor and the homeless.

"Therefore", he concludes, "everything leads us to believe that it is not the insertion of the religious in politics which poses a problem, but rather the nature of the religious point of reference. This ‘natural’ nuance in the Christian sphere loses its pertinence the moment that one speaks of Islam. In the case of Islam, engaging in the defence of the poor or carrying the most reactionary ideas does not make any difference. Judgement here falls like a chopper: ‘fundamentalists’. There is no nuance vis-à-vis those who do not resemble us."[16]

To have banned such a figure as Tariq Ramadan from the ESF, as Alan Clarke proposed, would have been an insult to Muslim communities across Europe. The NUS NEC was quite right to decide against implementing the original resolution, and should be congratulated for the action it took. Hopefully this decision will be endorsed at the next full meeting of the NEC and the 5 October resolution will be formally withdrawn.

The lesson should be learned that rejecting dialogue with the representatives of different cultures, or trying to prevent them from speaking, is never something that should be done lightly, and certainly not in the basis of hearsay. We hope that the next time the NUS executive has such a proposal before it, time will be taken to consider all relevant information and points of view before a decision is made.

1. Tariq Ramadan, Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity, 2001, p.47
2. Interview with Tariq Ramadan, 14 July 2004, on the Open Democracy website
3. A transcript of the debate can be found online at http://perso.wanadoo.fr/mivy/linfo/sarkoshow/integral_s_ r.htm
4. Chicago Tribune, 24 August 2004
5. Guardian, 16 October 2004
6. Interview with Tariq Ramadan, Le Courrier, 13 November 2002 (this can be found online at http://www.droitshumains.org/dial_rel/deb_courr-doss01.htm)
7. Ha’aretz, 26 May 2002
8. Ibid.
9. Boston Globe, 30 November 2003
10. Alain Gresh and Tariq Ramadan, L’Islam en questions, 2002, p.35
11. Ibid., pp.129, 180
12. Ibid., p.179
13. Catherine Samary, "Tariq Ramadan a sa place dans le forum social européen", on the Islam & Laïcité website
14. Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity, p.56
15. Samary, op. cit.
16. Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity, p.196

Resolution: Reviewing NUS’ decision on Tariq Ramadan
Adopted at the meeting of the NUS NEC on 6 December 2004

Submitted by: Peter Leary, Pav Akhtar, Tom Whittaker

The NUS NEC believes:

1. On October 5, the NUS NEC voted to call for the withdrawal of the invitation for Tariq Ramadan to speak at the European Social Forum, following the submission of a motion by Alan Clarke.

2. Subsequently, a majority of the NUS NEC raised concerns that the motion was passed without a fully-informed debate, and requested that this motion not be acted on, which was accepted.

3. NUS was right not to act on this policy. The allegations made in the motion are baseless and completely misrepresent Tariq Ramadan’s views. There is a wealth of evidence refuting the allegations made in the motion including a statement to NUS from Tariq Ramadan himself.

This NUS NEC resolves:

1. To formally overturn its original decision to pass the motion relating to Tariq Ramadan and the ESF, submitted by Alan Clarke.

NUS Black Students’ Campaign press release: NUS congratulated for defending Muslim participation

On Monday (6 December), NUS National Executive Committee voted to formally overturn a decision, made at its last meeting, calling for the withdrawal of an invitation to Muslim academic and author Tariq Ramadan to speak at the European Social Forum.

The original motion, submitted to a previous NEC meeting on October 5 by NUS NEC member Alan Clarke, had made a series of false and serious accusations including that Professor Ramadan defends violence against women and wants to deny human rights to lesbians and gay men.

Anybody who spares just a few minutes to read Professor Ramadan's works, which are widely available and have appeared in publications such the Guardian, can see the claims are baseless and completely misrepresent Tariq Ramadan's views.

Subsequent to October's national executive meeting, a majority of the NUS NEC raised concerns that the motion was passed without a fully informed debate, and requested that this motion not be acted on, which was accepted. It has now been overturned.

Tariq Ramadan is a leading Muslim intellectual, and was named as one of the 100 most influential thinkers in the world by Time magazine. Calling for a ban of Tariq Ramadan, as Alan Clarke proposed, would have been an insult to Muslim communities across Europe.

With Islamophobia, sweeping across Europe it is important that NUS has a dialogue with, and offers its support to, this community. NUS was absolutely right to overturn the original resolution and is to be congratulated for the decision it took.