The Other in Our Midst: After the London Bombing
Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, is a philosopher and leading spokesman for Muslims in Europe. Last year, the US government denied a visa for him to take up a professorship at the university of Notre Dame. His latest book is Western Muslims and the Future of Islam (Oxford University Press, 2003). He spoke with NPQ editor Nathan Gardels in Paris on July 16.
NPQ | After the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch of Moroccan descent and the London bombings by “homegrown” terrorists following the 2004 Madrid bombings, a long shadow has been cast over the prospect of Muslim integration in Europe.
How should Europe’s Muslim community respond?
Tariq Ramadan | We have to face up to reality: These kind of attacks are not going to stop. They are part of our future in Europe. Thus Muslims need to be self-critical and find those areas in which we can effectively act to stop those who commit or abet those who commit such attacks.
There are three areas:
First, through intracommunity dialogue, we have to fight against those readings and interpretations of Islam—those that promote hate and violence—that are against Islam. Muslims should draw the line and say: This is acceptable, this is not.
And we must not only condemn these interpretations, but also act against those who preach them and follow them. That means collaborating with the political authorities and even the police when we find imams and others promoting hatred and violence and acting against the law and the constitutions of European states.
Second, among Muslims we need to address a sense of guilt about being impure, of “not being good Muslims,” that is easily manipulated by those preaching hate against the “un-Islamic environment” of Western society.
Very often, we see that these young Muslims who act violently and irrationally are actually socially integrated. They have jobs or attend university or are even married. But they are psychologically and emotionally unbalanced. They feel they are somehow contaminated, far from reaching the ideal of Islam, guilty of not doing what they are supposed to. In this state of vulnerability, jihadis come to them and say: “Do you want to save yourself? Do you want to purify yourself? We have the solution.” We have to oppose this type of spiritual teaching.
Third, we have to address the link between what happens internationally, in Iraq or Palestine, and the domestic situation in places like Great Britain or France, Italy or Germany. If a young Muslim is angered by what he sees going on in Kashmir or Guantanamo or Iraq or Afghanistan, he needs to become politically engaged as a citizen to fight the policies of his government if he thinks it supports harmful acts against Muslims in the world.
The answer is not to kill innocent people in the London subway. It is to stake out a political claim in the democracies in which we live and insist on being heard; insist on making your government consistent and stop acting with a double standard. If you are angry about what is happening to Muslims in the world, the answer is to become a committed citizen not a suicide bomber.
If Muslim leaders in Europe are silent on these issues because they don’t want to rock the political boat, then angry youth will find another path to address the grievances they feel.
NPQ | What ought the European governments do?
Ramadan | Tony Blair has said it is up to the Muslims to do something about stopping these killers that came from their communities. He is partly right, as I have said.
But the situation we face today is like that of a family. When a kid does wrong, his two parents are also responsible. These kids that committed the London bombings were born in Europe. They are not just the sons of Muslims, but also the sons of European society. One parent is the Muslim community, and it needs to do something; the other parent is European society, and it needs to do something.
We need to ask what fault lies with the European parent with respect to the failures of social integration or with respect to supporting the war in Iraq, which millions and millions of Europeans opposed.
We don’t need another theoretical discourse on multiculturalism, when in fact we have a patchwork of communities not connected together. We need to get serious about integration.
No matter what Muslims do in our own communities, nothing will change unless there is an understanding of shared responsibility for these troubled children who have emerged from our midst to blow up buses and trains.
NPQ | Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the prime minister of Spain, has taken a distinctly different course than Tony Blair or the United States in fighting terrorism. He has withdrawn Spanish troops from Iraq and granted amnesty to illegal Muslim immigrants instead of cracking down and has called for “an alliance of civilizations” to promote dialogue.
Is that a helpful model?
Ramadan | Symbolic acts can have an impact, yes. But in the long run we need a real policy of integration in Europe that understands religious and ethnic diversity is the future of Europe, not a passing issue.
The biggest problem we face today is not a matter of the legal framework. It is about the lack of mutual trust, about the negative perception of Muslims within Europe. Muslims feel they are not liked in the societies in which they live, that there is a great deal of racism and Islamophobia.
Mutual trust will arise if the authorities facilitate the process of integration through the full participation of Muslim communities locally and at the national level, not try to control it. If Muslims feel that the government is trying to control them or contain them, then they feel like second-class citizens, not responsible members of society. If this is the approach to the future, it is not going to work.
Governments and the Muslim community must also develop an urban policy to bust up the ghettoes—cultural and educational ghettoes, as well as the economic ghettoes we see in France and the ethnic ghettoes in Britain.
Finally, governments and the Muslim community need to collaborate on the education of imams. As it is now, most imams come from abroad. The future will be imams educated in Europe, but who is going to do that? The governments must help. We need to train imams who speak European languages and teach an Islam adapted to European society. This is a critical issue for preempting imams who teach hatred and violence from gaining influence.
NPQ | Isn’t this the fundamental issue: For European Muslims, Islam has to be defined not as against the West and its “un-Islamic environment,” but within the West?
Ramadan | We must be careful here not to let the margins define the mainstream. In the global picture, the great majority of Muslims living in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe have indeed succeeded in adapting their Islamic beliefs to their societies. As citizens, their allegiance is to the societies where they live.
Despite the headlines about bombings, the real story of Islam today is the “silent revolution” going on among Muslims in the West, led substantially by women, who have committed themselves to democracy, freedom of conscience and worship, equal participation, diversity and the rule of law. They are both citizens of the West and look to Islam for their meaning in life.
This silent revolution is the real enemy of the London bombers. They want us to have a binary view of ourselves and the world. Refusing to accept this “us vs. them” worldview is their defeat.
NPQ | What do you imagine was the motivation of the London bombers? What made them cross over the line to become suicide bombers?
Ramadan | It remains a mystery, but there seem to be several elements. First is the personal aspect of thinking they are purifying themselves by killing their enemy. Second, the belief they are implementing a global ideology by taking on the main enemies of Islam, the US and some European societies that stand behind the dictatorships in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Third is their binary vision of a clash of civilizations, that they are white and everyone deemed “un-Islamic” is black.