This Week’s Column:

THE OTHER FACE OF TARIQ RAMADAN

... a MobyLives guest column

by BERNARD–HENRI LÉVY


Editor's note: The refusal of the U.S. State Department to allow Islamic scholar and writer Tariq Ramadan to enter the country to accept a position at Notre Dame University has made him a cause celebre amongst many American academics. (See, for example, this recent front page New York Times story.) But one aspect of Ramadan's career has not gotten much attention here — the charges of anti–Semitism leveled against him in Europe. The charges grew particularly heated late last fall when an article by Ramadan attacking France's leading Jewish intellectuals appeared on the Internet. One of those attacked was Melville House author Bernard–Henri Lévy, who is also the founder of SOS Racisme, an organization dedicated to fighting racism against African and Islamic immigrants to France. MobyLives asked him for his response to Ramadan's charges.

It had been circulating on the Internet for several days, in the context of the preparation talks for the European Social Forum that will be held in Paris and St. Denis in November, 2003 — in the context, that is, of the forum for open and free debate of the larger anti–globalist sphere—a stunning text by Tariq Ramadan, the Genevan imam who, in the last several years, has become one of the spokesmen for the most hardline European Islamists.

There one learns, for example, that the French intellectuals—Bernard Kouchner, André Glucksmann, Pascal Bruckner—who have supported the American war in Iraq, have dones so only as a function of "Israeli interests."

One discovers that the writer and editorialist Alexandre Adler, known to readers of Le Monde and Le Figaro for his independent spirit, only thinks or writes as a function of his sole guiding principle, "his attachment to Israel."

One discovers that the historian of racism, Pierre–André Taguleff, who is—one blushes to have to point out—not Jewish, is a representative, along with Alain Finkielkraut, of a group of "Jewish intellectuals" who have "up until now been considered universal thinkers" and whose "analysis" has become "more and more biased" by the interests of the "Jewish community."

And, as for me, I am stupefied to read, in this same text, that my recent "campaign against Pakistan," that seems to M. Ramadan "like an exit to nowhere and almost an anachronism," finds its true significance if one takes the trouble "to compare it with" the "historic visit" of Ariel Sharon to India, an enemy of Pakistan—I was stunned to see my year–long investigation into the death of Daniel Pearl, a martyr of freedom of the press beheaded by religious fanatics, reduced to the simplistic notion of a diplomatic mission by the head of a government with whom I have never ceased, here and elsewhere, to point out my many differences.

I will let pass the infamy of these claims which, under the guise of a principled defense of communal spirit, only resuscitates the good old theme of Jewish conspiracy: Lévy and Adler as secret ambassadors of Sharon . . . the "Protocol of the Elders of Zion" is not far behind.

I will let pass the case of Mr. Ramadan himself, this skillful intellectual, formed at the school of Muslim Brothers, but who had still been known, until now, in his public persona, to offer a smooth, conventional fašade; with this text, he lowers the mask, he disgraces himself.

The real problem is the place where this article, after having been refused by the majority of big national dailies, finally came to ground—the problem, it is the attitude of these anti-globalist who harbor on their website, willingly or not, a nauseating text without having, at the time of this writing, disavowed it in the least.

The libertarian reflex of people believing, as in "the good old days," that it is forbidden to forbid.

The hybrid status of these free speech websites which, because their contributions are un solicited, have, therefore, no right to denounce them?

Or better yet, their desire, old, like that of the extreme left, to not cut off a base of support—in this instance "the banlieues" [the Arab suburbs of Paris]—which sees Ramadan as one of its standard bearers.

All these explanations are possible.

But none, it must be said, makes silence acceptable.

There is no reason in this world, no reason of any kind, to make us forget that statements like this are not opinions but a call to hate, a crime.

I am not always in agreement, far from it, with MM. Gresh, Cassen or Bové. But I respect their fight. I recognize, despite our differences, their intellectual and moral honesty. If, under the pretext of not driving the new banlieue Islamists to despair, they support similar discussions; if, by the ruse of a tactical maneuver, they let it be thought for a single instant that what they are hearing is anti–Semitism, is just another way of supporting this revolting policy, then this would be disastrous, not only for them, but for all of us.

M. Ramadan, dear anti–globalist, is not, could not be, one of your own.

Anti–Semitisim, dear Gresh, Dear Bové, is not, can never become, this imbecilic socialism which, you know as well as I do, costs our elders so much.

It is perfectly normal that we do not always have the same opinion on this or that burning question. But there is a category of speech which, for everyone among us, must absolutely demarcate the threshold of the intolerable: it is the case of hate speech (it is for this reason that I have, on my side, immediately stigmatized Oriana Fallaci's book); it is, at the very least, the case of anti–Semitic speech (which is why I abjure you to distance yourself, quickly, from people who, by giving credence to the idea of an elite conspiracy at the command of Zionism, only adds fuel to the fire, and opens the way for the worst).

So goes your integrity.

So goes our shared democratic values.



Bernard–Henri Lévy is one of France's leading philosophers, writers, and documentary filmmakers, and one of the bestselling writers in Europe. Last fall, his Who Killed Daniel Pearl? also made American bestseller lists. His newest book in the U.S. is War, Evil, and the End of History.


©2004 Bernard–Henri LÚvy


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All material not otherwise attributed ©2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Dennis Loy Johnson.