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The Sun and the terrorists: an unholy alliance

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The worst that can happen to a democratic society is to see its citizens being transformed to passive victims paralysed by fear. The proponents of the global clash of civilisations theory shall win if we accept to be individually colonised by emotional caricatures and suspicion towards people of other faiths and cultures.               

- Tariq Ramadan, 9 July 2005-



In a move that appears designed to stir up Islamophobia, The Sun newspaper yesterday launched a front page attack on Professor Tariq Ramadan, an internationally respected progressive Muslim scholar.


The Sun’s leader column claims that Ramadan is ‘more dangerous’ than extremist clerics Abu Hamza or Omar Bakri because ‘he is a soft-spoken professor whose moderate tones present an acceptable, “reasonable” face of terror to impressionable young Muslims.’


This shows a dangerous inability to distinguish between the progressive Islam promoted by Ramadan, a best-selling author whose work focuses on the compatibility of European and Muslim principles, and the proponents of the terrorist attacks on London. Ramadan himself unreservedly condemned the London bombings in a statement on 7 July, stating that ‘The authors of such acts are criminals and we cannot accept or listen to their probable justifications in the name of an ideology, a religion or a political cause.’


The Sun’s attack on Tariq Ramadan repeats the Islamophobic myth that even moderate Muslims are extremists in disguise. To repeat uncritically a series of unfounded claims made by neoconservative commentators would be irresponsible journalism at any time. But at a time when Britain’s Muslims are facing increasing numbers of racist attacks, it reads like an incitement to violence. 


‘An oft-repeated truth’


Ramadan is no stranger to smear campaigns against him, which directly contributed to the revocation of his US visa shortly before he was due to take up a position as Professor of Islamic Studies and ‘Luce’ Professor in charge of the ‘Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding’ programme at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana last August.


That move provoked outrage amongst academics, with the American Association of University Professors condemning it as ‘manifestly at odds with our society’s respect for academic freedom’ and others claiming that the case exhumed the ghost of McCarthyism.


Ramadan’s exclusion also drew criticism from Muslim community leaders: ‘it sends the disturbing message that even moderate and mainstream Muslims will now be treated like terrorists,’ said Nihad Aawa, Executive Director of the Council for American Islamic Relations


Writing in The Guardian last August, Tariq Ramadan responded to the news of having his US visa revoked by analysing how unfounded allegations gain the status of ‘truth’:


‘Over the years, I also learned that in the world of mass media, “truth” is not based on clarity, but on frequency. Repeated hypotheses or suspicions become truth; a three-time-repeated assumption imperceptibly becomes a fact. … When I ask about the source of this information, the response is: this is well known, check the internet. A closer examination reveals that what we have is journalists or intellectuals repeating and reporting what others said yesterday with caveats. Strange truth indeed!’


These words look prophetic when read alongside yesterday’s Sun, which dedicates its whole front page, a two-page spread, a leader article and the Richard Littlejohn comment piece to the story that Ramadan – who has lectured to audiences of world leaders, academics and fellow Muslims around the globe – is to speak at the ‘Middle Path’ conference in London on 24 July, an event partly funded by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and the Metropolitan Police.


The neo-con connection


Most of the claims made against Ramadan in The Sun, and repeated in its Murdoch-owned stable mate The Times, appear to have been cut and pasted from an article written last year by neoconservative US commentator Daniel Pipes. And the paper’s reliance on self-appointed ‘experts’ does not stop here.


‘Terrorism expert Steven Emerson says: “The telegenic, soft-spoken and charming professor is just the modern, westernised face of the same enemy that wears a different mask on other battlefields’,” according to The Sun. But the paper does not report that Emerson (a friend of Pipes) is a discredited source who’s 1994 US television documentary ‘Jihad in America’ was widely denounced for its Islamophobic content, or that the same commentator claimed that the 1995 Oklahoma bombing showed ‘a Middle Eastern trait’ because it ‘was done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible’ (CBS News, 19 April 1995).


Further column inches are given to The Sun’s own neocon Islamophobe Richard Littlejohn, who duly denounces Ramadan as a ‘fanatic’. Yet all his ‘You couldn’t make it up’ ranting can’t hide the fact that the allegations made against Ramadan are based on ideologically-motivated inventions and distortions.


Take, for example, The Sun’s front page headline that Professor Ramadan is ‘banned in France for links to terrorists.’ This is simply untrue, as Ramadan has a flat and a permanent office in Saint Denis, Paris. The basis for the claim arises from the fact that he was briefly barred from entering France in 1996, but no reason was ever given for this and the ban was quickly overturned after it was revealed to be a case of mistaken identity.


The Sun also claims that ‘Ramadan denies that there is any proof that Osama bin Laden – said to have studied with his dad Said – master-minded the 9/11 slaughter.’ In fact, Ramadan immediately condemned the 9/11 attacks in the strongest terms, and there is no evidence that Ramadan or his father ever met bin Laden.


Most damningly, The Sun claims on its opening page that Ramadan is ‘An Islamic academic who says suicide bombings are justified’, a claim repeated in a Times article headed ‘Police fund visit by academic who justifies suicide bombings’.


Yet the only evidence offered for this is an unattributed comment on Palestine that directly contradicts Ramadan’s own published views, which he repeated today:


‘I never justified suicide bombings. My statements were always explicit. To kill innocent people is to be condemned. I have been going on repeating that we must understand and analyze the political contexts and environment in order to understand why people are using these ways to resist. For more than 40 years, the Palestinians have not used suicide bombings and they started to do so in 1994. Why? It was three years after the Barcelona agreement, one year after Oslo and just after the massacre in Hebron. They then had the feeling that they were lost, isolated and forgotten by the world. Suicide bombings started after this series of events. One can explain why it happened; it does not mean that one is justifying it. To explain is not to justify. This is my stand, this has always been my stand.’


I could go on, but it seems unnecessary when Ramadan himself has previously issued a point-by-point rebuttal to all of the allegations repeated in The Sun and Times when responding to Daniel Pipes.


Stirring up the clash of civilisations


There is a wider issue at stake here, however. In attacking a leading progressive Muslim scholar, The Sun is promoting Islamophobia more widely. That is why anti-racist campaigners were quick to condemn The Sun’s coverage. As Ruhul Tarafder of The 1990 Trust puts it:


The Sun’s sensationalist, disgraceful and irresponsible front-page story is simply an attempt to fuel Islamaphobia. Tariq Ramadan is a highly respected moderate Muslim scholar and was one of the first to condemn the London bombings, as he has condemned previous outrages. This demonisation does nothing but promote hostility towards Muslim communities. At a time of high emotions and the need for strength and unity between all faiths and communities, the inaccuracies and lies in this account only seek to encourage divisions. The Sun should issue an immediate apology to both Tariq Ramadan and the Muslim community.’


Since these words were spoken and in the time that I have been writing this article, strong evidence has emerged that the London bombers were young British Muslims. According to The Sun’s logic, this will no doubt make Ramadan’s visit all the more controversial, as it continues to deploy the rhetoric of Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson and Fouad Ajami (who claims that Ramadan’s “moderate face hides his radical heart” ) to attack him as a Muslim wolf in sheep’s clothing.


This is a particularly dangerous kind of nonsense. It sends out the message that Islam and terrorism are intrinsically connected, by perpetuating the racist myth that extremism is lurks behind the moderate façade.


For such commentators, what is threatening about Ramadan is precisely the fact that he doesn’t fit the ‘extremist’ caricature. His very presence is an affront to the belief that a clash of civilisations is just around the corner, because his work expresses the strong commonalities between European and Islamic principles, and invites European Muslims to embrace their connections with the society in which they live without giving up on their faith identity. Moreover, he does this by offering a vision of social justice that moves beyond the perspective of religious ‘minorities’ to argue that Muslim values can contribute to the construction of universal values of social justice – and so help breach the divide that a culture of terror widens to an insurmountable chasm.


The events of the last week make this message more relevant than ever, since Ramadan’s approach represents an articulate political and theological response to the literalists who would claim that British and Muslim values are incompatible. And it does so in a voice that neither requires an impossible or secularist compromise, whereby the only ‘good’ Muslim is one who has effectively given up her or his faith, nor ignores the social injustices that lie at the root of alienation within our society.


It may be impossible to ever full understand what motivated the London bombers, but the effect that they sought – to divide society and to spread fear – is more easily discerned. The Sun’s reporting on Tariq Ramadan highlights the risk that the media will regard British Muslims with caution and suspicion, a sure way to close off the path to mutual understanding. For if we make mistrust the basis of our exchanges then we are doing the terrorists’ work for them. 


10 commentaires - “The Sun and the terrorists: an unholy alliance”

  1. How very peculiar that Trevor Kavanagh the political editor of the SUN Newspaper should claim: “Tariq Ramadan wants people to have their hands chopped off”!! when indeed the opposite is VERY true, and there is plenty of hard evidence to support this including a petition that’s currently available on the internet.

    Clearly Trevor Kavanagh and other champions of neocon propaganda have made their minds up to persecute Prof. Ramadan no matter what and no amount of hard evidence is going to get in their way either.

    1. The United Kingdom has libel laws. If the the Sun is lying, and I’m sure they are, all Tariq Ramadan has to do is take them to court and sue them. That is the only language they understand. They should then be forced to apologise, and allow him to explain on their front page.

  2. Salam Alaykoum,

    The Sun (the Dark is better) is behaving towards Tariq in the same manner as the US/UK/EU/UN governments are behaving towards the people of Iraq, Iran, Syria,… the same manner as Israël/US are behaving towards the people of Palestine: Vision building although we are more in the implementation phase. No matter what Tariq says, he is a Muslim. The Brand “Muslim” needs to be attacked anyway.
    Tariq has condemned the London bombing and he is treated the same way as the vital resource of Muslims since more then 50 years and more.
    The information society has rules and those are converging towards injustice as the industrial society is.
    Sometimes it is better to step back rather then issuing memo’s with no material then the vision implemented by the media and the Western countries.
    It could be also a pure business article as confrontation drives business, the same way as military equipment drives the industrial society.
    One can propose another vision but one has to realize the importance of planning in the information society. In the engineering world, we say that sometimes it is better to be integrator then differentiator. Maybe humans function the same way. In that case Tariq is wrong and the Sun is right from a business point of view and business is what drives the world’s decisions processes. At the end, the turn over of confrontation is higher then the one of convergence and that is the tactic for the global US/UN/UK/EU strategy.
    I think Tariq should also understand the business aspects of its combat because that’s the language US/UN/UK/EU uses.

    Salam Alaykoum

  3. Der Dr. Ramadan:

    I believe people like you and Mordecai Vanunu are the real Truth Tellers.

    Of course they fear you the most because you speak the Truth:

    > This shows a dangerous inability
    > to distinguish between
    > the progressive Islam … whose
    > work focuses on the compatibility
    > of European and Muslim principles

    > The Sun’s attack … repeats
    > the Islamophobic myth that even
    > moderate Muslims are extremists
    > in disguise …

    I am an American who was raised in the Christian tradition. I really do believe that progressive Islam today is more compatible with European principles than Christianity as it is now practiced.

    After the 9/11 attacks, and with the onset of government sponsored “Islamaphobia”, a large number of Americans converted to Islam.

    Just recently an American Muslin organization offered free copies of the Qu’arn.

    Even the mainstream media was forced to print the story: The American Muslim organization was inundated with requests for copies.


    Carol A. Carlisle

  4. The cantors of “Clash Of civilisations“ theory will use those terrorist acts to spread, more and more, fear and misunderstanding. Their way, is redundant broadcasting lies, largely, in mass media. But I think we should not worry about, people become, progressively aware and conscious of their devilish and unfair game. As muslim people, our task will be, of course, te denonciate terrorism and to show, concretely, our peaceful nature. As for the perfect way to know truths and one each other, I think, we should, boycott those mass media and try to get information by reading and asking. Fortunately, numerous thinkers and journalists are respecting their work by making enough effort to get truth and to spread It as it is.

    The struggle will be long and tiring, but with deep trust and serious and sincere work the truth will shine and the unfair people will be denounciated, If God Wills.

  5. The Charlatans who came up with the ‘Clash of Civilisations’ “thesis” cannot accept that Prof. Ramadan is debunking their myth, and worse still, that ordinary people, intellectuals and self-respecting journalists agree with him and support his philosophy.

    The smear campaign against Prof. Ramadan may have had a teeny bit of success in the U.S and France but will not work in the U.K where people are a lot more independent-minded and prefer to make their own judgment about people based on facts.

  6. I just wanted to say it was fantastic to see Michael White, the highly respected political editor of the Guardian Newspaper, point out to the trashy tabloids that by attacking Tariq Ramadan, they sure got the wrong guy. They had absolutely nothing to say for themselves and their sorry behaviour. This was on last Saturday’s ‘Straight Talk’ programme on BBC 24 chaired by the BBC Chief Political Correspondent James Landale Sat 16 Jul, 9:30 pm – 10:00 pm

  7. Dear Prof. Ramadan,

    Assalam aleikum,

    According to The Muslim News, a London Newspaper, “The British government will organise a congregation of Muslim scholars in London to get a consensus decree against terrorism” and has ordered its diplomats in Muslim countries to forward names of reputed moderate scholars and clerics.

    Could this mean that you will not be included since Switzerland is not a Muslim country? If this happens I shall be ever so upset. When will our government wake up to the fact that there are those of us who look to European Muslim scholars such as yourself, Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad and Dr.Mustapha Ceric for authority.

    There are a lot of us British Muslims with no links to the subcontinent or the Middle East. We are Black British, African British, White British, Asians from the Far East, reverts/converts and many others. We do not really see why our government should only invite scholars from Pakistan and the Middle East. Are we a forgotten minority within British Muslim communities.

    I realise I should be addressing myself to my MP or perhaps the MCB and will do so later.



  8. A lot of us British Muslims are now very concerned about various developments taking place following the July 7 bombings in London.

    Initially a lot of us felt very encouraged by the talk of a dialogue between Muslim leaders and the government, but this is now beginning to look very suspect with the Guardian reporting that “Ministers now want leading Muslims to challenge those who argue that the west’s foreign policy justifies suicide bombing or terrorist reprisals”. Am afraid this is no longer sounding like the promised dialogue, for although no Muslim will ever argue that foreign policy justifies suicide bombing or terrorist reprisals, it is nonetheless to be hoped that foreign policy will be reviewed as it contributes very much to the bigger picture. Those that are arguing it doesn’t are doing so in bad faith.

    But perhaps the most worrying development to come out of this whole thing is the assembling of Muslim Scholars from overseas to work on a ‘permanent basis’ with the government: those taking part had better be very, very careful not to recreate a Saudi style system of Ulama in the U.K whose sole purpose is to rubber stamp U.K foreign policy, with the intention of gagging any protests from the U.K Muslim community, a lot of young people could end up in prison under these draconian laws just for coming out in the streets to protest.

    The U.K is a democracy, it’s not Pakistan, it is not Egypt, and it most certainly isn’t Saudi Arabia, that’s why it doesn’t make a lot of sense to invite Muslim Scholars from there when we already have European Scholars who understand European culture and know how the democratic system that we have here works.

  9. July 18, 2005

    The Guardian Unlimited
    Polly Curtis, Education Correspondent
    Hugh Muir, Correspondent

    Dear Ms. Curtis and Mr. Muir,

    This letter is in response to your articles published in the Guardian on July 12th, 2005, “Row Brewing over Muslim Academic’s conference Call” and on July 13th, Muslim Scholar to Press on with lectures.” As we have learned, this event The Middle Path conference on July 24th is being partly funded by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and the Metropolitan Police.

    Your article was of particular interest to us as we, the Ottawa Police and our main partners, Muslim Presence/Présence Musulmane have been working with Dr. Ramadan since July 2001 to build bridges and create a positive dialogue in Ottawa, Canada.

    Most recently in February 2005, Muslim Presence/Présence Musulmane Ottawa, in partnership with the Ottawa Police Service hosted the following event: Building Upon Our Shared Experiences Post 9-11: Strategies for Working With the Muslim Community with Dr. Tariq Ramadan as our keynote speaker.

    This event provided an opportunity for over 200 people to raise questions and participate in a dialogue with Dr. Ramadan, Ottawa Police, service providers, policy makers and members of the Muslim community. It was geared towards those who accept the challenges of the “vivre-ensemble” and raised the fundamental questions of how Muslims can fully participate in the civic life of Canadian society while remaining faithful to their principles and how to how to face up to the ignorance and reject the clichés and prejudice that surround Islam.

    In a press release associated with this event, Ottawa Police Deputy Chief stated “Our goal in co-sponsoring the event with Muslim Presence Ottawa has been to have dialogue, discussion, and promote respect for diversity. If we can discuss frankly, openly and honestly our challenges – it is clear that our city, our nation’s capital, will continue to be a model for affirming and celebrating diversity in our people, our ideas and our experiences.”

    Based on our experience, we fully support Dr. Ramadan’s participation in events such as the Middle Path Conference and believe that Dr. Ramadan will play an important role in contributing to lasting and demanding dialogue, respect for diversity and the expression of common values.


    David Pepper, Director of Community Development
    Ottawa Police Service

    Shelina Merani, Muslim Presence, Présence Musulmane

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