Ramadan’s Arab Awakening

A mangled version of this review appeared in the Independent.

What is happening in the Middle East? Tariq Ramadan, one of the foremost Muslim intellectuals, calls the contemporary events ‘uprisings’, more concrete and permanent in their effect than ‘revolts’ but still short of thoroughgoing ‘revolutions’. So far, Tunisia is the only clear democratising success, and even there it remains unclear if the new dispensation will be fundamentally more just economically than the last.

Half of this slim volume is spent examining whether the uprisings were staged or spontaneous. Ramadan counsels against both the naive view that outside powers are passive observers of events, and the contrary belief that Arab revolutionaries have been mere pawns or useful idiots in the hands of cunning foreign players.

Certainly the US and its allies helped to guide events by collaborating with the military hierarchies which removed presidents in Tunisia and Egypt, and by full-scale intervention in Libya – this for a variety of obvious reasons. An agreement signed by Libya’s NTC in March last year, for instance, guaranteed France 35% of future oil exports.

There’s been Gulf and Western hypocrisy over Bahrain, home to Formula One and the US Fifth Fleet, and al-Jazeera’s coverage has been tailored to reflect its Qatari host’s strategic concerns.

Then, less convincingly, the social media conspiracy: trainees from 37 countries learned non-violent cyberactivism in Serbia. Google, Twitter and Yahoo offered training in the US. Google provided satellite access codes to Egyptian activists so they could evade censorship, but not to their Syrian counterparts.

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Humanitarian Intervention and Neo-Orientalism

A panel discussion featuring Tariq Ramadan, Glenn Greenwald, M. Cherif Bassiouni, and Jennifer Pitts, hosted by Muslim Students Association at the University of Chicago and produced by the Chicago Multimedia Initiatives Group (CMIG).

The uprisings of the Arab Spring, and the prolonged nature of the internal conflicts in Libya and Syria, have once again sparked debate over the status of international law and the use of military intervention to enforce human rights. However, the discourse over humanitarian intervention has often overlooked the more unsavory aspects of liberal thought and Western power politics. This panel will explore the fundamental problems concerning Neo-Liberalism and its connections to the development of Neo-Orientalist thought.

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Zizek and Ramadan on future of Egypt

Zizek is in fine form on the Riz Khan Show. In a recent op-ed he noted that

the most shameful and dangerously opportunistic reaction was that of Tony Blair as reported on CNN: change is necessary, but it should be a stable change. Stable change in Egypt today can mean only a compromise with the Mubarak forces by way of slightly enlarging the ruling circle. This is why to talk about peaceful transition now is an obscenity: by squashing the opposition, Mubarak himself made this impossible. After Mubarak sent the army against the protesters, the choice became clear: either a cosmetic change in which something changes so that everything stays the same, or a true break.

The revolutionary chants on the streets of Egypt have resonated around the world, but with a popular uprising without a clear direction and an unpopular leader refusing to concede, Egypt’s future hangs in the balance. Riz Khan talks to Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek about the power of popular dissent, the limits of peaceful protest and the future of Egyptian politics.

Principle and Park51: Tariq Ramadan vs Leon Wieseltier

Here are two statements about the proposed Islamic Center in Manhattan — the so called ‘Ground Zero Mosque.’ One by The New Republic‘s literary editor and pro-Israel partisan Leon Wieseltier, the other by noted Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan. I leave it to the readers to guess which statement was made by whom.

  1. “The challenge for Muslims in America is to respect the fears of ordinary people while resisting the exploitation of those fears by political parties, lobbies and sectors of the media. To meet this challenge, Muslims must reassess their own involvement, behavior and contributions in American society…Life is not only about rights to be claimed but also about collective sensibilities to be felt. It is possible to protect one’s rights while at the same time acknowledging and understanding the concerns of others…No doubt, it is the legitimate right of Muslims to build a community center near Ground Zero. Yet, I believe it is not a wise decision, considering the collective sensitivities in American society. This is a moment to go beyond rights and reach for the common good: To build it elsewhere, if possible, would be a sensible and symbolic move.”
  2. “It is odd to see conservatives suddenly espouse the moral superiority of victimhood, as it is odd to see them suddenly find an exception to their expansive view of religious freedom. Everybody has their preferred insensitivities. In matters of principle, moreover, polling is beside the point, or an alibi for the tyranny of the majority, or an invitation to demagogues to make divisiveness into a strategy, so that their targets come to seem like they are the ones standing in the way of social peace, and the “decent” thing is for them to fold. Why doesn’t Rauf just move the mosque? That would bring the ugliness to an end. But why don’t Palin and Gingrich just shut up? That, too, would bring the ugliness to an end.”

Well?

Let me assist. The first statement, telling Muslims to ‘respect’ fear and ignorance, is Ramadan’s; the second, speaking of inviolable principles, is Wieseltier’s. Ramadan’s principles are evidently more flexible. Muslims must apparently learn to live in a manner which accommodates Pamela Geller‘s prejudices.