Saturday 10 April 2010

US ban on Tariq Ramadan lifted

Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss-Egyptian Muslim publicist and academic who was banned from entering the United States for six years has made his first visit to the United States since 2004. In that year Ramadan had accepted a job to become a tenured professor at the University of Notre Dame, but nine days before he was set to arrive, the Bush administration revoked his visa,invoking a provision of the PATRIOT Act. Now the Obama administration has reversed this as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lifted the travel ban earlier this year. This week, Ramadan arrived in New York for a visit and media appearances.

Initially the media did not give it very much coverage. According to The New Yorker's George Packer who hosted Ramadan during a discussion in Greenwich Village the only other print medium to pay attention to the event was the Jewish periodical Tablet. In his own blog, Packer showed himself a critical observer, as noted how Ramadan struggled to establish a rapport with the audience:

Ramadan seemed wrong-footed in those opening remarks. He didn’t have a sense of where he was, of his American audience. It was as if he were speaking to disaffected young second-generation immigrants in a working-class mosque in Lille or Leicester, which is how he spends much of his time. Multiple identities, the value of diversity—not exactly news in this city, in this country. Many of his sentences amounted to buzz words strung together, without reaching a point. It seemed a missed opportunity: his first address in America since becoming an international figure, and he hadn’t prepared, hadn’t thought it through.

Even more significant is his assessment that Ramadan is 'not a philosopher, or an original thinker', but that he has only been cast in that role 'by recent historical crises and his own ambition'. In Packer's view, Ramadan's positions on most issues are those of 'garden-variety European leftism', while he tries to act as a 'reconciler' when it comes to the place of Islam in the West. Although admitting that here Ramadan is at his best, Packer maintains that: 'I don’t think this calling leaves him with very much to say to audiences here. An American Tariq Ramadan would likelier be talking to groups of young blacks or Hispanics.'

Contrary to many critics who have accused Ramadan of being double-tongued or two-faced, Packer thinks
he 'has no hidden agenda, he’s an open book, and it’s essentially moderate'. However, he found Ramadan much less forthcoming about the tensions between an open society and Islamic revivalism, conjecturing that in this respect Ramadan is hampered by his pedigree, accusing his maternal grandfather, Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna, of holding totalitarian and anti-Semitic views. On these grounds he concluded that Ramadan was 'building a worthy bridge on a rotten foundation'.

For an extensive TV interview on the Democracy Now! programme, click here