||[Feb. 4th, 2007|08:22 pm]
a.d.h.d ramblings and obsessions
Olivier Roy, perhaps France’s greatest authority on Islam, says that the matter of respect, what he calls “the discourse of dignity,” is Ramadan’s greatest appeal to his followers. I asked Roy in a telephone interview recently who Ramadan’s main followers were. “Not the first generation of immigrants,” he replied, “and certainly not the fundamentalists. The poor in the French suburbs don’t care about him, either. He appeals to people of the second generation, who have a college or university education but do not feel fully integrated. They are the would-be middle class, and for them the discourse of respectability, of dignity, is very important.”
This strikes me as making sense, it is in reference to Tariq Ramadan, who is apparently trying to blend islam with european society and seems to argues that europe should accomodate the muslims rather then the other way around. He sounds like a charactor.
... I thought of Roy’s words as I walked through Brick Lane, in London’s East End, on the way to the mosque where I was to meet Ramadan one day in December. Brick Lane used to be a poor Jewish area, where refugees from Russian pogroms eked out a living in the Sunday markets, cheap clothing stores and kosher dining halls. Now the Jews have moved up and on, and the area has become “Bangla Town,” home to Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. Brick Lane itself is lined with curry restaurants and stores selling “Muslim fashion” — head scarves, burqas, men’s baggy pants, even “Halal cosmetics.” I was struck by the word “fashion.” It denotes choice, a matter of modern identity more than a tradition left behind in the villages of Pakistan or Bangladesh. The same stores sold audiocassettes of the kind used to promote Ramadan’s speeches: cassettes with such English titles as “Islam for Children” or “How to Live as a Muslim.”
This is the world in which Tariq Ramadan operates, an urban Western environment full of educated but frequently confused young Muslims eager to find attractive models they can identify with. I thought of the Somali-born Dutch activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, as charismatic in her way as Ramadan. Having had her fill of controversies in the Netherlands (she wrote the film “Submission,” which led to the murder of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist), she now works at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Her mission, too, is to spread universal values. She, too, speaks of reform. But she has renounced her belief in Islam. She says that Islam is backward and perverse. As a result, she has had more success with secular non-Muslims than with the kind of people who shop in Brick Lane.
Ramadan offers a different way, which insists that a reasoned but traditionalist approach to Islam offers values that are as universal as those of the European Enlightenment. From what I understand of Ramadan’s enterprise, these values are neither secular, nor always liberal, but they are not part of a holy war against Western democracy either. His politics offer an alternative to violence, which, in the end, is reason enough to engage with him, critically, but without fear.