Tariq Ramadan, controversial Swiss-Egyptian philosopher, talks with Amy Goodman and Anjali Kamat about some themes that I touched on in my review of Neil MacFarquhar’s book on the Middle East.
Here’s an excerpt, where Ramadan talks about the politicizing of Islam.
ANJALI KAMAT: Let’s go back to Egypt. Amy mentioned that you’re the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim—
TARIQ RAMADAN: She’s good, isn’t she?
ANJALI KAMAT: —the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. No rumor there. What’s your assessment of Islamist parties, in general, and their role in pushing for a more democratic process, in particular in Egypt, where they are trying to oppose the rule of President Mubarak?
TARIQ RAMADAN: You know, once again, Islamism is as diverse as Islam and Muslims. You cannot just, “Oh, Islamist means, you know, violent extremism.” This is superficial, wrong, and has nothing to do the scientific work of understanding what is happening. You have political Islam and the Islamist parties and trends that we have put into context.
For example, the Muslim Brotherhood. My grandfather founded the Muslim Brotherhood during the ‘20s, and then he was dealing with a specific context. He was, quietly, we don’t want the British colonization, we want to be autonomous. And for this, I would have supported this, by saying we don’t support colonization.
Now, the specific answer for a specific period of time is something that we have to take into account. So the first thing that we have to do is not to essentialize political Islam by saying they are all the same—that’s not true—or to say, oh, for example, these are the nice or the very beautiful face of something which is hidden behind, which is al-Qaeda or bin Laden. These are things that are very superficial and dangerous, because where are you going to put, for example, Erdogan today or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or other trends in Morocco? So we have to go case by case and understand what is happening first.
Every single movement is moving itself. Within history, you can see that they are moving, that they are changing their position. This is one thing. And then there are a diversity of strategies that they are using. So you may agree or not that Islam is a social reference or political reference, and I could be very critical towards this, but I’m not going to come with a very simplistic answer by saying, you know, this is all bad.
And still, in many countries, it’s not because of Islam or because of these Islamist parties that we have dictatorships, like, for example, Saddam Hussein or Hafez al-Assad or Mubarak today. They are people who are not advocating anything which has to do with Islam, but still they are dictators, and they are promoting dictatorships.
So I would go for more democratization in Muslim-majority countries and to let these parties be able to speak out, as long as they are not using violence and killing innocent people. If they are in the political process, let them be in, and we’ll see what is happening. It’s by challenging their ideas that we can change; it’s not by pushing them underground. And they then end up being violent or being supported because they are not accepted by the official political arena. I would say that this is the way forward for me. No simplification on this, because it’s not helping us at all.