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ND Community debates Tariq Ramadan

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The Department of Homeland Security’s de facto veto of Notre Dame’s appointment of the Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan to a chair in the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies is offensive, not least as a denial of academic freedom. This revocation of Ramadan’s work visa (initially approved last May by both the Departments of State and of Homeland Security) bears the imprint of a maneuver by those influential supporters of Israel’s right-wing government now ensconced in the Pentagon. These pro-Sharon, neo-con Likudniks have been at the center of the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

A close scrutiny of Tariq Ramadan’s work reveals an erudite, provocative scholar, one committed to the further evolution of Islam’s understanding of its revelation and religious practice. Moreover, he is concerned to facilitate the discussions that must ensue if Judaism, Christianity and Islam are to build mutual respect en route to developing some common ground – perhaps even an irenic witness to basic justice for our disastrously polarizing world.

At this particular moment in history, Notre Dame has no more important task than to facilitate an ecumenical process, an initiative of the sort called for in the documents of Vatican II but not vigorously pursued in its aftermath. The exclusion of Tariq Ramadan from our community must be contested as it thwarts the University’s independence in reaching out to leading scholars in Islam, as it has already reached out to Jewish intellectuals.

Furthermore, we must examine the tactics of Ramadan’s accusers. While they offer no evidence that he is a threat to US security, he is readily charged with being anti-Semitic – a tactic widely used in recent years by pro-Sharon elements in the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and those in the Pentagon who would intimidate and silence critics of the current government of Israel. This tactic is also used by other neo-con Likudniks, for example, Daniel Pipes, founder of Campus Watch which encourages students to report professors who contest Israel’s policies. In short, criticism of Israel is now being equated with anti-Semitism. (Ramadan’s offense, inter alia, was to have scolded French Jewish intellectuals for their silence on Israel’s murderous tactics in the Occupied Territories.) What is more, it is not only Muslim leaders and other non-Jewish opponents of Israel’s continued control and settlement of the Territories who are targeted in this manner. Jews in the peace movements who protest Sharon’s policies also find themselves smeared as anti-Semitic, “self-hating Jews.”

An essential part of Notre Dame’s mission at the beginning of the 21st century is to stand firm against such hateful attacks and persist in opening up a courageous ecumenical dialogue, one that respects the revelations of the three great monotheistic faiths and their common yearning for social justice.

Peter Walshe

Professor, Department of Political Science

Fellow, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies

Aug. 30