Thursday, August 13, 2009

Christopher Caldwell: On Tariq Ramadan's "Resistance"

Tariq Ramadan
(Image from

I've previously tried to figure out what the Swiss Islamic thinker Tariq Ramadan truly stands for since one hears all sorts of things about him, and Christopher Caldwell offers an intriguing suggestion in Reflections of the Revolution in Europe:
The word resistance is the master key to Ramadan's thinking. It is the foundation of everything else about Ramadan that can be understood doubly. The word appears almost constantly in all of Ramadan's most important writings and speeches. He notes that "in my family, resistance was a key concept, resistance against dictatorship or colonialism." Resist is not a democratic verb, in the way that reform or dissent or oppose is. It is a revolutionary verb. Resistance is what one offers against a system that has no legitimacy whatsoever behind it. The French reformed their constitutional order in 1958; they resisted the Nazis after 1942 . . . . Contemporary Europeans, unable to conceive of themselves as thoroughly without legitimacy in anyone's eyes, have chosen to believe that when Ramadan speaks of "resistance," and calls on Muslims everywhere to wage it, he really means "reform." He does not. He means jihad. (pages 294-295)
The question that arises, however, is whether Ramadan means the inner jihad of moral spiritual struggle or the outer jihad of Islamist holy war. Or is this the question? Caldwell says no, that the question isn't either-or. It's both. He argues that Ramadan means what his grandfather Hassan al-Banna, the Islamist thinker, meant, that "mental resistance (conscience) and political resistance (revolution) are simply different ways of describing the same coherent process" (page 297).

How does Caldwell know what Ramadan means? Caldwell says that he knows because he draws upon "the writings of al-Banna that Ramadan himself has cited in his own work" (page 297). Unfortunately, other than offering a few notes on pages 395-396, Caldwell does not provide the full citations (including quotes) that would enable me to make my own evaluation, and this is a weakness to Caldwell's entire book. It is full of compelling analyses and interesting opinions, but it is essentially a work of intelligent, informed journalism.

I am, nevertheless, learning a good deal from reading it.

Labels: , , , , ,


At 1:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Strange as it may seem, given the proliferation of Islamic scholars living in (off?) the West, the BBC decides to choose Mr Ramadan to give the Islamic reason as to why God exists? A chance for Mr R to appear amongst such moderate voices as Archbishop Nicholls and 'Dr' Williams.

Curioser, and curioser.

At 5:10 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I didn't realize this. Has it already been done? On television . . . or in print?

The choice of Ramadan strikes me as a bit odd. I wasn't aware that he is an expert on Islamic philosophy, which is where I presume that one would find the Islamic arguments.

As you say, curiouser and curiouser. We really are in wonderland.

Thanks for visiting.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home