Saturday, June 16, 2007

Paul Berman on Tariq Ramadan: Part 10

Carl Heinrich Bloch, Sermon on the Mount, 19th c.
Calling for a Moratorium on Stoning?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Consider, if you will -- as Paul Berman does -- Tariq Ramadan's tragic position:
The problem lies in the terrible fact that Ramadan's personal milieu -- his grandfather, his family history, his family contacts, his intellectual tradition -- is precisely the milieu that bears the principal responsibility for generating the modern theoretical justification for religious suicide-terrorism. Yet what can Ramadan do about this horrific reality -- turn against his family? He is his family's prince. He has timidly offered jurisprudential proposals contrary to Qaradawi's; but Ramadan, unlike Qaradawi, is a university philosopher, a secular figure (in spite of everything), and not an authoritative theologian. Ramadan's opinions are opinions; Qaradawi's opinions are law. What is Ramadan to do, then? To challenge Qaradawi's authority would mean challenging the system of authority as a whole, which is something well beyond the salafi reformist idea. So Ramadan writes op-eds, which are not fatwas. And he devotes his life to burnishing the prestige of his father and grandfather and their works, and to promoting the cause of salafi reformism, which means promoting the authority of true and authentic Islamic scholars such as Qaradawi. ("The Islamist, the Journalist, and the Defense of Liberalism," page 45)
Such is the contradiction that is Ramadan, the contradiction between an intelligent, even intellectual man of perhaps humane, independent views and a pious Muslim man subjected to a fate over which he has no control, the fate of being Mr. Tariq Ramadan, grandson of Hassan al-Banna, son of Said Ramadan, brother of Hani Ramadan.

All three of these close relatives have favored, for example, stoning women to death for adultery. Tariq's brother Hani has explicitly supported stoning. What is Tariq Ramadan's position? We already know. He has called for a moratorium. Or perhaps "called for" is a bit too strong. In a debate with Sarkozy, he found himself forced into the uncomfortable distinguishing his views from his brother Hani and felt constrained to offer words in favor of that already mentioned moratorium.

Berman takes Aziz Zemouri's book, Should Tariq Ramadan Be Silenced?, and draws upon its transcript of that exchange in this famous debate at the very moment that Ramadan has just suggested a moratorium on the stoning of women:
SARKOZY: A moratorium.... Mr. Ramadan, are you serious?

RAMADAN: Wait, let me finish.

SARKOZY: A moratorium, that is to say, we should, for a while, hold back from stoning women?

RAMADAN: No, no, wait.... What does a moratorium mean? A moratorium would mean that we absolutely end the application of all of those penalties, in order to have a true debate. And my position is that if we arrive at a consensus among Muslims, it will necessarily end. But you cannot, you know, when you are in a community.... Today on television, I can please the French people who are watching by saying, "Me, my own position." But my own position doesn't count. What matters is to bring about an evolution in Muslim mentalities, Mr. Sarkozy. It's necessary that you understand....

SARKOZY: But, Mr. Ramadan....

RAMADAN: Let me finish.

SARKOZY: Just one point. I understand you, but Muslims are human beings who live in 2003 in France, since we are speaking about the French community, and you have just said something particularly incredible, which is that the stoning of women, yes, the stoning is a bit shocking, but we should simply declare a moratorium, and then we are going to think about it in order to decide if it is good.... But that's monstrous -- to stone a woman because she is an adulterer! It's necessary to condemn it!

RAMADAN: Mr. Sarkozy, listen well to what I am saying. What I say, my own position, is that the law is not applicable -- that's clear. But today, I speak to Muslims around the world and I take part, even in the United States, in the Muslim world.... You should have a pedagogical posture that makes people discuss things. You can decide all by yourself to be a progressive in the communities. That's too easy. Today my position is, that is to say, "We should stop."

SARKOZY: Mr. Ramadan, if it is regressive not to want to stone women, I avow that I am a regressive. ("The Islamist, the Journalist, and the Defense of Liberalism," pages 50-51)
Of this exchange, Berman observes:
Some six million French people watched that exchange. A huge number of Muslim immigrants must have been among them -- the very people who might have benefited from hearing someone speak with absolute clarity about violence against women. Ramadan couldn't do it. Here was his Qutbian moment, the moment of frisson. The seventh century had suddenly appeared, poking out from beneath the modern rhetoric of feminism and rights. A moment of barbarism. A thrill. The whole panorama of Muslim women suddenly deployed across the television screens of France -- the panorama of violence that is condoned, sanctified, and even mandated by the highest authorities. And here was Sarkozy, recoiling in horror: the bourgeoisie, shocked at last. ("The Islamist, the Journalist, and the Defense of Liberalism," page 51)
Such is Berman's view, but let us here recall that Ramadan is a tragic figure, which is to say, he is a man constrained by fate, his fate of being Tariq Ramadan, grandson of Hassan al-Banna, son of Said Ramadan, and, yes, brother of Hani Ramadan. What more could he do than suggest a moratorium? He could not simply state outright that stoning is wrong. That would contradict his salafi principles. The Qur'an itself may say nothing about stoning, but the hadith assuredly do and shariah mandates it. About stoning, Sarkozy may insist, "It's necessary to condemn it!" but Ramadan has no such luxury.

The Christian world, which perhaps includes 'post-Christian' Europe, can easily speak out against stoning by citing the words of Jesus in John 8:1-11:
[1] Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. [2] And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. [3] And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, [4] They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. [5] Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? [6] This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. [7] So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. [8] And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. [9] And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. [10] When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? [11] She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. (King James Version)
That seems simple enough. Stoning is wrong, for Jesus said so. But things are not so simple. Aside from the somewhat troubling point that this passage in John 8 does not always appear in the ancient manuscripts of John 8 but sometimes elsewhere in John and in some Johannine texts not at all, Jesus himself does not in this passage speak out explicitly against stoning. Confronted by the Pharisees, who insist upon a religious opinion concerning the Mosaic law's penalty of stoning for adultery, Jesus evades answering directly. Rather than confirm or reject the Mosaic law upon this point, Jesus turns the issue upon those confronting him with the question by confronting them with a question, in effect asking them, "Which of you is worthy to judge?"

One might say that Jesus was calling for a moratorium while we determine the answer to that question, somewhat as Ramadan could be doing, namely, calling for a moratorium while Muslims determine whether the Ummah is pure enough to enact the laws of Allah. And what of Sarkozy himself? He considers himself Catholic. The Church is, of course, against stoning ... but why? Is it wrong? Well, it didn't use to be wrong, back when Moses revealed the divine will, but it's 'wrong' now, though only because God instituted a new covenant. Well, thank God for that!

Unfortunately for Muslims, Allah returned them to an older covenant, an even harsher one with its strict, punitive laws of huddud. Ramadan, despite his moderation, cannot simply condemn these laws outright. At best, he can only ask for their suspension. Such is my tentative, generous view of Ramadan, but what does this bode for a European Islam if its outspoken spokesman cannot offer more than a moratorium?

What it bodes is not good.

Suppose such a moratorium were declared. How might pious Muslims see this? A moratorium could be either temporary or permanent. If the former, then we would soon be returned to the current, unbearable circumstances in which Muslims cannot openly oppose stoning. If the latter, then the entire apparatus of shariah would be called into question, for why shouldn't all of Muslim law be under a permanent moratorium, and in that case, with no Muslim submitting to Allah's laws, what could "Islam" -- the religion of submission to Allah -- possibly mean?

The best that the tragic Ramadan can offer would mean either nothing at all . . . or the death of Islam.

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At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read the book and came away with the same feeling regarding Ramadan. Sarkozy was asking him to reject the teachings of his faith on a television show. By the same token i wish he had somehow showed more courage. I dont know how, but i wish he had found a way.

At 6:14 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think Ramadan's way was the moratorium . . . which satisfies no one.

Thanks for the comment.

Jeffery Hodges

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