Alan Wolfe on Tariq Ramadan; and a petition

Alan Wolfe is a professor at Boston College -- a centrist liberal whose politics might be described as something like "Democrats Wake Up!" Though he has at times been accused of wishy-washiness, I was happy to see him take a stand against the revocation of Tariq Ramadan's visa.

His editorial in the September 10, 2004 Chronicle is currently for subscribers only, but let me offer a couple of key quotes. First, Wolfe makes it clear that he isn't necessarily convinced by Ramadan's political arguments, and sees his approach to Islamic Ijtihad as more complex than simple progressivism. And Wolfe also takes issue with the article on French Jewish intellectuals Ramadan published in Oumma (linked in my previous post on Ramadan). Here is Wolfe on why Ramadan should be admitted despite his own ambivalence over the his (Ramadan's) views:

Ramadan may speak out of both sides of his mouth, but he U.S. government speaks out of only one -- the intolerant side. While Ramadan calls for multiple interpretations of the Koran, the Bush administration acts as if there is only one way to read Ramadan. Confronting Islamic fundamentalism with a Western version of the same thing hardly seems like the appropriate way to deal with a post-September 11 world. By denying Ramadan his visa, we have sent a message to the Muslim world that, for all our talk of bringing freedom there, we fear it here.

And here is Wolfe's summary of Ramadan's perspective on bringing reform to Islam:
Throughout much of its history, Islam has made a distinction between Dar al-Islam, a society in which Muslims are a majority and subject to Islamic law, and Dar al-Harb, the outside world about which Muslims must continuously be wary. Now that so many Muslims live in Europe and North America, it is time for them to recognize that Islam can flourish in the absence of an Islamic majority, Ramadan argues in Western Muslims and the Future of Islam (OUP: 2004). Muslims in the West must engage ijtihad, he says, defining it as a 'constant dynamic of adaptation in response to the time and the context.' While doing so, they should also strive to become full citizens of the countries in which they live, accepting their laws and participating in their political systems.

Ramadan's work defies religious and political labels. Although he has often been described as the Muslim Martin Luther, he never attacks Islam the way Luther attacked the papacy. He believes that many of the problems Westerners associate with Islam--a propensity toward violence, unfair treatment of women--are ethnic, not religious; get rid of the cultural practices associated with tribal and backward societies, and you will find Islam in its pure form. That side of Ramadan's work complicates the notion, frequently heard in the debates surrounding his ideas, that he is a 'moderate' or a 'modernizer.' Read one way, he seems to be a progressive critic of repressive regimes like the one in Saudi Arabia. Read another, he is defending the orthodox idea that there are not many Islams but only one, thereby questioning whether "so called sociological or cultural Muslims," as he characterizes those of a live-and-let-live disposition, are really legitimate believers.

This summary leaves me a little less than fully enthusiastic about Ramadan's ideas. In my view, the urgent need today is for protection against overbearing religious institutions and religio-political authority -- not clarification of what those institutions are.

But are his ideas really the issue in the revocation of his visa? No one really knows. Most people seem to be convinced that it has more to do with his lineage than his radical views.

More pieces by Alan Wolfe

This review of Samuel Huntington's book Who Are We? takes issue with Huntington's anti-immigrant stance. He is convincing in his questioning of Huntington's reliance on the myth of a founding "Anglo-Protestant" culture.

He's also got an interesting piece on the 'free' part of The Chronicle, where he takes issue with left-leaning humanities academia's obsession with the Nazi sympathizing philosopher Carl Schmitt.

And here is Michael Berube's criticism of Wolfe from a piece on his blog; scroll down. (Thanks to Michael for the tip on the piece in The Chronicle.)

After considering it for awhile, I've decided the decision to sign this petition on behalf of Tariq Ramadan.