Tariq Ramadan, the "Chicago Tribune," and Me
by Daniel Pipes
My initial impression of the Swiss scholar, Tariq Ramadan, was a good one, as indicated by a positive review in the Middle East Quarterly of To Be a European Muslim: A Study of Islamic Sources in the European Context. But I watched with dismay as the revelations about Ramadan came out in late 2003 and by the time the New York Sun broke the story of his appointment at Indiana's University of Notre Dame in January 2004, I was distinctly unenthusiastic, commenting that "Once again we see that the leftward leaning academy and in particular the Kroc Institute [at Notre Dame] has a soft spot for militant Islamic figures. Given what we are now learning about him, it would appear like others, he is playing a double game of hiding an Islamist agenda."
That was that until the Chicago Tribune broke the story last week that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revoked Ramadan's work visa to enter the United States, and the article quotes me worrying that Ramadan "is engaged in a complex game of appearing as a moderate but has connections to Al Qaeda." My statement was quoted in many places, including the front page of Le Monde. A follow-up article in the Tribune again quoted me.
Then, what really caught my attention was when SwissInfo ran a story in which Ramadan suggested that I was a reason why his visa had been revoked. That's not the case (his coming to Notre Dame was not an issue I took interest in other than responding to an occasional request from a journalist for a quote) but this allegation then started making the rounds. For example, the Beirut daily Al-Mustaqbal reported that Radwan al-Sayyed, a scholar of Islam, repeated Ramadan's allegation regarding my role.
This prompted me to take a closer look at Ramadan's record and why the DHS might have decided to exclude him. The results were published first in my New York Sun column, then (in a slightly enlarged version) in the Chicago Tribune.
Today, the Chicago Tribune comes back with a double riposte, notably a full-blown reply by Ramadan to me "Scholar under siege defends his record: Tariq Ramadan responds point by point to the `unfounded allegations' of a critic," and a house editorial coming out in his favor, "A Muslim scholar's exclusion." Ramadan uses the opportunity to float his usual excuses for the pattern of extremism that follows him like a cloud. The editorial misses the point; somehow, when it comes to academics like Ramadan and Sami Al-Arian, too many observers don't understand that the topic is terrorism, not freedom of speech.
But one line of the editorial stands out; noting that Ramadan's and my exchange "makes an interesting debate," it goes on to comment that "unfortunately DHS, the key player, is not taking part." That is correct: all of us on the outside of DHS – Ramadan, the Tribune editors, myself, and others – are stumbling in the dark without knowing what DHS's information and criteria are. Yet that unfortunately is the way it should be, given the exigencies of national security and the need not to compromise sources. (Aug. 31, 2004)
Aug. 31, 2004 update: The president of Notre Dame, Father Edward Malloy has spoken out on the Ramadan affair, predictably expressing frustration. "The effort that we've been involved in ever since has been to find out why. And it says in the regulations that if somebody's denied a visa, they have a right to know who denied it and what the grounds were." Until Ramadan hears and addresses the allegations against him, Malloy said, "then it seems to me the law's not being fulfilled. … And it says in the regulations that if somebody's denied a visa, they have a right to know who denied it and what the grounds were."
Poppycock. Notre Dame has a law school, so the university's president has no excuse to spout such silliness. As William West, a retired supervisory special agent with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, wrote me in response to Malloy's comments:
In brief, Ramadan has no rights to information, nor does Notre Dame. And if classified information is involved, that is as it should be.
Sep. 3, 2004 update: I am glad somebody noticed the wretched reporting by the Chicago Tribune's Geneive Abdo on the Ramadan matter. Michael Miner points out in the Chicago Reader (in an excellent article titled "Unattributed Conspiracies") that she begins her initial story on the topic by stating:
But Abdo never identifies who "some Jewish groups" are. Quite the contrary, Miner goes on to note that the best Abdo could do was this:
Miner correctly notes that Campus Watch isn't a Jewish group but "a Web site that calls out scholars it disputes."
Miner then did a bit of journalist leg work himself and asked Emily Soloff, a former journalist who now heads the American Jewish Committee in Chicago, about Jewish organizational involvement. Soloff told him she knew of no Jewish groups lobbying against Ramadan entering the country.
No less interestingly, Miner also checked with Father John Pawlikowski, director of Catholic-Jewish studies at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, who told him that "respected journalists" connected to the Catholic-related French newsweekly La Vie "actually phoned the University of Notre Dame to raise their concerns" about Ramadan. Oh, so maybe it wasn't "some Jewish groups" after all.
When Miner wrote Abdo for more information about the alleged Jewish activity, she went mum. "I do not wish to be interviewed for your article. In other words, I have declined comment. Good luck with your story."
Miner quotes one reader condemning Abdo's work as "sloppy, sloppy journalism" – and that's giving her the benefit of the doubt that her motives are not malign.
Sep. 5, 2004 update: The Chicago Tribune ran a letter of mine today, "Unfair portrayal," commenting on its Aug. 31 editorial:
In other words, the Tribune got it wrong again, and on the same theme; what's going on there? Some clues can be found in earlier analyses of the Tribune's problems in this same general area:
Sep. 14, 2004 update: Ramadan has another go at me in our little dispute in an interview published today. With a mix of panache and pomposity, he cites authorities no less grand than Descartes and Kant to make his case against my article, plus he brings up the issue of his "human dignity." Ramadan indicates that he will be conducting his Notre Dame courses for the meantime by teleconference and that he is considering his options for the longer term.
Sep. 15, 2004 update: For an excellent summary of the Ramadan-Pipes dispute, one can do no better than to read "Daniel Pipes et Tariq Ramadan – deux hommes décidément très différents," by Alain Jean-Mairet, who does a wonderful job translating my articles into French. Jean-Mairet shows the absurdity of Ramadan blaming me for his exclusion from the United States. The blog entry concludes by noting that, in these false attacks on me, "Tariq Ramadan thereby confirms that the cancellation of his visa, whatever were the motives, is a good thing for America." Jean-Mairet leaves unsaid what he – being Swiss, and thus an unhappy co-national of Ramadan – thinks that cancellation means for Switzerland.
Sep. 23, 2004 update: At "Tariq Ramadan Exposed," I show Ramadan caught in an open lie.
Oct. 21, 2004 update: Ramadan seems to be impervious to facts. He accused me back in August (see above) of being behind his visa revocation, which I at the time explained was untrue: "That's not the case." But he insists on believing in this notion and repeating it. Here is his latest and most purple iteration, from an article in Egypt's Al-Ahram:
Nov. 29, 2004 update: Not content with one response to my charges (the one in the Chicago Tribune), Ramadan goes at it again, this time in the U.S. News & World Report. This time, however, he denies having said that I am responsible for his exclusion from the United States: "I never said nor suggested that Mr. Pipes is behind the decision to revoke my visa."
Comments: (1) This is one tricky guy. He does not mean what he says or say what he means.
(2) I am surprised at U.S. News & World Report; it put together this 1,800-word section where "Tariq Ramadan responds point by point to the allegations of critic Daniel Pipes" without so much as notifying me of this project (I learned of its existence only upon publication). My "allegations" are thus strung together by USN&WR editors from my an article published in August 2004 and not checked with me.
Dec. 1, 2004 update: The myth of my being the obstacle to Tariq Ramadan's getting into the United States continues to grow. Egypt Today has a long piece on Ramadan in which I am said to have "spearheaded" the campaign to exclude him by mobilizing my "extensive network of web organizations" – this after Ramadan himself (see the Nov. 29 entry) having repudiated that claim. I am as glad to take credit for Ramadan not being let in as I am mystified as to how this tale keeps developing, despite my indicating its falsehood. But then, Ramadan's partisans generally seem to be not too concerned with mere facts.
Dec. 14, 2004 update: With the news that Tariq Ramadan has resigned his University of Notre Dame position, I conclude this weblog entry and begin a new one, "Tariq Ramadan Gives Up – Then Tries Again."
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