Tariq Ramadan

R. Scott Appleby

John M. Regan Jr. Director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and Professor of History at University of Notre Dame

Interviewed by Micaela Cayton Garrido, 2005

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: I received hundreds of emails from various religious organizations in the United States, mostly Islamic, some Jewish and many Christian, in support of the appointment, and various universities and individual scholars and agencies like the American Academy of Religion, the American Academy of Political Science, the Historical Academies, Anthropology, a number of them inquired and showed support through letters and emails, others issued statements of support. There were weeks and weeks of reaction because this was perceived as a threat to academic freedom, first of all, which is a cherished value in the country.

It was also perceived as a tactically foolish move on the part of the government because a lot of people, whether or not they like Tariq Ramadan, they understood our strategy, our attitude which is we have to bring people to this country and be in dialogue with them with whom we disagree. And yet people who are willing to dialogue even if some people said, "well, he's coming over here to convert you, or to have an inroad into Notre Dame and the US", I found this humorous. Not because it wasn't true, it's certainly true that anyone who comes over wants to exercise influence for his or her ideas. But the fact that we couldn't hold our own here; we couldn't have our own opinions and engage dialogue and debate was humorous.

In other words, the Islamophobia, the fear of Islam or of militant Islam is so profound after 9/11 that we seem to lose our own self-confidence in our institutions and our traditions and our own intellect to some degree. And so the Ramadan event raised all of these issues; and one of these days soon I hope I can take the time to write--to think, and reflect upon this and write about it, as many people have done in a quick way. But it needs further reflection and probing because a lot of issues were raised.

There were a lot of people on the other side who had responsible views as well, of course, people who opposed his coming to the United States who believed that it was an endorsement of terrorism in some way, even if Ramadan himself has never been convicted of terrorism or the association with terrorists. So there are all kinds of issues - do you deny due process to someone who is not a US citizen but who is petitioning for a visa? Do you fail to provide evidence to why you're withholding the visa? This is not an issue that just involves Tariq Ramadan. It's an issue that, unfortunatel,y has hurt the lives of thousands, probably tens of thousands of people seeking entry into this country who come from regions or backgrounds that are now considered suspect after 9/11.

Q: It's also worthy to note, I think, that Tariq Ramadan and his family were initially granted the visas before they were retracted. Do you think that on an international level, there has been the same kind of backlash, or repercussions for the delayed retraction of the Department of Homeland Security to retract these visas?

A: I think the intensity around Tariq Ramadan was equivalent in France and the US, and Switzerland, where he lives. Those were the countries most caught up, especially France which has been going through its own internal turmoil about national identity and the role of religion, the role of Islam in particular in national identity and citizenship. Ramadan was a lightning rod in France, and perhaps even to a lesser extent, despite the controversy here, was it known in the US, very well-known in France. But this was such a major story last year, that in my travels around the world and among people who come to the Kroc Institute from other parts of the world, I have not met anyone last year who does not mention the Ramadan issue in some respect. They all know about it. And when they speak to me, they are usually pretty sympathetic to our side. I've heard from people who aren't so sympathetic, but most of the people are concerned and engaged and curious about it.