Hugh Fitzgerald: Tariq Ramadan: Solidarity Forever?


The latest news in the long-running Ramadan saga:

First, an accusation this time comes from the United States, where another of his putative victims — a Muslim — has unexpectedly come forward, with charges against him not as yet made public. Apparently, when  the peripatetic lecturer was in the United States, spreading his message of “moderation” from coast to gullible coast, and being lionized as a great Muslim intellectual, delivering his Deep Thoughts on Islamic morality and ethics, he also managed to find the time to impose himself, in his own inimitable fashion, on at least one Muslim victim, who now has found a Muslim lawyer, Rabia Chaudry, to help her, and though the charges have not yet been yet made public, they surely have to do with sexual violence, possibly including rape. One piquant detail: Rabia Chaudry is herself a hijab-wearing militant who has spoken at events sponsored by the ISNA (the Islamic Society of North America), which has been linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, telling audiences not to talk to the FBI. Chaudry has worked on Obama’s CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) program, with the DHS, Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, the MD State Police & DC Metro Police. It’s not certain what her role now is: did she, having heard of this victim, decide that since it would be impossible to protect Ramadan, it would make more sense to very publicly distance herself, and by extension the Muslim American community, from any attempt at defending him, which looks more and more like a a losing proposition?

Second, in France par contre, Ramadan’s supporters have not abandoned him, but have been demanding, outrageously, that the French government immediately “release” Ramadan. Two of the most prominent have been Kamel Katbane, rector of the Grand Mosque of Lyon, and his counterpart at Villeurbanne, Azzedine Gaci. The two officials issued a joint statement on February 21, insisting that Ramadan was a “victim of a political campaign launched against him through media, where subjective accusations overweighed the sacred principle of the ‘presumption of innocence.'” The two rectors added that “the way with which this renowned intellectual, recognized and respected among the Muslim community in France is treated, gives a feeling of injustice and nourishes the idea that he is judged more for his ideas and his commitments than for the facts he is accused of, and on which justice must be able to work on in all serenity.” But Ramadan was for years protected by the French government, despite his outrageous sexual behavior, and it was not the French government that prompted the current investigation of Ramadan but, rather, the testimony of two Muslim women, both admitted admirers of Ramadan, that opened the floodgates of accusation in France, Switzerland, and now the United States.

Third, outside of France there have been organized Muslim efforts to declare solidarity with Ramadan, and outrage — not at his Muslim accusers, who are largely ignored — at the supposed machinations of the French government.

Recently a large “solidarity meeting” in defense of Ramadan was planned to be held in Morocco, which is among the least fanatical of Muslim countries, ruled by a comparatively benign king, as Muslim monarchs go, and with an elite who, because of their native command  of French, are more open to the non-Islamic world. But even in Rabat, Ramadan — so far accused of the rape of two women, with other charges, from other victims, in Paris and Geneva,, certain to follow — has his stout defenders, unwilling to take seriously the evidence mounting against him.

The meeting had to be cancelled because of a missing official stamp:

Several Moroccan associations cancelled their intended solidarity meeting in support of the controversial French scholar, Tariq Ramadan on Saturday. The associations announced their intended meeting for Ramadan, who is currently being prosecuted and jailed by French authorities for sexual assault and rape, earlier this week.

The solidarity meeting was expected to take place on Saturday, February 17 at 5 p.m. at the Mohammed VI Theater in Casablanca, after receiving approval from the borough of Roches Noires, represented by Islamist PJD member Nourredine Qarbal.

“We had all the documents and permissions but we were told that a stamp on a notice delivered by the Ministry of the Interior was missing,” Abderrahmane Lahlou, a member of one of the seven organizing associations, told the media outlet le360, while several people gathered in front of the theatre.

Hicham Abkari, director of the Mohammed VI theater in Casablanca, told the media outlet that the solidarity meeting was not banned.

“There is a missing document, and if all the pieces are provided, they can organize their event,” Abkari said from behind the theatre’s main gate.

In line with the [postponed] meeting’s spirit, the lawyer Abdellah Hatimi, from the Moroccan Association for the Defense of the Independence of Justice, said that “the French justice is not independent and Tariq Ramadan should not remand [sic] in custody since there is no evidence of wrongdoing.”

Abdellah Hatimi wants you to believe that the sworn testimony, from two different women, of rape by Ramadan, and their remarkably similar accounts of his extreme violence (including threats both of blackmail and of harm that might come to them or their families if they told anyone) is not “evidence of wrongdoing.” Nor, apparently, is the testimony of two other women in France who have not wished as yet to make their charges public. Nor does Abdellah Hatimi believe that the testimony of four women in Geneva who have charged Ramadan with attempting to seduce them — with varying degrees of success — when he was their teacher in a high school, and they his underage pupils, should be taken into account. Nor does he want to believe the accusations — not yet made public — of the latest person to have come forth, a Muslim from the United States. Finally, he presumably does not believe the hair-raising description of Tariq Ramadan from Bernard Godard, the “Mr. Islam” of the French Ministry of the Interior between 1997 and 2014, who told the French magazine L’Obs that while “he [Ramadan] had many mistresses, that he consulted sites [pornographic sites, presumably, or those where contacts with prostitutes could be made], that girls were brought to the hotel at the end of his lectures, that he invited them to undress, that some resisted and that he could become violent and aggressive yes, but I have never heard of rapes, I am stunned.”

Surely it is we who should be stunned at the apparent willingness of the French government for so long to protect Tariq Ramadan’s public image from being sullied, for everyone advised by “Monsieur Islam” knew for years that Ramadan was a sexual predator, with multiple mistresses, a penchant for prostitutes (ordered up from those “sites” he consulted), and girls [groupies] “brought to the hotel” after his lectures, as a kind of extra honorarium, and if those girls resisted, “he could become violent and aggressive.” Why did the French government allow this to go on? Why did it not, based on what it did know, investigate further to find out more about Ramadan’s behavior? Why did Monsieur Godard claim to be “stunned” by the charges of rape, when everything he admits he did know about Ramadan surely points ineluctably in that direction?

Abdellah Hatimi has claimed that the “French justice is not independent” — meaning it is a tool of the state, the French state that he (and his fellow supporters of Tariq Ramadan) believe has presented trumped-up charges against Ramadan in order to rid themselves of him, that great Muslim intellectual  and paladin of — we are constantly told — “moderate Islam.”

Let’s refresh Abdellah Hatimi’s memory about who first accused Tariq Ramadan. It was not the French government. They were his protectors. His first accuser was Henda Ayari, who was and remains a Muslim, though not still the Salafist she once was. She is not “out to get Muslims.” She is not a “Zionist agent.” She was in fact a great admirer of Ramadan, until behind the closed doors of his hotel room, he turned into a sex-crazed monster. And her account, first published in a book where she gave Ramadan the alias “Zoubeyr’  — still so terrified was she of what he, or his followers, might do to her or her children — is convincingly detailed:

This man, Zoubeyr, transformed before my very eyes into a vile, vulgar, aggressive being – physically and verbally,” she wrote. “For modesty, I will not give the precise details here of the acts he made me submit to. But it is enough that he took great advantage of my weakness and the admiration I felt for him. ”

“He allowed himself gestures, attitudes and words that I could never have imagined.”

“And when I resisted,” she writes, “when I cried to him to stop, he insulted and humiliated me. He slapped me and attacked me. I saw in his crazy eyes that he was no longer master of himself. I was afraid he would kill me. I was completely lost. I started crying uncontrollably. He mocked me.”

These statements, and others from Henda Ayari, describe his violence: “He choked me so hard that I thought I was going to die.” She also described him as threatening that her children might be harmed if she were tell anyone.

She was the first. But there were three others in France who have testified against Ramadan.

His other victims also described Ramadan as violent and threatening.

He has also been accused of raping another woman in a hotel room in 2009. The unnamed 42-year-old, who is reported to have disability in her legs, said… that the professor had subjected her to a terrifying and violent sexual assault. This is the woman who — terrified of being harmed by Ramadan’s followers — is known, in order to protect her identity, only by the alias “Christelle.”

A third complainant, identified as Yasmina, told Le Parisien in an interview that Mr Ramadan sexually harassed her in 2014 and blackmailed her for sexual favors.

There is still a fourth woman, a Belgian known as Sarah, who is apparently thinking of filing a complaint, according to the RTBF radio network. In a testimony about her relationship with Mr Ramadan, she said she was scared for her life. “He can be very, very violent, grabbing you very violently, expecting from you any sexual practice and demanding it aggressively enough, and then it comes down again, but these moments are very difficult to live.”

Apparently the French judges found sufficiently credible both Ayari’s account, and that of the other accuser, the disabled woman known as “Christelle,” to keep Ramadan locked up. For if he were to be let out, with his network of followers, he might manage to flee France or, from outside jail, might more effectively threaten his accusers. This is not a theoretical worry. Ayari has received thousands of death threats, and is already under 24-hour police guard, for fear of what Ramadan’s admirers might do to her. And anyone who thinks she made up these accusations “because she wanted publicity” — you know, to sell copies of her book — must be out of his mind, for no amount of publicity, or book sales, would be worth being under round-the-clock security for years or, quite possibly, for the rest of your life.

Hatimi also pointed out that all members of the organizing committee knew Ramadan closely as they welcomed him during his multiple stays in Morocco.

So what? Are those who “welcomed” Ramadan on his triumphant tours to Morocco as “the world’s foremost Muslim intellectual” the best judges of his character? Lots of people, practically everyone, was fooled by Tariq Ramadan. And weren’t those who welcomed him on his trips to Morocco all men? It was only with women that he revealed that other side of his character, that “vile, vulgar, aggressive being” who, Ayaari wrote, “choked me so hard I thought I was going to die.” Did those Moroccan men who “welcomed” Ramadan and supposedly knew Ramadan  “closely,” keep tabs on what women, of what ages, showed up at his hotel room? Why would they?

Abdellah Hatimi, one of Ramadan’s stoutest defenders in Morocco, claims the French government does not dispense justice, but is out to get Ramadan. But he fails to explain why that government, which years ago had all the unsavory information on Ramadan that Godard describes, did not let that information out so as to damage his reputation. Some of what Godard says went on might even have been enough to bring charges against Ramadan: “some [girls] resisted and…he could become violent and aggressive.” Was it because his official message, when he spoke in French to audiences of infidels, was one of “moderation” and “convivencia”? When he spoke in Arabic to Muslim audiences, he had quite a different, triumphalist message, but those who recognized Ramadan’s double game were dismissed as islamophobes. The French government never tried to bring Ramadan down. French officials actually believed his assurances that he was a “moderate,” an enemy of the “extremists,” someone trying to reconcile Islam and the West. That was enough to overlook his sexual “peccadilloes.” The French government continued to treat Tariq Ramadan with kid gloves until his first accuser, Henda Ayari, came boldly forward and found not be ignored.

Many prominent figures were expected to feature in the [cancelled] event, such as Abdelatif Hatimi, Jawad Iraqui, Abderrahmane Lahlou, and Abdelali Hamiedddin, a member of PJD political bureau, who had earlier said that he only accepted the invitation to “talk about the ideas” of the controversial scholar.

The announcement of the event sparked an online backlash, as many argued that it’s not appropriate to hold such a meeting in light of the allegations of sexual violence against Ramadan, who remains in French custody.

“We expressed our solidarity with Tariq Ramadan…but what does it mean to be in solidarity with a person accused of rape and sexual violence?…Solidarity with what? With sexual violence? With sexual frustration? How can we simply accept normalising rape and sexual violence?” wrote the Moroccan sociologist Sanaa Elaji.

“They all say they are Tariq Ramadan… How could we know if they are really Tariq Ramadan… Let us wait for the justice decision and see how many Tariq Ramadan are among us,” wrote a human rights activist, Fadwa Rajwani.

These are certainly welcome voices of sanity, even if there are only two, and both of them female. The first, the sociologist Sanaa Eljaji, reminds Moroccans that “solidarity” with “a person accused of rape and sexual violence” is unacceptable. Fadwa Rajwani, a human rights activist, finds that those who claim solidarity — “I am Tariq Ramadan” (on the model of “je suis Charlie” (Hebdo)  — ought to wait to find out what the judges decide about the charges brought against Ramadan. And then they can ask themselves if they still want to identify with Ramadan. Neither woman accuses French justice of being merely the handmaid of the French government; both have faith in the French wheels of justice that grind, as wheels of justice tend everywhere to do, exceeding slow.

Tariq Ramadan is on trial. But so are his loyalists everywhere — in France, in Morocco, in other Muslim lands. If many Muslims continue to defend Ramadan, in the face of all the evidence that has been presented against him so far (with more accusations, and more evidence, to come), and keeping in mind the charges involving underage girls that hang over him in Geneva, if they attack the French state for running a kangaroo court, when the only charge legitimately to be made against that state is that for too long it allowed Tariq Ramadan to get away with outrageous sexual misconduct, if they insist, as Abdellah Hatimi absurdly claims even now, that there is “no evidence of wrongdoing” by Ramadan, then — should the French court declare Ramadan to be guilty of double rape as charged — we, too, can pass judgment on those who stood by their man, denying the evidence not because it wasn’t there, but because Tariq Ramadan is a “great Muslim intellectual” and Defender of the Faith, who must be protected even if all else must be sacrificed, including, of course, the truth.

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