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Famous Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan has been accused of rape by at least three adult women as well as having been accused of having sexual relationships with underage students while he was teaching in Geneva.
As a Muslim living in Switzerland, and who didn’t run in his circles, I was warned about his “close relationships” with women, and I was advised to be wary when I went to his talks. This was before the rape allegations were made public. Geneva is a very small city. Surprisingly, given the things already known about him, Ramadan has dug in his heels and hired the very best Swiss lawyers to his defense team. Seriously, lawyering up with Marc Bonnant and Yaël Hayat is the Geneva equivalent of a Hollywood actor getting Laura Wasser for their divorce. This is huge. I have to give him points for not immediately coming out with the “I had sex but it was consensual” defense. A+ lawyering up. Which of course begs the question, do his accusers have the money or the clout to access the same kind of lawyers? Further, Ramadan has taken a leave of absence from Oxford University to deal with this situation.
One of his accusers, Henda Ayari, is a French author best known for being a self-identified ex-salafi. While she doesn’t go as far Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her criticisms of Islam, she has made the rounds on French television and is a darling of a special subsection of French society that hates Muslims and uses anything critical of Islam to apply to the entire religion and its believers, and throw a little bit of racism in there while they are at it.
Given this, there is a couple of points I want to make very clear:
None of these things are mutually exclusive.The grossest part of this whole thing for me is everyone is trying to get paid over Tariq Ramadan’s behavior. The Charlie Hebdo crew has even jumped in, and used the opportunity to get into a slapfight with Mediapart, and the end result is that no one is really listening to Ramadan’s victims anymore as everyone jockeys for positions on the hate train.
Most of the people defending Ramadan complain that he has been set up; that such a pious holy man of Islam couldn’t possibly behave in such a manner; and those accusing him may have an Islamophobic agenda. Some have even gone so far as to go after Charlie Hebdo (which i refuse to link to due my issues with their editorial stances on a number of things) after their cover of Tariq Ramadan, which can be seen here. Unfortunately, given the number of women who have come forward discussing being raped by him, or not being able to consent due to age, I think it is irresponsible to believe, at this point, that the man has only had consensual sex, whether it was “halal” or not.
I have no judgment whatsoever for humans of whatever faith choosing to have consensual sexual relationships outside the boundaries of what their faith teaches, and I have no problem (other than with the hypocrisy) if someone like Tariq Ramadan has private relationships with people that may not fall within the fold of what Islam supposedly teaches. I do, however, have a problem with humans who rape, and humans who abuse the power of their leadership, in whatever context, to pursue non-consensual sexual relationships with people who, due to their status, age or circumstances, have a hard time saying no or are not heard when they say no.
And this is what we are dealing with here-Ramadan, like Nouman Ali Khan (NAK), even if you don’t want to think he is a rapist, has ostensibly abused his power by pursuing sexual relationships with people who for whatever reason are not necessarily in a position to say ‘no,’ or who have not been heard when they do not provide their consent. However, here, it is important to note that Ramadan may be more of a Muslim rockstar than NAK -he definitely has more money and academic clout, not to mention a legacy connected to the big echelons of institutional Islam . The power he wields in Muslim and non-Muslim circles cannot be compared, which is what also makes his abuse of power that much more shocking to me.
Hence, it really bothers me that some people are so quick to decide that Ramadan is innocent until proven guilty. Are we granting his accusers the same kindness? The women who have accused him of abusing them as children are described as “fragile,” by those defending him. Here’s an idea, why can’t we believe women? Given how hard it is to speak up and live with the consequences of accusing one of the most prominent Muslim figures of our time, what is harder to believe, that all of these women are lying, or that Ramadan might just be a sexual predator?
Nonetheless, you can “believe women” and still have an Islamophobic agenda. Case in point, France’s Professional Muslim-Hater, Caroline Fourest. Hating Muslims is literally her bread and butter, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, she gets PAID to hate Muslims. Caroline Fourest hates Tariq Ramadan. Not only does she have a tag labelled “Tariq Ramadan” on her personal website (not linked since it is a hate-page), but she also wrote a book about him (Frère Tariq, which I am also not even going to link to, because no one needs to spend money on her special brand of intellectually irresponsible hatred and lies). So of course, when these accusations came out, she was quick to jump right back on the hate train and even said she knew Tariq was a predator since 2009.
Again, thinking Tariq Ramadan might be a rapist doesn’t mean you have to buy everything else Caroline Fourest is selling (besides her soul), either. Addressing sexual violence perpetrated by Muslim men of color does not have to be done through the channels of Islamophobia and racism. So even if my personal “bias” and research leads me to believe that Tariq Ramadan most likely has not been keeping his genitals to himself and has forced them on women, that doesn’t mean I don’t find the people delighting in his fall absolutely tacky and sellouts, like Caroline Fourest and Manuel Valls. “French White Feminist” Fourest doesn’t get paid unless she can call out Muslims (and that goes double if they are her archenemy, Tariq Ramadan), and Manuel Valls who has made Islamophobia his political bread and butter, as well.
One thing that really irks me about the people defending Tariq Ramadan, especially my fellow Muslims, is that I am not sure if the reaction would be the same with a female leader, who may be a sexual predator, in our faith. Even if being a predator was not an issue and, instead, she had consensual extramarital or non-marital relations, would we have so many people calling for a female leader’s privacy? Or for the benefit of the doubt? Or innocent until proved guilty? We need to stop with the hypocrisy and double standards. I reiterate- a Muslim woman, not even a female Muslim scholar, with the same history of sexual proclivities would not have the status in the community Ramadan has or the number of people, men and women, jumping to her defense so certain of her innocence.
Just look at how people are treating Henda Ayari, who as problematic as she may be, the burden of proof is currently on her, as it usually is in rape cases. So far, Ramadan has called the allegations a “campaign of lies” and his supporters have started a petition of support for Ramadan (over 20K supporters have signed), where women are called to engage in a “sincere and urgent” debate on “slanderous” accusations against figures like him. Ramadan himself even came out Thursday and, as proof of his “innocence” I guess, released a conversation between him and Ayari which is dated around a year after the alleged assault takes place. The tone was cordial, she appeared to apologize for the behavior of someone in her entourage towards him, then namely said, “I don’t want you back in my life, nor do I want to see you again, but I want us to keep a sense of fraternity and kindness.”
Here I think it is worth repeating- this isn’t happening in a vacuum. Ramadan is a man with clout and power Ayari simply doesn’t have. In the context of rape culture, this can’t just be read as an even one-to-one exchange between friends or even ex-lovers (might I also add at this point that you can be raped by someone you have had a consensual physical relationship with at any point before or after). I read this as Ayari trying to keep the peace, as women often have to in domestic violence/abuse of power situations. Since women are rarely believed and face incredible social and legal barriers accusing people like Ramadan of sexual violence, Ayari has my total support, just like his other victims do.
And that is my final word -I’m so tired of everyone trying to cash in on the political and religious fallout from this sad situation, when our focus should be on supporting his victims.