Tariq Ramadan, Keynote Speaker at SoundVision Fundraiser

April 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

Sunday–April 11–Tariq Ramadan is not what you probably expect. 

Tariq Ramadan

You might expect someone barred by the Bush administration to have an Arabic accent, to have an angry or at least emotional manner of public speaking, but the reality is Tariq Ramadan better fits the mold of a French intellectual than the typical Muslim populist.  In fact, from his nature it does not appear that he has any intentions towards seeking any political power, other than spiritual and intellectual power or accomplishments.

The subject of a six-year ban by the Bush administration, ended only recently by Secretary of State Clinton, speaks English and even Arabic with a French Swiss accent, and has the breezy intellectual worldly air of a French intellectual–he seems as though he has certainty about many things.  For example during his speech he interrupted emotional applause for one popular point that he had emphasized, saying “let me explain the rules,” instructing listeners not to clap during his speech (“not because it is a fatwa, although it is”) and then going on to say that the emotional reaction to his words may detract from what “we are trying to accomplish.”

Tariq Ramadan is called, by the reactionary right, an “Islamist” of Egyptian ancestry. (By Islamist do they mean someone who likes Islam? So is George Bush a Christianist?) In fact it may be his ancestry which scared the Bush administration more than any other fact about him.  His mother’s father was Hassan al-Banna, the Supreme Guide and founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.  His father was Said Ramadan, who was also prominently involved in Ikhwan, and who married Hassan al-Banna’s daughter.  He was raised in Switzerland, where his famous parents sought refuge from Nasser’s Arab nationalist animosity to the Ikhwan. 

Ramadan is now 48 years old. He is no firebrand.  He was ranked by the British Prospect and American Foreign Policy magazines eightth in a list of the world’s top 100 contemporary intellectuals in 2008.  He has authored several books, focusing on the issue of Islam and the West.  He wears his intellectualism on his sleeve–on Sunday he said of his most recent book that he had made it very thin so that American journalists would actually read it, although he complained that they still do not.

Ramadan is in the book 500 Most Influential Muslims–2009, being listed in the Scholars section.  He is even an honorable mention for the top 50 listings in the book. 

His entry in the book is as follows: 

Ramadan is Europe’s preeminent Muslim intellectual writing about Islam in public life. He is a professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University and formerly a visiting professor at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. He has a weekly television show, ‘Islam and Life’, on Press TV, and is an advisor to the European Union on religion. He has written 15 books and produced over 100 recordings.

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Ramadan did not in his SoundVision speech show real leanings either toward extremist Islamic views nor even towards the strong organization-based approach to Islam of Ikhwan.  Rather he focused on his theme of building consciousness of God through spiritual endeavor, a consciousness of God which would empower one to seek his or her rights when those rights are denied by people (he emphasized Western anti-Muslim people) who overreach their authority in working to the detriment of Muslims.

Ramadan certainly understands the West better than his grandfather did (whose entire reaction to the West came from an unpleasant encounter with a drunk European), and to casual observation it is clear that the younger Ramadan has imbibed its values more than even he probably realizes.

He remains, despite being a European intellectual, a Muslim intellectual as well.  He thinks and speaks and writes about living Islam in a real context.  He thinks about what God says that He wants from us in His Holy Book, and Ramadan endeavors to accomplish that.

Soundvision

Soundvision’s event was, even aside from its invitation of such a memorable figure, very impressive.  The event filled the Burton Hall banquet facility nearly to capacity, with approximately 600 guests in attendance.

There was a description of the difficulties and opportunities that lie before SoundVision and then a fundraiser which appeared to gross approximately $150,000 in about 20 minutes.  There was a dinner and appetizers.

Many prominent Muslms from Southeast Michigan were in attendance, among them CAIR Michigan’s executive director Dawud Walid, Ghalib Begg of CIOM, recently selected by the Detroit News as one of a handful of “Michiganians of the Year,” and many prominent Michigan imams.

Dawud Walid spoke on the importance of SoundVision to his own family, citing the books and videos he has bought for his own children from SoundVision.

There was a brief video by SoundVision, emphasizing the Adam’s World show, with a “One Big Family” soundtrack.

Janaan Hashim, a SoundVision director, spoke at length about SoundVision and its strategic goals–and perhaps her speech did the most to reveal the terrible importance of SoundVision’s work.

Ms. Hashim is an attorney, journalist and teacher, as well as a mother.

The theme for SoundVision’s future was plastered throughout the fundraiser event, “Helping Tomorrow’s Muslims today.”  Ms. Hashim emphasized this meant helping them now.

She showed the terrible current state of Muslim youths by showing a chart of anger among youths aged 18-29 by religion, which showed anger among Muslim youths at 26%, which was almost double the rate for Protestants and Mormons (14% each).

She showed statistics that 75% of American Muslims felt that they had been discriminated against or had witnessed discimination, 12% of Muslim students in New York public schools felt doubt about Islam.  7% of Muslims had been assaulted.

95% of Muslim youths, she said, are in normal public schools, and do not attend Juma’a prayers.  Less than 5% of Muslim youths go to Muslim schools.

Where do the children spend their time? On average, they spend 53 hours per week online, 7 hours and 38 minutes per day.

Hashim quickly demonstrated the overwhelmingly negative nature of the information about Islam–much of it provided directly by people who hate Islam and Muslims, like Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes.

Hashim pointed out that many Muslim youths respond to these many overwhelming pressures by changing their names, possibly even changing religions, or at least by caving in to such pressures as drinking alcohol or joining gangs.  She cited a statistic that 47% of Muslim college students report having drunk alcohol, and about 10% report binge drinking.

“We must rethink things for kids,” she said.  “We must reallocate our resources.”

Therefore Muslims need to create a powerful online alternative to these hate sites that assault the minds of our children with their ignorance and negative stereotypes of Islam.

SoundVision  came up with a thorough plan to address these challenges after one year of research.  This is their strategic plan:  1) they plan 1,000 pieces of new content in the next 12 months; 2) they plan to emphasize new media for ipods, pda’s, iphones, etc.; 3) they plan mega-websites, age specific, and their model is the Disney websites (they intend good sites competitive with Disney); 4) they plan to make it all free (because they need to connect to the 95% who are slipping through the cracks); 5) Weekend 2.0–a web-based Islamic School 2.0 with lesson plans for existing schools, teaching basic Islam; 6) Networking among stake holders–creative arts hubs to allow youngsters to engage in creative activities; 7) Crucial Concepts (to teach skills, values, pluralism, response to objections, citizenship training, and career and marital counseling).

Ms. Hashim explained that much of this work has already been completed:  SoundVision has enlisted the help of 270 artists, scholars, 18 editors.

SoundVision’s website is ranked a very respectable 100,000 on Alexa’s ranking system (The Muslim Observer has risen to about 335,000 over several years of assiduous work).

SoundVision pioneered Adam’s World, the Al-Qari software, Islamic songs, and a Muslim radio program (which in fact is hosted by Ms. Hashim).

She emphasized that SoundVision is at the cutting edge, and that its software has attracted attention for its very high quality and for its advanced technical competence.

In fact SoundVision has pointed out a potential disaster that faces the American Muslim community, but has also stepped forward to face our problems.

12-16

The Mythical European Umma

December 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khaled Diab, Guardian

Muslims in Europe are secretly amassing an arsenal of the deadliest in biological weaponry: the demographic time bomb. The first phase of the Muslim invasion – or should I say reinvasion – of Europe has already begun with the deployment of an expeditionary force of womb-men: a fearsome army of mutant ninja warriors whose function is to go forth and multiply. Their turbo-charged and perhaps even genetically modified uteruses mass produce the deadly biological agent which is currently being stockpiled in Muslim homes across the continent.

And their mission: to create Eurabia – or, better said, since many European Muslims are not Arabs, to turn the EU into the European Umma. Having been driven out of Europe once and unable to reconquer it through force of arms, those crafty and cunning Muslims are back to do it through the Trojan horse of immigration and reproduction.

Some dismiss this demographic time bomb as being far-fetched and as fantastical as Saddam Hussein’s non-existent arsenal of WMD, but yet another smoking gun has been found in the Netherlands. Troubling evidence has emerged that Muhammad has become the most popular boy’s name in the country’s four biggest cities. And a similar situation is emerging in other European urban centres.

In fact, five centuries after the reconquest of Granada, that last Muslim stronghold, Eurabia has established its first de facto capital in Rotterdam. And when the number of Muhammads and other assorted Mohammedans become a majority over the coming century – as the great Bernard Lewis warned – they will form an army of mujahideen of Talibanesque horror which will subjugate the natives and make them live as second-class dhimmis under sharia law.

As far-fetched conspiracy theories go, the Eurabia myth is one of the most persistent and dangerous of recent years – and the Daily Telegraph fanned the controversy this month with its claims that it had carried out an investigation which revealed that the EU’s Muslim population would jump from the current 4-5% to an improbable 20% by 2050.The six-paragraph article gives no indication of how the projections were arrived at, nor the assumptions upon which they were based. In fact, as the BBC pointed out in a piece debunking a popular YouTube hit on “Muslim Demographics”, population projection is an inexact science. It cites, as an example, the projections made in the 1930s that the UK’s population would fall to 20 million by the end of the 20th century.

Most projections that foresee a massive increase in Europe’s Muslim population are based on certain assumptions which are hard to justify. They assume that recent immigration trends will continue indefinitely for decades to come, but this is unlikely as Europe continuously raises the immigration bar for non-EU citizens, and it is not far-fetched to expect that many European countries may call a halt to immigration or draw their future immigrants from certain more “desirable” countries. The projections also assume that European Muslims will continue to have a significantly higher fertility rate than the population at large. But evidence suggests that the fertility rates of Muslim women are gradually converging with those of the wider population. And there are signs that the fertility rate among the white population of some European countries, such as France, is recovering.

So, given that the only hard facts we can be sure of is that a small minority of about 4% of the EU’s population is Muslim, why is this fear of a coming Eurabia so strong in certain quarters? Many of the biggest proponents of the Muslim demographic time bomb myth are cheerleaders of and apologists for US imperialism in the Middle East, such as Bat Y’eor and Bernard Lewis.

Some Europeans, particularly from conservative and Christian circles and the intolerant wing of liberalism, have fallen for the myth for a variety of reasons. One is the relatively rapid shift in western Europe towards multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies in recent decades, which has caused a certain sense of alienation and insecurity, especially for those whose economic security has been undermined by neo-liberal economics and globalisation. Other reasons are the massive lifestyle and social changes. These have caused distress for traditionalists and people who still identify themselves as Christian: they have seen their religion die a slow death, while Islam seems to go from strength to strength.

Then, there is the plain old fear stoked by the overexposure given to the most intolerant Islamic fringe groups and individuals. Certainly, there are some European Muslims who want to live according to sharia and there is even a lunatic fringe who would like to see Europe incorporated into some fantastical global caliphate. But Muslims in Europe are not some unified, monolithic force. Not only are they ethnically diverse and from communities that are not the greatest fans of each other – consider the animosity between Moroccans and Algerians, for example – they are also as varied ideologically as the rest of the population.

Although Muslims tend to be more religious and conservative than the rest of society, there are also plenty of secular, non-practising, cultural and even non-believing Muslims. In addition, it is impossible to tell what kind of identities future European Muslims will have, but I suspect that the future cultural fault lines in Europe will not run along traditional religious lines, but will pit believers against non-believers, creating a kind unity of purpose between conservative Muslims and Christians intent on preserving faith in a “Godless Europe”. While Eurabia is a fantasy, Europe is almost certainly going to become more diverse in the future, and so a debate is worth having about how to adapt to this reality and what constitutes citizenship in an increasingly mobile world.

11-53

New Muslim Mayor Inherits Possibility of Uniting Rotterdam

October 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Henry Chu, LA Times Reporting from Rotterdam, Netherlands

Aboutaleb_1
Rotterdam’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb

The veiled women clutch their children’s hands as they scurry past the liquor store, ignoring rows of vodka bottles on their way to the Muslim butcher’s next door.

Across the street, male customers emerge from the Climax sex shop with their purchases and quickly stride away without a second glance at the Turkish kebab restaurant just opening for lunch.

The conservative and liberal, religious and secular, Dutch and foreign stand side by side here in Rotterdam, in a contrasting and at times uneasy coexistence where social and cultural middle ground can be elusive.

The job of finding that middle ground has now fallen onto the shoulders of a thoughtful Moroccan-born Muslim who arrived in Rotterdam just nine months ago. His address: the mayor’s office.

Ahmed Aboutaleb is the first Muslim immigrant to lead a major Dutch city. The son of an imam, he was appointed mayor of Rotterdam late last year and in January became the official face of the Netherlands’ second-largest city.

His is the classic immigrant success story, the saga of a youth who landed in the Netherlands as a teenager, worked hard and climbed the social ladder, first as a journalist, then as a politician in free-wheeling Amsterdam.

But his nomination as mayor by political party leaders in Rotterdam, who sought someone of national stature for the largely ceremonial post, took even seasoned observers by surprise.

This is, after all, a city where the national clash over immigration and integration, particularly of Muslims, has been at its most volatile.

In 2002, Pim Fortuyn, a populist and openly gay politician who slammed Islam as a “backward” religion, was fatally shot by a white assassin claiming to act in support of the Muslim community.

How the 48-year-old Aboutaleb fares as mayor could well have an effect beyond Rotterdam’s borders. With ethnic minorities accounting for almost half its population, the city serves in many ways as a laboratory of demographic change for the rest of the Netherlands, and potentially other parts of Europe.

Thus far into his six-year term, analysts say, the bespectacled Aboutaleb has trod softly, getting a feel for Rotterdam’s tricky political landscape. Though he is a member of the city’s ruling left-wing Labor Party, as mayor he is supposed to hold himself above party politics.

Within the last several weeks, however, Aboutaleb has said that he intends to step into the debate on integration. Although he has not specified how, it will mean navigating a minefield of competing beliefs, agendas and power plays by politicians, activists and bureaucrats.

“That is quite a risk for him, because if he fails . . . there is nobody above him,” said Rinus van Schendelen, a professor of political science at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University.

As mayor, Aboutaleb must gingerly maneuver a cultural war pitting those who believe Dutch liberal, secular society to be under threat from a growing religious minority against others who say that Muslims and other immigrants have been unfairly scapegoated.

Right-wing politicians demanded that Aboutaleb demonstrate his loyalty by giving up his Moroccan passport (he holds dual nationality). Geert Wilders, the country’s most inflammatory public figure, declared that Aboutaleb’s appointment was “as ridiculous as appointing a Dutchman as mayor of Mecca.”

Muslims, by contrast, were excited that one of their own had risen so high — an “Obama on the Maas,” as some have dubbed him, for the river that runs through Rotterdam.

“I was really happy that he became mayor,” said pharmacist Jilani Sayed, 29. “A mayor has to hold the city together. He’s got the potential to do that.”

The mayor’s job is largely ceremonial, with the big exception of public safety and police, which comes under his supervision. But what the post lacks in direct authority it makes up for in influence and longevity.

“After every election, you are the one that stays. . . . So people start trusting you as the consistent part of the city government,” said Marco Pastors, head of Livable Rotterdam, the right-wing party of Fortuyn. “People look up to you, and when you are looked up to, you have powers.”

Aboutaleb declined requests for an interview. A spokeswoman cited the need for him to stay focused on his duties.

Friends and foes praise him for spending his first months on a listening tour of various neighborhoods, to help damp skepticism over the fact that he comes not just from Morocco but — as egregious for some — from Amsterdam, Rotterdam’s big rival.

But there have been missteps. Critics questioned an official trip Aboutaleb took to Morocco in June, during which he met the country’s foreign minister and appeared to step on the toes of the Dutch central government.

In August, a dance party for thousands of beachgoers devolved into pandemonium and brawls in which one man was killed. The mayor, criticized for not assigning enough police officers to patrol the event, ordered a two-year ban on such parties.

And in a foretaste of the challenges that await in the simmering caldron of immigration issues, the city in August fired integration advisor Tariq Ramadan, a well-known Islamic scholar. City officials said Ramadan’s hosting of a show on Iranian state television could be perceived as an endorsement of the regime in Tehran.

Although he had no role in the decision, Aboutaleb expressed support for it. That, in turn, outraged many Muslims here, especially the young, with whom Ramadan was a popular reformist figure.

“Aboutaleb goes with the wind of politics,” said entrepreneur Abdel Hafid Bouzidi, 30, who is of Moroccan descent. “He goes too much to the right.”

Right-wing politicians certainly laud Aboutaleb for criticizing his own and insist that he keep on doing so.

rotterdam mosque
Rotterdam Mosque, under construction, 2008.

Before his appointment as mayor, his highest-profile moment came during the national uproar after the 2004 slaying of anti-Islamic filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist who shot him and slit his throat. Speaking at an Amsterdam mosque, Aboutaleb sternly told Dutch Muslims that if they did not subscribe to the Netherlands’ values of tolerance and openness, they ought to catch the first plane out.

Pastors, the head of Livable Rotterdam, was a member of the conclave of city leaders who nominated Aboutaleb for mayor, and he took some heat within his party for acceding to the choice.

Now it’s time, he said, for Aboutaleb to start speaking out on “friction points” such as homosexuality and the role of women.

“In that position there are three good opportunities a week to do something about it, and he hasn’t,” Pastors said. “I think it’s OK to have the first Muslim mayor [of a major city] in Europe. But let it be somebody that means something to the integration of Muslims in Europe, and not just an able civil servant.”

Aboutaleb has acknowledged the pressure on him, especially from foes “who expect me to fail.”

“If I can succeed, I will be a key element in persuading immigrant communities that they can have access to power. If I fail, it will have huge consequences for those coming behind me afterwards,” he told a British newspaper soon after taking office.

“My job is to build bridges, and Rotterdam is a good place to do that,” he said.

“This is the city of big projects where the sky is the limit, but also a city with high levels of poverty. My job is to be mayor for everyone, from the businessmen to the kid from Suriname just trying to earn a living.”

henry.chu@latimes.com