By pure dumb luck, IEMed organized a lecture series about more or less the exact topic I studied last term, Muslims/Islam in
The other night I attended the session featuring Tariq Ramadan and a couple of other intellectuals in the field. Ramadan is an important and controversial Swiss Muslim academic who, in short, speaks optimistically of a modernized, European Islam but also has dubious family connections and would appear to sometimes cater to extremist and/or anti-Western ideas, especially regarding women’s and individual rights (and of course the big issue of church-state separation, though he is ready to accept this reality). The latter claim has been much debated.
In a move that has become symbolic of his controversial status and of the American approach to the struggle against terrorism, Ramadan was denied a US Visa at the last minute, after accepting a job as lecturer in Peace Studies (sth like that) at Notre Dame; the US claimed dubious contributions to a group who was later accused of supporting Hamas. Ramadan had already moved his family over and enrolled the kids in school. (Oxford subsequently took him on as lecturer.)
Several big articles and books about the topic depict him as a mysterious, contradictory leader of a movement or emerging face of Europe that most natives don't quite know what to do with. He speaks about the complex situation faced by many Muslim Europeans, in which—to simplify—their true motives and trustworthiness are placed in doubt, and conspiracy theories easily take hold, along the lines of a Clash of Civilizations or "Eurabia". Ian Buruma wrote a big piece on him the NYTimes Magazine recently, and Timothy Garton Ash wrote about him in the NYRB before that. Paul Berman just published a massive and highly informative piece in TNR about both Ramadan and the media coverage of him, which I was just able to read before the lecture.
What a treat it was to see him speak in person. It was just like when NYU gets some academic big shot who fills up a conference hall-- except in
The conference itself wasn’t spectacular. Frankly I’d already heard much of what was said, and I don’t think there were too many ground breaking or highly thought-provoking comments made. It reminded me a lot of that feeling of disappointment at about half of the academic lectures I go to in NYC: there's this sort of disappointment wherein the more familiar you are with the topic, the less you get out of the lecture, because there’s never enough time to analyze specific issues, or to make difficult connections (or to address your pet issue).
The best and most telling moment of the evening came after the lecture. By then half the crowd had left, others were chatting, and there was a long line of mostly Muslims waiting to speak with Ramadan, who hadn’t left his seat. This was actually quite spectacular, and I stood there and took it in. You could see the way these people—a tiny minority in
Next Wedsnesday features Olivier Roy, who is kind of like the Michael Jordan of experts on Islam in