Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tariq Ramadan: My Absence Would Certainly Be The Most Powerful Speech I Have Ever Given At ISNA

As Western Muslims and American Muslims, we need to understand that the values and principles we promote are not only Muslim values.  American Muslims live in a country where justice, dignity, freedom and equality are essential values. The Muslim contribution to the future of America is to not only speak out as Muslims, but to also speak out as citizens in the name of our common values. Our main contribution is to reconcile the American society with its own values, those that are not in contradiction to Islam.  We have a duty of consistency.

TIM: There is scant evidence that moral outrage or moral clarity have any impact on American foreign policy. In politics, morality is the handmaiden of special interests. America has stood by idly during genocides (like Rwanda), but then invokes genocide as a rationale for intervention (like ISIS) when intervention serves a strategic political or economic goal. At the same time, there is ample evidence that well-organized, well-funded political machinery can not only influence, but also actually dictate American foreign policy. How do you expect your words, or any words, to change what America does? Or is that not the goal of what you espouse?

Ramadan: It is important to understand that we are dealing with politics, and politics is mainly about interests. As Muslim citizens, we understand these interests but we should put principles and dignity beyond everything. As Muslims, our interests are our values.  In any society, be it in Western or Muslim-majority countries, our duty is that of critical loyalty: Staying loyal to our countries by always being critically engaged in the name of the principles of justice, equality and human brotherhood. We should be the ethical and moral voice wherever we are by saying that, even though we understand economic and geo-strategic interests, we cannot accept a violation of these principles by any society. In the West or anywhere else, the treatment of people in an undignified way (structural and institutionalized racism against Latinos or African American citizens) as well as a dangerous dehumanization of some people (in Palestine, Iraq, Africa or Asia) are simply unacceptable. As Muslims, we must have an active presence based on ethical and moral consistency. We need to be very vocal, to inform people, to demonstrate when necessary. We need to write so that the people understand that what they are getting from the media and politicians is biased and not accurate. And this is true especially when it comes to some communities within the U.S. or with respect to the Middle East and Africa. This is what I am expecting from a new generation of leaders: Meet these expectations of moral consistency.

TIM: Can Muslims be within the system?

Ramadan: American Muslims are already within the system. We should stop isolating ourselves by thinking we are powerless. The youngest generations of Americans have a better opinion of Islam because they interact with Muslims. Half of young American citizens now are supporting the Palestinians rather than the Israelis. Things are moving. If you do your work, if you are committed at the grassroots level, if you have a vision for the long run (not only short-sighted interest), you can change public opinion. You are within the system.  But if you are only concerned with international issues and/or the power of some lobbies that are influencing American policy, then you are isolating yourselves. You are powerless in your mind when you don’t understand the meaning and quality of your own real power. This is the problem we have with many Muslim leaders: They claim to differentiate between domestic and foreign issues and they are obsessed with being accepted, at sitting at the table of power in order to talk (or rather to listen) and to be tolerated. This is the starting point of our weakness. It is in our minds because we do not realize we are part of the system.

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