Con Games: Moderate Muslim Double-Talk

Something possessed me to Tivo Charlie Rose and the fruit of my labors as Ramadan was ending was an interview with the Muslim writer, thinker, and intellectual Tariq Ramadan. I knew literally nothing about this man: he presented himself as literate, articulate, intellectual, and above all a moderate interpreter of Islam for a Western audience. So be it.

But something was off--something was wrong--and it didn't take this reporter long to figure out what it was: I had seen it before, just a day earlier, when Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf--he of the ground zero "interfaith" conflagration--was interviewed about the controversy by Soledad O'Brien on CNN's Larry King Live. Again the face of Muslim moderation was on display.

And here's the disconnect: like many Muslims considered moderate in the West, Ramadan and Rauf were answering the questions asked in English but playing to an entirely different audience in the Islamic world. This kind of double-speak happens so often there's a phrase to describe it: "double-disclosure."

Who was Ramadan, this well-spoken and even dashing representative of the Muslim faith? In an exhaustive article by Paul Berman in The New Republic, it turns out that Ramadan, among many other things, is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and the son of the man who kept the flame of extremist Islamists alive.

Let me re-load: the man modestly presenting himself as a Muslim moderate on Charlie Rose, the show that is eau de televised liberalism, traced his lineage back to the very founder of the modern Islamic holy war. Berman's article is called: "Who's Afraid of Tariq Ramadan?"

Has the apple fallen far from the tree? Read the transcript provided by Berman of Ramadan's televised debate with Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France, on the issue of whether a moratorium is need to stop women from being stoned for adultery.

Sarkozy: A moratorium... Mr. Ramadan, are you serious?

Ramadan: Wait, let me finish.

Sarkozy: A moratorium, that is to say, we should, for a while, hold back from stoning women?
Ramadan: No, no, wait.... What does a moratorium mean? A moratorium would mean that we absolutely end the application of all of those penalties, in order to have a true debate. And my position is that if we arrive at a consensus among Muslims, it will necessarily end. But you cannot, you know, when you are in a community... Today on television, I can please the French people who are watching by saying, "Me, my own position." But my own position doesn't count. What matters is to bring about an evolution in Muslim mentalities, Mr. Sarkozy. It's necessary that you understand....

Sarkozy: But, Mr. Ramadan...

Ramadan: Let me finish.

Sarkozy: Just one point. I understand you, but Muslims are human beings who live in 2003 in France, since we are speaking about the French community, and you have just said something particularly incredible, which is that the stoning of women, yes, the stoning is a bit shocking, but we should simply declare a moratorium, and then we are going to think about it in order to decide if it is good... But that's monstrous--to stone a woman because she is an adulterer! It's necessary to condemn it!

Ramadan: Mr. Sarkozy, listen well to what I am saying. What I say, my own position, is that the law is not applicable--that's clear. But today, I speak to Muslims around the world and I take part, even in the United States, in the Muslim world.... You should have a pedagogical posture that makes people discuss things. You can decide all by yourself to be a progressive in the communities. That's too easy. Today my position is, that is to say, "We should stop."

Sarkozy: Mr. Ramadan, if it is regressive not to want to stone women, I avow that I am a regressive.

A moratorium? To discuss stoning women? That way Ramadan can almost be against the practice without actually condemning it and thus defying Sharia law.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Muslim moderation. And this is exactly the tact taken by Imam Rauf with his interfaith center. It will be a place for dialogue, he promises, for discussion, for the coming together of different religions and ways of life. But at the end of the day all of the dialogue and moratoriums lead to nothing so much as the adoption of Sharia law, however incremental, within a Western secular democracy that preaches the freedom of religion Sharia law would destroy.

When Rauf was asked by Soledad O'Brien if he would finally come out and condemn organizations like Hamas, defined as terrorist by the United States State Department, the Imam said he deplored all acts of terrorism and violence. Please note that he didn't condemn Hamas or Hizbollah by name. To do so would not play well in the Muslim world.

If double-disclosure is indeed the norm, why should we believe a word of what so-called moderates like Tariq Ramadan or Imam Rauf have to say about Muslim moderation? They talk, we listen, and it goes right over our heads. God must be great to let that happen.