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Tariq Ramadan and the Three Public Faces of Islam
There are three images of Islam competing for space in the public mind.
One portrays Islam as a violent and predatory religious force seeking to overthrow the West by fire and sword. The standard bearers of this version are the orthodontic disasters we see in the media from time to time, screaming into the camera, hoisting placards promising death to America and setting bonfires in which American, British, and Israeli flags are reduced to char.
Another and more heraldic image depicts Islam as a noble and courageous faith, born in the harshest of environments, which it overcomes through the exercise of the manly virtues and a sense of heroic style mediated by the romantic aura of the flowing galabieh, a revered tradition, and elegant rituals of hospitality. We see this fetishizing of the Arab and his faith at its most flamboyant in T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and at its most insidious in Robert Kaplan's The Arabists.
The third and perhaps most pervasive mental icon of the faith today is that of a socially and spiritually liberating institution whose ancient pedigree is not only capable of doctrinal flexibility and modernization but offers a vision of stability and assurance in an increasingly chaotic world. The most conspicuous representative of this perception of Islam is Tariq Ramadan, an erudite, supple, and persuasive Western-tailored "intellectual" whose soothing rhetoric operates as an ideological narcotic. For in reality he is the most deceptive and oleaginous of Islam's new breed of warrior, who penetrates our defenses from beneath our historical ramparts. In the words of French social critic Caroline Fourest, from her La tentation obscurantiste, "Tariq Ramadan est devenu un virtuose du désamorçage rhétorique et sémantique." ("Tariq Ramadan has become a virtuoso of rhetorical and semantic defusing" — in the sense of downplaying a crisis.)
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