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Ramadan Comes to Leiden
by R. John Matthies • Nov 17, 2007 at 4:51 pm • updated Nov 17, 2007 at 4:54 pm
Early October, the Netherlands informed Dutch-Somali activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali that the government was no longer charged with the security detail attached to her person. Police protection was accorded in 2002 for the parliamentarian's observations on the role of women in Islam, her collaboration with filmmaker Theo van Gogh on Submission, and her own avowed "apostasy." She currently lives in the United States, and is trying to raise money for her own security. Van Gogh himself was not so lucky; he was dropped in a hail of bullets and nearly decapitated by Mohammed Bouyeri, as a warning to Jews and the usual Western governments—in a letter addressed to Hirsi Ali.
Skip forward to November, when one reads that Leiden, the Netherlands' oldest university, has announced the selection of Swiss theologian Tariq Ramadan to the Sultan of Oman chair of Islamology. This latest appointment follows a bid — foiled by the State Department in 2004—to accept the Luce chair of religion at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame, and his current visiting fellowship at St Antony's, at Oxford.
Critics of Ramadan's appointment include Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) parliamentarian Martin Bosma, who warns the sultan of an "islamofascist dictatorship" will employ his oil wealth to influence the university; and PVV boss Geert Wilders, who acknowledges a "frightful man" in Ramadan, and describes something akin to an Islamist Socrates, sure to corrupt his charges.
More interesting, however, are criticisms from France (where he was banned for a time) and from the French Left, especially: Socialist mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë and former "SOS Racisme" boss Malek Boutih describe Ramadan, in turn, as "anti-Semitic" and a "fascist." Feminist author Caroline Fourest, author of Brother Tariq, calls Ramadan a "warlord," who would "set an Islamist regime in place in France." For this reason, she writes, Ramadan must be considered the spiritual progeny of maternal grandfather Hassan al-Banna, famous for founding the Muslim Brotherhood, the world's largest Islamist organization, in 1928.
As for Leiden itself, it is important to note the role the institution played in developing the field of Islamic studies and the science of Orientalism. Léon Buskens, lecturer in Islamic law at Leiden, observes that for over four centuries the university "enjoyed a reputation in the study of Oriental languages and cultures" unmatched anywhere; and author Robert Irwin writes in Dangerous Knowledge that Leiden's role was no less than to "dominate Oriental studies."
So what is Tariq Ramadan, ostensible subject of the "essentializing" and "totalizing" logic of the "Orientalist discourse," doing at Leiden? To begin with, the professor has been tasked to develop his work on Muslims in Europe, which has earned him the title of "role model" for young Western Muslims concerned to "hold to their Islamic identity." Ramadan will also assist the government's efforts, begun two years ago, to establish a training program for imams, and thereby fashion a "Dutch kind of Islam."
But most disheartening—for scholars like Buskens, who lament the "vanishing Orientalism" of the post-Said era; or those, like Andrew Bostom, who read Ramadan's appointment as evidence of "Western Europe's moral and intellectual decay"—is the notion that once great Leiden has abandoned critical study of Near Eastern languages and cultures to become a laboratory and vector for Ramadan's brand of "Euro-Islam."
"The arrival of the scholarly Muslim is expected to lead to great—also international—interest in the Islam course in Leiden and in the debate on Islam in the Netherlands," writes De Volkskrant. And Culture Minister Plasterk, quick to praise his "free country" and "open university," claims there is no reason to fear the appointment of Ramadan. But how the believer's take on faith, joined with brow-raising opinions on crime and punishment, will bring honor to an institution dubbed Praesidium Libertatis (Bastion of Liberty) is anyone's guess.