Is Tariq Ramadan whitewashing Iran’s genocide in Syria?

Tariq Ramadan is undoubtedly one of the most prolific and respected Muslim thinkers and scholars in the west. His ability to touch on contemporary issues while using Islam as a reference has inspired many Muslims around the world, and his academic standing as a professor at the University of Oxford has forced western critics of Islam to engage on the question of Muslims in the west on an intellectual, and not purely emotional, level.

While I often profoundly disagree with his views on Islam and politics, it would be unfair to say that he has not had a net positive impact on the perception of Muslims living in western societies. However, is that enough to pardon him for his unmistakably pro-Iranian bias that serves to provide them with a smokescreen for engineering a sectarian genocide in Syria? I think not.

The good

As the “Arab Awakening” manifested itself in the Arab Spring revolutionary movement, it was met with counterrevolutionary forces that aimed to subdue it. Various figures and personalities that many Muslims had long respected surprised them with positions that seemed to contradict the ideals they long espoused. I myself took great exception to the stance advocated by the famous American Sufi scholar Hamza Yusuf, who late last year made what I termed as a “morally, intellectually and spiritually bankrupt” connection between the Muslim Brotherhood and extremists like Daesh and Al-Qaeda.

On the other hand, Tariq Ramadan appears to have maintained a principled position when he courageously boycotted the Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) conference as well as events held by the Islamic Society of North America in 2014.

He did this partly because some Muslim figures, who openly shill for “despots such as Al-Sisi in Egypt”, were invited to speak at the conference. Al-Sisi’s regime has been responsible for gross human rights violations and numerous massacres against anti-Sisi protesters. It was therefore no surprise that on 2 August 2015, Ramadan criticised UAE-funded Habib Ali Al-Jifri, another Sufi, for appearing on channels that have been sympathetic and supportive of the Sisi regime, branding Al-Jifri and other so-called Sufis’ stance on mass murderers as a “Manipulated Sufism”, accurately stating that “their Sufism is a Sufism of traitors and sold out individuals”.

The bad

However, when it comes to Tariq Ramadan’s appearances on the Iranian mouthpiece Press TV, he seems to forgo the very principles which drove him to boycott these conferences and rightly criticise bankrupt figures like Al-Jifri.

Ramadan hosts a show called “Islam and Life” on Press TV, an Iranian state propaganda channel that has brought on so-called analysts that have called the resistance in Aleppo as terrorists, or relayed sectarian comments by top Iranian commanders that have branded members of the armed and unarmed Syrian resistance as takfiris – Daesh-like extremists who excommunicate others from Islam in order to justify killing them – or called for the expulsion of thousands of Syrians from Qusair a “liberation”. All these viewpoints are never contested by opposing voices, demonstrating Press TV’s propagandist nature.

The list of issues with Press TV are well-known to any avid follower of the Syrian or Iraqi conflict, and Ramadan is also familiar with the notion of “media-military operations” when he wrote about this with respect to Egypt.

With this in mind, Ramadan should be especially familiar with the fact that, apart from the military operations on the ground in Syria, there is also a war of narrative. Furthermore, Press TV’s patron, Iran, is currently engaging in genocide against the Syrian people as it props up the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad militarily and economically while sending tens of thousands of Shia jihadists from around the world to suppress the rights of the Syrians.

On an episode of Ramadan’s show, he hosted a pro-Iranian analyst who made statements sympathetic to Al-Assad and called the Arab Spring a “project put forward by neo-con Zionists.” The so-called analyst’s statements – including blaming Saudi Arabia for anything and everything under the sun – are not particularly shocking given that hysterically conspiratorial “alternative-facts” like this are commonplace in pro-Assad media sources. What is shocking, however, is Ramadan’s silence in the face of these ridiculous statements and his failure to properly challenge his guest.

During a more than two hour long lecture and question and answer session at Tehran University earlier this year, Ramadan devoted what must have been less than a minute to stating that he does not agree with Iran’s policies in Syria. Considering the level of opprobrium that he has heaped upon despots like Al-Sisi, such statements are woefully insufficient.

The ugly

As a matter of fact, these statements are extremely lacking as, at the same speech at Tehran University, he goes on to state that Iran “could have done better” in Syria. He then goes to great pains to insist on making it clear that he was not saying that their agenda was “haram”. Instead, the learned professor simply watered down Iran’s actions in Syria by saying that it was “a political mistake…that’s my opinion.”

By stating that Iran’s megalomaniacal killing spree in Syria is not “haram”, meaning impermissible in Islamic legal parlance, Ramadan whitewashed Iran’s sectarian Shia jihadism by failing to call it out anywhere remotely as vociferously as he does the Israelis, Egyptians and Saudis for their various abuses.

Is it not Islamically – morally and legally – impermissible for Iran to assist the Assad regime to organise sectarian Shia and Alawite militias to slaughter men, women and children like farmyard animals? Who now remembers the 2012 Houla massacre, where babies as young as two-months old were shot by these sectarian Iran-backed terrorists who were yelling that they were avenging “Imam Ali”? Is such mass murder, destruction and rape merely a “political mistake”, while the Sufi scholars who back tyrants are slammed as “traitors” and “sold out individuals”? As terrible as Al-Sisi is, he is comparatively a pacifist when placed alongside Iran and its sectarian agenda.

A micro-statement on one of the world’s most pressing issues in the heart of the Iranian capital falls depressingly short of the mark expected of a man who talks about Islam’s guiding principles and ethics as a cornerstone of his philosophical approach. Despite attempting to reach him for comment on what he has said and posited in the very recent past and its implications, Ramadan failed to respond and engage.

It is virtually impossible to find any strong condemnation by Ramadan of Iran’s role in Syria when it comes to the ethno-sectarian cleansing campaign being committed by its Shia jihadist proxies, its sectarian foreign policy or its paramount role in propping up the virulently sectarian and violent Assad regime. All this without even mentioning Iran’s oppressive role against its own Ahwazi Arab minority, its role in supporting sectarian death squads in Iraq that have killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and occasioned the rise of Daesh, its support for the destabilising and deadly role of Hezbollah in Lebanon and its global terrorism network around the world.

Conciliation not an excuse

Ramadan’s show aims at fostering ties between Sunnis and the Shia in order to reduce sectarian hatred – a noble cause. However, the platform he chooses to advocate such a message is not noble and Press TV’s attempt to tokenise Ramadan’s presence – with or without his active acquiescence – needs to be shut down.

It is obvious what kind of outlet Press TV is, one that parallels Hezbollah’s Al-Manar and Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam, especially with respect to Syria and Iraq. The fact that Ramadan has not used his platform to hold Iranian political and military power holders to account is unforgivable. After all, what is the point of hosting a show about Islamic philosophy and manners while being near-mute on Iran’s role in Syria on a network actively harming the Syrian people and their cause for freedom?

Rather than characterising Iran’s genocidal bent as a “political mistake”, Ramadan ought to take a leaf out of renowned Egyptian scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi’s book. While Al-Qaradawi was at pains to reduce sectarian tensions, he recently declared – after seeing Iran’s death machine get to work in Syria and Iraq – that he wished that he had the ability to fight the Shia jihadists – and not the Shia – in order to protect their victims from their savage brutality. Al-Qaradawi’s stance is therefore no different to those brave men and women who have taken up arms against the savagery of Daesh, but in particular shows that he recognises savagery and terror in all its forms without instrumentalising one to whitewash another as Iran is wont to do.

Until he drops the mantra of building bridges with Iran at all costs, Ramadan’s “Islam and Life” is a poor knock-off alternative to Al-Qaradawi’s long-stint as scholar-in-chief of Al Jazeera’s “Sharia and Life” television programme where he fearlessly tackled all manner of topics, whether people agreed with him or not. It is now high time for Ramadan to publicly recognise that Iran’s machinations in Syria and the wider region are sectarian and genocidal, without falling back on religious conciliation as a crutch for his inaction.

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