In my 20 years of studying and teaching philosophy, I have learned to
appreciate the inherent difficulty in defining and recognizing "the truth."
Descartes put it simply: "A clear and obvious idea is true"; Kant aptly
added "consistency" as a needed element. My life experience over the past
15 years enabled me to appreciate yet another definition.
In today's world of communication and mass media, truth is not firstly
based on coherence and clarity, but rather on frequency. Here, a repeated
hypothesis or suspicion becomes a truth; a three-time-repeated assumption
imperceptibly becomes a fact. There is no need to check because "it is
obvious"; after all, "we have heard it many times" and "it is being said
Lately, I have been going through an interesting experience. I am
constantly being told "the truth" about who I am: "You are a controversial
figure"; "you engage in double-talk, delivering a gentle message in French
and English, and a radical - even extremist - one in Arabic, or to a Muslim
audience in private"; "you have links with extremists, you are an
anti-Semite"; "you despise women" etc.
When I ask about the source of this information, invariably the response
is: This is well-known, it is everywhere, check the Internet and you will
find thousands of pages referring to this.
A closer examination reveals that what we have is journalists or
intellectuals quoting each other, conclusively reporting and infinitely
repeating what others said yesterday, with caveats. Rather than using this
as an occasion for reflection, the response to this finding is usually:
"Well, there has to be some truth in all that."
Strange truth, indeed! I have written more than 20 books and about 800
articles; 170 tapes of lectures are circulating, and I keep asking my
detractors: Have you read or listened to any of my material? Can you prove
your allegations? To repeat them is not to prove. Where is the evidence of
my double-talk? Have you read any of the numerous articles where I call on
Muslims to unequivocally condemn radical views and acts of extremism?...
Finally, are you acquainted with my extensive study of the Islamic
scriptural sources and efforts to promote a new understanding, a new way
for Muslims to remain faithful to their principles and, at the same time,
able to face the challenges of the contemporary world?
To seek "the truth," one must read, listen carefully, check and recheck for
clarity and consistency, and be willing, if for a moment, to be decentred.
Very often, even within the academic field, I encounter individuals who are
not familiar with my writings. When this becomes obvious in the course of
discussion, their final argument is: "Well, aren't you the grandson of
Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood?" As if this was
sufficient proof of all the allegations.
My response is: So what? And what do you really know about him and his life
history anyway? Furthermore, are one's thoughts genetically transmitted or
do one's morals and ethics descend from the vices or virtues of one's
pedigree? This obsession with my genealogy is frankly disconcerting, for it
is dismissive. Those so focused on my genealogy should examine my
intellectual pedigree, which along with my grandfather and father includes
Descartes, Kant and Nietzsche...
(Tariq Ramadan, professor of Islamic studies and philosophy at Fribourg
University in Switzerland, is author of To Be a European Muslim and Western
Muslims and the Future of Islam. He has been described by Time magazine as
one of the 100 most likely innovators of the 21st century