Why are there so few moderate Muslims speaking out against Islamic terrorism? That’s a common complaint heard in the West, but in truth, plenty of Muslims are critical of suicide bombers. What’s harder to find are Muslim leaders who condemn terrorism while also maintaining credibility among disaffected Muslims, and intellectuals who can appeal to both secular Europeans and Middle Eastern imams. That’s why the Swiss-born Tariq Ramadan is such a compelling figure.

Ramadan has been called the Muslim Martin Luther King, and he’s often described as Europe’s most important Muslim intellectual. He has no shortage of charisma — a quality that serves him well as he reaches out to various constituencies. There’s no doubt that Ramadan commands a large following. Hundreds of young Muslims turn up at his public talks, and tapes of his lectures are widely circulated. He travels frequently throughout the Islamic world, trying to build bridges between European Muslims and conservative clerics.

But there are some countries Ramadan can’t visit. The United States, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have all banned him — each for different reasons. In 2004 Ramadan was all set to move his family to Indiana, where he’d accepted a teaching position at Notre Dame. But the U.S. State Department revoked his visa — though exactly why remains a mystery. Ramadan says it’s because he’s an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy. His critics say he has ties to Muslim terrorists. No evidence of a direct link to terrorism has ever surfaced, though plenty of people have looked for one. Yet his most vocal critics are in France, where Ramadan is a prominent public intellectual. The French journalist Caroline Fourest even wrote a book-length attack on Ramadan, titled “Brother Tariq.”


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