DC: SCHOLAR COMPARES ISLAM, DEMOCRACY
Tariq Ramadan has a huge following in Europe but a controversial profile in the United States. The Islamic scholar has been barred from entering the country since 2004, when he was denied a visa he needed to accept a professorship at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
Yesterday, however, students at Georgetown University heard and questioned the influential Egyptian-born writer as he gave the first of three public lectures to be delivered on the campus by satellite video hookup from London. For 90 minutes, he appeared on a large screen in Gaston Hall, seated and wearing a sports jacket and open shirt, with Big Ben in the background.
"Why Tariq Ramadan cannot be with us physically today, we are still not sure. But if we are serious about dialogue between Islam and the West, we need to listen to Islam's most important voices," said Thomas Banchoff, director of Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, which is sponsoring the lectures.
Ramadan, a Swiss citizen, is an outspoken but contradictory figure in Islamic scholarship. His grandfather founded the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the most influential Islamic groups of the past century. He is popular in Europe but has been banned from entering France and accused of supporting the militant Palestinian group Hamas.
In 2004, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security revoked his work visa under the Patriot Act, saying he had "used a position of prominence . . . to endorse or espouse terrorist activity."
Ramadan's central message yesterday was that Islam and democracy are not incompatible in their tenets of equality and freedom for all and that tensions between them have arisen because of historic problems -- such as European colonialism, political manipulation by Middle Eastern autocrats and the influence of minority Islamic groups he described as "literalists."
"There is no contradiction between Islamic teachings and democratic principles. The problem is not the concept; it's the terminology," said Ramadan, 42, a fellow at St. Antony's College at Oxford University. The issue is not the relationship between church and state, he said, but "the relationship between dogma and rationality."
Ramadan listed five "indisputable" principles of Islam that are also fundamentals of democracy: the rule of law, equal rights for all citizens, universal suffrage, accountability of government and separation of powers.