While also frequently travelling to attend several panels and conferences around the world, Professor Tariq Ramadan teaches Contemporary Islamic Studies at the Faculty of Oriental Studies and Faculty of Theology at Oxford University. Ramadan is also the President of the European Muslim Network (EMN), one of the leading European think tanks centered in Brussels. We had the opportunity to interview Ramadan on a variety of topics, including the Arab Uprisings, Islamism and European Muslims.
With regard to your unique redefinition of the current developments in the Middle East as the Arab Awakening, where we are right now? How would you comment on the unfolding of such an awakening?
From the very beginning I have been very cautious as to how we discuss what was presented as the Arab Spring or the Arab Revolutions. I said that it is far from being a spring and I didn't see and haven't seen any revolutions as of yet. Unfortunately my provision, my understanding and my assessment of the situation is becoming absolutely clearer and more accurate now. I think this confirms what is happening in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Jordan and Morocco. We can see that nothing is actually really happening. The situation is extremely unsettled on political grounds and what I was saying in my book is that we cannot just assess the situation in political terms. We need to assess the situation also in economic terms. If you just try to understand what is happening now in Tunisia and in Egypt, you can see that they are only assessing their economy now. The situation is very bad. Yes, some people are making lots of money but the corruption in the Egyptian and Tunisian economy is putting these two countries under the authority of the IMF, which is much more the case now than it was before. So, this is where we are now.
Where do you think the Arab Awakening is leading to and will arrive at, eventually?
I think no one can say. It is going to be a very long process. Very Long! And I think that we need to be very cautious with our conclusions. But as I was mentioning in regards to Syria, it is going to be a very long unsettled reality. And it is as if it is Russia and China versus the West European countries and the United States, they seem to agree on disagreeing on this and letting the low intensity conflict happen in Syria. So I am not optimistic and I really think that there is going to be a long and unsettled reality in the Middle East.
Regarding the role of the youth in the Awakening, do you think that the youth itself was appalled at the consequences of their very own actions of physical demonstrating in Tahrir Square and other similar platforms?
I think once again the whole movement started without the Islamists and it started with people crossing over ideologies, crossing over political parties. And they were doing so for freedom and dignity. I think that this is what they were hoping to get. There is a lot of disappointment felt over there. They thought that it was going to be the road to freedom and democracy. This is not happening. So now we can't only have the type of political involvement which is only opposing and solely displays our unhappiness, our claims and our disappointment. It is very important for all of the political trends and citizens to promote something and to come forward and to struggle for something that is not only against the system. And this is where it is now.
Do you have any recommendations for the youth?
I think that we should push the intellectuals, the students and the citizens to be much more involved in becoming a subject of this history that is changing now - and not only in demonstrating against the dictators. You can demonstrate against the dictators, however, now it is time to deal with the reality and try to look beyond this very superficial operation between political forces; pitting the Islamists on one side and secularists on the other.
Apart from the internal struggles of the Arabs living in the region, where would you locate other forces such as Turkey amidst the Awakening? How would you weigh and interpret their influence, if there is any?
In the beginning, many people were saying that we are closer to the Turkish model because it respects democracy and the secular system. Yet, I think that this was something said intended to also appease some of the western concerns abroad from the actually reality. Now, I wouldn't say that Turkey is a model for many reasons, not only in political terms but also in economic terms. The Turkish economy is very successful today and this is what is making the system more stable. You can't compare Egypt and Tunisia with Turkey today. This is one point and the second point is that we still have to be constructively critical about where Turkey is. Yes, things are improving, but we still have to improve the transparency, the reality, the political system, the rights of minorities, the freedom of expression and the way we deal with journalists as. Also the position of Turkey in international terms, is an important factor to add.
Is the AK Party's secularism approach an inspiration?
I think the Muslim brotherhood and some of the youth are talking much more about what Erdoğan has been doing. The AK Party says, "We are still Muslims but we deal with democracy and secular principles." It is not the Kemal Ataturk reference; it is much more the contemporary reference which is perceived as a marriage between Islam and secular principles.
Is Islamism in a transformation process in Turkey and are the Islamists becoming more secular than they were before?
It depends on what we mean by secular. Do we mean that they are practicing less or accepting the legal framework which does not refer to Islam? If not, in political terms, it is quite clear that what was said by the previous Islamist Prime Minster Erbakan a few years ago, is not exactly the situation we have now. So, yes some are changing, they are understanding more and they are talking about a civil state and not an Islamic state. They are talking about dealing within a secular legal framework. So there is more acceptance of the legal framework and they are trying to work within that. It is so much the case that some analysts are saying that they are no longer Islamists but they are moderate Muslims or Muslim democrats. Even Olivier Roy has said that this is Post-Islamism; the same people with another understanding and another agenda. We should acknowledge the fact that they are changing, moving; dealing in new ways and one of the most important things is this tremendous change. It is not about the political system and secularism, it is about the liberal economy; because Islamists at the beginning of the 20th century were resisting capitalism and the new liberal system. Today, if we look around the world, in Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt, the great majority of Islamists are not critical of the liberal system. They are very much integrating within it. So this is tremendous change.
In this context, in the quest for the compatibility of Islam and a secular governing structure, what kind of a model, if any could be feasible for the newly forming governments in the Middle East?
It is good that you are saying if any. Because I don't think that there is one model. I think that there are principles and they should be respected. But there is no model. This is why I am saying the Turkish model is not a model, it is just a reality. Every model will come from the collective psychology, the culture, the past and the memory of the people. So the Egyptians should find a model for where they are. All of these models could be interesting, even if people were to only translate these models into their own languages and their own vision of civil society institutions. You can share principles but you do not impose models.
There are some questions about Islamophobia that I really want to ask. Considering the increased sense of uneasiness after 9/11 with Islam, especially in Europe and the United States, there is rising Islamophobia. How do European Muslims deal with this in their daily lives?
If you look at the situation around, we have a population everywhere. So this is the reality even in countries such as the UK and France. This is a perception that Islam is alien to Europe and a danger. We have to talk about the end of multiculturalism and all of this. I think it is everywhere. But at the same time we should acknowledge the fact that we are far from the political rhetoric at the grassroots level and that people are moving in a very, very positive direction. I think we have to be cautious when it comes to surveys that say, "73 percent of the French people and 68 percent of the British people have a problem with Muslims." The way they ask the question only nurtures this. But on a daily basis it is much more positive than that.
After 9/11 you were not allowed to enter the US for a period of time, but now this condition seems to have changed.
You know right after 9/11 the situation was much better than what it is now, because people were very supportive. Now 10 years later, we see that Islamophobia and rhetoric against Muslims is everywhere. And it is even growing in the States.
Can Islamophobia be recognized as a crime against humanity?
I think that is a tough statement. We have to be very cautious in the sense that in legal terms a crime against humanity is very much about the killing, targeting and mistreatment of people's personal integrity which does not put racism into this legal term. I think Islamophobia should be acknowledged and recognized. I think it should be refused and condemned, that I agree with and we have to find a way to handle this new type of racism against Muslims. This is the reality. Muslims should acknowledge the fact that it exists and they are fellow citizens as well. But we should not put ourselves in the situation of being victims. We should be the citizens. We should struggle against it by saying that if Islamophobia is going to be accepted in the West, it is not a problem for Muslims only, it is also a problem for the West. It means that the West is acting against itself, it is betraying its own principles and it is not being consistent. So the West would pay the price. We need to work together against that.
Then, what kind of a global influence could we expect from the second term of the Obama administration?
We were very hopeful with Obama, however we have to stop being dreamers and idealistic in the sense that we are dealing with a single man. The problem with the States is not a single man, it is an entire system. It is within the system. So we were expecting after the first four years that in the second mandate, he would be freer, he would be able to deal with the situation in the US. But apparently he is not changing. So, unfortunately the US can change their President; but they cannot change their system.
Mirroring the consequences of 9/11, there seems to be a rising historical nostalgia regarding the function and the concept of the Caliphate. If at all, how possible do you think it is that the Caliphate could be resurrected? And if you do believe it to be possible, what do you think the repercussions of such a revival would bring?
These are romanticized, simplistic answers for a complex situation. You want to unify all of the Muslims under one authority. The problem is that wrongly idealized answers are sometimes more dangerous than taking on realistic and idealistic positions. This is what we have. People are dreaming but it is not going to happen and I think we should stop being emotional Muslims and be much more realistic, wise and patient. We need time and we need to nurture a vision for the future. We are in-between idealizing the past and dreaming of the future. I think that we have to be aware of the present and change the future. This is something different, which is what we need.
An Interview by Pinar Kandemir.