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The Stop the War Coalition and the Muslim Association of Britain gathering in Russell Square remembered the dead from the terrible outrages on July 7 only yards away. Speakers including Andrew Murray (StWC Chair), Dr Assam Tamimi (MAB) and George Galloway (Respect MP) highlighted how the war on terror had not made Britain safer, and vowed to continue the campaign against the war on terror. Wasar Altikriti from the Muslim Youth Group in Leeds expressed the outrage at the attacks on the Muslim community and called for all Britons to stand in solidarity.
Fifteen hundred people came together on Saturday, July 9, at 5pm for a Peace Vigil in the Gardens of Remembrance, Friends Meeting House, Euston Road, very close to the scene of the explosion on the bus in Tavistock Square. The vigil was called by the Stop the War Coalition, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Muslim Association of Britain.
Present were MPs George Galloway and Jeremy Corbyn, along with poets, campaigners and ordinary people who wished to show their stand of concern for their fellow human beings, and their opposition to the "war on terror" which has given rise to the bomb outrages.
George Galloway said he was there as a mark of respect to those killed and maimed. "These were ordinary people, heading for work, who were cruelly killed and no-one can justify that," he said.
Dr Assami Tamimi, of the Muslim Association of Britain, declared, "This wasn't an attack on a certain creed or race. This was on everybody in London."
The vigil was the first significant opportunity for the anti-war movement to stand together since the bombings.
The Stop the War Coalition stated: "We owe it to ourselves not to allow the warmongers to exploit this tragedy in order to renew their cycle of violence. Unlike Tony Blair and George Bush, currently taking time out in Gleneagles from prosecuting a war on terror consisting of the bombing of innocent men, women and children in faraway places, the international peace movement dares to distinguish between the government of a country and the people of that country. We have always emphasised that the war on terror is counterproductive and immoral."
In an earlier statement on the London bombings on behalf of Respect, George Galloway said: "We urge the government to remove people in this country from harms way, as the Spanish government acted to remove its people from harm, by ending the occupation of Iraq and by turning its full attention to the development of a real solution to the wider conflicts in the Middle East.
"Only then will the innocents here and abroad be able to enjoy a life free of the threat of needless violence."
Oscar Reyes, Red Pepper, 13 July 2005
The worst that can happen to a democratic society is to see its citizens being transformed to passive victims paralysed by fear. The proponents of the global clash of civilisations theory shall win if we accept to be individually colonised by emotional caricatures and suspicion towards people of other faiths and cultures.
- Tariq Ramadan, 9 July 2005
In a move that appears designed to stir up Islamophobia, The Sun newspaper yesterday launched a front page attack on Professor Tariq Ramadan, an internationally respected progressive Muslim scholar.
The Suns leader column claims that Ramadan is more dangerous than extremist clerics Abu Hamza or Omar Bakri because he is a soft-spoken professor whose moderate tones present an acceptable, "reasonable" face of terror to impressionable young Muslims.
This shows a dangerous inability to distinguish between the progressive Islam promoted by Ramadan, a best-selling author whose work focuses on the compatibility of European and Muslim principles, and the proponents of the terrorist attacks on London. Ramadan himself unreservedly condemned the London bombings in a statement on 7 July, stating that The authors of such acts are criminals and we cannot accept or listen to their probable justifications in the name of an ideology, a religion or a political cause.
The Suns attack on Tariq Ramadan repeats the Islamophobic myth that even moderate Muslims are extremists in disguise. To repeat uncritically a series of unfounded claims made by neoconservative commentators would be irresponsible journalism at any time. But at a time when Britains Muslims are facing increasing numbers of racist attacks, it reads like an incitement to violence.
An oft-repeated truth
Ramadan is no stranger to smear campaigns against him, which directly contributed to the revocation of his US visa shortly before he was due to take up a position as Professor of Islamic Studies and Luce Professor in charge of the Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding programme at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana last August.
That move provoked outrage amongst academics, with the American Association of University Professors condemning it as manifestly at odds with our societys respect for academic freedom and others claiming that the case exhumed the ghost of McCarthyism.
Ramadans exclusion also drew criticism from Muslim community leaders: it sends the disturbing message that even moderate and mainstream Muslims will now be treated like terrorists, said Nihad Aawa, Executive Director of the Council for American Islamic Relations.
Writing in The Guardian last August, Tariq Ramadan responded to the news of having his US visa revoked by analysing how unfounded allegations gain the status of truth:
Over the years, I also learned that in the world of mass media, "truth" is not based on clarity, but on frequency. Repeated hypotheses or suspicions become truth; a three-time-repeated assumption imperceptibly becomes a fact. When I ask about the source of this information, the response is: this is well known, check the internet. A closer examination reveals that what we have is journalists or intellectuals repeating and reporting what others said yesterday with caveats. Strange truth indeed!
These words look prophetic when read alongside yesterdays Sun, which dedicates its whole front page, a two-page spread, a leader article and the Richard Littlejohn comment piece to the story that Ramadan who has lectured to audiences of world leaders, academics and fellow Muslims around the globe is to speak at the Middle Path conference in London on 24 July, an event partly funded by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and the Metropolitan Police.
The neo-con connection
Most of the claims made against Ramadan in The Sun, and repeated in its Murdoch-owned stable mate The Times, appear to have been cut and pasted from an article written last year by neoconservative US commentator Daniel Pipes. And the papers reliance on self-appointed experts does not stop here.
Terrorism expert Steven Emerson says: "The telegenic, soft-spoken and charming professor is just the modern, westernised face of the same enemy that wears a different mask on other battlefields," according to The Sun. But the paper does not report that Emerson (a friend of Pipes) is a discredited source whos 1994 US television documentary Jihad in America was widely denounced for its Islamophobic content, or that the same commentator claimed that the 1995 Oklahoma bombing showed a Middle Eastern trait because it was done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible (CBS News, 19 April 1995).
Further column inches are given to The Suns own neocon Islamophobe Richard Littlejohn, who duly denounces Ramadan as a fanatic. Yet all his You couldnt make it up ranting cant hide the fact that the allegations made against Ramadan are based on ideologically-motivated inventions and distortions.
Take, for example, The Suns front page headline that Professor Ramadan is banned in France for links to terrorists. This is simply untrue, as Ramadan has a flat and a permanent office in Saint Denis, Paris. The basis for the claim arises from the fact that he was briefly barred from entering France in 1996, but no reason was ever given for this and the ban was quickly overturned after it was revealed to be a case of mistaken identity.
The Sun also claims that Ramadan denies that there is any proof that Osama bin Laden said to have studied with his dad Said master-minded the 9/11 slaughter. In fact, Ramadan immediately condemned the 9/11 attacks in the strongest terms, and there is no evidence that Ramadan or his father ever met bin Laden.
Most damningly, The Sun claims on its opening page that Ramadan is An Islamic academic who says suicide bombings are justified, a claim repeated in a Times article headed Police fund visit by academic who justifies suicide bombings.
Yet the only evidence offered for this is an unattributed comment on Palestine that directly contradicts Ramadans own published views, which he repeated today:
I never justified suicide bombings. My statements were always explicit. To kill innocent people is to be condemned. I have been going on repeating that we must understand and analyze the political contexts and environment in order to understand why people are using these ways to resist. For more than 40 years, the Palestinians have not used suicide bombings and they started to do so in 1994. Why? It was three years after the Barcelona agreement, one year after Oslo and just after the massacre in Hebron. They then had the feeling that they were lost, isolated and forgotten by the world. Suicide bombings started after this series of events. One can explain why it happened; it does not mean that one is justifying it. To explain is not to justify. This is my stand, this has always been my stand.
I could go on, but it seems unnecessary when Ramadan himself has previously issued a point-by-point rebuttal to all of the allegations repeated in The Sun and Times when responding to Daniel Pipes.
Stirring up the clash of civilisations
There is a wider issue at stake here, however. In attacking a leading progressive Muslim scholar, The Sun is promoting Islamophobia more widely. That is why anti-racist campaigners were quick to condemn The Suns coverage. As Ruhul Tarafder of The 1990 Trust puts it:
The Suns sensationalist, disgraceful and irresponsible front-page story is simply an attempt to fuel Islamaphobia. Tariq Ramadan is a highly respected moderate Muslim scholar and was one of the first to condemn the London bombings, as he has condemned previous outrages. This demonisation does nothing but promote hostility towards Muslim communities. At a time of high emotions and the need for strength and unity between all faiths and communities, the inaccuracies and lies in this account only seek to encourage divisions. The Sun should issue an immediate apology to both Tariq Ramadan and the Muslim community.
Since these words were spoken and in the time that I have been writing this article, strong evidence has emerged that the London bombers were young British Muslims. According to The Suns logic, this will no doubt make Ramadans visit all the more controversial, as it continues to deploy the rhetoric of Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson and Fouad Ajami (who claims that Ramadans moderate face hides his radical heart) to attack him as a Muslim wolf in sheeps clothing.
This is a particularly dangerous kind of nonsense. It sends out the message that Islam and terrorism are intrinsically connected, by perpetuating the racist myth that extremism is lurks behind the moderate façade.
For such commentators, what is threatening about Ramadan is precisely the fact that he doesnt fit the extremist caricature. His very presence is an affront to the belief that a clash of civilisations is just around the corner, because his work expresses the strong commonalities between European and Islamic principles, and invites European Muslims to embrace their connections with the society in which they live without giving up on their faith identity. Moreover, he does this by offering a vision of social justice that moves beyond the perspective of religious minorities to argue that Muslim values can contribute to the construction of universal values of social justice and so help breach the divide that a culture of terror widens to an insurmountable chasm.
The events of the last week make this message more relevant than ever, since Ramadans approach represents an articulate political and theological response to the literalists who would claim that British and Muslim values are incompatible. And it does so in a voice that neither requires an impossible or secularist compromise, whereby the only good Muslim is one who has effectively given up her or his faith, nor ignores the social injustices that lie at the root of alienation within our society.
It may be impossible to ever full understand what motivated the London bombers, but the effect that they sought to divide society and to spread fear is more easily discerned. The Suns reporting on Tariq Ramadan highlights the risk that the media will regard British Muslims with caution and suspicion, a sure way to close off the path to mutual understanding. For if we make mistrust the basis of our exchanges then we are doing the terrorists work for them.
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