Journalist Hafsa Kara-Mustapha explains why she doesn’t believe the accusations of rape levelled against the prominent Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan.
It feels odd to write about Tariq Ramadan and his accusations of rape, mainly because I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the Muslim academic.
I never adhered to his views on the need to structure a “European Islamic identity,” and I find his political stance naïve at best and above all his faith in “Western led human rights” in the light of the disasters in Iraq, Libya and of course Palestine.
That said, I write with the rock solid faith that Ramadan is innocent of the accusations of rape he now faces. I certainly don’t believe the man to be perfect or infallible, no mere human is, but I am all too familiar with France, French society and French racism so I recognise a stitch-up when I see one.
Part of my work as a French-speaking journalist consists of covering France and French society in general. It is no coincidence that the far-right party the National Front continuously tops the polls at elections and has reached the final run-off in presidential elections twice in the past 20 years.
For English audiences a general election where the main opposition would be the BNP seems almost comical, in France it’s a regular occurrence.
The brazen racism displayed in the French media is only matched by its proud Islamophobia which it conveniently labels as a rejection of all things “clerical” and part of its revolutionary heritage.
It could almost be accepted as a valid reason if Jewishness and all things Jewish were not elevated to almost sacred status.
And while Islam in France can never be compared to the power held by the Catholic Church in this profoundly Christian country, the commentariat’s ongoing battle against all things Muslim gives a sort of respectability to Islam-bashing.
In 2016 the French minister for work Laurence Rossignol compared woman who wear the hijab to “nigg..s who preferred slavery to freedom” advocating the need to liberate French women from their “servitude.”
The use of the “N” word as well as her ability to dictate to women how to dress never jeopardised her position in government. Better still, journalists and politicians alike rallied to her support dismissing the “N” word she used as simply a “clumsy choice of words.”
Examples such as these are too numerous to relate in one article but all such incidents point very clearly to the deeply held belief that Muslims not only can be mocked and humiliated but that it’s a national duty to do so.
When a French Tunisian lapsed Muslim decided to write on her Facebook page that the most famous European Muslim man abused her in 2012, France could almost be heard clapping in collective cheer.
Attempts to silence the Swiss-born theologian had been made ever since he emerged as a fierce critic of both Israel and Neo-conservative Zionist politics in the Middle East.
Consistently referred to as at the “Muslim thinker” he once engaged a panel of prominent Jewish intellectuals on French TV who were staunch advocates of Bush’s war in Iraq. When he reciprocated to their “Muslim” remark by pointing to their Jewishness, France gasped in stupor and accusations of “antisemitism” duly ensued.
Of course the word “antisemitism” has now been emptied of all its meaning and is merely a political tool used by pro-Israel supporters to silence critics of the colonial entity. Nevertheless, that powerful word used in Britain as well to destroy political careers, is the one that puts all Palestine supporters on the slippery slope of destruction.
Tariq Ramadan did not help his case when he publically denounced the deeply offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by Charlie Hebdo. Asked to back down from his criticism after the editorial team of the controversial magazine was gunned down, Ramadan confronted his critics maintaining that there was no humour or honour in making crass drawings whose sole purpose was to offend and humiliate a community.
To aggravate his case Ramadan pointed to the sacking of cartoonist Siné a few years before for comments believed to be offensive to Jews.
The debate in which he faced a panel of the most notable faces of the Islamophobia industry in France and during which he kept his cool and answered calmly to all his detractors is no doubt what sealed his fate.
It has to be noted that by that point Ramadan was no longer avoidable. While his speeches in English may come across as insipid, in his native French he is an incredibly powerful orator and TV ratings rise considerably whenever he appears on a programme.
French television normally only tolerates ethnic minorities that adhere to well accepted stereotypes. The Muslim or black TV personality has to be a rap artist or an athlete. When displaying some level of intelligence, the “ethnic” needs to be silenced as this clashes with the perceived image that is necessary to maintain Islamophobia at the top of the news agenda.
Those Muslims who are feted in the media have to first and foremost pledge their public support for Israel in order to further their careers.
France’s most “popular imam” is Hassen Chalghoumi who barely speaks French but who visits Israel and uses his public platform to both support Israeli policies and berate the Palestinians for being “too good at playing the victims.”
Then there’s the Algerian author Kamel Daoud who stated at the height of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza that there was no reason why Algerians should express solidarity with Palestinians. He went on to obtain several literary awards and now has a column on the right-wing political magazine Le Point in which he condemns Muslims for being perverts and rapists.
Examples of TV-approved Muslims are countless with Tariq Ramadan one of the few voices who continuously challenges the ambient racism as well as France’s pro-Israel policies.
In this context it’s worth noting that the first person to “discover” victims of Ramadan’s alleged abuse was French-Israeli paparazzi Jean-claude Elfassi.
Elfassi is said to be close to Henda Ayari, Ramadan’s first accuser and author of a book that was released shortly after her claims on social media.
Although France’s Muslims failed to rally in support of Ramadan the way the Jewish community did for convicted paedophile Roman Polanski – who admitted raping a thirteen year old girl when he was 44 – some non Muslim voices pointed to the highly politicised charges brought against the Muslim scholar.
Edwy Plenel, the editor of one of France’s most respected investigative newspapers Mediapart, denounced the Islamophobia that followed the “Affaire Ramadan.”
While never claiming to exonerate the Muslim thinker and author, Plenel simply pointed to the absence of restraint in covering the story in particular as both Polanski and Dominique Strauss Khan -who had been accused of rape in a New York hotel in 2011- benefited from the presumption of innocence not afforded to the accused Muslim who was described as guilty from the moment the story broke.
In response France’s former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who is a notable pro-Israel supporter responsible for banning Dieudonné’s performance, compared the acclaimed journalist to an ISIS militant.
In this climate it’s difficult to imagine a prominent Muslim benefiting from a fair trial or even a fair investigation. We have come to recognise that the US legal system simply won’t deliever a fair verdict for a black person accused of crime, in France the same can be expected for a Muslim.
Of course Tariq Ramadan can bounce back from these accusations. After all, French musician Bernard Cantat who beat his girlfriend to death in 2003 was released in 2007 and returned to the stage.
In 2010 his then partner committed suicide because she could not bear suffering more abuse, but despite that Cantat was celebrated on the front page of rock magazine “les Inrockubtibles” just as Ramadan was being accused of rape.
Maybe Ramadan can clear his name and resume his career, then again “Tariq” is no “Bernard.”