An Islamic fundamentalist accused of anti-Semitism and suspected of links with Al-Qaida is the new star of Europe’s anti-globalization movement.
Swiss Muslim theologian Tariq Ramadan stole the show at last week’s European Social Forum in Paris, a three-day event that attracted more than 50,000 anti-globalization activists from across the continent.
Ramadan, who teaches Islam at the universities of Geneva and Fribourg, appeared as the principal attraction at two events and was the only participant granted a personal news conference.
Ramadan’s presence at the forum was controversial since he has been widely criticized for penning an allegedly anti-Semitic text attacking French Jewish intellectuals.
Ramadan wrote last month that a list of French intellectuals “who have always been considered as universalist thinkers” are “increasingly affected by a community-based sectarianism which tends to relativize the defense of universal principles of equality and justice.”
The article went on to describe how the “political positioning” of “French Jewish intellectuals” was determined by their personal status as “Jews, nationalists and defenders of Israel.”
This, Ramadan claimed, had caused Andre Glucksman, Bernard-Henri Levy and Alain Finkielkraut to support the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq. Levy had decided to write his recent book on the assassination of American Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl as a way to support Israel’s pro-India policy and attack a Muslim state, Pakistan, Ramadan also wrote.
In fact, Levy also wrote a number of articles opposing the war. Both he and Finkielkraut have publicly criticized the policies of Israel’s current government and have endorsed the “Geneva accord,” an unofficial peace plan drafted by Israeli opposition figures and Palestinians close to the Palestinian Authority leadership.
Moreover, another of those accused by Ramadan as placing his Jewish ethnic background before his universalist principles — the author of “The New Judeophobia,” Pierre-Andre Taguieff — is not even Jewish.
A number of leading French newspapers refused to print Ramadan’s article, but the European Social Union printed it on its Web site and strongly resisted demands that Ramadan be excluded from the Social Forum.
Those targeted by the article were not forgiving. Glucksman said he was “less surprised that Tariq Ramadan is anti-Semitic than by the fact he has no trouble in admitting it.”
Levy went further, writing in his regular column in the weekly magazine Le Point that Ramadan had “resurrected the good old theme of the Jewish plot.”
The French Union of Jewish Students filed suit against Ramadan for racial incitement, taking up the suggestion of the forum’s principal organizer, Pierre Khalifa, that if they thought Ramadan was anti-Semitic then they should sue him.
In a statement, the Jewish student union’s president, Yonathan Arfi, said, “there is no such thing as good or bad anti-Semitism. Tariq Ramadan is an anti-Semite and should be judged as such.”
Ramadan’s polemic also had the effect of splitting France’s opposition Socialist Party from the rest of the French left, with leading party figures calling on the forum to exclude Ramadan.
One of the strongest attacks on Ramadan came from three leaders on the left wing of the Socialist Party, who long have called for the party to build closer links to the anti-globalization movement.
By specifically pointing out Jewish intellectuals, Ramadan had joined “the classic tradition of the far-right,” the three wrote in Le Nouvel Observateur. “Fascists think and talk like that.”
However, the rest of the French left was considerably more accommodating to Ramadan, with the Greens claiming that the socialists were using the controversy over Ramadan to destroy support for the Social Forum.
Whatever the criticism of Ramadan, the publicity surrounding the article meant that he became the star attraction at the Social Forum.
By the second day of the forum, crowds had to be turned away when Ramadan took part in a debate entitled “Religion, Social Struggle and Anti-Globalization.”
The situation was similar the following day, with Ramadan again drawing a massive crowd for a debate on “Racism, Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism.”
The sole Jewish presence among the 1,500 European organizations supporting the event was the anti-Zionist group known as European Jews for Peace.
However, the Jewish group was not alone in promoting a pro-Palestinian agenda: Anti-Israel banners were clearly in evidence at a march in central Paris marking the end of the forum.
Many audience members came from Ramadan’s traditional circles of support — young French Muslims in the suburbs of France’s large cities, where the theologian is considered a hero.
Moreover, the ante had been raised still further by an investigative report in a Parisian daily that claimed that Ramadan had long maintained links with leading Al-Qaida figures.
According to Le Parisien, a court in Washington state investigating claims by families of Sept. 11 victims has evidence that Ramadan’s address in Geneva appears on documents linked to the Al-Taqwa bank, which is on a State Department list of organizations accused of supporting Islamic terrorist groups.
The paper also cited U.S. intelligence reports that Ramadan and his brother organized a meeting in a Geneva hotel in 1991 with one of Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenants, Ayman Al-Zawahiri.
Ramadan denied the Al-Qaida links and the claims of anti-Semitism.
At the Social Forum last Friday, Ramadan said there was nothing anti-Semitic in his article, and thanked the forum for refusing “to bend, in spite of the witch hunt” against him.
Among those backing Ramadan was another hero of European anti-globalization activists, the former leader of France’s peasant farmers, Jose Bove, who has compared Palestinians to Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Jewish leaders suggested that Ramadan’s dialogue was dangerous in the current climate. Local Jewish Community Council head Sammy Ghozlan warned that politicians and associations that made Palestinian solidarity their standard could push wilder elements into attacking Jews.
As if to reinforce Ghozlan’s warning, a Jewish school was burned down Saturday night in an apparent arson attack, not far from where the forum was taking place.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.