Sakineh, the Roma, Pakistan

Monday 6 September 2010, by Tariq Ramadan

Sakineh …

Fifteen years ago I called for a halt to the so-called “Islamic” penalties—corporal punishments, stoning or the death penalty—in Muslim majority countries. The purpose of my appeal was to launch an inter-Muslim debate on the founding texts, the ways in which they are applied, and the social realities that must be taken in account in applying them. It would have taken the form of a full-scale moratorium leading to a wide-ranging debate in the Muslim world.

Many in the Muslim-majority countries—scholars (ulamâ), intellectuals and simple believers—understood and supported this approach. Others, Nicholas Sarkozy and Bernard-Henri Lévy among them, rejected it out of hand with “shock and dismay.”

Today, as international headlines focus on the possible stoning in Iran of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the French government has proposed a “moratorium” on capital punishment. The Parisian weekly Politis pungently noted that France has now come around to my position—without admitting it. A fascinating turn of events: either yesterday’s scandalized moralists have lost their minds (the very people who labeled me as crazy at the time), or they have finally adopted a reasonable, just and consistent position.

The issue can only be handled, and the reductive, biased and even populist interpretations of the Islamic penal code (hudûd) dealt with preventively. Only an approach that involves the broadest spectrum of Muslim scholars, intellectuals and citizens is likely to lead to concrete results in majority Mulsim societies—providing we actually wish to bring about a true reform.

I oppose and condemn such penalties in any contemporary society, whether in the petro-monarchies, in Iran, or in the poorest countries of the Middle-East, Africa or Asia. For they stand, in the name of Islam, in violation of justice, of dignity and of human rights in societies where judicial systems lack transparency when they are not totally corrupt; or where religion is used for political purposes, or to distinguish themselves from the West. Thus I oppose, and naturally condemn, the stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. It must not take place; it cannot take place.

But I will not sign the petition launched by several French intellectuals. I do not doubt the sincerity of the majority of the signatories, but we must not be misled by the intentions of its main instigators, the Bernard-Henri Lévys, the Marek Halters and the Sihem Habchis—founder of Ni putes, ni soumises—of the French intellectual elite.

Past masters of selective indignation and media manipulation, they now attempt to paper over their guilty silence on other issues. Iran, the West’s (and Israel’s) worst enemy, must be attacked and not the wealthy hereditary kingdoms and oil-rich sheikhdoms where stoning and judicial killing are practiced with impunity. Not a word about the innocent people ofGaza, nary a petition for the pacifists of the Peace Flotilla. Their hyper-selective condemnations and their political manoeuvres are quite simply stomach turning!

…The Roma…

No less stomach turning is the “lawful” decision to deport the Roma, with the apparent approval of a majority of French citizens—another crudely political gambit by a president who, with dwindling support on the right, the left and in the center, is using dangerously populist policies to troll for votes in the murky waters of the extreme right.

A few days ago France’s president proclaimed the distinction between “Citizens” and “citizens”, between “old stock” citizens and the rest, who are liable to be stripped of their citizenship; the measure is supported by a majority. Which takes us back to the era of citizenship by appearance, where some people were more French than others, where some French people were subject to scrutiny, and to potential surveillance… French people who are not quite French. Jean-Marie LePen can only be rubbing his hands: the president is promulgating a policy that the extreme right has been promoting for forty years.

All is not well in France; fear stalks the land. How pleasing it is, then, and encouraging, to hear politicians and intellectuals lash out at the shame and disgrace of these policies. How pleasing, and still more encouraging to see the Catholic hierarchy and some Protestant dignitaries raise their voices in protest against the politics of exclusion and mass deportation, and firmly condemn the government’s treatment of the Roma. To these bishops and priests, to these men and women, whether well-known or anonymous, we say: you are the pride and dignity of our country, the guardians of its contemporary and historical conscience.

But where have the leaders and the representatives of the Muslim organizations all gone? Where are the promoters of cultural diversity? Why can we not hear their condemnations, their criticisms; why are they not supporting the Roma in their quest for equal rights and full recognition? How can French citizens with a conscience, with a religion, an ethical sense, possibly remain silent in the face of policies that can only be described as inhumane and disgraceful? What fear stops them from condemning the inacceptable? What reduced intelligence causes them to react as Arabs, Blacks or Muslims only when they are dealing with issues involving Arabs, Blacks or with Islam? Their silence is not only without honor; it is a disgrace.

… Pakistan

Flooding, landslides…death, exile, emergency shelters. Images of devastation, horror and sadness… Tens of thousands of dead, millions of homeless, tens of millions displaced. And yet international support has been slow in coming, as though held back by some mysterious form of intertia. The UN and international NGOs have issued repeated calls to underline the seriousness of the disaster and to mobilize urgent support. But that support is still far short of what is needed.

Pakistan’s image on the international scene is anything but positive. The country has been linked to the Talibans, to Islamic extremism and to violence. Even in the midst of natural catastrophe, Pakistan seems unable to touch the West’s heart or the international conscience. Six years after the tsunami that ravaged principally Indonesia but affected thousands of Western tourists—and whose long-term impact appears less grave than awaits Pakistan—we note that human solidarity and commitment can be influenced far more by variables such as the politics of emotion or today’s favorite trend rather than by an informed, universal conscience.

It is as if certain “stereotyped” humans have lost their humanity, as if they were less worthy of rescue and assistance than others. What we see before us is frightening, and yet it is tangible; so real and so true. We can criticize all the powers of the world, all the media, the entire world itself. But in the final anaysis, both question and answer are to be found in each individual conscience. What drives my moral indigation, and my sense of solidarity? My commitment and the causes I support? Is it my social, community, political or religious affilation, or the common dignity of the world’s women and men? Am I capable of seeing, beyond skin color and national origin, styles of dress and length of beard, the essential, the intrinsic value and the distress of my fellow humans, or am I the plaything of the kind of emotive attachments that measure how deserving are the victims by how much they resemble me?

To rephrase Montesquieu’s question three centuries later, how can one be Pakistani? Good question; sad truth. Solidarity knows no color, no religion, no class. When natural catastrophe strikes, no hair-splitting is necessary. We must support those in need in the most effective way possible. Pakistan needs our support, as does India and China. History will record our dignity only if we have recognized their dignity as no less than ours.

Neither categories nor selectivity; with humanity and determination.

[This article was reproduced with kind permission of Prof. Tariq Ramadan, from the Author’s own website,]