Daniel Pipes & Tariq Ramadan: Their controversy

Historians in the News

Tariq Ramadan accuses me of lying, a charge I take seriously. But, as so often is the case with Islamists and other totalitarians, the accuser himself stands accused.

Ramadan sat in the audience during my debate with Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, on January 20, 2007, and heard me call on Westerners to help build a moderate Islam. Addressing the mayor, I suggested (as can be read in the transcript,"Radical Islam vs. Civilization") that moderate Islam

can be achieved not via the get-along multiculturalism that you propose, but by standing firm with our civilized allies around the globe, and especially with liberal voices in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with Iranian dissidents, and reformers in Afghanistan.

I also propose standing with their counterparts in the West, with such individuals as … Magdi Allam, an Egyptian who is now a leading Italian journalist; Naser Khader, a parliamentarian in Denmark; Salim Mansur, a professor and author in Canada, and Irfan Al-Alawi, an activist here in Britain.

Magdi Allam

At a subsequent panel that day titled"Is There an Islamic Threat?" which I did not attend but which two people told me about and Carol Gould wrote about, Ramadan attacked me for my mention of Magdi Allam. Mozammel Haque then confirmed these reports in an article titled"Professor Tariq Ramadan on Islamic Threat," published in the February 9 issue of The Muslim Weekly, an Islamist publication. Here is the relevant section, complete with original typos:

Professor Daniel Pipes spoke about moderate Muslim and by the way, he mentioned this morning about an Egyptian Copt as moderate Muslim in his debate. Professor Ramadan said,"The fact he was mentioning was wrong. He was lying. By the way, he is a Copt. He is an Egyptian Christian. But he has an Arab name."

Note two initial points here: (1) Ramadan does not say I was mistaken in identifying Allam as a Muslim, but that I"was lying." He thus implies I know Allam to be Christian but deceptively called him a Muslim. Strong words on Ramadan's part. (2) Strange words, actually, given that I did not, either in the above excerpt or anywhere else in my London talk, identify Allam as a Muslim, only as a one of several" civilized allies." Ramadan gratuitously inserted me into an obscure argument over Allam's religious adherence.

And Magdi Allam himself, a leading figure at the Corriere della Sera newspaper, what does he say about his faith? (I thank Lorenzo Vidino for help with the following information.) Allam published an autobiography Vincere la paura. La mia vita contro il terrorismo islamico e l'incoscienza dell'Occidente ("Winning Fear: My life against Muslim terrorism and Western innocence") in 2005 in which he wrote at length (pp. 18-52) about his childhood in Egypt, where he was born to parents who both identified themselves as Muslims and was raised a Muslim. A few quotes make this point evident:

"The Islam that I have lived, the Islam in which I was born and raised..." ("L'islam che ho vissuto, l'islam in cui sono nato e cresciuto..."), p. 27.

"My mother, who has always been a practicing Muslim, ..." ("Mia madre, che e' sempre stata una musulmana praticante, ..."), p. 32.

"My parents were both Muslims, they believed in the same God and shared the same set of values and culture" ("I miei genitori erano entambi musulmani, credevano nello stesso Dio e condividevano il medesimo sistema di valori e culturale"), p. 37.

Allam acknowledges thinking about conversion to Christianity on moving to Italy so as to fit in better, but he never took this step. He has no links to the Copts. The publisher's blurb for Vincere la paura sums up Allam's self-presentation:"Magdi Allam describes himself as a secular Muslim born and raised in Nasser's Egypt" ("Magdi Allam racconta se stesso, musulmano laico nato e cresciuto nell'Egitto di Nasser)."

Whence, then, Ramadan's calumny about Allam being a Copt? Because of bad blood between the two men, both Europeans of Egyptian origin. For example, Allam's autobiography includes an"Open Letter to Tariq Ramadan" ("Lettera aperta a Tariq Ramadan") that exposes Ramadan as an extremist and because Allam refused to appear with Ramadan, the latter was denied an award from the PEN American Center.

Ramadan has allies in this claim, such as the Unione delle Comunità ed Organizzazioni Islamiche in Italia ("Union of the Communities and Organizations Muslims in Italy") and one Miguel Martinez, a polemicist engaged in a sustained campaign to malign and discredit Allam.

At minimum, casting Allam as a Copt blunts his important anti-Islamist voice. Maximally, identifying him as an apostate from Islam endangers his life. It is no secret that Allam makes no move without his multiple, around-the-clock, state-supplied bodyguards by his side. Ramadan, to his permanent shame, is party to this endangerment of a brave and creative Muslim thinker.

So, to review: Magdi Allam was born a Muslim, grew up a Muslim, and identifies today as a Muslim. But Ramadan deems him a Christian. I called for standing by Allam. Ramadan says I"was lying."

Dear Reader: Who do you consider the liar here?

A hint: This is not Ramadan's first public entanglement with the truth. Two other cases include:

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