Islam and European identity – Tariq Ramadan responds to the Pope

Tariq_RamadanTariq Ramadan argues that the problems with Pope Benedict’s recent controversial speech go deeper than the mere use of an offensive medieval quotation:

“…. the pope attempted to set out a European identity that would be Christian by faith and Greek by philosophical reason. Islam, which has apparently had no such relationship with reason, would thus be foreign to the European identity that has been built atop this heritage.

“A few years ago, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he set forth his opposition to the integration of Turkey into Europe on a similar basis. Muslim Turkey never was and never will be able to claim an authentically European culture. It is another thing; it is the Other.

“These are the messages that cry out for an answer, far more than talk of jihad. This profoundly European pope is inviting the peoples of the continent to become aware of the central, inescapable Christian character of their identity, which they risk losing. The message … is deeply troubling and potentially dangerous in its reductionism.

“This is what Muslims must, above all, respond to; they must challenge a reading of the history of European thought from which the role of Muslim rationalism is erased, in which the Arab-Muslim contribution would be reduced to mere translation of the great works of Greece and Rome.

“The selective memory that so easily forgets the decisive contributions of rationalist Muslim thinkers like al-Farabi (10th century), Avicenna (11th century), Averroes (12th century), al-Ghazali (12th century), Ash-Shatibi (13th century) and Ibn Khaldun (14th century) is reconstructing a Europe that practices self-deception about its own past. If they are to reappropriate their heritage, Muslims must demonstrate, in a manner that is both reasonable and free of emotional reactions, that they share the core values upon which Europe and the West are founded.

“Neither Europe nor the West can survive if we continue to attempt to define ourselves by excluding, and by distancing ourselves from, the Other – from Islam, from the Muslims – whom we fear.”

New York Times, 20 September 2006