Fort Hood Reactions

We have heard from a range of Muslim voices about the Fort Hood shootings, from former American soldiers, an Imam and a feminist Muslim journalist. In our weekly discussion on the intersection of faith and politics, Host Michel Martins speaks with Tariq Ramadan, a Professor and one of the leading thinkers about Islam and the West, for his reactions to Ft. Hood.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We continue our discussion about the intersection of faith and politics. Over the course of the week, in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shooting, we have heard a range of Muslim voices reflecting on if, and if so how, that tragedy connects with Islam. We heard from Muslim former members of the U.S. Armed Services, a traditionalist Imam based in Virginia, and a feminist Muslim journalist. We thought wed conclude the week with one more person for our weekly Faith Matters conversation, where we talk about matters of faith and spirituality.

Tariq Ramadan, he is a leading thinker of Islams interaction with the West. His grandfather founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. His father was a friend of Malcolm X. Tariq Ramadan is now professor of contemporary Islamic studies at the Oriental Institute at Oxford University. He was named one of Time magazines most important innovators of the 21st century. His latest book is called What I Believe. And he joins us now from London. Professor, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Professor TARIQ RAMADAN (Contemporary Islamic Studies, Oriental Institute, Oxford University): Thank you for inviting me.

MARTIN: I did want to ask how you heard about the tragedy at Fort Hood, and what you have heard so far.

Prof. RAMADAN: Look, I heard about it as all other, you know, people around the world and citizens, through the TV channels and radio and people taking. And then I got some calls from journalists asking me what I was thinking about the whole issue. So my first reaction, to tell you the truth, was really to think about psychological problems.

I thought that this could happen in anything which has to do with, you know, soldiers involved in under pressure this could happen. And then I heard that there were other channels where the people were saying, oh, it may be connected to violent extremism and people from within infiltrating the Army. So, I still think that its maybe much more about psychological problems.

MARTIN: Well, thats a certainly an entirely legitimate perspective, particularly given that this man was a trained psychiatrist and did report having anxiety about his pending deployment to Afghanistan. He had not previously been deployed overseas. But I think one of things that raises questions for people is the discovery of a PowerPoint presentation he made to his colleagues, when he was posted at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. where he raised the connection between Islam and the stress of soldiers, service members being called to fight in Muslim countries.

And one of the things that he said was that Islam is essentially incompatible with this mission - with these missions and that Muslim soldiers who might be called upon to fight would suffer anxiety. And he ended his PowerPoint presentation in a way that disturbed many of his colleagues by saying that we worship death more than you worship life, and quoting from the Quran.

One of the reasons we wanted to talk to you is because youve written about multiple identities. One of the chapters in your book is titled Multiple Identities: First An American, A European, An Australian or A Muslim. You write about how Muslims are constantly being where their loyalties lie. You say thats a meaningless question.

Prof. RAMADAN: Yes. It's a meaningless question for who we are first, because I really think that you and me and all the citizens, we have multiple identities and it depend on the context. Our entity could be first Muslim when you are facing, you know, death and your own death and the death of the people you love. But when you are going to act as a citizen, you are first an American or Canadian or a European.

It depends on the situation and I think that this is quite important to understand. And it's true, that for a simple ordinary Muslim involved in Western armies, for example, it's a question; could I go to kill my fellow Muslims or to be involved in a war against Muslims? And you had an answer, coming mainly from the literalists and the Salafi literalists and (unintelligible) Saudi Arabia, saying no you can't. And you have to say no I can not go there, because you can not, as a Muslim go to kill a Muslim, so you have to say no.

And you had other answers coming from contemporary scholars, more reformists, saying in order to show your loyalty to your country, go and do the job with the honor. So it's a question of showing and proving your loyalty your fellow citizens and you go there. And my answer to these two responses is no, this is not the right answer because it's very problematic. You are not going to ask the victims what is your religion to know if I'm going to war.

This is not the right thing to say. It's not a question of being not a Muslim. On the other side, as a citizen, I have nothing to prove my fellow citizens. I have nothing to prove. I'm not going to kill people to prove that I'm a true American. At the end of the day, it's a question of principle and you have to ask yourself; is it right or is it wrong as a citizen?

MARTIN: Well, of course, there are so many things that we could talk about here. I mean one of the things that I think some people find puzzling about this is that Muslims kill Muslims every day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. RAMADAN: Yes. That's exactly it. The point is, even on the principle, you know, if they are doing wrong, to be, for example, for me to be against Saddam Hussein is not even a question. To be against the people who are killing innocent people, for example, in the streets of New York, is not even a question I have in the name Islam because what they are doing is anti-Islamic even though they are doing it in the name of Islam as Muslims. So we are facing a clash of perception and this is also something that I am tackling.

The clash of perception is an us versus them. So if you think of yourself oh, I am a member of the Islamic (unintelligible) or the Islamic nation and I am facing domination coming from the West, how could it be for me to be in the army of the dominate civilization against Islam? Am I not supporting the enemy? So you have to go beyond this perceptions to say, at the end of the day, it's not a question of us versus them; it's a question of justice, it's a question of dignity, it's a question of resisting oppression and promoting democratization.

MARTIN: The other thing I wanted to talk about is that youve written about the tension, the difficulty, of being a visible Muslim in the West today. You said being a visible Muslim in the West today is no easy matter. People are afraid.

Prof. RAMADAN: Yeah.

MARTIN: They experience tensions and doubts that often produce passionate, emotional sometimes uncontrolled and excessive reactions. But on the flip side of that, there has been reporting that's come out in the wake of the Fort Hood shooting that suggests that some of Major Hassan's colleagues were very concerned about his beliefs, which portrayed a very extremist version of Islam, a very sort of ridged version of Islam - but they were afraid to talk to him about it for fear of being seen as incentive or less than respectful of his beliefs.

What do you make of that?

Prof. RAMADAN: Yes. I think that here you are touching something which is crucial and critical. Is that, yes, the visibility or the new visibility of Muslims in the West is problematic. You know, we are talking about the head scarf, we are talking minarets. Even in my country of origin and now my country in Switzerland, so the visibility is problematic and the visibility even of the colors, the Muslims, the Arabs, this is problematic. And it's not easy to be a Muslim and to face something which is a perception of suspicion and mistrust.

This is the reality of our pluralistic societies today, in the States as well as in the West, around the world, is a state of mistrust. Now the problem is that if we want to go beyond this, we need to create, at our level, as citizens, as soldiers, space of trust.

Spaces of trust mean, in fact, that when you have a concern, when you feel something, for example, with a fellow soldier that you feel that he may be extremist, that you feel that he may be a narrow-minded or dogmatic mind, we are scared to speak because the suspicion is so deep that when we dont speak we are scared and when we speak we are scared to offend to not to say the right thing.

These are the two consequences of mistrust. So I would say to the people, if you feel something like this, try to talk. Try to understand. And it may end up with someone with a dogmatic mind and that you have to be cautious. And we have, also, when it comes to something which is so sensitive as security, and I would say that the first who have to do that are the Muslims. They have to stop with the victim mentality. They have to stop saying they dont like us and they have to reach out and to speak out.

But to our fellow citizens, we have to expect from them something which is more knowledge which is dialogue, communication and to be courageous enough to raise the right questions and to ask. This is what you can do when there spaces of trust. And remember something which is quite important. In July the 4th, your president Barack Obama, when he was in Cairo, all the people were saying Barack Obama was talking to the Muslims around the world, but not only, he also spoke to the Americans by saying look, Islam is an American religion and the American Muslims are contributing to the future and the better future of our country.

So when you understand that this religion is one of your religions in America, when you understand that the fellow Muslim citizens are equal citizens, and then we have to know them, that we can take from them, that they can contribute to your future, you create spaces of trust that we need today to go towards the critical discussions that are needed and not only perceptions, fears and mistrust.

MARTIN: And finally, and to that end, Professor, one of the reasons as I understand it, that you wrote your latest book, "What I Believe," is to clarify your views, given that youve been banned from a number of countries, including the United States...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: ...because there was a perception of what your views are and your view, obviously a misconception. Can I just ask, what is the status of that? You had been invited to teach at Notre Dame and were unable to fulfill that because of the visa situation. What's the status of that?

Prof. RAMADAN: Look, its a very sad story. This happened in 2004. I was to go to Notre Dame to settle down. It was a definitive decision for me to stay in America. And I got a call telling me that my visa was revoked because I gave money to an organization which was blacklisted one year after I gave the money, which is completely ridiculous.

Now we are waiting and what we got from the State Department is that before the end of November we may have a political decision or a legal decision to let me in or something else. We still dont know. But I'm quite optimistic that for the new administration, which seems to be a bit more open about critical discussion or understanding that we are contributing to the intellectual debate that something is going to change.

So what I believe is really, for one and for all, just to come with what I really think about the future of our pluralistic societies and I'm speaking about the states, I'm speaking about other Western countries by saying we can live together, we should contribute, and the next step is no longer to speak about integration, it's all to understand that we need together to create a new we. A new we is you, is me.

We have different backgrounds, different religions, different values, but we also have shared values and shared objectives for our society and we have to be committed citizens to change our societies for the better. This is what I call ethics of citizenship, a new we, different roots, but common future.

MARTIN: That was Oxford University Professor Tariq Ramadan. His latest book is "What I Believe" and he joined us from London.

Thank you, Professor. Thank you for speaking with us.

Prof. RAMADAN: Thank you so much.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Coming up, Lou Dobbs abruptly jumps ship from CNN. The Barbershop guys weigh in on the drama of that and Sammy Sosa's interesting skin care ritual. Sit tight. The guys are up next.

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

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