a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

A fistful of fact-checking: Martens vs. Pipes on Tariq Ramadan

Posted by Thomas Nephew on September 3rd, 2004

Daniel Pipes, the director of Middle East Forum and a well-known writer on Middle Eastern affairs, recently wrote an article for the New York Post, “Why Revoke Tariq Ramadan’s U.S. Visa?,” welcoming that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decision. Tariq Ramadan is a Swiss national who is also a devout Muslim and religious scholar. But in his seemingly authoritative, link-rich article, Mr. Pipes strongly implies that Ramadan supports Islamist terrorism.

One Scott Martens of A Fistful of Euros took the time to “factcheck his ass,” as the nice warblogger expression goes, in a lengthy article titled “Daniel Pipes on Tariq Ramadan: Why French literacy still matters.” Even discounting for Martens’ freely given acknowledgment that he thought little of Pipes in the first place, the result is an absolutely devastating blow to Daniel Pipes’ credibility.

Martens shows that Pipes relied on the fact that most New York Post readers are not going to be able to read the French articles he cited even if they followed his links to them online. Pipes then proceeded to twist one Tariq Ramadan quote or factoid after the other beyond recognition.

In one of the most egregious examples, Pipes states, “Along with nearly all Islamists, Mr. Ramadan has denied that there is “any certain proof” that Bin Laden was behind 9/11.” Martens translates Ramadan’s actual statement as follows:

A: So far, investigators have not put forward any clear or definitive proof of his guilt. The likelihood is very great, but some questions remain unanswered: the difference between the extreme sophistication in the build-up to the attack and the accumulation of mistakes afterwards is impressive. Why leave so many tracks and never claim responsibility for the attacks? There are still too many incoherent things about it to be able to definitively designate who is responsible. But whoever it is, bin Laden or someone else, we need to find them and prosecute them. (emphasis added)

But the kicker is that Ramadan made this statement to Swiss journalist Nicolas Geinoz on September 22, 2001 — a scant 11 days after the attack! Even the White House took a couple of days to express confidence it was Bin Laden’s doing. And at any rate, Ramadan called for finding and prosecuting whoever did the attacks.

Another example is Pipes’ claim that Ramadan “publicly refers to the Islamist atrocities of 9/11, Bali, and Madrid as “interventions,” minimizing them to the point of near-endorsement.” But again, translating the French “Le Point” article involved yields a different impression. Martens provides the full statement involved:

[Ramadan]: From the suburbs of France to Muslim society, you will find no support, except for some miniscule amount, for the actions in New York, Bali or Madrid. We must not confuse the Iraqi and Palestinan resistance movements with pro-bin Laden acts.

Martens asserts that the French word intervention can be best translated as “action” in the above context. But even if you used the English word “intervention,” Ramadan’s statement appears to be nothing at all like a ‘near-endorsement’ of the 9/11, Bali, and Madrid terror attacks: there’s “no support” for them either way. Ramadan has since published his own rebuttal to Pipes in the Chicago Tribune; he says the word ‘intervention’ was used first by the French journalists interviewing him.

Pipes most politically substantive point — although insufficient to revoke a visa, I would think — is that Ramadan “has praised the brutal Islamist policies of the Sudanese politician Hassan Al-Turabi.” In his Tribune piece, Ramadan responds:

Nothing of what I said about al-Turabi’s policies is remotely favorable. After visiting Sudan in 1994, I wrote: “Nonetheless, one must clearly say that the present regime does not offer minimal guarantees for political pluralism, that opposition parties are muzzled and that cronyism is the rule. Muslims are called to remain vigilant, for the opposition of the United States and Israel is not enough to support the `Islamic’ character of a project.”

On rereading Pipes’ article, I suppose careful New York Post readers might have sensed a pattern of innuendo anyway: “Intelligence agencies suspect… “; “Osama Bin Laden studied with Tariq Ramadan’s father in Geneva...” (Well, there you have it. What more evidence would we need, even if it were true — which according to Ramadan is not the case.) But while there’s just enough faux scholarship to make the casual reader nod and say “yup,” Pipes’ evidence proves either weak or nonexistent on further examination. As Mr. Martens puts it:

Daniel Pipes thinks we’re all either to stupid or too scared to actually question the nonsense he passes off as scholarship. He relies on an American audience that is unable to check his sources, because when they do, they find out that Daniel Pipes is an empty suit.

If, as Lee Smith writes in the American Prospect, Tariq Ramadan “believes Islam will replace Judaism and Christianity,” then as a secularist I find that mildly distasteful, but no more so than I feel about similar sentiments by, say, Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the eventual triumph of Christianity. That comparison is actually pretty unfair to Ramadan, whose language is apparently rarely if ever as overbearing as Robertson’s or Falwell’s.

Meanwhile, needful to say, the kind of bad-faith, trumped-up charges and innuendoes Pipes makes against Ramadan are wrong. Someone who both concocts smears like this one, and has a presidential appointment to the “United States Institute of Peace” should and must be denounced. Shame on him.

And if these kinds of charges are indeed why the DHS revoked Ramadan’s visa, then Pipes isn’t the half of it: shame on the DHS as well.


MORE: Aziz Poonawalla has a several posts up about Ramadan, all worth reading. Glenn Reynolds thinks “Unless there’s more to this story than we know so far, I’d say that it’s not a good idea.” Martens and Reynolds both point to separate Volokh posts about Ramadan; Volokh says that the government is right to bar aliens “simply on suspicion of connections with terrorists,” and should not have to obtain “proof in court of criminal conduct” to do so — and thus illustrates the power of the Pipes smear.

One Response to “A fistful of fact-checking: Martens vs. Pipes on Tariq Ramadan”

  1. » Blog Archive » Why don’t we hear Muslims condemning terrorism more often? Says:

    […] has faced a long and patently dishonest smear campaign by Daniel Pipes and others desperate to vilify never-quite-moderate-enough Muslims like him. It’s an outrage […]

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