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Tariq Ramadan’s detention exposes the flaws in French liberté, égalité and fraternité

July 26, 2018 at 10:29 am

Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss Muslim academic, philosopher, and writer [Irfan kottaparamban/Wikipedia]

The authorities in France are coming under international pressure over their treatment of Muslim academic and philosopher Tariq Ramadan who is being held in custody pending investigations into a series of allegations pertaining to sexual misconduct. Scores of internationally respected public figures have joined the growing calls for justice for Ramadan, who they fear is being denied fair treatment simply because he is a Muslim. The Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at St Antony’s College, Oxford vehemently denies all of the allegations.

Ramadan, a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights, is the grandson of Hassan Al-Banna who in 1928 founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He was born in Switzerland in 1962 after his father, a prominent figure in the movement, was exiled by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Could the demonisation of the Brotherhood by allies of France in the Middle East be the reason for the treatment of Tariq Ramadan, or his support for Palestine?

Whatever it might be, the growing campaign in his support asks a simple question: Is there one form of justice for Muslims in France and another for everyone else? The French authorities are being pressed to grant Ramadan his most basic human and civil rights by campaigners, who were boosted this week by a new group of signatories including Professor Noam Chomsky, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Malian Minister Aminata Traoré, historian Joan W Scott, Leila Ahmed of Harvard University, journalist and essayist Michel Warshawski, and, from Switzerland, Jean Ziegler, vice-chairman of the Advisory Board of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Read: Brother of Tariq Ramadan ‘forced to leave’ France

They are demanding Ramadan’s right to the presumption of innocence, a fair and equitable judicial procedure, and to fair treatment by the French justice system which has treated those accused of near identical crimes in a very different manner. The appeal also emphasises the fact that besides the isolation he has endured for months, Professor Ramadan also suffers from multiple sclerosis and neurological complications for which he continues to be denied appropriate medical treatment.

Just last week, protesters demonstrated outside French embassies around the world calling for his immediate release from prison and his right to due process. There is a growing opinion that Ramadan’s treatment stems largely from the fact that he is a Muslim holding a number of high profile academic positions: he is, for example, a visiting professor at the Faculty of Islamic Studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar and the Université Mundiapolis in Morocco, as well as a senior research fellow at Doshisha University in Japan. He is also the director of the Research Centre of Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE), based in Doha.

Ramadan stands accused of rape by a group of women who came forward at the height of the global #MeToo scandal and has already undergone a public trial by elements of the Islamophobic French media who can’t even get the Swiss-born academic’s nationality right. While most of the Western world view the academic consistently as a liberal scholar — his books back this up — the French authorities and some local journalists seem to think that they’ve captured a Bin Laden-type figure.

The fact that Ramadan flew to France voluntarily and went to the authorities himself is being overlooked in the stampede to vilify him. That was five months ago and his lawyers point out that he is still being denied access to his full legal file. The much-lauded French health sector is failing in its treatment of his multiple sclerosis, they add.

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All of this is a far cry from France’s proud boast of being the home of liberté, égalité and fraternité, which might explain why so many leading figures from the world of politics, media, arts and academia have come together to sign an open letter pointing out French double standards over the handling of the Ramadan case.

Defenders of Due Process for Tariq Ramadan (DDPTR) ask for nothing more than justice and fairness for the academic. Nobody is asking for special treatment, favours or bending of the rules for him; nor are they sitting in judgment of his guilt or innocence. I know, because I have also signed up to the campaign, as have people like Ken Loach, Amina Wadud, Professor Emad El-Din Shahin, Dr Sami Al-Arian, Karen Armstrong, Professor Stephen Chan, Hamza Yusuf, Professor Richard Falk and Dr Norman Finkelstein. We all feel that justice is neither being served nor acted upon.

Former United Nations Special Rapporteur for Palestine Richard Falk on 21 March 2017 [Jehan AlFarra/Middle East Monitor]

Former United Nations Special Rapporteur for Palestine Richard Falk on 20 March 2017 [Jehan AlFarra/Middle East Monitor]

None of us is arrogant enough to assume a magisterial role or usurp the position of the French judiciary, but in the preliminary process for any trial the defendant must surely have their human rights acknowledged and recognised. It is not unreasonable to think that a country still haunted by the vile “justice” of the Algerian Casbah would want to uphold the highest standards of humanity and legal due process.

The reality is that Ramadan’s treatment is very different to that of non-Muslim men facing similar charges. The evidence of this is clear for all to see. Minister of Public Action and Accounts Gérald Darmanin, for example, and Minister for Ecology and Solidarity Transition Nicolas Hulot are the subjects of early investigations into rape and sexual assault allegations by more than one woman. Unlike Ramadan, these two were interviewed briefly and then allowed back into the workplace where they continue to serve in government; there has certainly not been any suspension from duties pending further enquiries at this stage.

Consider also the case of Englishman David Matthews, the father-in-law of Pippa Middleton – the sister of the Duchess of Cambridge and sister-in-law of the future king – who has been accused of rape; the victim in question is underage. Matthews is now back in Britain, unlike Ramadan, pending further enquiries.

Like Ramadan, it must be said, all three men vigorously deny the allegations against them.

No one in France seems to be able to explain why Tariq Ramadan is being treated differently, or why the French authorities have trashed his most basic human rights and, even though he presented himself for questioning voluntarily, denied him bail at the preliminary investigative stage.

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I believe that he is being treated differently to Matthews, Darmanin and Hulot simply because he is a Muslim. This highly respected intellectual and academic is most definitely not a serious candidate for jumping bail if for no other reason than that he is so well known that he would have nowhere to run or hide.

Sadly, unless the French authorities know something that the rest of us don’t, it looks as if their justice system has been blinded by an unbridled hatred of religion in general, and Islam in particular. If the authorities refuse to make some serious changes in the way that Ramadan is being treated, we can only conclude that France has two levels of justice: one for white, establishment figures, and the other for Muslims, no matter how cultured, eloquent and European they might be. Every French citizen should be concerned that Professor Ramadan’s lawyers have been forced to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights against the inhumane treatment meted out to their client at the hands of the judiciary in the Fifth Republic.

Oxford Don or Don Corleone, it doesn’t matter. Tariq Ramadan needs to see France’s liberté, égalité and fraternité in action, or we will be able to say with even more certainty that French justice is seriously flawed, especially if the defendant is a Muslim.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.