Anyone who supports Palestine and is vocal about the injustices suffered by the Palestinians living under Israel’s brutal military occupation should be ready to be targeted and vilified by Zionist lobby groups. This is the astonishing warning from popular Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan who was cleared of rape charges and sexual coercion by a Swiss court last week, ending a six-year-long legal struggle.
In an exclusive interview for MEMO, Ramadan told me of his fears after emerging victorious from the ordeal which he believes was orchestrated by the regimes in Saudi Arabia and the UAE which, along with Israel, have gone to extreme lengths to crush the Muslim Brotherhood, the popular movement founded in Egypt by Ramadan’s grandfather, Hassan Al-Banna. Controversial among secularists who see him as a supporter of political Islam, Ramadan’s doctorate from the University of Geneva focused on Al-Banna’s work.
Ramadan, who is a Swiss citizen, has always believed that the legal cases brought against him in Switzerland and France were politically motivated. The latest one was brought by a Swiss woman who accused him of rape in a Geneva hotel in 2008. However, her evidence was shredded by lawyers during the trial, and far from the academic being branded as a sexual predator, she was exposed as an obsessive woman who tried to seduce the renowned former Oxford University don and pursue him ruthlessly.
His accuser is a convert to Islam, and was a fan of Ramadan. She told the court that she had been subjected to a brutal sexual assault, beatings and insults, none of which was borne out by scientific or forensic evidence. She alleged that the assault happened after she was invited for a coffee by the then Oxford academic following a conference.
Emerging from the court as a free man, Ramadan dismissed claims that his trial had been about women’s rights and the #MeToo movement. If anything, he said, his ordeal had discredited both when it emerged that his female accusers in Switzerland and France had, in fact, exploited and hounded him for his telephone number and company. “The judge was very clear in his summing up that it was they who had tried to seduce me by being very persistent,” said the father of four.
It was also revealed that Ramadan’s female accusers were in touch with each other and had plotted his downfall. I hinted as much in November 2020 when I questioned the treatment of the professor following the allegations of sexual assault.
Ramadan’s case has dragged on for years in the French courts, exposing along the way even more double standards. It has always been clear that there was an anti-Muslim agenda at play. When the allegations emerged in 2017 he was forced to take a leave of absence from his job at Oxford University.
The 60-year-old has consistently denied all charges against him. The allegations are, he insists, politically motivated and designed to discredit him because of his effective Islamic advocacy and criticism of the French state.
His French and Swiss lawyers questioned the truthfulness of his accusers, citing inconsistencies around the dates of the alleged attacks. His defence lawyer went as far as to describe the charges as “crazy”. In his own testimony in court, Ramadan asked not to be tried on his “real or supposed ideology.”
While he has been cleared in Switzerland, though, this could be just the first of several trials. In France, prosecutors are still assessing whether further rape charges brought against him should go to court. They seem to be taking an inordinately long time to decide what to do. In all my years as a journalist, I’ve never known a case against anyone to take so long to get to court.
In 2018 Ramadan spent 10 months in a Paris jail without charge. He was eventually freed, but only under strict bail conditions. Then in 2020 around 150 international scholars, politicians, social activists and journalists, including myself, described events as a “masquerade of justice” with biased judges ignoring crucial evidence and a judicial process which assumes that he is guilty even before any trial takes place.
Meanwhile, writers and columnists from the far right across Europe have piled on the pressure in what can only be described as a witch-hunt. In one interview with a French newspaper, Ramadan called himself the victim of “a fierce judicial process”. There were, he pointed out, five complaints against him in France, with a sixth in Switzerland. “The complainants lied. Most of these women know each other and are in league with my worst ideological enemies… The first two complainants, who claimed not to know each other, exchanged more than 350 texts with journalist Caroline Fourest [a fierce opponent of his] six months before and after the complaint.”
While Ramadan is clearly dismayed by the negative reaction of some of his followers — he has more than two million on social media — he now fears for those in the Muslim community who are particularly vocal and critical of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
“I was vocal and they set out to destroy my reputation and have me cancelled from the media,” he told me. “The links between Israel and France are obvious and it is important for Muslims to realise that they could also be targeted. I never used Islam as a means to get in touch with any of the women accusers, but I was set up in a trap. Muslims should be aware of being lured into traps forcing them to moralise and judge others.”
By forcing his followers to focus on the moral issues of the trial it meant that Muslims avoided taking a political stance which, he pointed out, made his character assassination easier. “Muslims avoided me and were afraid to show support. There was a lack of courage and understanding of how the West played with us.”
He is adamant that “at a meeting in Dubai” his enemies in Saudi Arabia and the UAE plotted his downfall in 2017. “They worked together with the Zionists on this. All of us have to be ready to be targeted for our principles and morality and to have our religion played and used against us. They are scared of our presence in the West because it’s changing public opinion by increasing support for Palestinians. The continued normalisation of our presence in Europe is changing public perceptions against Israel. So now they want to portray Muslims as the enemies of the West.”
According to journalist Adam Shatz, the French élite has come to regard Ramadan as a threat. “[They think he is] inciting the restless, alienated Muslims of the banlieues towards Islamisation, or even jihadism. Ramadan has found it difficult to organise public meetings with his supporters in France; his attempt [in 2016] to apply for citizenship (his wife has French citizenship) was unsuccessful.”
In his article for the New Yorker, Shatz charted the rise and fall of the academic: “In 2009, he took up a chair at Oxford — financed by the emirate of Qatar, through one of its foundations — and now spends much of his time in Doha, where he runs a government-subsidised centre on Islamic law and ethics. These days, his interlocutors are more likely to be orthodox clerics in the Muslim world than European intellectuals.
“Most French Muslims have either grown tired of his heavy-handed cult of personality or simply outgrown him. As for the jihadists of the Islamic State, with whom conspiracy theorists on the French right believe him to be in cahoots, they have condemned him as an apostate because of his belief in democracy.”
What’s next for Tariq Ramadan? He told me that he plans to update his book Duty of Truth. First published in French, it provoked calls for it to be banned in 2019 after he identified his accusers. He also plans to publish an English translation.
Ramadan is feted as a progressive, world-renowned academic, writer and public speaker known for his contributions to Islamic scholarship and contemporary Islamic thought. He has held academic positions at various prestigious institutions, including the Universities of Geneva, Fribourg and Oxford. His research and teaching have focused on topics such as Islamic law, ethics, the integration of Muslims living in Western societies, and the challenges facing contemporary Muslims, especially in Europe.
Ramadan has waited six years to get justice in his home country. He can take cold comfort from the fact that the Palestinians have had to show considerably more patience while waiting for justice in theirs. In the meantime, he knows that his personal struggle to clear his name completely goes on, even as the Zionists in Tel Aviv, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi regroup to bring him down.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.