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Tariq Ramadan: As Muslims Condemn Spain Attack, Americans Must Denounce U.S. Killings in Syria, Iraq

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Spanish police are continuing to investigate last week’s attack in Barcelona, where 15 people died after a van plowed into a crowded walkway along Las Ramblas—the city’s most famous avenue. On Monday, police shot dead the man suspected of driving the van, a Moroccan-born 22-year-old named Younes Abouyaaqoub. Police believe he was part of a 12-person cell plotting to carry out a series of bomb attacks. Eight of the cell’s members are now dead; four suspected members have been detained. The events of the past week have shocked many in the Barcelona region. On Sunday, thousands of Muslims, including many from Morocco, marched against violence in Barcelona, chanting "Islam is peace" and "Not in my name." We speak to Tariq Ramadan, professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University. Ramadan was named by Time magazine as one of the most important innovators of the 21st century. In 2004, Tariq Ramadan accepted a job at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and Time magazine listed him among the top 100 thinkers in the world. But nine days before Ramadan was set to start teaching here in the United States, the Bush administration revoked his visa, invoking a provision of the PATRIOT Act that allows the government to deny entry to non-citizens who "endorse or espouse terrorism."

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Spanish police are continuing to investigate last week’s attack in Barcelona, where 15 people died after a van plowed into a crowded walkway along Las Ramblas, the city’s most famous avenue. On Monday, police shot dead the man suspected of driving the van, a Moroccan-born 22-year-old named Younes Abouyaaqoub. Police believe he was part of a 12-person cell plotting to carry out a series of attacks. Eight of the cell’s members are now dead; four suspected members have been detained. The police investigation is now focused on the role of an imam named Abdelbaki Es Satty. He died on the night before the Barcelona attack in an explosion at a house where police say bombs were being made.

AMY GOODMAN: The events of the past week have shocked many in Barcelona. On Sunday, thousands of Muslims, many from Morocco, marched against violence in Barcelona, chanting "Islam is peace" and "Not in my name."

We go now to Geneva to speak with Tariq Ramadan, professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University. He’s the author of a number of influential books on Islam and the West, including Western Muslims and the Future of Islam and In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad. Professor Ramadan was named by Time magazine as one of the most important innovators of the 21st century.

Professor Ramadan, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what happened in Barcelona, both the attacks—are they on the increase around the world—and also the response? Very few people in the West reported on the thousands of Muslims who marched against violence Sunday.

TARIQ RAMADAN: Yes, I think it’s important to understand that, yes, it’s increasing, and we have people going very far and very quickly. These are cells that are informal, in a way. And anybody can do and can launch an attack on civilians. It happened in France. It happened in Barcelona. It happened before in the U.K. So we have this happening now. And also it happened in Finland. We have this happening now in Europe.

And, of course, we need more security. We need to condemn, as Muslims, what is happening. And it’s right to say that this cannot be accepted and has to be condemned. And I kept on saying to Muslims, "We can’t say that they are not Muslims, and we can’t say that this has nothing to do with Islam. We have to take a position and to say that these people are Muslims, where are—they are saying that they are Muslims. And some of them are quoting verses of the Qur’an. So, we have to take a stand. So, this is one thing that we have to do, and we have to condemn."

What was done by, you know, Muslims in Barcelona—and not only in Barcelona, because it happened in many other countries—is demonstrating and saying, "Not in our name." It happened also in the States, by the way, with some of the things that were done by Muslims by saying, "It’s not us." The problem, as you said it, it’s not covered a lot by the media. It’s as if there is a narrative that is imposed onto us, which means, yes, we know that these people are radicals or violent extremists, as we told them. And we are talking a lot about radicalization, even though, by the way, if we go to figures and facts, we understand that many of these young people were not even practicing Muslims two weeks or three weeks or one month before what they did. So, we have to be very cautious when we speak about radicalization, because the notion of radicalization means that, in fact, they were practicing Muslim and, step by step, they became radicalized, which is not in fact the case for the great majority of these people.

So, the narrative that is imposed onto us is to say, "We have a problem with violent extremists, but at the same time, Muslims are not vocal. They are not condemning enough." And, you know, for the last 15 years—and it started in 2001 in the States—I have been asked, "Oh, you have to condemn. You don’t condemn enough." And so, look, when are you going to listen to the great majority of the scholars, the consensus among the Muslims, that this is to be condemned by Muslims, and it’s not something that we are condoning and something that we can accept. So, the voices are not heard.

And my point here is something which is connected to the story that you had before. The narrative that is imposed onto us is—in the name of this war on terror, it’s, yes, the violent extremists, the Muslims and the violent extremists are the problem, but Islam, per se, is a problem, to the point that when, for example, we go to Syria and we go to Iraq and we are targeting Daesh and saying we are targeting the violent extremists and these people, at the same time, the innocent people within the city in Raqqa, for example, are not so much important, because at the end of the day they are also part of the big picture that we are making: Islam is a problem, and the civilian Muslims are the problem. I think that this is very, very dangerous, because the narrative that is behind the whole stories that we have now in the Middle East, as well as in the United States of America or in Europe today, are very dangerous, because it’s as if it normalize a way of treating people in a way which is discrimination, racism and targeting and stigmatizing a portion of the European citizens, because, at the end of the day, Muslims are American citizens, European citizens, Western citizens.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Professor Ramadan, could you explain, though, why it is, or elaborate on why it is, that thousands of Muslims, in fact, from Europe have gone to the Middle East to fight on behalf of ISIS, in addition to those who carry out these attacks within Europe? And many have pointed out that one of the common traits amongst those who are perpetrating these attacks in Europe is that they tend to be young men who are below the age of 25. So, can you talk about the significance of that, of this particular demographic in different European countries and why they’re increasingly drawn to ISIS?

TARIQ RAMADAN: I think it’s deeper than that. It’s not only young people. All the facts and figures—and we have been working with the European Muslim Network I am chairing in Brussels. We have been even seeing some, and had some testimonies coming from, people who were going to leave or who left and came back on their way from Turkey. And what they are saying—it’s true, they are very young. By the way, it’s not only men, but it’s also women that are now much more involved. Some of them are going there, not very much involved in terrorist attacks, but they are involved in the—and they are attracted by the same way: We are going there to support the Muslims who are targeted in Syria, and we are going to free the country and support the so-called Islamic State. If you look at the facts and the figures and even the stories behind, you can see that the great majority of them are not practicing Muslims and very often completely disconnected from the Muslim organizations on the ground. And some of them—you know, 80 percent of them have not more than eight or six weeks of practicing their religion. And even some of them are not practicing Islam the day before.

So, we have—we need to understand here that there is something which has to do with instrumentalization, attraction to something being a hero, which is not a religious attraction. It’s something which has also to do also with the perception of the world where the feeling is frustration, discrimination and the feeling of being victims in the narrative that we have today in the West as Muslims. And we need to get this right. We can’t disconnect the narrative that we are imposing and the consequences. It doesn’t mean that we are not condemning, but we need to understand that the great majority of the reasons behind the whole thing has nothing to do with a religious framework or religious reference. It’s much more a political, and a wrong political, understanding connected to frustration on the ground when it comes to the image of being a Muslim in the West today, the image of—you know, some of them are very well educated, but at one point, in many countries in Europe, whatever you do, it’s never enough. Why? Because the narrative about stigmatizing Islam and being—or mistrusting the Muslims is something that is there. So, we cannot justify it, but we need to understand. And I keep on repeating, to try to explain is not to justify. To try to explain is to try to understand what is happening. It comes with your question.

And I would say here that the governments and the answer coming from the governments—the only answer that we have now is targeting them and coming with security policy. It’s as if the narrative is not there. It’s as if today, when it comes, for example, to the Black Life Matters and the black—the situation of the black people in the United States of America, you just look at what they are doing, and you say it’s a security matter, and you don’t understand that there is a very old narrative there making or connecting the black people to insecurity and violence. And then you justify the whole policy of discrimination in the name of the narrative that you created. That’s exactly what is happening with Muslims. So this is why it’s connected, in a way. What we are saying about the Middle East today, what we are saying about Western Muslims today is connected to violence, mistrust. So, if you are an American Muslim citizen or a European Muslim citizen and you look at the picture, you look what is said about you in this society, it’s negative. It’s that you are suspected. You are not to be trusted. And you are not bringing anything good within the society. So, at the end, if you look at the way, for example, all what you are saying, what Donatella was telling us about what is happening in Raqqa, it’s as if the life of these people, the innocent people, the civilians who are trying to flee the bombarding of the coalition, are targeting themselves. It’s as if these civilians have no value. So, if you are citizens here, we don’t have a value here. They don’t have a value there. I’m going to go, and I’m going to save my life by being a hero over there.

So, of course, once again, we condemn this. But we want to come with the big picture and to say, "Yes, not in my name, violence. But please, as an American citizen, tell your government, not in our name, what you are doing in Iraq, what you are doing in Syria. Not in our name, the fact that you are dividing the Middle East, and you are supporting, for example, Israel, and letting now the Palestinians being killed. Not in our name." So, as much as we are expecting from Muslims to say, "Not in our name," let us come together as Western citizens and say, "Not in our name, what you are doing." And what is said, the report of Amnesty International is just showing how unacceptable is the American policy in the region by targeting people, boats, where civilians are trying to flee. And we accept this, and we don’t speak about it. It’s not covered by the mainstream media. We need Democracy Now! to come and say, "Look, this is something serious here." We are also to be blamed in the way we are dealing with this, with the issue.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Professor Ramadan, on that point of media coverage, and what is covered and what is not, you know, even as we are covering the fact that attacks of this kind have recently been increasing in Western Europe, the number of casualties in the Middle East from terrorism and the surrounding region is exponentially more than the West. Just this morning, Al Jazeera reported that of the almost 35,000 people killed in terrorist attacks last year, only 238 were in Western Europe, while almost 20,000 people died from terrorist attacks in the Middle East and in the surrounding region. So, Professor Ramadan, can you talk about that and the disproportionate coverage that’s given to victims in the West as against these literally tens of thousands in one year killed in the Middle East?

TARIQ RAMADAN: Look, you said it all. That’s exactly what is happening. Our coverage of our dead has nothing do with the coverage of the people who are dying over there. It’s as if we don’t care. There is something—as I told you, in the name of this war on terror, we have been, or we are—or a narrative is imposed onto us that our people are more innocent than their civilians. Their civilians are not so innocent. You know why? Because at the end of the day, they are still Muslims or living in a Muslim-majority country or in the Middle East. So, connecting this to the big picture, it’s as if they are not as innocent as we are, while our governments in the West, the United States of America and the European governments, are now dealing with the situation in a way which is unacceptable, against the Geneva Conventions, against all the laws of war, all the agreements that we have, international resolutions that we have. We are not respecting this. And we are imposing a narrative that their killing, it’s to be normalized, because we are dealing with violent extremists.

And the media are not helping us in this. It’s just the marginal media that are covering by saying, "Look, if you look at figures, who are the victims?" Do you want the Muslims to go in the street and to say, "Not in our name," because the people were killed in Barcelona? What about the Syrian people? What about the Iraqi people? What about Yemen now? What about this ally of the West? We are selling them billions—weapons for billions, and they are paying, Saudi Arabia. And they are killing innocent people in Yemen. We don’t care. It’s nothing. It’s as if it’s nothing, that their civilians are not to be valued. That’s just unacceptable. And it gives the perception, in the Middle East and within our societies in the West, that the life of the Muslims or the life of the suspected Muslims or the civilian Muslims or the innocent Muslims has less value than our lives.

So, and by the way, let us also be clear, we need to condemn, but we also need to get—to try to get these people. I am not so happy by the fact that every time something happens, we are killing the people. We don’t know who they are, what happened exactly. We kill them. And I was in Africa with people telling us, "I don’t understand the logic of what we are—the way we are dealing with terrorists, because we keep on trying to kill them, and that’s it. We don’t want to catch them and to understand what is happening." So there is something which is not acceptable, even in the way we are dealing with people who—yes, they are terrorists, and we have to get with more security and to catch them. But let us try to understand how we are going to deal with this and not being happy only because we kill them and that is what we want.

So I would say that the media coverage now, it’s nurturing this narrative that was coming from—you know, starting in 2001 with this war on terror, normalizing something which is "We can do whatever we want in the Middle East" or accepting even to target civilians there, because, at the end, they are part of the problem. And part of the problem—if the civilians are part of the problem, what we mean and what we get out of this is that the narrative is saying it’s not only the violent extremists that are problematic. It’s Islam, per se. It’s the Muslims are problematic.

And I would say here that if we don’t address this issue, if we are not serious about this, if we don’t ask the journalists to respect the minimum of the common principles, which is treat all citizens, all innocent people the same way, here in the States or in Europe, as well as in the Middle East—if you don’t start with this, it means that you have a double standard, that you are nurturing a sense of frustration for the victims. And at the end, they are not going to accept this without reacting to it. So we can’t condemn the reaction. Let us condemn the reasons why things like this are also happening.

AMY GOODMAN: Tariq Ramadan, we want to thank you for being with us, professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University, author of a number of influential books on Islam and the West. He was banned from the United States under the Bush administration for six years, was supposed to teach at Notre Dame but became a professor at Oxford University instead. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Back in a minute.

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