By: Khaled Abou El Fadl
What is happening to Tariq Ramadan in France is disgraceful and simply ignominious. I can no longer maintain my silence before this grotesque travesty of justice. Since rape charges were filed against him in France, Tariq Ramadan’s case has been marred by procedural irregularities, denials of due process, and evidence of insidious discrimination. In fact, Ramadan’s mistreatment by the French courts, and his virtual public lynching by the French media has been so outrageously unfair to the point of rising to the level of outright persecution.
Alain Gabon and others have already detailed the record of persecution and abuse by the French authorities in this case, and more than one hundred prominent academics and scholars have signed a statement demanding fair treatment and due process rights for Tariq Ramadan.
So why do I write? I write first because as a Muslim, I am outraged by the embarrassing silence of Muslim organizations and leaders before the undeniable lynching of a prominent Muslim scholar. The same organizations who at one time rode on the coattails of Tariq Ramadan’s prominence and fame, and that competed for bragging rights by having Tariq Ramadan on their slate of confirmed speakers in their conferences and symposiums, have now conveniently abandoned him and his family to their plight.
The second reason I write is that as a student of history and law, Ramadan’s case reminds me of the shameful Dreyfus affair in which the enlightened French legal system wrongfully tried and convicted an innocent man, simply because he was a Jew. I write because I strongly suspect that the way that Ramadan’s case is being handled evidences clear political and religious biases, and that these biases account for the numerous irregularities that plague France’s judicial proceedings. I write because I am deeply troubled about the mockery being made of the presumption of innocence, and because there is substantial evidence that Tariq Ramadan is not treated as a suspect properly facing rape charges, but is effectively a political prisoner being persecuted by his sworn ideological enemies. Having studied a whole host of criminal cases filed against suspected rapists in France, there is no question that Tariq Ramadan’s treatment is not justified by the charges, allegations, or investigatory proceedings of the case.
Here is a partial account of the irregularities and problems in this case:
Tariq Ramadan has been languishing in preventive detention since February of this year. No date for trial has been set, and it is not even certain whether there will be a trial.
Ramadan was not treated as a normal criminal defendant. His case was inexplicably transferred to the jurisdiction of prosecutor Francois Molins, someone who has made a career of prosecuting terrorism cases in which the suspects were invariably Muslim.
Molins treated Tariq Ramadan precisely as he would treat a terrorism suspect. Ramadan was placed in solitary confinement; his access to family, attorneys and his own case files were severely restricted; and he was denied mail privileges and any privacy rights.
Shockingly, Ramadan was detained for months before being allowed to speak or introduce any exculpatory evidence on his own behalf. Only on June 5 of this year was he finally allowed to offer testimony and evidence in rebuttal. In legal terms, by the terms of his confinement, Ramadan has been placed in disadvantageous circumstances, where his ability to defend himself against the charges are severely restricted. The problem with the imposed restrictions are not just psychological but they constrain the ability of the defendant to conduct research, deliberate with counsel, and launch a vigorous defense against the charges made. Imagine trying to organize a defense against serious charges when you are imprisoned in solitary confinement twenty-three hours a day, allowed only short sojourns outside your cell, denied access to a library or a computer, denied access to most mail, denied writing and reading material, and denied access to your own case file!
Add to this, Tariq Ramadan is very ill, and it is not an exaggeration to say that the conditions of his confinement are tortuous. The conditions of his confinement are leading to a severe deterioration in his health and may even lead to his death. Despite overwhelming medical documentation, the French court has refused to place him in a hospital and to provide him with adequate medical treatment.
The presumption of innocence means that we must presume a person to be innocent until proven otherwise. But this is not the way that Ramadan is being treated. The way he is being treated is reminiscent of the way French courts have treated terrorism suspects, where their rights to due process have been severely restricted because of purported national security interests.
Tariq Ramadan’s case, however, is not supposed to be about terrorism but about alleged sexual assaults. The court has produced no convincing justifications for all the restrictions placed on him in prison, leave alone for refusing to treat him like the overwhelming number of defendants facing similar charges, who are released in some supervised capacity until the date of their trial.
In fact, most recently the French government uncovered a terrorist plot by a white nationalist group, named the AFO, to attack and murder Muslims all over France. Although the ten members of the AFO admitted that they planned to execute deadly attacks against mosques and Muslim schools in France, the leader of the group and most of its members were charged and granted supervised release immediately. The AFO defendants have not suffered anything even close to what has been inflicted upon Tariq Ramadan.
Denial of due process
Let me state this as clearly as I can: the problem with this case is discrimination –Tariq Ramadan is not being treated like any similarly situated defendant facing the same set of charges; the problem is denial of due process – the conditions of Ramadan’s confinement effectively deny him the opportunity to launch a vigorous defense in his own behalf; and the problem is persecution – Ramadan and his family been subjected to a lynching in the French media.
Moreover, the French state has been complicit in exploiting the opportunity offered by the charges brought to persecute a Muslim public intellectual, who for years has been a thorn in the side of France’s government. The problem is that, like the Muslim ban which was recently upheld by the US Supreme Court, there is ample evidence of anti-Muslim animus that is being conveniently ignored by the French court. The very serious problem is that, considering the track record of the French court thus far, it is highly doubtful that the French system can offer someone like Tariq Ramadan a fair and just trial. Like the infamous Dreyfus case, with every passing day, this is looking more and more like a political assassination and not a fair adjudication.
In the Dreyfus Affair, an innocent man had to be convicted and imprisoned for years before French Jews realized that the ideals of the French Republic of liberty, equality, and fraternity did not include them, and that as citizens, they enjoyed second-class status. But the Dreyfus Affair also became a wake-up call for Jews in France and Europe to aggressively claim dignity and equal rights as citizens, and not to shy away from demanding their due as a people. The Dreyfus Affair was also a transformative event in the history of European Jewry because it convinced so many Jewish intellectuals of the imperative of becoming conscientious of their collective identity, dignity, and solidarity as a people before they could hope to achieve equal rights as citizens.
I am forced to wonder what it will take to wake up Muslims to the fact that the Ramadan affair is quickly becoming symptomatic of the gross disempowerment and political meekness of Muslims all over Europe? I must say that I cannot resist the rather gloomy thought that a people who do not recognize the importance of rushing to the aid of their brightest and sharpest when they are unfairly treated and denied basic justice, will be hard pressed to win respect as a people.