"We Have to Turn Up the Volume of Reason" (2)
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Which of course proves the point the radicals are trying to make -- namely that Islam and the West are incompatible.
Ramadan: Exactly. On the positive side, what we Muslims experience in Europe will have a tremendous impact on Islamic majority countries. We now have experience with living in democracy and living in free societies. But there is a danger. If Muslims and Europeans, as equal citizens living together in a democracy, are not able to trust each other, if we are not able to talk to each other, if we are not able to come to a reasonable agreement about how to live together, we are sending a signal to Islamic majority countries that there is no way for Muslims and Westerners to trust each other. We in Europe have a great, great, great responsibility. It's important that European citizens understand that if mutual knowledge and mutual respect are improved, then we are sending the signal that it is possible. Right now, though, we are sending exactly the opposite message.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Not to be overly pessimistic, but that sounds like a pretty tall order.
Ramadan: It has to happen at the local level. It's up to each and every citizen to choose if they are ready to know more about their fellow citizens and the Muslims living around them. There is a lot of mistrust between the two groups. People need to break out of their intellectual ghettos, break out of their religious and cultural ghettos and come to some common, universal values. And these values do exist. We can't just wait for the next crisis and then react. This needs to be a pre-emptive strategy based on a true understanding of what pluralism requires.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Outside of Europe, the Muslim world doesn't seem to have understood that Europe and the West really is committed to freedom of the press, freedom of opinion and other democratic values.
Ramadan: That's true. Many in the Muslim world think that European governments are responsible for the caricatures. They don't realize that it doesn't work like that. These people are living under regimes where the president controls both the government and the media. But that's not the only misconception of the West. There is a perception in the Muslim world that the West is a lost civilization with no moral standards and no ethics. But this is, of course, wrong. It's important that the Muslims living in Europe tell them that even in the West, there wasn't just one single response to the caricatures. Many Europeans and Westerners are arguing that the West has to be wise in the way it exercises its freedom of expression.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: So you're saying that a lot of people in the Muslim world don't understand that there is a debate going on?
Ramadan: The same thing works in reverse. In the West, when you look at the violent reactions in the Muslim world, you have the perception that these are the Muslims. But that's not right either. There are different trends in the Islamic world as there are here. Because the radical voices are loudest and are covered more by the media, they have the upper hand. We have to turn up the volume of reason and ensure that our discourse gets the upper hand.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What different trends do you see emerging in the Islamic world?
Ramadan: There is a power struggle going on. The Muslim world is afraid of being self-critical because they feel that plays into the hands of the other side -- the West. If you ask too many critical questions, you are perceived as having switched sides and become a Westerner in Muslim dress. There is a perception that whereas yesterday it was political colonization from the West, today it is economic colonization and cultural imperialism. But you can't forget that the great majority of the Arab-Islamic countries are not democracies. Many people in Europe ask about the rights of Christians in Saudi Arabia, for example. What about the rights of Saudis in Saudi Arabia? What about the people. The reality is that it is a dictatorship. That's what makes it difficult to get some movement within the Islamic majority countries. We Muslims in Europe have to speak out, but the Islamic world as a whole also has to stop blaming the West and to ask ourselves, from within, what is wrong with us. The average discourse in the Islamic majority countries is that all our problems are imposed on us. No. They are a consequence. There is no freedom, there is no political will to solve the problems.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What about the Iranian paper's idea to hold a contest to create Holocaust caricatures? Why is every perceived provocation from the West answered by anti-Semitism?
Ramadan: Muslims have to realize that double standards cannot be allowed. We are confusing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- a political conflict -- with all the Jews. We have to condemn something which is harmful and anti-Semitic. The Holocaust is a deep and hurtful part of the European conscience. Exploiting that, and exploiting a people who were hurt and suffered and treated in a horrific way -- which is what the Holocaust caricature campaign does -- is not acceptable. It is to be condemned.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is there a connection between the current cartoon conflict and Iran's potential quest for nuclear weapons?
Ramadan: Yes, there is. The cartoon conflict provides the Iranian government -- which postures as the defender of the Muslim world against the West -- with legitimacy. We as free citizens and democrats need to stand between the two extremist sides -- between the Iranians and those calling for war against Iran. We need to stand between the people who are prophets of a very dark tomorrow. If we end up with a clash of civilizations, we are both going to lose. If there is a dialogue of civilizations, then we are both going to win. We have to realize that whether we win or lose, we are going to do it together.
Interview conducted by Charles Hawley
Published February 09, 2006, Spiegel Online