Tunisia, Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Ken Livingstone.
Livingstone and Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
Ken Livingstone’s defeat raises many issues about his political strategy.
As a believer in robust debate this is not the time to shirk serious questions.
A major cause of unease on the left has been Livingstone’s appeals to people’s religious identities. Whether favourably, or less warmly, Livingstone’s speeches and comments have stoked divisions whose effect has harmed the anti-racist cause.
His willingness to defend Islam can be seen as anti-racist. But Livingstone has also come to embrace Islamists with far-right views.
No decision has been more divisive than his defence of an invitation to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Islamic Scholar with extreme reactionary opinions.
At the moment when a visit by Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s to Tunisia is creating controversy amongst Tunisians it is important to recall that Livingstone has not backed down on his decision. Indeed he continues to stand up for the man.
As Pink News noted during the London mayoral campaign,
Gaydar also questioned Livingstone about inviting the controversial Muslim preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi to City Hall in 2004 during his time as London mayor. The cleric is banned from entering the United States and has previously said that gay people should be executed and has also supported female genital mutilation. Livingstone was unapologetic, stating that Qaradawi was the victim of “demonisation” by the western press. (Pink News)
In Tunisia in the last few days his reception has been more mixed than Livingstone’s,
According to Noureddine Harbeoui, the spokesperson of Tunisia’s dominant center-right Islamist party Ennahdha, the visit of the Islamic scholar was officially organized by his party. He explained that the visit will be an enriching experience for the country, given that he represents “a prominent Muslim scholar in the Arab world.”
“For sure we will have people opposing the visit, but Qaradawi has many followers as well. His rally will be proof. We should give all Tunisians the opportunity to meet their favorite public figures,” Harbeoui added.
Salem El Adeli, president of the Imams’ League, asserted that the visit is an important opportunity to nullify some of the negative perceptions surrounding Qaradawi. Qaradawi’s controversial rhetoric, regarding a number of topics ranging from the rights of women and homosexuals to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, has resulted in him being labeled as an extremist by some. He has also been banned from entering the U.S., the UK, and France.
“Tunisia has proven itself to be an open country, opening its doors to all scholars. He is against extremism and terrorism,” Salem said.
Several civil society representatives were less excited about the upcoming visit of the controversial cleric. Bochra Ben Hamida is a lawyer and human rights activist who opposed the visit of Wajdi Ghoneim – another firebrand Islamic scholar from Egypt – last February. Hamida and a number of other lawyers attempted to build a case against Ghoneim, accusing him of inciting hatred, and making unauthorized use of public spaces for the purpose of worship.
“I don’t have any problem with anyone coming to Tunisia. My only concern is the unity of the people, which can be threatened by bringing controversial figures who peddle religion,” she stated.
Bochra asserted that the Tunisian government should exert greater effort in confronting the country’s more pressing concerns, such as combating unemployment, rather than bringing controversial figures that could possibly deepen ideological rifts in Tunisian society.
Zeineb Farhat, a member of the Tunisian Democratic Women association, described Qaradawi as a, “a false religious figure.” She further described him as “a disgrace to Tunisian women,” citing controversial, “sexist” statements he has made that call for restricting women’s freedoms.
Aman Allah Grich, a member of another Tunisian NGO known as “Minorities,” stated that he is not opposed to the visit, since Qaradhaoui represents an important cultural and religious figure for certain demographics of Tunisian society.
“He is free to say whatever he wants as long as it does not infringe upon other people’s freedoms or human rights – whether it is related to gender, sexual orientation, or religious convictions. However, he should not stigmatize minorities or call for their death,” Grich said.
Emna Mnif, a civil society activist and the president of an organization known as Kolna Tounis (“We are all Tunisia”), expressed her disappointment with the decision to invite Qaradawi to Tunisia.
“We feel sorry that we still welcome such such figures…The visit has other political motives,” she stated.
She concluded by affirming that Tunisian civil society would not remain silent should Qaradawi’s message serve to further exacerbate the country’s social tensions.
“We will wait and watch his speeches and what kind of discourse he will deliver. If he tries to challenge the ideas and principles we are fighting for, we will take serious measures against him,” she asserted.
A Tunisian commented on the Tunisia Live site,
• on ethnicity, race and religion, extermination of the Jews, Hitler-Nazism (Fascism)
In August 2005, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Dublin-based European Council for Fatwa and Research, of which al-Qaradhawi is president, had used the anti-semitic ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ in its theological deliberations.
»Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the Jews people who would punish them for their corruption…The last punishment was carried out by [Adolf] Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them«
• on religious freedom
With regards to the punishment of apostasy, al-Qaradawi … considers execution as a penalty in principle, but the only apostates that are to be executed are those that combine other crimes with apostasy (e.g. “incit[ing] a war against Islam”). … “intellectual apostasy” … he still strongly condemns it. He says »These people are not noticed when they invade or begin to disseminate their falsehood, but they are mostly felt when they affect the minds. They do not use guns in their attacks, however, their attacks are fierce and cunning.« …
• on freedom of opinion and expression
Al-Qaradawi endorsed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s call to execute novelist Salman Rushdie for blasphemy in regared to his novel ‘The Satanic Verses’
• on human dignity, equal rights, gender equality
Al-Qaradawi told The Guardian that wife beating was neither »obligatory nor desirable« but that he “accepts it as a method of last resort – though only lightly”.[
• on human (female) mutilation
… female circumcision … »whoever finds it serving the interest of his daughters should do it, and I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world.«
These reactions illustrate just how much it’s a grave mistake to think that all ‘Arabs’ and ‘Muslims’ sympathise (if not endorse) the opinions of people like Yusif al-Qaradawi.