On Friday, Professor Tariq Ramadan, who is arguably Europe’s most influential Muslim public intellectual of the last twenty years, was charged in Paris with two counts of rape and put under criminal investigation. Since these allegations first surfaced last October, Professor Ramadan has repeatedly denied them.
The campaign group, “Justice for Tariq Ramadan”, has been attempting to rally support for him, which has included circulating a petition, “Tariq Ramadan: Full Support”, urging people on various social media platforms to sign it. Written in three languages – French, English and Arabic – the petition has so far attracted nearly 24,000 signatures at the time of writing.
I want to set out briefly why I cannot – in good faith – sign this petition.
Let me start by saying that I support the principle of the presumption of innocence, which is after all at the heart of most legal systems. And I support it not just in the abstract sense but in this case too.
However, the petition provides us with no evidence that either the legal process or the police investigation have been compromised or fallen short in some way such that Professor Ramadan’s right to be presumed innocent has been violated. Of course, if that were indeed shown to be the case then it would have to be challenged vociferously.
Instead, the petition asks us to go “over and above the presumption of innocence” to give Professor Ramadan our full support and invites us to affirm that the two accusations of rape are “highly questionable at best”, the inference being that at worst they are false.
Yet the presumption of innocence is not the same thing as possessing firm knowledge of innocence. In fact, the most ethical position is not to claim false certainty about the facts of the case until these have been determined in the French legal process. Rather, what the presumption of innocence really means is that one upholds the presumption that Professor Ramadan should not be prejudged in the legal process but fairly judged on the evidence.
On these same grounds, I also have no certainty that the two accusations of rape are either false or “highly questionable”. Rather, again, I would expect that these very grave charges are treated with the utmost seriousness and investigated thoroughly to determine their veracity.
Therefore, I will suspend my judgement until my uncertainty about the true facts of the case is replaced by certainty founded upon evidence. But signing this petition would force me to take sides when I do not possess the means to be certain about the facts of the case, as it is yet to be concluded.
Let me make three other brief points.
The petition is right to point out the massive Islamophobic farrago that has been made over this case, particularly in France. There certainly has been character assassination in the press and on social media by the various enemies Professor Ramadan has made over the years. They are enjoying every moment of what they hope will be his downfall. They want to put Islam itself on trial and not just Professor Ramadan.
Secondly, the petition contorts itself into knots over the #MeToo movement, and its equivalents elsewhere, by attempting to equate it with the abandonment of due process. This is wrongheaded. At its heart, #MeToo is a long overdue calling to account of the systematic bullying and harassment of women by men, including rape and violence. No decent Muslim man of propriety (adab) should have any trouble whatsoever in supporting it.
Finally, we Muslims are tested when our trusted religious leaders fall short of the basic moral standards expected of any Muslim, even sometimes falling into criminality. All I will say is that the Muslim community should never let go of its duty to hold its own leadership and institutions to account for bad or criminal behaviour. If communal attempts to take such leaders to task are ignored then our community retains its full right to withdraw its support for them.
Yahya Birt is a PhD candidate in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds. He writes in a personal capacity.