September 9, 2011 – The Palais des Congres in Montreal was the sight of world-renown philosopher and political commentator Tariq Ramadan’s latest discussion appearance. As the Islamic thinker and Oxford professor addressed the crowd of several hundred, it seemed as if there were just as many tourists in attendance as Montrealers, for a presentation that coincided with the end of Islamic evening prayer held inside the hall.
Quite an interesting mood-setter for the crowd as they walked into one of the larger halls in the Salle Montrealais to be greeted by the sounds and sights of daily occurrence through the rest of the world that exists outside of the consciousness of so many of us.
Maybe it was necessary in a way that the crowd being greeted by this scene understand that not only an open mind would be required to exchange the full meaning of Ramadan’s talk, but a realization that the perception and ideas that would be presented by Ramadan over the course of the evening, while being in some cases alternate to the prevailing Western views, are actually realities of perception that exist throughout the world.
To disagree with these perspectives is one thing, but to pretend that they don’t exist or that they have no relevance is simply feigning ignorance, and Tariq Ramadan’s discussions are not for the ignorant.
A bright man, with a varying range of emotions, always well-displayed and well received by the Montreal crowd in attendance, with an excitement that made one associate with a pop star, rather than a philosopher.
Ramadan opened the evening by explaining that there are world circumstances occurring which affect us all. These same occurrences are having different effects for the Arab World, where we have the legacies of the Spring Revolution, while for the West we have seen a repercussion in Norway that was the topic of the evening’s discussion.
Ramadan explained that there are three important factors that the Norway tragedy shows the West must wake up to and address:
-As the West feels it is under threat there is an increase of violence and insecurity which equals instability.
-Prejudice in government, in particular immigration, leads to the entrenchment of a growing difference between the perceptions in the minds of westerners and reality.
-Believing in false Muslim stereotypes and perpetuating a misdefinition of Islam increases the ignorance and distance between community members.
Ramadan stated that the foundations for addressing these problems were best found in a law-abiding, secular state. “Secular”, as Ramadan defined it, meant a state with no religious persecution, open or hidden. “Secular” could not mean a state where religion would be abolished.
He also, over the course of the two-hour lecture, spoke very highly of the concept of setting the standards for an International Moral Citizenship, something that resounded much like Murray Dobbin’s concept of Intentional Citizens.
Ramadan’s prescription for life was simple: Live, don’t hide your faith or beliefs.
Although there was a warm atmosphere throughout the evening, things got a little excited when Ramadan described how to apply this prescription in Canada.
This could be seen as quite an interesting comment from someone who has so successfully used the internet at as communications tool and message-spreading utility. And for Muslim-Canadians, Ramadan had a particular message that also applies to all Canadians.
“Do not accept to be self-isolated or self-marginalized – Be patient, things are not negative.”
When it came to discussing the media outlook in North America, particularly from the mainstream, Ramadan warned us that we must change the way we interpret the news itself. We must stop taking the news we have reported to us for granted, as “gospel”, and become more like media watchdogs: thinking about what is reported to us and not just accepting.
Ramadan blamed the mainstream western media for perpetuating what he called the “Distraction Theory”, whereby each nation is allocated one controversy to occupy consciousness and divert attention from everyday problems. As soon as the people’s attention returns to their everyday problems, another controversy is thrown into the spotlight.
After an extended question and answer session, Ramadan thanked the Montreal crowd, many in attendance coming from France, the Middle East and Northern Africa to hear him speak, and moved on to sign copies of his latest book, The Quest for Meaning. The book is meant to be a study on how to apply a philosophy of pluralism in today’s reality, when so many people are living in and experiencing different realities.
As a message for Canadians, Ramadan explained that we must be very watchful of our protectionist-leaning government if it tries to cut immigration ties or social spending. The tragic events that unfolded in Norway are liable to occur here if we allow our government to follow the path of the national policies in Europe that lead to prejudice and fear-mongering.
So while we weigh the dilemma of applying that prescription with little option in the face of a majority government, maybe we should realize Ramadan’s other, more achievable prescription: Live, don’t hide your faith or beliefs.