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Transatlantic Intelligencer: Barak on Hamas, Barcelona Plot, and Tariq Ramadan

Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2008

EHUD BARAK ON WHERE HE WOULD SPEAK TO HAMAS -- Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was in Paris at the end of January and he gave an interview to the French daily Le Figaro. This is what he had to say about an Egyptian proposal to hold four party talks on Gaza involving Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas:

I don't see how we can accept the Egyptian proposal. We have nothing to say to Hamas. We speak to them when we interrogate them in our prisons. But this is a fundamentalist group that says openly that it has received a divine mandate to destroy Israel. One should, on the contrary, weaken Hamas and help Mahmoud Abbas to establish a stable government in the West Bank.

More generally, on the relations between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Barak said:

One thing is sure: we want gradually to reduce the Gaza Strip's dependence on Israel. We have totally withdrawn from the territory. It makes no sense to continue to supply electricity that powers the machines that produces the rockets that are fired at us. This would be crazy.

CONFUSION SURROUNDS ALLEGED TERROR PLOT IN BARCELONA -- In the aftermath of the arrest in Barcelona of 10 alleged Islamist extremists earlier this month, it has been widely reported that the group was planning imminent suicide attacks on the public transportation system of the Catalonian capital and perhaps additional attacks elsewhere in Europe. The evidence released thus far, however, does not support this scenario and indeed the statements of Spanish authorities contradict one another on several key aspects of the case.

It was Spanish judge Ismael Moreno who, in ordering the detention of the 10 men last week, announced that a suicide attack had been imminent. The judge's affirmation appears to have been based upon the testimony of a single unnamed informant, whose cooperation is said to have led to the police raids in which the men were arrested. (Four other men were arrested and subsequently released.) Police discovered what has been described as "bomb-making materials" during the raids. But in a press conference last Friday, Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba confirmed that they found no actual explosives apart from a "small bag" containing some thirty grams of nitrocellulose. In light of the small amount, Rubalcaba conceded that there "could be doubts" about the imminence of any prospective attack. Moreover, as several Spanish media have pointed out, the presence of timers among the materials seized seemed particularly odd in light of the judge's allegation that the men were plotting a suicide operation. (Sources: Europa Press; El Mundo.)

There have also been inconsistencies among the statements of Spanish authorities concerning the number of men who were supposed to be directly involved in the attack. Whereas Judge Ismael Moreno named three persons as suspected suicide bombers, Attorney General Cándido Conde Pumpido has said that there were six prospective bombers. As the Spanish news agency Europa Press notes, it was only once this discrepancy emerged that Spanish judicial authorities then announced that three members of the alleged plot were supposedly still at large and had been planning a simultaneous attack in another European country.

This led in turn to an even more extravagant report the next day (Jan. 26) in the daily El País. Quoting at length from an apparently leaked transcript of the informant's declarations, the paper now claimed that in addition to Barcelona, the allegedly Qaida-linked group was planning attacks in no less than four other European countries: Germany, France, Portugal and the United Kingdom. (Contrary to what is suggested in a particularly categorical and misleading AFP report, the informant -- whose identity is being protected -- did not, of course, speak directly with the paper.) Adding still more to the arithmetical confusion, the paper cited the informant to the effect that he himself was part of the team of six bombers. This would imply that the announcement of Spanish authorities the previous day had left one bomber too many on the loose.

Despite all the excitement surrounding the supposed revelations of the unnamed informant, one element was conspicuously missing from the account: namely, a motive for al-Qaida to want to attack the Catalonian capital.

WOULD TARIQ RAMADAN 'BETRAY' HIS GRANDFATHER, HASSAN AL-BANNA? -- It has often been pointed out that Tariq Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan Al-Banna: the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, the pivotal organization in the history of Islamic fundamentalism. And it has at least just as often been pointed out that this should not matter, since, after all, no one chooses their parents and grandparents. In a debate with Tariq Ramadan on the French public television channel France 3 last Wednesday, the Franco-Tunisian author Abdelwahab Meddeb posed what is in fact the real question in this connection: Is Tariq Ramadan faithful to the legacy of his grandfather's ideas? Below is a translation of the exchange. The immediate context is a discussion of the principle of "laïcité" or the separation of church and state.

-o-

Abdelwahab Meddeb: The question of laïcité is not a joke. It's crucial and it's antithetical to anyone who adheres to an Islam that is supposed to be absolutely and totally faithful. To be modern one has to know how to be unfaithful. And the question I have for you, regarding your genealogy -- which is, after all, a massive genealogy: let's recall that your grandfather was the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt . . .

Tariq Ramadan: Aha! You had to come out with that!

AM: It's very important. Because the real problem began there: the introduction of the notion of "Anti-Westernism" . . .

TR: Where?! Where is that?!

AM: . . . was born with Hassan Al-Banna . . .

TR: Where?! Where is that?!

AM: . . . your grandfather.

Next Page: 'He wrote miserable little epistles' . . .


TR: He cited Descartes. He cited the major Western philosophers. Can I ask you a question?

AM: Don't try to make an intellectual out of Hassan Al-Banna. He wrote miserable little epistles that had a gigantic . . .

TR: Can you name me two titles? Two titles?

AM: and disastrous effect . . .

TR: Please, two titles? Can you name me two titles of the epistles that you would have read?

[. . .]

AM: The question I want to ask you is this: To what extent are you prepared -- in order to defend the principle of laïcité and to demarcate yourself from this fundamentalist Islam -- to show infidelity toward your genealogy, to betray your genealogy? Because all modernity, every secular person who comes from a religious tradition, necessarily has to betray and to be unfaithful.

[. . .]

TR: One has to get serious. You referred me to my grandfather. I ask you questions about the titles of his works and you don't cite them. And that's the problem. I'm far from idealizing the image of a man who participated in a historical movement in the 1920s and 1930s: he is the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood . . .

AM: The source of the affliction [le début du mal]. The cause of the sickness [in Islam] is to be found there.

[. . .]

TR: The heart of the problem is that we need to contextualize things . . .

AM: Let's contextualize, then.

TR: What I say as regards my grandfather is that, in effect, I reject a discourse such as yours, which is an extremely negative projection . . .

AM: What do you reject? You make him out to be one of the reformers of Islam. [. . .] You make your grandfather out to be a defender of women's rights. And he does say in fact that women are free and equal -- on the condition that they stay at home in order to take care of raising their boys: the future militants of the holy war.

TR: Listen. Just one thing . . .

AM: But, the matter of infidelity. One has to betray one's genealogy in order to be modern. Answer that.

TR: I won't respond to dogmatic commands.

AM: My dear sir: cut the umbilical cord.

TR: Very good. What I want to say to you is that the person who you present as being so opposed to all women: his first daughter is educated; the second is a professor of economics; the third is an engineer; the fourth is a doctor. Is that all right?

AM: And all wear the veil, I suppose.

TR: If veiled or not, that's not the question. In my family there are women who wear the veil and women who don't. The difference between us and you is that you are dogmatically against the veil and I am for freedom of choice. You see the difference? There's someone who's dogmatic here and it's not the one you expected. You see? Do you follow me?

AM: We'll let the audience judge that . . .

-o-

The full video of the debate between Abdelwahab Meddeb and Tariq Ramadan is available here. (The translated exchange is from minutes 36:48 to 42:08.) Abdelwahab Meddeb is the author of the new book Sortir de la malédiction. L'islam entre civilisation et barbarie ["Ending the Curse: Islam Between Civilization and Barbarism"].

John Rosenthal is World Politics Review's translations editor. He writes on European politics and transatlantic relations.

Photo: Tariq Ramadan

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