In the New York Review of Books, Malise Ruthven reads Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West alongside Tariq Ramadan’s What I Believe and finds neither to be quite adequate to the challenges they claim to take up. Where Caldwell distorts, Ramadan disengages. Regarding the former, Ruthven writes:
Impressive though [Caldwell] may appear in marshaling a disparate army of sources (ranging from government statistics, social surveys, and think-tank reports to novels and newspaper stories in eight or more languages), the impression he gives is spurious and not supported by real evidence. Caldwell selects a multitude of facts or quotations that support his central premise of a “believing” Islam pitted against a doubting or skeptical Europe. This conclusion, however, is not supported by surveys of actual religious behavior. While the figures—and methodologies used to arrive at them—vary considerably, the conclusion to which they point is that Muslims do not greatly differ in religious behavior from other Europeans. For example, a French study in 2001 found that only 10 percent of Muslims were religiously observant. A study by the demographer Michèle Tribalat the same year found that 60 percent of French Muslim men and 70 percent of women were “not observant,” though the great majority respected “cultural attachments” by abstaining from eating pork or drinking alcohol and by fasting during Ramadan. Caldwell mentions none of this work.
And in Ramadan’s case:
The tone is lofty, the language high-minded. It is the preacher, rather than the intellectual, who speaks. Ramadan does not stoop to engage directly with his critics. As he grandly writes in his introduction, “I will not waste my time here trying to defend myself.” This is a pity. The charges of doublespeak against Ramadan are not just based on what he describes as “double-hearings,” malicious, deliberate, or otherwise. The claims of his most trenchant critic, the French journalist Caroline Fourest, are specific and detailed and documented, based on the tapes of Ramadan’s lectures to youthful Muslim audiences as well as his published writings.
Fourest presents Ramadan as a fundamentalist wolf in reformist clothing, a position at variance with his declared advocacy of a “critical intellectual attitude” toward Islamic tradition. Most of her charges depend on family links he refuses to abjure—his maternal grandfather Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, his Islamist father Said Ramadan, and especially his brother Hani, a more strident critic than Tariq of “Europe’s atheistic materialism” who has publicly justified the stoning of adulteresses “as a punishment” that is also “a purification.” Tariq, by contrast, notoriously argued in a 2003 television debate with Nicolas Sarkozy that the penalty of stoning should merely be subject to a “moratorium” while scholars debated the issue.
Other troubling details that emerge from Fourest’s vigilant, even obsessive, trawl through the Ramadan canon include explicit condemnations of Kant and Pascal and fence-sitting, not to say “double-talk,” on Darwinism. A work published by the Islamist publishing house with which he is closely associated explicitly denies evolution, while his audiotapes advocate creationism as a “complementary instruction” to the teaching of evolution in schools. Yet when asked in a television interview whether he accepted evolutionary theory, he “preferred to agree,” rather than express his true convictions in front of the general public.
Read the entire review here.