It was particularly interesting to watch Mehdi Hasan go ‘Head to Head’ with Tariq Ramadan, having just been reading Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals, an extended critique of Ramadan.
And it was gratifying to see his pomposity punctured by both Hasan and Yasmin Alibhai Brown, one of the invited panel of three. (The others were Alan Johnson of BICOM and Anas Altikriti, a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and president and founder of the Cordoba Foundation).
Ramadan’s first evasive answer, in response to a question about the relationship between Islam and politics, set the tone (1:35).
I was reminded of the ‘Mo Dawah’ parody site more than once:
… we must promote voices like the philosopher Tariq Zumbabum, who says ‘We must not implicate feminism in the digesting peristalsis of western liberal arrogance that denies a spatial and temporal regulating control of philosophical metaphors for traditional modes of gender equality that is misrepresented as inequality by Orientalist filters in the secular realm.
Ramadan failed to engage convincingly with many of Mehdi’s questions about the Arab Spring (approx. 6:15 and after) and Morsi’s shortcomings (8:00). Mehdi seemed to get increasingly exasperated – for example at 10:37 when he asks whether Ramadan thinks the Egyptian anti-Morsi protestors were all pawns.
Tariq Ramadan did make some half valid points. For example he criticized the current Egyptian government and its treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood. (As I write, it has just been announced that Egypt has sentenced 529 Ikhwan members to death, following just one court session, some of them apparently on comparatively minor charges.) But no one on the panel disputed this – Alan Johnson was quick to agree with him on the issue (15:49).
Mehdi interrogates him particularly effectively about the views of his grandfather, Al-Banna on Nazism/Hitler (17:00) and also challenges the way he avoids criticising Hamas (21:30). Ramadan’s notorious exchange with Sarkozy over stoning, in which Tariq Ramadan prevaricated in a way which has been described as cowardly, is discussed at some length (30:00). Watch (34:00) where he chides Yasmin AB for being ‘dogmatic’ in the way she asks him to condemn stoning unequivocally. Ramadan also engaged in whataboutery, invoking the US’s record on the death penalty. He also defended his support for Qaradawi, despite that cleric’s utterly appalling views on a range of issues, most obviously the Holocaust.
The programme has been criticised for treating Ramadan unfairly, and Ramadan himself has complained it was poorly edited. However Head to Head is always interrogatory in style. In another recent show Mehdi Hasan challenged Shlomo Ben Ami pretty searchingly, but without being uncivil or unfair. If Ramadan came out of this badly – I don’t think the blame lies with either Al Jazeera or Mehdi Hasan.