Ramadan-Hitchens Debate

[src: http://www.jccyofrockland.org/]I am an American by nationality, a Pakistani by memory, and a citizen of the world by conviction. Islam is my faith and like millions of other Muslims in America and Europe–I am shaping the future of Islam in the “west.”  I recently had the opportunity to attend a debate between Tariq Ramadan and Christopher Hitchens titled Is Islam a Religion of Peace? However, I thought the question to be irrelevant—what is clear is that Muslims have “arrived” in the west, and that they are taking claim, molding and shaping a uniquely western identity. America is a nation built by immigrants (E Pluribus Unum) and the Muslim population is contributing to the debate of America’s future. Europe is aging (average-40) and the need to remain economically viable in the era of globalization requires an influx of immigrants, and this has bought Europe’s insecurities about its identity to the forefront. The question should not be whether or not Islam is a religion of peace, but instead, why are secular liberal democracies so concerned about the faith of their new citizens?

Tariq Ramadan, Oxford professor of Islamic studies, and possibly the most influential Muslim voice in Europe, was banned from entering the United States under the Bush administration. The ban was lifted after ACLU applied pressure, and the Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, formally removed George’s decree. Christopher Hitchens is a regular contributor to the Atlantic, an intellectual, author of numerous volumes on atheism and is a vocal supporter of atheist doctrine. Hitchens does not go on the offensive against Islam—but rather against faith in general. In fact, Hitchens asks how any religion (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or Islam) could be doctrines of peace. Tariq’s main point centered on the argument that a minority population participating in violence does not represent the majority of believers. He emphasized that there has been a development of a new Muslim identity. Hitchens’ most probing question was about secterian violence– referring to the bombings of Shia holy site in Samar Iraq. The question made Tariq pause.

“I think the debate was heated, it didn’t accomplish much, but at least there is dialogue” an elderly woman told me as we entered the Six train.  In her hands, she carries a signed copy of Hitchens’ Hitch-22, while I carried Ramadan’s What I Believe. It was an interesting contrast.

Tariq’s master’s thesis was titled: The Notion of Suffering in Nietzsche’s Philosophy. Nietzsche writes in Thus Spoke Zarathustra: “Man is something that will be overcome, what have you done to overcome him?”  Hitchens and Ramadan would produce diametrically opposite answers to that question.


About The Author

Naqi Haider

Naqi Haider was born in Pakistan and raised in New Jersey. He received his Bachelors in Biotechnology with a concentration in Philosophy from Rochester Institute of Technology. While in Rochester, he was one of the co-founders of a non-profit group focused on community growth and development. He is pursuing a Masters in Biomedical Science and conducting research in computational visual neuroscience at Mount Sinai Medical School. He is a poet and an activist. He strongly believes in the role of community service in overall health and progress. He is currently on the board of the Muslim Students’ Association and is involved in various local and national initiatives all relating to community empowerment.

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11 2010

17 Comments Add Yours ↓

The upper is the most recent comment

  1. Del #

    Hey pal. As long as you keep your crackpot insane religious beliefs to yourself and DO NOT interfere with me or my kids, then we won’t have a problem.

    Good day.


  2. Nabeela #

    This article and these comments all have the same problem: mistaking the forest for the trees. I suggest reading this:


    Good luck.


    Naqi Reply:

    This article addresses a much deeper rift between continental and analytical philosophy. Which the author of this article for some reason refuses to talk about. He seems to undermine the intelligence of the Muslim community in America while holding his European counterparts on an intellectual platform. There are big socioeconomic discrepancies between the two populations, varying origins, and intellectual history that all factor in. One of the most telling markers of Europe’s insecureness is the refusal to admit Turkey in to the EU. Turkey is secular democracy whose mean population is in its mid-late 20s, and its economic growth is only second to that of Germany (the largest economic power in the EU. It makes perfect sense to allow Turkey to become a member, however the EU for some reason refuses.


  3. Péricles #

    Liberal Fundo, lets put it this way: Where do you think it is more likely to people live in peace and repect their differences of opinion and religion, in a liberal democracy or in a theocratic estate? In Danmark or in Iran?
    That is why the faith of the citizens matter in a liberal democracy. If that faith is towards the destruction of the values that keep a democracy alive, and has as a ultimate goal imposing religious law and a theocratic estate, than that is a matter of concern.


    Liberal Fundo Reply:

    The way you’ve worded your last sentence makes me think replying probably won’t do much, but just in case anyone with an open mind is reading these comments, I think I’ll respond anyway.

    I don’t know where you’ve read the the ultimate goal of Islam is to impose religious law and a theocratic state. That sounds much more like Christian doctrine circa The Crusades. Any religion whose ultimate goal is anything other than human excellence and recognition of a Higher Power, is not a religion but an ideology, an ‘-ism’ if you will.

    As a Muslim who interacts daily with other Muslims from many different sects, I am telling you now that in none of our prayers do we seek the establishment of a world Islamic government. This is a paranoid delusion created by people in power to vilify an entire population and establish an ‘Other’ for ppl to hate and fear. Our focus is on our own souls and our own deeds.


    Hamidreza Reply:

    Heh – as an ex-Muslim myself I advise you to go and read the Qor’an. Then you will see the supremacism and chauvinism and terror to kill unbelievers. Obviously you are just trying to idealize this gutter religion to fool seculars and the those who have a kind heart.


    Huma Reply:

    And as a Muslim, I ask you to go and not only [re-?]read the Qur’an, but analyze what you are reading instead of systematically categorizing it as “supremacism and chauvinism and terror to kill unbelievers.” Take it in context with what you are reading, look for hidden meanings– isn’t this what you are taught in high school/college, or in critical reading classes? I don’t see why seemingly rational people seem to ignore the fact that the Qur’an is a book, a source of knowledge, and is thus to be approached as you would approach an intellectual work– with an analytical eye that seeks the true meaning behind the words. Use your intellect instead of allowing bigots to mold it for you.

  4. 4

    you already know what I think about the whole religion of peace argument, Naqi, but I really can’t believe they had another one of these after the ridiculous Intelligence-Squared one.

    On another note, doesn’t atheism vilify every religion the same way one of your commenters above says every faith does? Instead of hell-fire, people of faith seem to be inheriting violence and disorder according his atheist point of view. I’m sure not every atheist believes that. I’m willing to give his co-non-believers the benefit of the doubt which he won’t afford to us theists.


    Naqi Reply:

    This Debate occurred before the Intelligence-Squared debate. I think the question of vilification is valid one; Its one of the reasons the debate didn’t convert any hearts or minds the two sides are polarized, but the fact that dialog is occurring is important, because it address (if tangentially) the underling causes of the divide (socio-political-historic issues were addressed at length in the debate) this is an accomplishment with in itself.


  5. Mark #

    There must be a part two to this entry. Please think about it.. Mr. Haider.


    Naqi Reply:

    Will give it some serious thought.


  6. Péricles #

    Naqi, “why are secular liberal democracies so concerned about the faith of their new citizens?” you asked. Well, secular liberal democracies were built over the separation of church and estate. Only this way “E Pluribus Unum” was made possible. If that was not the case, catholic americans and protestant would have already killed themselves, persecuted jews and started civel war against their muslim or mormon fellow citizens. And that, I think, is why the question of the debate, if not the best one, is relevant. As the Hitch said, there is no such a thing as a “religion of peace”, precisely because almost all religions preach that they are the only true and that others will inherit hellfire. In that context, the faith of the citizens matter. Be it neopentecostal or muslim, fanatics and literalist are a great concern, specially because the books (bible and qram) are so full of creapy absolute moralities.


    Naqi Reply:

    The history of Europe has been riddled by religion wars; the freedoms found in the United States were hard won. This is very valid point. I think it safe to say that moral absolutes has as many problems as moral relativism. A society that supports moral relativism would in definition have to respect the members of its population that support moral absolutes.


  7. Momena #

    I totally agree with your statement “…the question should not be whether or not Islam is a religion of peace, but instead, why are secular liberal democracies so concerned about the faith of their new citizens?” for it gets to the crux of the issue. However, I think it is necessary for individuals like Christopher Hitchens to question “religiously” driven ideologies to keep a check on those who abuse religion for political ends.


    Naqi Reply:

    This is why I love America(when it holds true to its ideals, debates like this can occur).


  8. Chief #

    I wanted much more! Good ending though


    Naqi Reply:

    Next article will be longer. Thanks.



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