When I was asked to give my opinion on this debate, I was just returning from the USA. They have an expression over there which is a good way to challenge to people who like to talk but have little to say: “What are we talking about?” The topic of “Europe and Islam” is more important than profiling Tariq Ramadan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who are often thrown together in a meaningless comparison. It’s also more important than the debate between prominent authors such as Timothy Garton Ash or Ian Buruma, who share not only celebrity status, but also the tendency to talk incompetently about Islam. My sense is that this debate, which is of extraordinary importance to Europe, needs to be made less personal and more objective. This is as essential for Europe as it is for Muslims living there, of which I am one.
Despite this call to de-personalisation, I’ll allow myself two comments on Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Tariq Ramadan, around whom this debate is revolving, to its detriment. What Hirsi Ali says about Islam is an affront to Muslims and to anyone who knows anything about Islam. When, for instance, she claims that our prophet and our holy book, the Koran, are a fiction, she insults all Muslims and puts a smirk on the faces of all historians of Islam. Of course, Hirsi Ali has every right to turn her back on Islam in the name of religious freedom and this is what she has done. But she should not abuse the religion just to score points cheaply for herself.
As for her opponent in this objectionable debate, Tariq Ramadan, who calls himself an Oxford professor (he is there for a limited term as a fellow – a fellowship is not a professorship – but it is not unusual for him to treat facts in this manner), I would certainly not ascribe to him the “reform of Islam” as many do. What has he reformed in Islam?