Sacked Muslim scholar to sue Dutch university

Decision to fire Tariq Ramadan for his work with Iranian-funded TV network was ‘political’, he claims. Melanie Newman reports

September 2, 2009

Tariq Ramadan, the internationally renowned Muslim scholar, is to sue a Dutch university after it fired him as a guest professor for hosting a talk show on Iranian television.

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) terminated Professor Ramadan’s guest professorship in citizenship and identity because of his weekly show Islam and Life, broadcast on the English-language channel Press TV, a network that is funded by the Iranian state. This was “irreconcilable with his positions in Rotterdam”, EUR said, adding that the credibility of his work for the university had suffered as a result. Rotterdam’s city Government has also decided to sever all ties with the academic.

Excessive force used by the Iranian Government in June against demonstrators, many of whom were students, protesting against the country’s election results has prompted a number of journalists to cut their ties with the channel, the university said. “However, Tariq Ramadan chose not to do so,” it added. The university’s board found that this “indirect relationship with a repressive regime” was unacceptable.

“In his decision to continue participating, Professor Ramadan failed to sufficiently realise the feelings that participation in this television programme, which is supported by the Iranian Government, might provoke in Rotterdam and beyond,” it said. “This has become particularly acute, especially now that he has continued to participate in this programme even after the elections in Iran, when authorities there stifled freedom of expression.”

Professor Ramadan, who took up a chair at the University of Oxford this month, told Times Higher Education that he was suing the municipality and the university and that the decision to fire him was “clearly political”.

“More than 30 professors and academics are supporting me and criticising the decision as a political one, a pretext. An Amsterdam university has said it would be an honour to have me there,” he said.

In an earlier response printed in the NRC Handelsblad newspaper, the academic states: “Once again I have come under attack in the Netherlands. Last May and June, I was accused of ‘doublespeak’, of ‘homophobia’ and of demeaning women. Upon investigation, the Rotterdam municipality declared the accusations to be unfounded.”

Professor Ramadan suggested that the “politics of Muslim-baiting and fear” in advance of the Dutch general election next year was behind EUR’s and Rotterdam’s decisions.

“When it comes to seeking votes, all options are on the table, even the most dishonest and the most scurrilous,” he said.

The academic added that he had decided to host the TV show after “three months of careful evaluation”, as well as discussions with Iranian friends and media experts.

“When I accepted the offer from Press TV in London – my sole contact was with the British producers who were proposing a concept to the network – I did so on the clear condition that I would be free to select my topics and would have full editorial freedom within the parameters of a weekly programme dealing with religion, philosophy and contemporary issues.

“My method from the start has been to explore these issues without lending support to the Iranian regime and without compromising myself. I have always taken full responsibility for my views; I have never supported either dictatorship or injustice in any Muslim-majority society, or anywhere else for that matter.”

He added: “As for those who condemn me ‘on principle’ for hosting a television programme on an Iranian network, I reply: to work for a country’s television network does not mean support of that country’s regime. Were things so straightforward, my detractors, those paragons of political virtue, would have long ago insisted that the Government of the Netherlands sever all political and economic ties with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel or China.”

Professor Ramadan took up the post of His Highness Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani chair in contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford on 1 September. The role is associated with St Antony’s College, where the university’s Middle East Centre is based. The post is funded by an endowment from the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, and includes a secondment to the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies.

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