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March 11, 2004


Martin Kramer

I've seen Qaradawi perform twice in Qatar, and to say he "has routinely and consistently denounced terrorism" is stretching it. See my account of his performance at a US-Islamic meet in Qatar in 2002, at http://www.geocities.com/martinkramerorg/2002_11_13.htm (I saw his routine this year too, but didn't write it up.) And see the following, about his support for use of females in suicide bombings (scroll past Obeid): http://www.geocities.com/martinkramerorg/2004_01_30.htm These are some of the reasons the U.S. won't give Qaradawi a visa. He feeds into a culture of violence, which can't be confined to the Palestinian arena, and which spills over into terrorism writ large. This is much more significant, in an immediate way, than his strictly theoretical philosophizing on democracy (although I could say something about that too). Lee Smith is on the mark.

the aardvark


I'm shocked - shocked! - that you agree with Smith on the subject of Islamists and democracy!

Seroiusly, though, on Qaradawi: That he has not regularly denounced terrorism is just not true - he has denounced terrorist attacks in Egypt, in Saudi Arabia, and in a lot of other cases. I'm writing from home so don't have my Qaradawi file handy, but he has a long record. From his arguments against the Sadat assassination to now he has been consistent. The only area that he hasn't been is, of course, in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, where he has not (to my knowledge) spoken out. That shouldn't be minimized, but it shouldn't be overstated either. He has taken courageous positions against terrorism against the grain of wider public opinion on many occasions, and he has pointedly rejected the "culture of violence" - both in terms of the use of violence and in intellectual terms (his approach to jurisprudence).

We could, and should, talk about Qaradawi's theorizing, but I suspect that it will come down to the basic and familiar disagreements about how to interpret Islamist moderates. If you begin with the assumption that there aren't any, then literally nothing Qaradawi or anyone else says will convince you otherwise. But if you read what he actually writes, or listen to him talk - in his sermons or on al Jazeera, where he has a huge audience, so you can't say that this is just for a small, elite audience - then I would like to see where his conception of democracy doesn't hold up. It isn't "liberal democracy," as I pointedly noted, but it goes far beyond a pragmatic "let us vote because we will win."

Qaradawi isn't perfect - who is? - but is it responsible to ignore the fact that the most influential public Islamist intellectual today clearly endorses democracy and rejects extremism? Or to write about "Islamists and democracy" without once mentioning such a public figure, or any of his many like minded thinkers?

Martin Kramer

Abu Aardvark,

Qaradawi is a mixed bag, and his supposed virtues are heavily diluted. Unfortunately, unlike Abou Fadl or even Tariq Ramadan, he isn't a work in progress either. He is finished goods, and what you see is what you get.

Qaradawi is vintage Muslim Brotherhood, old school, and the Brotherhood has never distinguished itself by a great attachment to democracy. (When Egypt had a bit of it, they did a splendid job undermining it.) Qaradawi wants a system tolerant enough so that the Brotherhood can flourish within it--so that people like himself won't have to move away from the Nile and out to the sand flats of Qatar. But I don't think it goes further--or deeper--than that.

In Doha in January, Richard Haass did a very good job of showing up Qaradawi as a part-timer when it comes to democracy. Now that democratization has finally gotten closer to the top of the U.S. agenda, even vis-a-vis Egypt, Qaradawi has lined up with the nay-sayers, calling it an imperialist plot. I think he's an obstacle to really deep thinking on democracy and pluralism. (Poor Abou Fadl, who has been on his receiving end, would certainly agree.) Yes, Qaradawi's immensely popular, but (God strike me for writing this), you cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear--or a champion of democracy from a classic Muslim Brother. He's not as good as it gets. I think it could get better.

Finally, it is a bit of a problem that he gives all these interviews to Hamas media, telling everybody--men and women--to go out and kill Israelis indiscriminately. In some circles, this is just shrugged off as "cycle of violence," but it's really a very dramatic escalation, and Qaradawi has contributed his share and then some. To look the other way over that facet of his activism is somehow to legitimize it. That's why he lost his multi-entry visa to America the Golden--and he ain't gonna get it back anytime soon.

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