From the moment news broke of Harvey Weinstein's sexual aggressions, men and women alike rushed to express their disgust and disappointment. As the number of accusers mounted, so, too, did the number of those who condemned him. From actors to producers, film festivals to the Oscars and dozens of politicians, the once-celebrated movie mogul has been disparaged and denounced.
Compare that to the response to women who accuse Islamic scholar and guru Tariq Ramadan of similar, even more violent behavior – four at last count, with more rumored to be preparing to step up. In France, where Ramadan faces charges of sexual assault; in Switzerland, his birthplace; and in England, where he lives and teaches at the University of Oxford, his fellow Muslim leaders, as well as Muslim and civil rights groups, have yet to say a word against him. Even the Ligue France des Femmes Musulman – the French League of Muslim Women – has failed to speak out, although three of Ramadan's alleged victims, including French writer and activist Henda Ayari, are French Muslim women. (The fourth is Belgian.)
Even the French authorities, it turns out, have kept quiet. “That he had many mistresses, that he consulted sites, that girls were brought to the hotel at the end of his lectures, that he invited them to undress, that some resisted and that he could become violent and aggressive, yes, but I never heard of rapes,” Bernard Godard, who worked in the French Ministry of the Interior from 1997 to 2014, told the French magazine L'Obs. It is hard to understand how Mr. Godard knew that girls “resisted” and that Ramadan became violent, and did not somehow understand that there might be rape involved, or that violence against young girls might be worth reporting. And so he said nothing.
On the other hand, Tariq Ramadan's many fans – more than 600,000 people follow him on Twitter and he has more than 2 million Facebook followers – have had plenty to say. He is innocent, they are certain. In their comments on both social media sites, they assure him that Allah will protect him. The women are liars, or part of a conspiracy: against Muslims, against the Muslim leader himself, against Islam – all the insidious, but entirely predictable, work of the world's Jews.
Of course that's somewhat to be expected. Ramadan is vehemently anti-Israel, so it comes as no surprise that his fans and followers would be, too. Besides, the charges against him describe such heinous behavior – dragging a woman by her hair through a hotel room, repeated beatings and sexual assaults, sexual abuse of a disabled woman and more – that only the Zionists, the Jews, could have come up with them.
Which is why one fan posted on Ramadan's Facebook page (translated from Arabic) “One of the ways of the Zionists is to use women as a sexual commodity to pressure their enemies and threaten to expose them to become their servants.” Another added, “The Muslim asses are waking up and can see clearly why these accusations are launched against Muslims and especially one who is a proponent of the Palestinian cause.” And yet another wrote from Canada: “[the episode stands in the center] of the whole Emirati war on Qatar, and the war of the Zionist and secular lobby in France.”
Even after the revelations of another rape came to light, Ramadan's minions remained unmoved. While one admitted that “I don't believe and I won't believe what they invent about you even if it happens in front of my eyes, I will lie and believe you,” another posted: “The Zionist lobby realized that the first complaint was not enough to smear Mr. Ramadan's reputation and integrity, so they fomented another story with a more violent accusation in order to shock the public…. We know Mr. Ramadan and we know as well the Zionist lobby and its Zionist dogs (media and politics) who struggle since long ago to smear Tariq Ramadan's reputation and academic work… in vain. Mr. Ramadan, we will NEVER let you down, no matter how loud the Zionist dogs' barking is.”
Others have pointed to the “immodesty” of his accusers: what were they doing going to his hotel room? (He invited them when they requested spiritual guidance.) And why did they not wear hijabs? After all, as Ramadan has taught, women should always remain covered, as protection against the unbridled lust and weakness of men. On Twitter, one follower posted: “France is the capital of vice and prostitution where hookers are cheaper than a cup of coffee. Its [sic] probably lies to sell her book.” And in a diatribe defending Ramadan on Facebook, Mohamad H. Elmasry, an Egyptian-American activist and political analyst, criticized Ayari's opposition to the hijab, of which she has written, “It is not for women to hide because of sexual and perverted frustration that is unable to control themselves [sic] by the beauty of a woman!”
And yet, covered women are also raped, both in the Middle East and in the West, where Shaista Gohir, the chair of a UK-based helpline for Muslim women, told the Independent, some “have been fully dressed. Some have been wearing the headscarf, [full robe], and even the face veil. The offenders have included family friends, family members, and also respected religious leaders in the community.” As Claudia Landsberger, a former colleague of the late Islam critic and filmmaker Theo van Gogh, wrote in an e-mail, such incidents demonstrate “how the whole issue of modesty, or chastity, in order not to make men go wild, does not make any difference in the heads of these men. So first they imprison these women in their hijabs, burqas, or whatever, making them even believe it is for their own benefit – and double-betray them.” Van Gogh, the producer of “Submission,” a film that criticized the treatment of women in Islam, was murdered by a Dutch Muslim extremist in 2004.
For his part, Ramadan has filed a countersuit for slander against Ayari, who claims that he attacked her in a hotel room in 2012. “He choked me so hard that I thought I was going to die,” Ayari told a French newspaper Oct. 30. Ramadan had tried to convince her to be his sex slave, she said. When she refused, he threatened to harm her children. It was this threat, she claims, that kept her from speaking out earlier. Only in the aftermath of the Weinstein scandal, as women around the world joined the social media “#MeToo” campaign, did she find the courage to come forward.
Her example, in turn, gave courage to his three other accusers. It is not clear whether Ramadan plans to sue them as well. For now, he has said on Facebook, his attorneys have advised him to keep silent on the case.
But what all this shows is that in the court of Muslim public opinion – even among so-called civil rights groups that act in the name of Islam – Tariq Ramadan is not just innocent until proven guilty. He is innocent, and the others guilty: the Jews, the Zionists, the secularists, the unveiled women.
This is not a new refrain: we've heard similar chorales legitimize terrorist attacks like the Charlie Hebdo shootings, or the attempted murders of others who have dared to lampoon Mohammed. They echoed, too, in the response of many Dutch Muslims to the slaughter of Theo van Gogh. Ramadan could, of course, intervene. He could say that no, this has nothing at all to do with Jews. No, rape is not the fault of women. Instead, he is silent. This, his silence, is his assault. And of this, he alone is guilty.
Abigail R. Esman, the author, most recently, of Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West (Praeger, 2010), is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands. Follow her at @radicalstates.