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African Muslims and International Affairs: The Hidden Part of my debate with Tariq Ramadan


 By Dr. Bakary SAMBE

To understand this debate properly, we must return to the roots of my differences with Tariq Ramadan. Everything stems from my critique of his position on what he called ‘French imperialism’ in Mali. I was simply suggesting that to this critique of foreign intervention in Africa, one might add the dimension of ‘Arab paternalism’. It is a fact that Arab countries and organisations tend to consider African Muslims as the ‘weak links’ of the Ummah that need to be islamised, despite an Islamic history dating back to the Middle Ages. Sometimes this creates problems because in aiming to ‘islamise’ Africans they use salafist and Wahabi movements claiming to purify Islam, as was the case in the destruction of the tombs in Timbuctu during the jihadi occupation of the north of Mali. Here is the link to this previous debate: : http://www.lescahiersdelislam.fr/Occupation-du-Nord-Mali-L-autre-vrai-paternalisme-occulte-par-Tariq-Ramadan_a208.html


I had to explain myself on this point during the World Social Forum in Tunisia (March, 2013) where I called on M Ramadan, who is listened to in the Islamic world, to do his duty and change this image of the African as a second-class Muslim. I think that he never accepted this critique and particularly the challenge to his position on Islam, especially coming from an African, still regarded as a lesser Muslim in rank and dignity.


Instead of taking this critique from an African colleague who wishes him no harm, M Ramadan came to Senegal and said on public television that I was criticising him simply to become famous. Here is the link to this debate: http://senegal.afrix.net/2013/07/11/mise-au-point-de-bakary-sambe-cher-monsieur-ramadan-la-diffamation-est-aussi-contraire-a-lislam-et-a-lethique/



The debate on the Israel-Palestine crisis:


On the televised debate, I had a difficult task, having advocated dialogue despite the scale of the violence. Dialogue is not for me the privilege of the fearful or the lazy, but the duty of the courageous. From this perspective, I have insisted since the beginning of the crisis that it is important to strengthen the bloc of peace found in Fatah and its supporters. From the beginning of the crisis, in all Senegalese media, I criticised first of all the unacceptable attitude of Israel, which kills, massacres and violates international law while the international community merely watches, thereby losing more and more credibility, showing itself to use two different measures for values like justice and democracy that it wants to spread throughout the world.


I have criticised, even on television, the attitude of extremists on both sides, starting with those on the right of Likud like Netanyahu, Libermann and Tzipi Livni who don’t support peace and have personified the war-mongering that has plunged the Near East into its current chaos. They have killed peace and dialogue!

But I have also criticized Khaled Meshaal and the Hamas bosses who don’t help and even discredit the Palestinian cause by using violence and by rejecting dialogue when our Palestinian brothers have more need of peace than of war.

I have also said that certain Arab countries have done much harm to the Palestinians, instrumentalising the Palestinian cause rather than helping it. I think it is my criticism of ideologies like salafism and the attempts on the part of Arab countries and organisations to export them to Africa that has given offence. Islam as traditionally lived in Africa has up till now preserved a social harmony that is now widely threatened by jihadist ideologies as we have seen in the north of Mali and Nigeria.


But again, instead of sticking to the topic of the debate, M Ramadan wanted to settle earlier polemics such as my criticism of his position on Mali. Even before the beginning of the televised debate, he challenged me: ‘It’s you who write these articles against me?’ He set out to settle accounts with this African who dared bring into question his position on Islam and interpretation of religious texts! This was an affront he couldn’t stomach. But I have nothing against him and never join attacks sometimes unjustly made on him.


What shocks me today is that he has used my views on the politics of Arab countries and organisations (religious paternalism) to paint me as anti-Arab, and his supporters even consider me pro-Israeli when I have strongly condemned the massacres perpetrated against the Palestinians right from the beginning


I know, I was aware! It was hard to keep to the language of reason at such a time of heightened emotion. I in no way regret having called for peace with the advocates of peace, and for having criticised the extremists who don’t advance peace, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians. I have never sanctioned the policy of massacre and murder of the Israeli government, but I also had the courage to tell our Arab friends that the solution lies in dialogue and that war-mongering plays into the hands of the ultra-radicals of Likud and Hamas.  However, I can tell the difference between David and Goliath!


To reassure colleagues and friends who worry about the demonising Tariq Ramadan has tried to do to me, my position (that I had difficulty defending because of the time constraints which didn’t permit adequate explanation), can be summed up in three points:


  1. Strong condemnation of Israeli atrocities – see my position from the beginning, as the first Senegalese intellectual to speak of the unacceptable attitude of Israel to violation of international law and of international humanitarian law See link : http://www.dakaractu.com/Entretien-Gaza-L-usage-disproportionne-de-la-force-par-Israel-en-flagrante-violation-du-droit-international-est-source_a70409.html


  1. I am on the side of dialogue, and thus favour the peace bloc of Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas. If the extremists of Likud and Hamas control developments, there will never be peace (that’s why, incidentally, I reject the comparison of Nelson Mandela with Hamas).
  2. I have emphasised the solidarity of Arabs and Africans, but I reject every form of paternalism and ideological exportation which denies to Africans the possibility of living Islam according to their realities, as I emphasised in March 2013 during another debate with Ramadan in Tunis. See link : Tunis http://en.qantara.de/content/interview-with-bakary-sambe-in-the-arab-world-we-africans-are-viewed-as-inferior-muslims


Everything has arisen from my critique of the Muslim Brotherhood when I explained that it was certainly a political party but no ‘ordinary’ one, since it had as emblem two crossed swords over the words ‘Prepare Yourselves’.

See link : http://www.dakaractu.com/Dr-Bakary-SAMBE-UGB-a-Tariq-Ramadan-Comparer-Nelson-Mandela-au-Hamas-est-une-insulte-a-sa-memoire_a72017.html



After that Tariq Ramadan labelled me a ‘colonised mind’ in arguing that I took my position from Paris or Washington. I never understood this attitude, which hardly damaged me, especially coming from one who, having loyally served as advisor to Tony Blair, then delivered himself into the arms of Shaykha Muza and Qatar! Really!


At the end of the debate, inspired especially by Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, Cheikh El Hadji Malick and Cheikh Moussa Camara in my critique of jihadism and violence in the name of Islam, I reaffirmed that in Africa we have the appropriate resources for Islamic religious discourse and have no need to be Muslims supervised by others.


I even believe that our Arab friends might be invited to be inspired by the successes of the African experience of Islam, notably the harmony between social reality and religious principles that I call ‘the critical assimilation of Islam’, and our peaceful coexistence – while of course acknowledging the inadequacies on both sides.


Dr. Bakary Sambe

Head of Observatory on Religious Radicalism and Conflicts in Africa

Center for the Study of Religions

Gaston Berger University





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