Tariq Ramadan case: French press as a propaganda tool

The media coverage of the Tariq Ramadan case has symbolized the lack of journalistic code of ethics in the French press. The consequences will impact the society that is exposed to a press that looks more like a propaganda machine than an information tool.

Tariq Ramadan Tariq Ramadan
The media coverage of the Tariq Ramadan case has symbolized the lack of journalistic code of ethics in the French press. 

The consequences do not just concern the Tariq Ramadan case, but also the society that is exposed to a press that looks more like a propaganda machine than an information tool.

Tariq Ramadan’s profile portrayed by the press since the beginning of the investigation, which ten months later is still ongoing, does not resemble what we read about Ramadan in the international press. In France, where he has given many conferences that encourage coexistence and citizenship, the media has contributed to the creation of an imaginary character that is not factual.

"Islamist", "preacher", "Tartuffe", the titles, accompanied sometimes by distasteful pictures of the professor, reflect the intention of the press to create rather than to inform, to generate buzz rather than to tell in an objective way and without injecting opinion, the facts and only the facts. 

If some journalists did not jump on the bandwagon, others, whether due to ignorance or stupidity, reported unverified information whose only intention was to tarnish Tariq Ramadan’s reputation. 

Rather than presumed innocent, they made of him the perfectly guilty: “Muslim, preacher and potential rapist": other than the man, it is the Muslim community that was attacked. And other than the Muslim community, it is French values of equality and fraternity that have been shaken.

From the real Tariq Ramadan to the imagined 

Tariq Ramadan is a professor at Oxford University, director of the Islamic Legislation and Ethics Research Center in Doha, professor emeritus at several international universities, author of more than a dozen scholarly books on Islamic thought and is followed, respected and esteemed in many countries. In 2017, he was invited, along with others, to speak at the Oxford Christian and Cultural Center (OCCC), as well as the University of Cambridge to take part in debates on the Middle East.

Among numerous lectures given at several universities from Cambridge to Oxford, he has been the guest of scores of associations and academics all over the world. Outside France, Tariq Ramadan represents what he is: an intellectual.

It is only in France where the intellectual [Tariq Ramadan] has been demonized for years. It is only in France where the press makes of him "a character", target of those who stigmatize Muslims, and those who battle against Islam, or those who encourage a policy of exclusion rather than inclusion of a segment of the French population.

While the professor is incarcerated and therefore deprived of the right to speak and answer, in the press, the secrecy of instruction had been violated and we read that the professor had an extramarital relationship. Some media outlets have seized the information, and appointed themselves as the spokesperson of the Muslim community, without knowing this community or even really meeting it. 

Once again, the issue is no longer about a man and a case over which the facts are told, rather a target used to create buzz, to destroy a reputation and to divide society. "The Muslim community" itself has become target of polarizing speech and humiliating rhetoric.

Some journalists, seeking to isolate Tariq Ramadan, have gone as far as to talk about him in the past, tarnish his image without ever worrying about the truth, writing according to their own ideology or their beliefs or simple ignorance, nourished by the current islamophobic climate and the professor’s image conveyed by this same press in France.

Here too, an observation: when Abbé Pierre himself declared to journalist Fréderic Lenoir that he had committed "the sin of flesh", the information triggered a smile, a reflection and discussions. But journalists have been careful not to make the Catholic community speak or to turn themselves into media courts. 

There is a different treatment depending on who you are, who you represent and who writes. 

And in a society where information is the guarantor of our democracy’s freedom, being fair and having an objective discourse is not only a question of ethics but also of citizen conscience. This degrading media coverage, Dominique Strauss-Kahn went through it too. But with a strong voice, many journalists and politicians rose to demand more ethics. That should be the case today as well. What does Tariq Ramadan represent for a section of the press to forget that he is the "subject" of the court case, and not the "object" of the press?

Questioning his education credentials

The fake news about Tariq Ramadan's credentials, as relayed by retired journalist Ian Hamel,  reflect the era of misinformation and rumor. Because, in fact, Tariq Ramadan is indeed a professor at the University of Oxford after having passed the different stages of a very selective procedure. This elite university which currently hosts around 33,000 students and divided into 38 colleges and 6 permanent private halls, is an independent structure that is very strict in its access conditions for both professors and students.

Before that, Tariq Ramadan, like any other academic, began his career as an Assistant-Professor in Freiburg. His academic works published by Oxford University Press bear witness to his academic background and scientific credibility. He never overstated his work, and always stuck to what he was, step by step, as evidenced by the many articles signed by the professor throughout his career. Until reaching his status as a lecturer, Tariq Ramadan, and without benefiting from any special treatment, has built a career of merit and intellectual production.

This did not prevent Ian Hamel from misinforming us about Tariq Ramadan's trajectory by mixing facts with rumor, which also spread in other media outlets. 

He demonstrates his ignorance of the English academic world, ignorance of the rigor the thesis requires, goes so far as to say that Tariq Ramadan threatened academics in order to acquire his thesis. This is simply untrue, but also insulting to the academic world that Ian Hamel does not seem to know at all. 

Attacking the diplomas as they are unable to attack the man is a common technique. Idriss Aberkane, author of "Free Your Brain!", holder of two theses, was also attacked by the fascistic sphere about his diplomas and forced to post them online to put an end to this and stop the controversy. It is therefore a defamation technique used to silence what some consider as ideologically embarrassing voices.

When the French press dehumanizes the subject

Early February 2018, the first articles on the Tariq Ramadan case insist on the exceptional aspect of the case, a file of more than 300 pages, with degrading journalistic headlines. But what is it about in reality? The 300-pages file, ten months later, do not contain a single piece of evidence. On the contrary, the criminal brigade investigation has brought back many elements challenging the stories of the accusers. These 300 pages of accusations today contain elements about women who, many of them, knew each other and who had exchanged correspondence for years without ever... talking about rape.

It is in fact these dubious processes that underline the exceptional nature of the case. Has the press been cautious? No. Has the press sought to know the profile of the women accusing Professor Tariq Ramadan? No. Except for some newspapers in recent months that have highlighted the inconsistencies of Henda Ayari, when she, after having stated to have evidence, was no longer able to indicate the place and the date of the alleged rape. Her first statements have been overturned by the criminal brigade’s investigation.

Today, while a press that denounces the injustice is much needed, what we have is a silent French press, though a presumed innocent man is in prison since more than 6 months. A man presumed innocent, who has been removed from his environment, without taking into account the resulting trauma inflicted on him, on his family, on his community, on the society and on the history that rewrites today the Dreyfus affair version 2.0.

Alexandre David

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