There is no denying that we live in troubling times. Whether it was with the recent surprise victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, Britain unexpectedly exiting the Eurozone last spring, police officers killing unarmed black civilians, continued heightened hostilities in the Middle East, or the day-to-day concerns we have over our own lives and future, uncertainty and crisis seem commonplace. Wherever we look around us, on TV screens, online, or in our regular lives, one gets this sense of anguish. We see fear, we see uncertainty.
This was the basis of Tariq Ramadan’s lecture, titled “Creating Thriving Societies in Troubling Times,” which he delivered on the UTM campus this past weekend, as part of his ongoing tour of Canada. This lecture was hosted by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East and UTMSU.
According to Ramadan, we as a society, because of the nature of the time in history that we exist in, are currently facing a political, cultural, philosophical, and spiritual crisis.
A renowned philosopher, writer, and professor of theology and contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford university, Ramadan has written on issues of Islam and Muslims in the West for over two decades. He has long been a highly-respected figure in global Islamic scholarship and modern Islamic thought, having in the past been ranked among the 100 most influential thinkers in the world. One not to mince his words, Ramadan in the past has severed ties with well-known organizations in his own community because of political differences, and has been banned from the United States and Egypt (among other countries) because of his positions on certain issues, such as support for Palestine and speaking up against regional dictatorships. He has spoken at the Oxford Union, the Cambridge Union, and made regular mainstream media appearances. In the past, Ramadan has debated with the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Nicholas Sarkozy.
In this lecture, he was no different. Quick to the point, yet eloquent with his rhetoric for the most part, Ramadan was fiery and passionate as he insisted on our need to address head-on the crises that we all face as individuals, as families, as communities, and as nations.
As he outlined early in the lecture, this wasn’t a talk directed just at the Muslim community or any specific community for that matter, but us as a society. Whether one lives in the West, in Asia, the Middle East, or Africa, the problems we are facing are increasingly one and the same, and therefore they do not require only certain segments of society to become active. It requires us all to come to the front, to speak up, and confront as a unified body the crises at hand.
Stressing the need to look beyond lines of division—whether those are racial, religious, or national—Ramadan asserted the need for us to see the intersectionality of the issues we as different communities and individuals face. For example, cops killing innocent black civilians in the U.S. is not an issue they alone should confront. We all need to take heed of, understand, acknowledge our duty to show solidarity with those who are oppressed, regardless of our differences, and take a stand.
Ramadan called for our need to recognize the same structures that oppress us in different ways, on different lines, and in different places through similar means—whether that is the mass incarceration of black people south of the border, the silent occupation occurring in Palestine, or the decimation of Indigenous peoples and their way of life for a country like Canada to even exist through processes of settler colonialism over hundreds of years. He explained that there is a lack of unity even within communities who claim to be united; the bond of brotherhood and sisterhood is weak, and we need to see ourselves as a human family rather than self-designated labels of this and that. The time is for dialogue and building bridges, in the hopes of mobilizing together, rather than settling on our differences.
Ramadan explained that the living within a consumerist culture and having a profit-driven mindset allows social media to “colonize” us. These issues are creating obstacles in our ability to confront more pressing matters, such as holding elected officials accountable, mobilizing against the rise of far-right political movements and rhetoric, or more importantly, addressing the ongoing destruction of the planet. It is us who must take that stand; to know where taxes are going, whether better schools are being built for our children—or are more prisons being built instead, whether a better economic infrastructure is being built, or if wars are being funded overseas. It is time to question these corporations that lobby our governments, and do what we can to make a difference.
Ramadan emphasized the need for answers. This colonization which is taking place within us is the most integral part of this confrontation that we must address in order to create a more just world.
A form of liberating ourselves can occur through spiritual and intellectual means—through reading, learning, and teaching. At the same time, we need to be positive, directed, and compassionate in dealing with certain aspects of our brave new world; even when confronted by issues such as the recent rise in hostilities towards peoples of colour, immigrants, marginalized, and racialized peoples in general.
At the core of Ramadan’s talk was the need to be bold that stresses the urgency of these times. Ramadan concluded his talk with stating the need to go back to our roots, to the essence of our purpose as individuals within a given society, to the principles and values upon which we base our existence. No one individual can do everything, but everyone can do something.