Tariq Ramadan said that Islam and democracy are not incompatible, but we should be careful about economic and cultural colonisation.
Democracy without socio-economic justice and cultural independence was no democracy, he said.
He warned that while people may elect leaders in a democracy, economic decision-making was often made unaccountable to the people. He also alluded to the growing clout of multinational corporations.
It is wrong to separate politics and ethics/morality, Tariq pointed out. The six main principles in Islam that he listed were universal principles very much in line with human rights.
We should not just speak about human rights but also talk about our duty to society and humanity, Tariq stressed. He warned against double standards by powerful nations in their articulation of human rights (e.g the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay). At the same time, he also criticised the torture and human rights abuses including the shoddy treatment of migrant workers in petroleum-rich Arab nations. It is important to be consistent in our criticism of injustice, he said.
As for the plight of the Palestinians, he said there is a clear oppressor and the oppressed, and this conflict remains at the forefront despite all the upheaval in the Arab world.
There are three L’s that are prerequisites for people to become good citizens, noted Tariq, a second generation Swiss citizen. These are the rule of law, the need to learn the official language of the country (and other relevant languages as well), and loyalty – not blind loyalty, but critical loyalty. Citizenship should be equal and should not discriminate, he added.
Responding to a question from the floor, he said there could be a role for affirmative action, but this should be in a comprehensive context that would actually empower people to reach their full potential over time. The problem is when this is manipulated to play races against one another.
Tariq was speaking at the third Penang in Asia Lecture organised by the Penang Institute, a state-sponsored think tank.
More than 300 people, including a mufti from a northern state, PKR MP Nurul Izzah, Pas MPs Mat Sabu and Mujahid Yusof Rawa, DAP MP Chong Eng, the former Catholic bishop of Penang and priests, academics and activists, attended the lecture this morning.
Tariq’s comments about justice and democracy that had relevance to the situation in Malaysia – such as the need to work within the legal framework to remove unjust laws – were repeatedly applauded. This prompted the scholar to urge the audience to refrain from clapping: “If you agree with what I am saying, think about it.” But his address continued to be punctuated by more applause.