Rabat – The controversy surrounding the case of Tariq Ramadan has reached new heights, as the rape allegations against the Reformist scholar have been called into question following an investigation by the Parisian Criminal Brigade (BC).
Revealing inconsistencies in his accusers’ stories, the investigation has further complicated the already-divisive legal case by casting into doubt the truth behind the allegations against Ramadan.
Ramadan was arrested by French authorities in February of 2018 following a series of rape accusations against him by three separate women. He was released several months later in November after paying 300,000 euros ($340,000) in bail and surrendering his passport to French authorities.
Though the charges against Ramadan still persist, the academic continues to deny the allegations against him, condemning the accusations as “campaign of lies launched by [his] adversaries.”
Ramadan has also filed lawsuits against his accusers, alleging that their claims amount to slander and defamation.
Meanwhile, as Ramadan’s trial remains ongoing, inconsistent testimonies on both sides continue to make the case extremely controversial, both in Europe and around the Muslim world.
A Life of Controversy
Born in Geneva, Switzerland on August 26, 1962 to an Egyptian Muslim family, Ramadan’s childhood did not lack exposure to Islam and Islamic theory.
The grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al Banna, Ramadan’s upbringing was influenced by the traditionalist views of Sunni Islam espoused by his family.
After receiving a Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic studies from the University of Geneva, Ramadan was appointed to a professorship at the University of Notre Dame in the United States in 2004 before his visa was rescinded by the administration of George W. Bush.
Under the guise of the “ideological exclusion provision” of the USA PATRIOT Act, Ramadan’s visa to work at Notre Dame was revoked, thus prompting the scholar to resign from his position.
Following a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union, the US government was ordered to reassess and issue a decision on Ramadan’s visa application within 90 days. However, the government ultimately denied the application, accusing Ramadan of “providing material support to a terrorist organization.”
Ramadan was again accused of sympathizing with terrorist organizations in 2007, when he successfully applied for a professorship at the University of Leiden, leading Dutch academics and politicians to condemn the scholar as a “radical Islamist” and a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
The Swiss national also taught as a guest professor of Identity and Citizenship at Erasmus University in Rotterdam until August of 2009, when he was removed from his position due to controversy around a program he hosted on Iran’s Press TV.
In September of 2009, Ramadan began working at the University of Oxford as the chair of Contemporary Islamic Studies; however, he has since taken a leave of absence due to his ongoing trial.
Throughout his controversial career, Ramadan has maintained a strong presence in the European Muslim intellectual community, though he maintains a number of controversial and reactionary views, primarily attributed to his self-proclaimed position as a “reformist.”
However, the worst controversy surrounding Ramadan has been due to recent allegations of rape and sexual violence made against him by several women in France and Switzerland.
Rape allegations and ongoing trial
In 2016, the former Salafist and feminist activist Henda Ayari published her autobiography J’ai choisi d’être libre (I Chose to be Free), in which she described an alleged incident of sexual assault years before; however, in the book she did not name a perpetrator.
A year later, in October of 2017, Ayari revealed on Facebook that her alleged attacker was Tariq Ramadan. In response, Ramadan denied the accusations and threatened to pursue a lawsuit against Ayari.
Days later, a disabled French woman — referred to as “Christelle” — claimed that Ramadan assaulted and raped her in a hotel room in 2009.
Not long after, four Swiss women accused Ramadan of molesting and sexually assaulting them when they were children, with one victim claiming that Ramadan made sexual advances on her when she was only 14 years old.
Ramadan was eventually detained by French authorities in February of 2018 and was shortly after charged with two counts of rape.
A third rape accusation emerged in March of 2018, when a third woman claimed that Ramadan raped her on numerous occassions in France, Belgium, and the UK. Shortly after, a fourth allegation against Ramadan surfaced when an American accused Ramadan of assaulting her in Washington D.C. in August of 2013.
Ramadan subsequently admitted to having a sexual relationship with the third woman after the woman presented investigators with a dress stained with Ramadan’s semen. However, Ramadan has insisted that the relationship was entirely consensual.
Ramadan has also admitted to extramarital affairs with four additional women, including Ayari and “Christelle.” As with the previously mentioned case, Ramadan has claimed that all of these affairs were entirely consensual.
Meanwhile, as investigators attempt to unravel the truth behind the numerous accusations, contradicting stories and lies from all parties have severely complicated matters and made it difficult to determine Ramadan’s guilt or innocence.
A web of lies
Initially following the accusations against him, Ramadan maintained that he had never had any sexual contact with his accusers, but after text messages between him and his accusers came to light, Ramadan was forced to admit that he did indeed have a sexual relationship with the two women.
“Yes, I happened to have had extramarital affairs,” Ramadan said. “I had ups and downs, times where I was totally consistent with my principles and others where I was more fragile.”
Common to the accusations against Ramadan are claims that his behavior was exceedingly violent, a claim which has been corroborated by outside sources after allegations came to light.
Shortly following the first allegation, Bernard Godard, an advisor to the French government on Islamic Affairs, admitted that he was aware of Ramadan’s “violent and aggressive” sexuality.
“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 have never heard of rapes, I am stunned,” he told French magazine L’Obs.
Records of text messages between Ramadan and “Christelle” also reveal that the scholar apologized to the woman for his “violence.”
Ramadan’s initial alibi that he was on a plane at the time when his second accuser claimed the incident took place was dismantled shortly after his arrest.
Early on during Ramadan’s trial, the scholar’s lawyers produced an airline ticket which showed that Ramadan allegedly landed in the French city of Lyon at 6:35p.m., undermining “Christelle’s” claim that he had raped her “in the afternoon.”
However, Yassine Djemal, a member of the Union of Young Muslims, which organized the conference that Ramadan was in Lyon to attend, claimed that Ramadan’s flight had landed much earlier.
“Mr Ramadan was scheduled to arrive in Lyon on October 9, 2009 at 11:15am. A colleague and I picked him up at the airport at around 11:35,” Djemal told AFP.
Djemal continued, telling investigators that he also drove Ramadan to the Hilton hotel, which is where “Christelle” reported that the incident took place.
Meanwhile, the account of his first accuser, Henda Ayari, has also changed numerous times throughout the course of the investigation. After changing both the date and location of the incident months after initially coming forward, Ayari’s testimony has been heavily scrutinized by both French authorities and Ramadan’s supporters.
Additionally, a few months after Ayari changed her account of the incident, photographs surfaced which revealed that she was attending her younger brother’s wedding on the date when the incident allegedly took place.
More recently, an investigation by the Paris Criminal Brigade (BC) has cast further doubt on Ramadan’s accusers, with the BC’s conclusions claiming that the allegations are far from reliable.
The BC has emphasized a series of implausibilities and lies in the testimonies of both accusers. The BC has also highlighted a series of messages which indicated that any sexual relations which did take place were likely consensual.
In one message to Ramadan, Ayari is reported to have written: “You know that I Loved it … I hope you have kept a good memory of me like me from you, even if it was short.”
As a result, the BC has argued that the consent expressed in the message undermines the rest of Ayari’s allegations. In addition to these messages, Ayari reportedly sent sexually explicit messages to Ramadan for months after the alleged incident took place.
Furthermore, transcripts of wiretaps on Ayari have revealed a conversation in which the accuser reportedly said that if her cell phone was stolen by Ramadan supporters, it would be “extremely compromising for her and for the record.”
In a similar fashion, messages from “Christelle” have also surfaced which call into question the truth behind her testimonies, with one SMS reading: “If I did not like I would have left.”
Though the message was sent two months before the alleged incident took place, the BC has argued that the message seems to have been sent “after the fact,” and that, as a result, it weakens the reliability of the complainant’s accusation.
In 2015, Ramadan reportedly paid 27,000 euros ($33,000) to a Moroccan-Belgian woman, Majda Bernoussi, in order to keep her silent about their alleged five-year affair, which the woman described as “destructive,” condemning Ramadan as a “manipulator.”
“Tariq Ramadan is an extremely unhealthy predator and manipulator,” Bernoussi said, “In real life, he is a real barbarian, both intellectually and physically.”
For Bernoussi, Ramadan is a “pervert man who uses religion to manipulate and abuse women,” arguing that, when he is not in front of a camera, the Reformist scholar is far from pious.
“His ethics, his morals, his faith, he reserves them to the camera. Out of the public eye, he is just the opposite… He believes in nothing and even less in God. He talks about God only when it comes to manipulating us, apart from that, it’s never mentioned and he does exactly what he wants,” she said.
Meanwhile, after numerous allegations and lies on both sides, the truth is still far from reach and French authorities are struggling to differentiate between fact and fiction in the case.
Though Ramadan has now been released as the investigation continues, many have criticized the French government’s mistreatment of the case, especially in relation to Ramadan’s treatment while being held in prison.
Ramadan’s “unconscionable” treatment in prison
During Ramadan’s imprisonment, there was widespread outcry over his treatment in the French Fleury-Mérogis prison, where he had been held in solitary confinement for several months.
Central to the controversy of his imprisonment was whether or not Ramadan had received adequate medical treatment while detained.
Since 2006, Ramadan has suffered from multiple sclerosis, with Ramadan’s lawyer claiming that he had not received adequate medical treatment for his affliction during his time in prison.
Ramadan’s sympathizers have also argued that his treatment has not been treated as he would have been were he not an Arab, Muslim scholar, claiming that he has suffered from discrimination due to his heritage and religion.