Radical Chic on Catholic Campuses

Those honored on some campuses include figures with ties to terrorism,
such as Tariq Ramadan, Dora Maria Tellez, and Bill Ayers.

In a misguided quest for status, some Catholic college faculty and administrators actually competed to be the first to host a visit by Tariq Ramadan, the Muslim scholar once barred from the United States because of his alleged involvement in “endorsing or espousing terrorist activity.”

Now free to travel to the United States under a decision by the Obama State Department, Ramadan chose Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed Bin- Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding for his first Catholic campus visit in the United States. Although his April 12 Georgetown presentation was preceded by one at Cooper Union in New York City, Ramadan reassured his Georgetown audience that he had wanted to come to the Alwaleed Center first because of all the support shown to him by Georgetown faculty during his six-year exile.

For Ramadan, the warm welcome at Georgetown must have been gratifying. In 2003, he had been offered an endowed chair and tenured faculty position at Notre Dame, and had been scheduled to teach courses during the fall semester until the US State Department denied him a visa. It seems that in addition to a family history of support for terrorism (his grandfather was the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful Islamist institution of the 20th century), Tariq Ramadan has his own terrorist ties—including giving material support to terrorist organizations such as Hamas.

But at Georgetown questions about his terrorist ties were not allowed. Thewell-orchestrated presentation titled“Radical Reform” gave Ramadan 10minutes to address the audience, and then an additional 10 minutes to participate in a congenial conversation onstage with Professor John Esposito, the director of the Alwaleed Center. Esposito was one of Ramadan’s strongest supporters during his exile, and one who has denigrated those who equate

Islamist movements with radicalism and terrorism. In his book, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? Esposito maintains that Islamist movements are not anti-Western or anti-American, and he minimized the threat these movements pose. In his remarks at the April 12 gathering, Esposito compared Muslim religious extremists to “intransigent” Roman Catholic religious conservatives, and claimed that “reformers in Islam are like reformers in Catholicism… whose ideas came to fruition at Vatican II.”

There was no one at the April 12 celebration to challenge either of the speakers, and although 15 minutes were allott ed for a question and answer period, the questions from the audience were carefully controlled. Potential questioners were advised that they had to focus only on radical reform in Islam, the topic of Ramadan’s latest book. The moderator advised the audience that the question and answer period was “not the time for commentary.” When a reporter from National Journal had the temerity to ask a “disallowed” question of Ramadan, the moderator interrupted to remind him that journalists were restricted to a press conference following the video-taped presentation.


Ramadan has clearly benefited from Catholic campus supporters like Esposito. In fact, pressure from angry academics, the ACLU, the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors, and the American Sociological Association may have moved Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to lift the visa denial order.

Now hailed as a conquering hero, Ramadan’s return to the United States has been heralded by many of those teaching on Catholic campuses. In an interview published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College, called Ramadan’s ability to travel to the United States “something to be celebrated,” and said that “every academic should welcome his presence here.” For Wolfe, Ramadan is a “bridge figure…someone who can promote dialogue across a sort of hostile terrain.” Professor Aminah Beverly McCloud, director of the Islamic World Studies Program at De- Paul University, denounced the Patriot Act and joined the protest over the decision to bar Ramadan. McCloud’s own page on DePaul’s website continues to decry the United States in “these times of hunger, genocide, illegitimate wars, occupations, empire building.”

But for many other academics, especially Paul Berman, a writer in residence at New York University and author of The Flight of the Intellectuals, Tariq Ramadan “is really playing a double game, delivering one message to non-Muslim audiences and another to audiences that are Muslim.” Citing Ramadan’s 2008 calls for boycotts of book fairs in Paris and Turin, Italy because they were honoring Israel and his refusal to suggest an end to stoning for women in the Muslim world, Berman is joined by several other scholars like David Rusin, director of Islamist Watch, who maintains that Ramadan’s presence in the United States is fundamentally “about support for terrorism in one manner or another.” In an interview for The Chronicle of Higher Education Rusin accused the Obama administration of “putt ing outreach to Muslims ahead of security concerns in letting Ramadan into the country.”

Ramadan’s critics come from the left and the right, and are found in Europe and the United States. Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, has been especially critical of Ramadan. In 1996, France refused to allow Ramadan entry into the country because of his links with an Algerian Islamist who had initiated a terrorist campaign in Paris. French sociologist Bernard Henri Levy has also been loud in his criticism of Ramadan, pointing out that his writings are anti-Semitic.

Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens is critical of what he calls Ramadan’s “surreptitious” politics and points to Ramadan’s ability to minimize his involvement in supporting Hamas by claiming that the substantial donations he made to the terrorist organization were “small gifts directed to Hamas’humanitarian and relief wings.” Hitchens points out that Ramadan has refused to call for an end to the stoning of women (although he has called for a moratorium on the practice). Although Ramadan has said that the destruction of Israel is “impossible” right now, Hitchens believes that Ramadan does not rule it out for the future.

The most extensive criticism of Ramadan has come from Caroline Fourest, the French author of Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan, who accuses Ramadan of duplicity—hiding his radical intentions from non-Muslim audiences while saying something entirely diff erent to fellow Muslims. Fourest calls Ramadan “Islamic royalty” because his maternal grandfather, Hasan al-Banna, founded the Muslim Brotherhood.

After the assassination of al-Banna, the Ramadan family was expelled from Egypt. They moved to Switz erland, where Tariq Ramadan was born in 1962. And although Ramadan maintains that he should not have been deprived of a visa simply because of his family ties to terrorism, Fourest and a growing number of scholars have pointed out that Ramadan has terrorist ties of his own. Fourest states that the contempt Tariq Ramadan holds for the government of the United States is because he blames the assassination of his grandfather on a joint operation carried out by the British, the French, and the American governments. She also notes that in his speeches to Muslim audiences, Ramadan claims that before his assassination, Hasan al-Banna predicted that the Muslim Brotherhood would have to enter a second, far more radical phase. Fourest believes that Tariq Ramadan is part of that phase.

All of this information was known to Notre Dame before it invited Ramadan to teach there. The invitation was supposed to highlight Notre Dame’s commitment to diversity. Other Catholic colleges and universities, in a similar quest for status through diversity, have also honored figures with ties to terrorism.


At the University of San Diego, the US government’s decision to deny a visa to Dora Maria Tellez, a Nicaraguan scholar who had planned to study English at the university in 2005 and teach at Harvard later in the year, led to campus protests and angry denunciations of the actions of the Bush State Department. More than 100 faculty members and administrators from USD, Harvard, and Notre Dame signed a letter denouncing the actions of the Bush administration and demanding that the State Department clear the name of Dora Maria Tellez.

The US general consul in Nicaragua had indicated in a published letter to Ms. Tellez that the Immigration and Nationality Act prevents persons who allegedly endorse or espouse terrorist activity from entering the country. While Ms. Tellez states that she is “a scholar and not a terrorist,” and claimsin interviews to have “no idea why I have been so labeled,” the reality is that throughout the Sandinista uprising in 1978, Ms. Tellez described herself as a “combatant and guerilla leader.”

At the height of the revolution in Nicaragua, Dora Maria Tellez was one of 25 revolutionaries who, disguised as waiters, took over Nicaragua’s National Assembly. During this time, Ms. Tellez called herself “Comandante Dos” (Commander Two) and served as the political commander in the takeover of the national palace. In an impressive show of force, Ms. Tellez held 2,000 government officials hostage in a two-day standoff. She later led guerrillas to take the city of Leon. After the revolution, Tellez served as minister for health in the Sandinista government. A lesbian, Tellez is a long-time advocate for access to abortion and gay rights in the Catholic country.

Some faculty members from Notre Dame joined their San Diego colleagues in denouncing the Tellez visa denial. (Tellez had been allowed to visit the San Diego campus in 2001 to receive a prestigious honor from the university. Luz Mendez, a Guatamalan National Revolution Unity Party member, has also received an award from the school.)

Undeterred by data linking these scholars to terrorist activities, faculty at Notre Dame and San Diego have blamed the United States for attempting to “silence” dissident scholars like Tellez and Ramadan. These faculty members are joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records about what it described as “the federal government’s policy of excluding foreign scholars who have criticized the United States’ policies.” Likewise, Jonathan Knight of the American Association of University Professors claimed that the activities of the Bush administration raised “serious questions about the administration’s decision to keep out individuals because of their expressed political ideas.”

David Horowitz points out in his book Unholy Alliance that America had become a base of terrorist operations because the liberties provided by the American legal system allowed terrorists to travel freely, raise money, propagandize, recruit, and move men, women, and money across international borders. The Bush-era Patriot Act attempted to address this. But judging from the successfully planted car bomb by a Muslim terrorist in New York City’s Times Square earlier this year, it is clear that many of these terrorist networks remain.

A few years ago, in a nod to domestic terrorism, Angela Davis was an honored guest on the University of San Diego campus. In 1970, Davis was implicated by more than 20 witnesses in a plot to free her imprisoned lover, Black Panther George Jackson, who was awaiting trial on a murder. Davis purchased the weapons which were used in a hostage plot that ended in the deaths of four people—including the presiding judge in Jackson’s case. The Soviet Union awarded Angela Davis the International Lenin Peace Prize. Today, some Catholic colleges currently pay speaking fees ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 for each of her appearances.


William Ayers was a 1960s radical and leader of the “Weather Underground,” a domestic terrorist organization. Described by Ayers as “an American Red Army,” the Weather Underground bombed the US Capitol building, New York City Police Headquarters, the Pentagon, and the National Guard offices in Washington, DC. In 1970, as they were making bombs intended to kill young US military recruits and their dates at Fort Dix, New Jersey, three of the members of the Weather Underground inadvertently blew themselves up in a Manhattan townhouse.

Ayers is unrepentant for the lives he took and the crimes he committed. In a promotional interview for his book Fugitive Days, Ayers told a New York Times reporter that “I don’t regret setting bombs, I feel we didn’t do enough.”

St. Mary’s College invited Ayers to lecture on its Moraga, California campus last January. On the St. Mary’s website, Provost Beth Dobkin (who also provided her signature in protest of the State Department denial of the visa to Tellez) wrote: “The appearance of Mr. Ayers as a guest speaker is congruent with our mission and educational purposes…. If we were to limit our guest speakers to those with whom we agree, we would lose our integrity as an institution of higher learning.” Brother Ronald Gallagher, St. Mary’s president, wrote: “Professor Ayers was selected by a group composed primarily of faculty members…providing a forum for an exchange of diverse opinions is essential to fulfilling our mission.”

This statement points to the real problem on Catholic college campuses. Now that the voices of most of the bishops have been silenced on these campuses, their presidents defer to provosts, who defer to deans, who defer to the most radical leaders on the faculty. It is the faculty who are empowered to redefine and radicalize the mission. While it is difficult to understand how honoring a Sandinista leader, or inviting murderous members of the Black Panther Party or the Weather Underground to lecture students could ever contribute to fulfilling the mission of Catholic higher education, the reality remains that until new leadership is allowed to emerge on these campuses no one should expect this to end.


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About Anne Hendershott 101 Articles
Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.  She is the author of The Politics of Envy (Sophia Books, 2020)