In 20 years of studying and teaching philosophy, I have learned to appreciate the inherent difficulty in defining the truth. Descartes put it simply: "A clear and distinct idea is true," while Kant aptly added the needed word "consistency."
Over the years, I have also learned that in the world of the mass media, truth is not based on clarity but on frequency. Repeated suspicions become a truth; an assumption said three times imperceptibly becomes a fact. There is no need to check because "it is obvious" - after all, "it is being said everywhere."
I was reminded of this lesson during the past few weeks, when, after having been granted a visa to teach at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, by the U.S. government, it was revoked without explanation at the last minute, causing grief for my family and me.
I remain in Switzerland, hoping this mistake will be rectified and reflecting on how I am constantly being told the "truth" about who I am: "You are a controversial figure." "You engage in double talk, delivering a gentle message in French and English and a radical, even extremist one in Arabic or to Muslim audiences in private." "You have links with extremists." "You are an anti-Semite." "You despise women." And so on.
When I ask about the source of this information, invariably the response is: This is well-known; check the Internet and you will find thousands of pages referencing it.
A closer examination reveals journalists and intellectuals quoting each other, infinitely repeating what others have said. The response to this finding is: "Well, there has to be some truth in all that." A strange truth indeed!
I have written 20 books and 700 articles, and 170 audiotapes of my lectures are circulating. I ask my detractors: Have you read or listened to any of this? Can you prove the "links" to terrorists? To repeat allegations is not to prove. Where is the evidence of my "double talk?" Have you read the articles in which I call upon fellow Muslims to condemn unequivocally radical views and acts of extremism?
What about my statements on Sept. 12, 2001, calling on Muslims to condemn loudly the terrorist attacks and to acknowledge that some Muslims betray the Islamic message? What about the articles in which I condemn anti-Semitism and criticize Muslims who do not differentiate between the political dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the unacceptable temptation to reject Jews because they are Jews?
Are you familiar with my writings promoting women's rights and an Islamic feminism, and rejecting every kind of mistreatment and discrimination?
Finally, are you acquainted with my extensive study of the Islamic scriptural sources and efforts to promote a new understanding, a way for Muslims to remain faithful to their principles and, at the same time, face the challenges of the contemporary world?
To seek the truth, one must read, listen carefully, double-check for clarity and consistency, and be willing to be objective. I often encounter individuals, even academics, who are not familiar with my writings or speeches but have formed a strong opinion of me. They should examine my academic contributions and the years I have spent traveling and working with Dom Helder Camara, the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Abbot Pierre and countless ordinary South Americans, Asians, Africans, Europeans and Americans, Christians and Jews, agnostics and atheists.
Along the way, I realized something was missing in Kant's and Descartes's way of speaking about truth. Clarity and consistency are not enough: The quest for truth requires deep humility and uncompromising effort. My experience of living with people of diverse religions and cultures taught me that one will never be at peace with the other if one is at war with oneself.
This simple truth is the essence of my message to Muslims throughout the world: Know who you are and who you want to be, and start working with who you are not. Find common values and build with fellow citizens a society based on diversity and equality. The moment you understand that being a Muslim and being European, or American, are not mutually exclusive, you enrich your society.
My move to the University of Notre Dame was to have enabled me to share this message with Muslim communities in America and beyond. Is this a threatening contribution? Is it not a needed and urgent message in America in the post-Sept. 11 world?
Tariq Ramadan's most recent book is "Western Muslims and the Future of Islam." He has been appointed Henry R. Luce Professor of Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. This comment was distributed by Global Viewpoint for Tribune Media Services International.
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