Powered byWebtrack Logo


A sorry tale of intellectual apologists

A new book takes on the accused appeasers of Islamist terrorism

THERE is an almighty stoush brewing in the ranks of the intelligentsia in the US and Europe. It conjures up those heated polemics of the engaged intellectuals that Woody Allen mocks in Annie Hall when Alvy tells Robin, "I'm so tired of making fake insights with people who work for Dysentery." "Commentary," says Robin. "Oh really," says Alvy. " I heard that Commentary and Dissent had merged and formed Dysentery."

In one corner are Christopher Hitchens and Melanie Phillips; in the other are Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash; and they are slugging it out in the pages of The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The Spectator and The Guardian over first an essay and now a book by Paul Berman about, among other things, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Tariq Ramadan.

Of course, this is to some extent a fight among friends: Hitchens at least counts Buruma, Garton Ash and Hirsi Ali as such, but the criticism is no less impassioned for that -- as one may expect since the topic is the moral cowardice of Western intellectuals in general, and Buruma and Garton Ash in particular, in response to the threat of Islamic terror.

When Salman Rushdie was forced into hiding in 1989 after a fatwa by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Western intellectuals rallied to his defence.

Yet when Hirsi Ali was forced into hiding in 2004 after her friend and artistic collaborator, film director Theo van Gogh, was murdered by an Islamist who pinned to the dead man's chest a death threat to Hirsi Ali, support for her was qualified with condescension.

The Hirsi Ali portrayed by Buruma in Murder in Amsterdam is zealous, strident, arrogant, aristocratic, Berman writes. When Buruma reviewed her book Infidel in The New York Times in March 2007, he patronised her descriptions of life in the West as having an "idealised, almost comic-book quality that sounds as naive as those romantic novels she consumed as young girl". And he dismisses her support of the Enlightenment values of the West as an "absolutist view of a perfectly enlightened West at war with the demonic world of Islam".

Garton Ash sneers at her from even greater heights, noting that among the awards listed on the cover of Hirsi Ali's book The Caged Virgin, is Glamour magazine's Hero of the Month Award. "That's how we like our heroes -- glamorous. It's no disrespect to Ms Ali to suggest that if she had been short, squat and squinting, her story and views might not be so closely attended to." He calls her an "Enlightenment fundamentalist".

For Berman, it is a bitter irony that it is Glamour magazine that celebrates a champion of the Enlightenment living under a death threat and the pages of The New York Review of Books where her ideas are trivialised.

By contrast, Ramadan -- the Swiss-born philosopher and self-proclaimed apologist for his grandfather Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement that spawned Hamas -- is treated with deference and hailed as a moderate Muslim and bridge-builder.

As Berman notes, when Buruma wrote about Ramadan in The New York Times in February 2007, he concluded the philosopher offered "a reasoned but traditionalist" approach to Islam and that his values were "as universal as those of the European Enlightenment".

Yet, as Hitchens notes, "It's hardly possible to read of a media appearance with Tariq Ramadan that does not describe him as arrestingly handsome and charismatic. No disrespect, of course, but I'd be the first to agree that it can't be his writing that draws the crowd."

Buruma and Garton Ash have lost the ability to make the most elementary distinctions, Berman says. They can no longer reliably tell black from white, a fanatical murderer from a rational debater.

It is this conundrum -- why Ramadan is lauded and Hirsi Ali looked down on -- that Berman seeks to explain in his book. And why when scores of intellectuals have been forced into hiding there seem to be so few with the courage to express outrage or solidarity.

It is this moral cowardice that gives the title to Berman's book The Flight of the Intellectuals.

The book is based on a lengthy essay called Who's afraid of Tariq Ramadan that was published in The New Republic in June 2007. Yet even at nearly 28,000 words, Berman felt he had only scratched the surface and returned to expand these themes.

Berman admits he is intrigued by Ramadan. "I had heard about him as a good guy, a reforming moderate in the world of Islamic thinkers," he says. "But when I read what he wrote I was struck by the difference between what I read about him and what I read by him."

When Ramadan wrote his doctoral thesis about al-Banna, it was rejected at the University of Geneva as a "partisan apologia" and was eventually accepted only because a Swiss socialist campaigned to have a second committee consider it.

Yet Berman uses historical sources to reveal a much more sinister portrait of al-Banna than the one that appears on the pages of Ramadan's books.

Using archival records that have been published only in the past year, he shows how al-Banna funded the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, "Adolf Hitler's most prolix and prominent champion in the Arab world".

Al-Husseini drew from Nazism and the Koran to create Islamic fascism, which he broadcast ad nauseam over the radio on the Voice of Free Arabism. And these poisonous texts found their way into the writings of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Berman says he sees Ramadan as a Shakespearean figure. He charms Western intellectuals and yet "his grandfather and his father, his family contacts, his intellectual tradition is precisely the milieu that bears the principal responsibility for generating the modern theory of religious suicide-terror".

Berman tells The Australian that Ramadan claims not to support terrorism; he says he wants to understand terrorism, not justify it. Then he understands terrorism so tenderly he ends up justifying it. And he justifies it so thoroughly he ends up defending it.


# reads: 1334

Original piece is

Printable version

Tell us what you think

Berman got it! I attended in L.A one of Buruma"s appearances which was nothing but a display of apologia. Sadly, an offspring of Dutch survivors of WW2, he appears to feel guilty because of his Jewish blood. A conflicted Euro appeaser who appeals to the ethically challenged "useful idiots" of the West enabled by Jewish editors, and Lefty media.

Posted on 2010-08-29 22:57:19 GMT

Ramadan wrote an article entitled, "Les (nouveaux) intellectuels communautaires", which French newspapers "Le Monde" and "Le Figaro" refused to publish. You can find it here, at: It"s in French, and if can"t read French, Google has a (half-reasonable) Translate feature, into English.

Posted by Geo. Peters on 2010-08-29 06:17:29 GMT

More comprehensive review of Berman"s new book (by Malise Ruthven),and several others by authors referenced in the article, in NYRB August 19, 2010 • Volume 57, Number 13

Posted by Geo. Peters on 2010-08-29 04:54:50 GMT