Paul Berman has just come out with a new book called The Flight of the Intellectuals which is, I understand, based upon his long, long essay in The New Republic from a couple of years ago entitled “Who’s Afraid of Tariq Ramadan?“
I doubt I will go to the trouble of reading that entirety of the new book, but I did just make my way through that article. First, TNR is owned and run by Martin Peretz, who is as notorious an anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigot as you’ll find in intellectual life in the U.S. I do not believe responsible people writing about Islam should be publishing anything there. Glenn Greenwald and others have thoroughly exposed his bigotry.
As for Berman, I just want to make some quick points, most of which do not pertain to Ramadan at all. Berman cannot be expected to be expert in Islam’s sources, but he can be expected to refrain from passing himself off as someone immersed in the Quran, in the same way, say, he would be in 20th century leftist literature. For example, he says, speaking of modern Islamist literature:
Yet the modern rhetorics always turn out to be translations in one fashion or another, of Qur’anic concepts.
This is pretty weasily. The writings of Sayyid Qutb “turns out” in some “fashion” to be “translations” of “concepts” from the Qur’an. What on earth could this mean? What on earth couldn’t this mean? What concepts is he talking about? He doesn’t give a hint. It isn’t enough that Qutb wrote a commentary on the Quran (of little scholarly merit). That does not mean his ideas “turn out” to be translations of so-called Quranic concepts. They are usually the opposite anyway.
Elsewhere he writes:
A properly Muslim life has a physical and communal quality, which must be lived in physical space, and this will require modifications in the existing European secularism. There he [Ramadan] wants – he needs – to stick a few sharp elbows into the larger society, demanding his extra space.
What is Berman saying? Don’t all lives have a physical and communal quality? Don’t we all live in physical space? Is Ramadan actually demanding “extra” space, meaning more space per Muslim than per non-Muslim? Berman then asks, ominously, “Does he dream of something larger?” and goes on to remark about the “dangerous” dreams of religions.
Regarding the Palestinians he says:
The entire tragedy of the Palestinian people can be found [in] … the ideological dogma that has led so many Palestinians to look on violence as a principle, therefore as something that can never be abandoned. If only the Palestinian national movement had been able to look on violence as merely a tactic, the movement’s leaders, and not just a handful of freethinkers and pragmatists, might have noticed after a while that, realistically speaking, violent tactics were proving to be counterproductive and ought to be exchanged for better tactics—perhaps something that might actually succeed in building a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel, as could very likely have happened years ago.
Of course, U.S. and Israeli policies have had nothing to do with any of it. The “entire tragedy” (how sad) is in the barbarism of the Palestinians.
And why does Berman mention the following? Is it to snicker?
Qaradawi normally concerns himself with: say, whether women must keep to themselves when they are menstruating (a point that he rejects, on authority) or whether they may have intercourse with their husbands during that time (they may not, though other kinds of physical pleasure are permitted).
Is the following sentence supposed to be written by a serious intellectual?
Still, it is easy to imagine that, in a small way, Fourest may be on to something.
How much weasel room does Berman need? Let us imagine something in a small way, maybe. Powerful prose!
There are plenty of other howlers, such as Berman’s argument that part of the reason the French are banning headscarves is because Muslim girls do not want to be treated by male doctors. Of course, no Western woman would ever prefer to be treated by a female doctor. Anguished, Berman is worried about the health of Muslim schoolgirls.
And finally, for God’s sake, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not a Muslim intellectual. She is not a Muslim anything. Is Christopher Hitchens a Christian intellectual? Berman calls her Muslim (not “former Muslim”, not “of Muslim parents”) more than once in this article. Is it so hard to understand that an avowed atheist cannot be a Muslim? Does Berman not know that Islam is not passed down by blood?
And please, would anyone be paying attention to Ayaan Hirsi Ali if she looked like Gabourey Sidibe?
P.S. And, lest it seem sexist to point this out, Hirsi Ali herself attributes part of Tariq Ramadan’s influence to his looks “you are charming and handsome and attract a huge audience” at around minute 7:00 of this video.