JUNE 3, 2010
Perhaps I should have emphasized that Darkness at Noon is a novel, and Rubashov is a fictional character, and, as Michael Scammell has explained, Koestler based his fictional character not just on Bukharin but on other Bolsheviks, as well. And Koestler’s Rubashov confesses not just because of his ideas but because his jailers have subjected him to sleep deprivation. The main purpose of my essay, however, was to observe that Koestler, back in 1940, correctly identified a penchant for self-sacrifice that has become visible in more than one revolutionary movement.
Still, given that in passing I did mention Bukharin, my essay might have benefited from a parenthetical remark, with a citation to the ever-informative Scammell, noting a few discrepancies between Koestler’s novel and Bukharin’s real-life experience. Stephen F. Cohen has written a biography of Bukharin, which I have read and admired, and, on all matters concerning Bukharin, I defer to Cohen.
I wonder what Cohen has in mind, though, when he goes on harrumphily about me as a scourge of intellectuals who disregard facts for the sake of ideological preconceptions. Might he be thinking of my new book, The Flight of the Intellectuals? Now, it is true that, in the course of my Flight, I have hanged Tariq Ramadan by the thumbs for failing to acknowledge, in a book largely devoted to celebrating his own grandfather, the grand Islamist Hassan Al Banna, that Al Banna was an admirer of Hitler. And Ramadan has failed to acknowledge the full import of his grandfather’s enthusiasm for Hitler’s ally, the mufti of Jerusalem, during World War II. And Ramadan has failed to acknowledge the legacy of those events on the Islamist movement of our own time. I notice just now that, in various magazines, I am said to have performed a reprehensible discourtesy in pointing out Ramadan’s silences on these significant matters—which is why I suppose that Stephen Cohen may have the same controversy in mind. But does Cohen really think that I should have discreetly kept my mouth shut? I hope not.
Paul Berman is a writer in residence at New York University and the author, most recently, of The Flight of the Intellectuals (Melville House).