THE SPINE OCTOBER 17, 2007
You may recall Paul Berman's simply brilliant 28,000 words in TNR
about Tariq Ramadan, his Muslim supporters and American apologists.
The equanimity on the part of some well-known intellectuals and journalists in the face of Islamist death threats so numerous as to constitute a campaign; the equanimity in regard to stoning women to death; the journalistic inability even to acknowledge that women's rights have been at stake in the debates over Islamism; the inability to recall the problems faced by Muslim women in European hospitals; the inability to acknowledge how large has been the role of a revived anti-Semitism; the striking number of errors of understanding and even of fact that have entered into the journalistic presentations of Tariq Ramadan and his ideas; the refusal to discuss with any frankness the role of Ramadan's family over the years; the accidental endorsement in the Guardian of the great-uncle who finds something admirable in the September 11 attacks--what can possibly account for this string of bumbles, timidities, gaffes, omissions, miscomprehensions, and slanders?
The effect of Berman's essay was to crack open "one of the most divisive
fault lines in American intellectual life." This is treated in a very
intelligent article in this week's New York Observer by Jason Horowitz
and Leon Neyfakh.
They state it simply. The fault line is how we are to deal with Islamic
Mr. Berman believes that, in the wake of the Iraq war, his liberal opponents have lost confidence in the West's ability to fight Islamic extremism, and sacrificed their principles for expediency. "Lilla is literally arguing for lack of principle, Buruma is demonstrating on the page that he hasn't read the guy. Insofar as Judt is part of this, Judt is merely an insult-monger," he told The Observer. "One wants to be on the winning side," he said.
Tony Judt, Ian Buruma and (a bit surprisingly) Mark Lilla want a dialog
with the fundamentalists of the Koran, like their predecessors wanted a
dialog with Nazism and Communism. There is nothing in what Berman
writes that should lead people to conclude that he wants a military
response to the major dispensations in the Muslim orbit. But what he does
argue for is an intellectual and spiritual defense of Western
liberties. And he argues against those who see in the enemies of science
and true social inquiry tolerant inquiring minds. This is a prelude to
another God that failed, with the same kind of bloodshed before its appeal
to most intellectuals collapsed.