June 2010


Review of Paul Berman’s Flight of the Intellectuals by Marc Lynch, from Foreign Affairs Magazine:

This spring, Tariq Ramadan arrived in the United States nearly six years after being denied a visa by the Bush administration. The U.S. government had previously refused Ramadan entry on the grounds that he had donated to a French charity with ties to Hamas. Then, last January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Ramadan was welcome. His appearance in the United States seemed to manifest the White House’s changing rhetoric about the Muslim world. In June 2009, President Barack Obama spoke in Cairo of reaching out to Muslims with “mutual interest and mutual respect.” Figures such as Ramadan —  symbols of a nonviolent Islamism long shunned as enablers of extremism — may now represent a bridge across previously intractable divides.

Paul Berman will have none of this. His book The Flight of the Intellectuals, based on a 28,000-word essay published three years ago in The New Republic, mounts a furious counterattack from the bygone days of the Bush administration. Too many in the United States and Europe, Berman argues, are confronting the wrong enemy. Violent Islamists do not pose the greatest danger; instead, it is their so-called moderate cousins, who are able to draw well-meaning liberals into a poisonous embrace. Their rejection of violence is both partial — not extending to Israel or to U.S. troops in Iraq — and misleading. In Berman’s telling, the Islamist project of societal transformation from below does profound violence to the individual Muslims who are forced to live in an increasingly constricted milieu. The only defensible response is to repel the stealth Islamism of putative moderates with a morally pure vision of liberalism.

But such a polemic, in fact, poorly serves those concerned about the rise of political Islam in the West. Berman does flag important debates about Islam’s impact on Europe and the world, but he is an exceedingly poor guide to navigating them. His reading of Islamism, based on a narrow selection of sources read in translation and only a sliver of the vast scholarship on the subject, fails to grasp its political and intellectual context. He is blind to the dramatic variation and competition across and within groups — above all, to the fierce war between the Salafi purists who call for a literalistic Islam insulated from modernity and the modernizing pragmatists who seek to adapt Islam to the modern world. This blindness feeds the worst instincts of those hard-liners who are fomenting an avoidable clash between Islam and the West. His obsession with Nazism is distracting, and his dissection of Ramadan approaches the pathological. His caustic rhetoric toward writers such as Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash does not suggest the liberal or tolerant ethos to which he claims allegiance.

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From the BBC:

Senior Indian and Pakistani diplomats who have met in Islamabad have pledged to continue efforts to improve mutual relations and restore confidence.

India’s foreign secretary Nirupama Rao met her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir to decide the agenda for ministerial talks next month.

Peace talks were put on hold after the Mumbai attacks of 2008, which India blamed on the Pakistan-based militants.

In February, the foreign secretaries held their first formal talks in Delhi.

Before that India had regularly rebuffed Pakistani calls to resume a substantive dialogue, saying Islamabad had not done enough to tackle militants or bring the Mumbai attacks organisers to justice.

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From France 24:

French police have banned a Facebook street gathering that encouraged invitees to eat pork and drink wine in a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood of Paris, saying the event presented a “serious risk to public order”.

AFP – Paris police on Tuesday banned a controversial “pork sausage and wine” street party planned by extremist groups to combat what they saw as the “Islamisation” of a city neighbourhood.

The event was planned for Friday evening at a time when the district’s streets are usually jammed with Muslims coming out of mosques and just before Algeria were due to play England in the football World Cup.

But police banned the event and any rival gatherings in the Goutte d’Or area of northern Paris’ 18th arrondissement, or district, saying in a statement that it was likely to cause “serious risks to public order.”

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By Richard Bernstein, for the New York Times:

NEW YORK — They are not exactly ubiquitous, but according to The Daily News, 40 New York City buses are rolling these days with an unusual and, to be frank, dubious advertisement emblazoned on their sides.

“Fatwa on your head?” the ad reads, in a message apparently aimed at Muslims who want to convert to another religion or simply not to be Muslims anymore. “Is your family or community threatening you?”

The ad is promoting a Web site, RefugeFromIslam.com, where, presumably, New York Muslims whose lives have been threatened because they want to convert can turn for help, and the site contains links to other sites with various anti-Islamic purposes. “Muslims Against Sharia,” for example, aims “to educate Muslims about dangers presented by Islamic religious texts and why Islam must be reformed.”

It has often been noted that the genius of American life is a certain willed forgetfulness, a willingness by the various groups that make up our population to impose an amnesty on the ethnic and religious feuds of elsewhere. Or as the French immigrant Jean de Crèvecoeur put it in 1782, the “ancient prejudices and manners” have been left behind by the new American man, who has received “new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced.”

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By Pankaj Mishra, for the New Yorker:

Was the prophet Muhammad a pervert and a tyrant? Does Islam promote terrorism and enslave women? Does Islam oblige its followers to wage jihad on Westerners whose roots lie in the secular Enlightenment? Should Muslims consider converting to Christianity? For the Somali-born writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the answer to all these questions is a resounding “Yes!” Hirsi Ali, who renounced Islam in her thirties, speaks from experience of bigotry and intolerance among her former co-religionists: she was genitally mutilated as a child in Somalia, briefly radicalized by a preacher of jihad in Kenya, nearly forced into a marriage, threatened with death in the Netherlands by the Muslim assassin of her collaborator, the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, and is still hounded by murderous fanatics in her new home, America. In her latest book, “Nomad: From Islam to America” (Free Press; $27), she reminds her readers of the West’s tradition of intellectual revolt against clerical tyranny and warns of the insidious, intransigent enemies in their midst. “The Muslim mind today seems to be in the grip of jihad,” she writes.She is not hopeful that Americans will heed her warning. Her initial job interviews in the United States were discouraging: the Brookings Institution, she writes, worried that she might offend Arab Muslims. (The conservative American Enterprise Institute, however, immediately appointed her as a fellow.) On college campuses, Muslim students accuse her of wanting to “trash” Islam, while Western feminists, convinced that white men are “the ultimate and only oppressors,” lack the “courage or clarity of vision” to help her knock down the mental “hovels” of the East. Pointing to Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s murderous rampage in Texas, last November, she deplores the “conspiracy to ignore the religious motivation for these killings” in America.

Muslims today, Hirsi Ali believes, must be forced to choose between the darkness of Islam and the light of the modern secular West. In her new book, which bears the additional subtitle “A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations,” she takes an uncompromising line with her own relatives, who remain faithful to their benighted religion. The book opens with an account of her visit to her father’s deathbed, in Whitechapel, in London’s East End, in 2008. Her father, a highly respected political opponent of Somalia’s Soviet-backed military dictator, became more religious during exile and old age. Father and daughter hadn’t spoken since 2004, when Hirsi Ali and van Gogh made the film “Submission,” about the oppression of Muslim women, and she learned that he was fatally ill only a few weeks before his death. She didn’t want to visit him at his home, since it was in “a mostly immigrant area and overwhelmingly Muslim,” and had to be escorted by policemen to his hospital. In a brief but moving scene, she describes her father longing, but physically unable, to communicate with her.

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