May 27, 2010
FundamentalsChristopher Hitchens reviews Paul Berman's The Flight of the Intellectuals, in Tablet:
"Look here upon this picture, and on this …” In the left frame, a privileged young Swiss-Egyptian academic, whose father and grandfather were pillars of the Muslim Brotherhood and who has expressed strong sympathy for the jihadist preachings—and social and moral precepts—of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, purveyor of fatwas and self-described “Mufti of martyrdom operations.” In the right frame, a young woman from Somalia who has endured genital mutilation and forced marriage, made her escape to Europe, spoken out for the rights of women, seen a colleague of hers murdered for the same advocacy, abandoned religion for the values of the European enlightenment, and now conducts her life under permanent police protection.
Which of these two individuals garners the most respectful attention from our liberal intellectuals? To phrase it more closely, which of them has attracted the sympathetic understanding, and which the contempt, of two of the contemporary writers who have best earned that title? I refer to Timothy Garton Ash and Ian Buruma, who in the years during and after the Cold War did a great deal to enlarge our understanding of Eastern Europe and Asia, and to demonstrate the incompatibility of civilization with the principles of totalitarianism.
Ian Buruma has written a long profile of Tariq Ramadan (the picture in the left frame) and taken many of his claims to be a reformist and modernizer at their own face value. Timothy Garton Ash was helpful in getting Ramadan a position at St. Antony’s College, Oxford. Both men have written disparagingly of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, as if she were an intemperate extremist. Oh, and one more thing. Garton Ash has written that “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.” Perhaps that statement is indeed free from any hint of disrespect, but can the same be said of Garton Ash’s judgment that for all her courage she is no more than a “slightly simplistic Enlightenment fundamentalist”? (The appellation “Enlightenment fundamentalist” is itself borrowed from Ian Buruma; I should perhaps declare at this stage that I find the ideas of the Enlightenment to be superb in their simplicity.) Meanwhile, 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.
Posted by Robin Varghese at 06:42 PM | Permalink