In Pursuit of Prey, Carrying Philosophy

03book_CA0-articleInlineDwight Garner reviews Paul Berman's Flight of the Intellectuals in the NYT:

Paul Berman’s new book, “The Flight of the Intellectuals,” plural, might as easily have been titled “The Flight of the Intellectual,” singular. It is essentially a booklong polemic against one magazine article: a profile of the Islamic philosopher Tariq Ramadan, written by Ian Buruma, the Dutch academic and journalist, and published in The New York Times Magazine in 2007.

Mr. Berman’s book has already made some noise. Writing in Slate, Ron Rosenbaum compared its stinging ambience, nostalgic to some, to one of “those old Partisan Review smackdowns,” in which Dwight Macdonald or Mary McCarthy cracked some unsuspecting frenemy over the head with a bookcase and a tinkling highball glass. And for sure, everything about “The Flight of the Intellectuals” feels old school, from Mr. Berman’s tone (controlled, almost tantric, high dudgeon) to the spectacle of one respected man of the left pummeling another while the blood flows freely, and no one calls the police.

Those Partisan Review fights got serious, and so does this book. Mr. Berman accuses Mr. Buruma, in his Times Magazine profile, of not scrutinizing Mr. Ramadan’s family, associations or writings closely enough, of presenting him in a respectful light. Presenting him, that is, as the kind of moderate and charismatic Islamic thinker in whom the West might find a useful intermediary.

Mr. Berman’s book, portions of which first appeared in The New Republic, is a patient overturning of the rocks that, he argues, Mr. Buruma failed to look under. He writes about historical figures Mr. Ramadan professes to admire and notes the tiny degrees of separation that link them to Hitler and the Nazis during World War II. He points out Mr. Ramadan’s ambiguous comments about things like 9/11, the stoning of women in Muslim countries and violence against Jews. Mr. Berman detects a kind of seventh-century barbarism lurking behind Mr. Ramadan’s genial smile.

Mr. Berman branches out in his book’s final third to condemn liberal intellectuals (nearly all of them but especially Mr. Buruma and the British historian Timothy Garton Ash) and their house organs, including The New York Review of Books, on another, related, account. He writes that while they have admired Mr. Ramadan, they have been inexplicably critical of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch intellectual who has become a major critic of Islam and, as a consequence, will probably have a large security detail for the rest of her life.