The Pretender

From The New York Times:

Over the past 10 years, Paul Berman has been exploring a theme: the repudiation by liberal intellectuals of their values and ideals. The theme has been elaborated in several books — “Terror and Liberalism,” “Power and the Idealists” and now “The Flight of the Intellectuals.” Berman himself is a man who identifies “with the liberal left.”

Julius-t_CA0-popup Berman has two targets. First, he takes on the Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, whom he contrasts with the admirable and courageous secularist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. (Ramadan, a professor at Oxford, was recently permitted to enter the United States after being barred for six years under the Patriot Act.) And second, Berman challenges the commentators Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash for their qualified endorsements of Ramadan and their disparagements of Hirsi Ali, noting the “tone of contempt that so frequently creeps across discussions” about her, the “sneering masculine put-downs of the best-known feminist intellectual ever to come out of Africa.”

In short, Berman finds the widespread admiration of Ramadan to be misplaced. Berman regards Ramadan as a sinister figure with a sinister agenda, and at the same time deplores the intimidation and violence directed at that “subset of the European intelligentsia — its Muslim free-thinking and liberal wing especially” — who “survive only because of bodyguards.” This, Berman concludes, has been unheard of in Western Europe since the fall of the Axis. “Fear — mortal fear, the fear of getting murdered by fanatics in the grip of a bizarre ideology — has become, for a significant number of intellectuals and artists, a simple fact of modern life.”

More here.