Ayaan Hirsi Ali vs. Tariq Ramadan

Perhaps the two most discussed Muslims in the West today are Ayaan Hirsi Ali (well, she was raised as a Muslim but she’s an atheist now) and Tariq Ramadan. I’m not ready to write much on The Flight of the Intellectuals yet, as I’m only halfway through, though I should mention that I’ve been forewarned – by a friend and intellectual sparring partner – that Berman’s book will poison my mind. I have no clue what this is supposed to mean, however, and read on with great interest. I hope to discover just what is so noxious about it.

Here is a debate that should stimulate some further discussion among the ranks.

Embarrassment of riches

Does God need evolution to make a world? Not if you’re a hick-hillbilly creationist like these folks. Yes, that’s “folks” with the s. The new Big Unanswerable Question for the completely uneducated is, “How do black people evolve from white people?” And to think I was going to write a post about Paul Berman’s exciting new book, Flight of the Intellectuals. Goddamit, YouTube!

More on Paul Berman’s new book

This time Christopher Hitchens chimes in, from Tablet. You knew it was coming.

“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?

Paul Berman’s new book

Sam Harris and his Project Reason just sent this to my inbox. He’s finally decided that his was the only voice missing from the chorus and, just when it seems the Catholic Church has slipped back into a relative silence after months of well-deserved hardship on the public relations front, has now put in his own three cents worth.

Ron Rosenbaum has a long piece in Slate about Paul Berman’s new book The Flight of the Intellectuals. In fact, it was Harris who pointed me to Berman’s Terror and Liberalism which, if you haven’t read it, is a must-read. I never miss anything Rosenbaum writes, and word has it he has a book in the works on World War III or IV, I’m not sure which. Could it be a Berman-esque rebuttal to Norman Podhoretz?

I haven’t read the entire review yet, but the essential point about Berman’s book is that it is a defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or rather an attack on her liberal attackers. The names Garton Ash and Buruma surface here and there, as well as that of Tariq Ramadan. The question posed is, Why was Salman Rushdie defended by the same people who chide Hirsi Ali today? How has this softening of the liberal intellectuals (of which Berman and Rosenbaum are two) towards Islamism come about, and why?

Read the review. Then read the book. Then we’ll have a pow-wow over it.

Glick, Umglick, Goldblog

My friend ‘Chick’ (that’s not his real name, but if you read Saul Bellow you might catch the reference) told me that Caroline Glick is a fear-mongering journalist, and he may have a point. I can’t read her without getting a knot in my stomach, perhaps because I voted for Barack Obama, towards whom she is particularly unloving. I’m used to it, though; I have a lot of friends like Ms. Glick, so she doesn’t faze me.

Researching Glick on the internet yielded this gem by Jeffrey Goldberg. Now, I read Goldberg’s blog fairly regularly, and I consider him to be a moderate (liberal, if you prefer) Zionist–a bit like myself. He even has credentials, which I don’t. He made aliyah, fought in the army, and wrote a book about his experiences called Prisoners. I haven’t read it, so I can’t tell you what he has to say.  But I’ll bet he emphasises the humanity of both sides, judging from what he has written in the past. That’s just an assumption, mind you.

Last year he wrote an article for the Atlantic on Israel’s future. Caroline Glick chimed in from her perch in the Jerusalem Post, saying things like

Goldberg’s decision to focus his analysis on [David] Grossman was a revealing one. While Grossman enjoys a pride of place among the radical leftist elite, he is a marginal figure in Israeli society.

Never mind that David Grossman is a world-famous novelist and writer and my friend Yoni, who grew up and lives in Tel Aviv, couldn’t place the name ‘Caroline Glick’ even when I hinted that she was a widely-read journalist for the Jerusalem Post. “Nobody here reads the Jerusalem Post,” was his reply. Perhaps Glick got carried away with her own hubris. Whether or not you agree with Grossman’s politics, or those of his colleagues among the Israeli literati, they can hardly be called “insignificant.” Even Jose Saramago’s anti-Semitic screed of some years ago cannot be rightly called “insignificant”–though it is surely rubbish, it is highly significant rubbish, in its fashion.

Which all brings me one step closer to the point: Jeffrey Goldberg is one of the most liberal-minded Zionists out there. Another is Paul Berman. So this hatchet-job, which is in the top slot if you YouTube ‘Jeffrey Goldberg’, is a bit of a surprise. Not that it is a meaningful surprise, but the surprise is that it comes from the Saramagoan left, not the Glickian right.

Of course, this little video is full of cherry-picked quotes that mean nothing at all out of context. The “context” is provided by the overly-careful narrator, who sets Goldberg up as a kind of Israel-lobby straw man, then sets him on fire for a negative review he wrote of Jimmy Carter’s book Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid–a review of shocking length, 1600 words! Am I missing something? Oh, Carter is the Peace Messiah. To criticize him is like rejecting Christ, I suppose: grounds for character assassination.

The video portrays Goldberg as a “Zionist” (understood here as “embodiment of evil”), sampling this video, in which Goldberg speaks of his youthful obsession with Jewish power, which is the keyword of anti-Zionism. It goes on to tell his story for him, through an interview with a Ghassan Andoni, a Palestinian Christian who was incarcerated in the Israeli “concentration camp” where Goldberg was stationed while in the IDF. As a follow-up to the Carter swipe, emphasizing that this man is a “Christian” is a sly swipe at Goldberg’s Jewishness: the evil, power-hungry Jew and the unjustly accused, mistreated disciple of peace fighting their eternal war for the soul of the Holy Land. It plays on the viewers bias, who will automatically assume all Chrisitans must be innocent in the land of Jesus, and that Jeffrey Goldberg (who, by the information given in this video, had nothing at all to do with the treatment of Andoni) is Pharisee swine.

Nowhere in the video does it mention the fact that Golberg wrote an entire book on his experiences as a prison guard. All he is quoted as “saying” in that the experience was “exotic” and “exciting.” The viewer is left to draw his or her own conclusions from the cunningly edited video. The coup de grace is the silent coda reading, “An If Americans Knew Production….dedicated to providing accurate information on topics that are misreported in the American media.” If Americans Knew is essentially an anti-Israel propaganda website disguised as a run-of -the-mill humanitarian one, run by Paul Findlay, an anti-Zionist pundit (and former member of Congress) who wrote the following:

“…once beloved worldwide, the U.S. government finds itself reviled in most countries because it provides unconditional support of Israeli violations of the United Nations Charter, international law, and the precepts of all major religious faiths.”

When I read this kind of stuff, I want to call Caroline Glick in the middle of the night and have a heart-to-heart.

Moral Blindness and the Perfect Weapon

A quote from Paul Berman:

“The anti-war Socialists wanted to understand their enemies and not just dismiss them–wanted to seek out whatever was comprehensible, the points on which everyone could agree. And so, listening to the Nazis make their wildest speeches, the anti-war Socialists, in a thoughtful mood, asked themselves: what is anti-Semitism, anyway? Does every single criticism of the Jews reflect the superstition of the Middle Ages? Surely it ought to be possible to criticize the Jews without being vilified as anti-Semites.” (Terror and Liberalism)

Of course, this meant underestimating Hitler and Nazism by assuming they clung to the same bedrock faith in human reason as the French Socialists. They wanted to give the Nazis a chance to be evaluated on equal footing, but the Nazis didn’t much care for an enlightened forum in which to test the strength of their ideas. They rest is history.

Not long after Berman published his book, which attempted to explain the roots of the Sept. 11, 2001 terroist attacks (and our general inability to comprehend their meaning), Sam Harris published a book called The End of Faith. In many ways, Harris built upon Berman’s thesis–and added a by-now-famous critique of religious faith that has made him as lionized by some as he is despised by others. Nestled in the pages of Harris’s book is a chapter called “Perfect Weapons and the Ethics of ‘Collateral Damage'”, which hasn’t received as much attention as it perhaps deserves. The crux of the argument is as follows:

“We need only imagine how any of our recent conflicts would have looked if we had possessed perfect weapons–weapons that allowed us to either temporarily impair or kill a particular person, or group, at any distance, without harming others or their property. What would we do with such technology?”

Of course, the temptation is to map out a mental chalkboard of conflicts, applying Harris’s perfect weapon hypothesis: how would the current war in Iraq look? The Iraq-Iran conflict? The recent IDF incursion in Gaza? The Second Intifada? Iran’s overtures to genocide and overarching support for suicide terrorism?

It’s a fun mental exercise. As Harris puts it, “A moment’s thought reveals that a person’s use of such a weapon would offer a perfect window onto the soul of his ethics.”

This could go on for a long while, so I’ll get to the point. Operation Cast Lead is long over. Recontruction in Gaza, including smuggling of weapons and construction of tunnels to Egypt, goes on unabated, except when Israel sends a few missiles in retaliation for the continuing rocket attacks. Caryl Churchill has written her Sophoclean dirge for the (Palestinian) victims that some have accused of the worst anti-Jewish stereotyping. Others call it a masterpiece. The victims are being counted, most of which (surprise, surprise) are Hamas men. But the world can’t wait to blame Israel for every single death in the recent conflict. After all, it was Israel that chose to retaliate with such force, unleashing the umpteenth episode of brutality against a starved, helpless population reduced to launching inexact, homemade rockets as their only recourse to dignity (now that suicide bombing has been more or less stalled, at least temporarily).

So, in this moment of relative calm and reflection, maybe we should be asking ourselves just what the IDF would have done in Gaza had it had perfect weapons. And Hamas? We should hold them both up to the same moral standard, or none at all.