In this sequel to the groundbreaking Terror and Liberalism (2003, etc.), political writer and New Republic contributing editor Berman analyzes the rise of the Islamist totalitarian movement and the Western media’s troubling inability—or unwillingness—to identify and investigate its implications.
The author begins with Islamic history as defined by its major players, including Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, and Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Drawing from documents stored in government archives in the United States and Cairo, Berman untangles the legacies of Islam and Nazi Germany. Al-Husseini’s fervent anti-Semitism met neatly with Hitler’s campaign, and al-Banna was al-Husseini’s most ardent supporter, a camaraderie that would have profound influence on the future of Islam. The bulk of the narrative concerns the effect that these political events have on modern-day Islam—in particular, on well-known philosopher Tariq Ramadan, who is al-Banna’s grandson and whose writings are often cited as part of a progressive Muslim movement, yet whose deeper, more conservative meanings often elude the journalists eager to embrace such rhetoric. As a “Salafi reformist,” Ramadan openly reveres his forebears yet purports to stand against violence and oppression. Scrutinizing Ramadan’s writings and speeches, Berman writes that his “modern rhetorics invariably turn out to be translations, in one fashion or another, of Koranic concepts,” and that Ramadan’s opinions carefully provide a “double ambiguity” that draws Western admirers even as his Muslim followers view him as a defender of old-world Koranic ideals. Berman identifies one accomplished Western writer in particular, Ian Buruma, whose glossy treatment of Ramadan represents the exact “flight” from intellectualism that the title implies. The author concludes, glumly, that “the spectacular and intimidating growth of the Islamist movement” in the last ten years, coupled with the rise in terrorism, are the culprits, effectively suffocating deep journalism with “squeamishness and fear.” Despite the complexity, history and nuance of these subjects, the author probes each issue with elegant, incisive language.
A stunning, riveting commentary.