In 1989, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for the assassination of British writer Salman Rushdie in retaliation for his writing a book that depicted Islam in a negative light.
Since then, Rushdie "has metastasized into an entire social class" — a continually growing group of intellectuals from Muslim backgrounds who live under threat of violence because they have criticized Islamism, according to veteran journalist Paul Berman.
Many of them live in Western democracies and "survive only because of bodyguards and police investigations and because of their own precautions," Berman writes in his new book, "The Flight of the Intellectuals."
"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," he writes.
But there is one important, glaring difference: Twenty years ago, the liberal intelligentsia in Europe and the United States rallied around Rushdie and denounced the murder threat. That took real courage. One of Rushdie's translators was murdered, and another was stabbed. Several Norwegian bookstores were bombed, a suicide bomber attacked a British hotel, and more than 50 people were killed in anti-Rushdie rioting around the world.
Despite the danger, Berman writes: "A good many intellectuals reached out to their endangered Arab and Muslim counterparts and colleagues, and celebrated the courage of everyone who refused to be intimidated."
In contrast, today, the intellectuals' reaction often is to target the victim. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who will likely need security protection the rest of her life because she has clashed with the Islamists, has been subjected to ad hominem personal attacks in the press and contrasted unfavorably with supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
What accounts for the change? Two factors have altered the intellectual atmosphere, according to Berman: terrorism and "the spectacular and intimidating growth of the Islamist movement since the time of the Rushdie fatwa."
Probably no one has benefited more from these trends than Tariq Ramadan, grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna, and one of the world's most popular advocates of Islamism today.
Despite his refusals to condemn practices such as the stoning of women convicted of adultery and statements justifying attacks on U.S. soldiers, Ramadan often is depicted as a moderate seeking to reform Islam.
He arrived in the United States last month and has been addressing public forums and private fundraisers around the country. He had been preparing to take a faculty position at Notre Dame University in 2004 when his visa was revoked. U.S. officials cited contributions Ramadan had made to an organization supporting the terrorist group Hamas.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped the ban on Ramadan's entry in January following an appellate court decision that would have required that the government prove he knew the charity had Hamas ties when he made his contributions.
For years, Ramadan's personal charisma and rhetorical skills have enabled him to sidestep uncomfortable questions about Islamic law, or shariah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and his grandfather's embrace of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem and an enthusiastic supporter of Adolf Hitler.
Ramadan's refusal to address his grandfather's personal admiration for Hitler and his alliance with the Mufti is among the powerful, eye-opening themes running through Flight of the Intellectuals.
When Ramadan spoke last month at Cooper Union in New York City, George Packer of the New Yorker asked him why his grandfather made a speech gushing praise for the Mufti, a man who spent the war working with Hitler to achieve the extermination of the Jews. Ramadan replied that Hasan al-Banna did not support Nazism, adding that his alliance with the Mufti needed to be seen in "context:" Hasan al-Banna wasn't pro-Nazi, just anti-Zionist.
Ramadan overlooks the Mufti's expansive definition of "Zionism," Berman counters. The Mufti did not define "Zionism" as a mere conspiracy to create a Jewish nation in "a small sliver of Palestine." To him, Zionism was a conspiracy against Muslims and the Arabs.
In the Mufti's eyes, "Zionism is a gigantic conspiracy to annihilate Islam and the Arab world by supernaturally evil Jews that has been lasting for 1,300 years, and the defeat of Zionism is going to mean the extermination of the Jews. So, this is 'anti-Zionism,'" Berman said. "The Mufti made this point again and again."
Echoes of this genocidal approach to Jewry can be seen today in the platform of Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is no accident that Hamas quotes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in its charter, Berman said.
The charter "is absolutely explicit in saying that the Jews must be killed," he told the Investigative Project on Terrorism in an interview. "The charter comes out of the tradition that was established by the Mufti and by al-Banna. And it's a tradition which traces back, I think significantly, to the Nazi influence."
Some of Berman's most important work appears in his book's final chapters, which constitute a telling indictment of the media's coverage of Islamism.
Berman contrasts media coverage of Tariq Ramadan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ramadan grew up in relative privilege in Switzerland. Hirsi Ali, by contrast, spent her childhood and adolescence shuttling from home to home in her native Somalia, as well as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya, where "she saw and endured scenes of brutality and suffering of a sort that a privileged boy growing up in Switzerland could not possibly know," Berman writes.
Hirsi Ali joined the Muslim Brotherhood, studied the works of Hasan al-Banna, and prepared to move to Canada to consummate an arranged marriage and begin a new life. But she eventually became disillusioned, and sought and received asylum in Holland. She lived in refugee shelters and worked in factories.
Hirsi Ali learned to speak Dutch and went to work as an interpreter, helping Somali refugees and Dutch officials communicate with each other. She became an advocate of rights for Muslim women and a critic of Islamists, and soon she received police protection. She embarked on a political career and was elected to parliament.
She began a collaboration with Theo Van Gogh to make the film, "Submission, Part I," featuring some disturbing passages from the Quran that inscribed graphically on women's bodies. After it appeared once on Dutch Television, a Muslim named Mohammed Bouyeri killed Van Gogh, shooting him and slitting his throat on a public street.
Bouyeri, who is serving a life sentence for the murder, left a dagger in Van Gogh's chest, pinning to the body a fatwa calling for Hirsi Ali's death.
Eventually Hirsi Ali, who had renounced Islam, concluded she was not safe in Holland and fled to the United States where she lives under police protection. She remains a staunch advocate for women's rights and a sharp critic of abuses of women under shariah.
Berman focuses on the examples of two prominent journalists who have written sympathetically of Ramadan and harshly of Hirsi Ali. One is Ian Buruma, who penned a sympathetic portrait of Ramadan in the New York Times Magazine. He wrote “Murder in Amsterdam,” a book about the Van Gogh slaying, and wrote about Hirsi Ali in the New York Review of Books. The other is historian Timothy Garton Ash, whose column appears in The Guardian newspaper.
Berman provides example after example in which Buruma and Garton Ash portray Ramadan as a moderate, and belittle Hirsi Ali as simplistic, strident, cruel, dismissive of human suffering, naïve, pampered, tenured, and comfortable.
Berman writes that, "in the course of looking down his nose at Hirsi Ali in the New York Review of Books," Garton Ash "pointed out that she has been awarded the 'Hero of the Month' prize from Glamour magazine."
"Why was this worth mentioning?" Berman asks. "Garton Ash seemed to regard it as an amusing proof that Hirsi Ali's successes owe more to her looks than to her brains – though, in reading Garton Ash, I can't help observing that here may be proof instead that Glamour magazine nowadays offers a more reliable guide to liberal principles than The New York Review of Books."
In the interview with IPT, Berman likened Hirsi Ali's treatment in the intellectual press to that meted out during the Cold War to refugees from the Soviet Union who would find themselves "slandered in the Western pro-Communist press."
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