Malise Ruthven on Paul Berman: Wrong about 'Islamofascism'?
I've often relied on Paul Berman's research into sources of current-day Islamism, particularly for his findings on anti-modernist Western sources. Recent commenter Nathan Rein, however, has linked to a critique of Berman's research by Malise Ruthven.
I've taken a look at that link and seen that Ruthven, in his article "Righteous & Wrong" for The New York Review of Books (August 19, 2010), takes issue with Paul Berman's argument that Nazi antisemitism entered into Arab and Islamist ideology via Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who had cooperated with the Nazis during the Second World War:
[After the end of World War II,] Hajj Amin received a hero's welcome on his arrival in Egypt, where he renewed his connections with Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, whom he had previously supplied with funds from Nazi Germany and ideas for SS-type military formations. The Brotherhood proved fertile soil for the Nazi bacillus. As a result of Hajj Amin's return, Berman concludes, "the Arab zone ended up as the only region in the entire planet in which a criminal on the fascist side of the war, and a major ideologue, to boot, returned home in glory, instead of in disgrace."Aside from the dismissive reference to "Planet Berman," Ruthven is right to call attention to Nazi influence upon other figures who went on to postwar fame, but I don't see how this detracts from Berman's point about the pervasive influence of Nazi ideology upon postwar Islamism. Nor do I agree that Berman's "vision is crassly ideological." Berman is a man of the left, but he seems to be going against the grain of leftist thinking these days, so what 'crass ideology' does Ruthven mean? Besides, Berman does note that Nazi racial theory posed problems for German foreign policy in the Middle East:
Planet Berman evidently excludes India, where Subhas Chandra Bose, who broadcast anti-British propaganda for the Nazis before creating the Indian National Army to fight with the Japanese, is now honored in the pantheon of national heroes in Delhi's Red Fort. It also excludes Finland, where Gustaf Mannerheim, commander of the Finnish forces that fought with the Germans against the Soviets and volunteered recruits for the Waffen SS, was elected by parliament to serve as the country's president from 1944 to 1946. In 2005 he and his predecessor, Risto Ryti, who served a ten-year prison sentence for allying Finland with Nazi Germany, were voted the country's top two national heroes in a survey by the Finnish Broadcasting Company. Berman, however, is not to be bothered by inconvenient truths that might arrest the flow of his rhetoric. His vision is crassly ideological: facts that might interfere with his argument -- such as al-Banna's stated belief that Nazi racial theories were incompatible with Islam, as well as other complicating factors -- are liable to be discarded or ignored.
Everything about the Nazi doctrines was bound to seem a little different, viewed from the Middle East. Nazi racial theory consigned the Arabs, Turks and Persians to lower rungs of human status . . . . German diplomats in the Middle East dutifully reported back to the chancellery in Berlin that Arabs, Turks and Persians responded poorly to this sort of thing. Nazi doctrine on the Jews doubled the problem. The Jews seemed biologically loathsome, in Nazi eyes, because the Jews were deemed to be Semites -- but unfortunately for German diplomacy, the Arabs, being cousins of the Jews were likewise deemed to be Semites. (Berman, Flight, pages 61-62)I'd need to re-read Berman's Flight of the Intellectuals to see if he specifically notes that Hassan al-Banna considered Nazi racial theory to be incompatible with Islam, for I don't recall all the factual details of Berman's book. However, the citation above should be sufficient to demonstrate that Berman is aware of the issue.
Ruthven does, however, point to an important possible re-reading of the famous exchange between Sarkozy and Tariq Ramadan, the exchange in which Ramadan called for a 'moratorium' on stoning but which Sarkozy and, later, Berman condemned for not going far enough. Ruthven notes that Ian Buruma sees things differently:
In his most recent book, Taming the Gods, Ian Buruma puts an entirely different gloss on the episode, following France's leading scholar of modern Islamic movements, Olivier Roy, in suggesting that Ramadan's position represents a stage toward secularization. By leaving a religious law for discussion without actually applying it, he is effectively dissociating religious doctrine from political or social practice. As Roy has suggested, a moratorium "maintains orthodoxy while enabling the believer to live in a society governed by laïcité." Roy's position is evidently based on the idea that consensus -- one of four canonical "roots" of Islamic law -- is a precondition for change, a view that Berman entirely fails to consider.This is a potentially valid point about Ramadan's position as "a stage toward secularization," and it's something that I've also considered in thinking about Ramadan, though Ruthven has here expressed it better than I could have. But I disagree that "Berman entirely fails to consider" this possibility, for Berman discusses Ramadan's later suggestion of so-called "fatwa committees" that would reconsider various Islamic laws and issue scholarly opinions. Reconsideration of stoning, for example, sounds like a good thing, but I wonder what Ramadan would do if the consensus of Muslim scholars still insisted upon stoning. Would he agree that such a consensus is 'incumbent' upon all Muslims? Stoning approved, moratorium lifted? In fact, drawing upon Berman, I've already posted on the problems posed by Ramadan's proposal of "fatwa committees," given one of the proposed Islamic scholars to be included:
Who would the Islamic scholars be? Prominent among them would be Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a well-known 'moderate' Islamist. He would be consulted as an expert, e.g., on women's rights. Berman offers the ironic suggestion that Qaradawi's qualification for this position stems from his role as "the scholar who issued the fatwa permitting Palestinian women to dispense with hijabs while committing [acts of] suicide [terrorism] -- an advance, presumably, for 'Islamic feminism'" (Berman, Flight, page 238).In sum, then, while Ruthven raises some valid points and is worth reading, he does not -- in my opinion -- undermine Berman's general demonstration that Nazi antisemitism has come to pervade Islamist, and even larger Muslim opinion on Jews in the modern world, nor does he persuade me that Berman is wrong in his concerns about Ramadan.
And for that matter, Berman has a remarkably complex, nuanced view of Ramadan, which can be found in a fascinating interview conducted by Michael Totten, for those readers with time and interest.