Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Paul Berman on Tariq Ramadan: Part 1

Ramadan: Intellectual Feast or Famine?
(Image from Wikipedia)

That honorable man of the left Paul Berman has recently published in The New Republic an interesting, many-part article: "The Islamist, the journalist, and the defense of liberalism. Who's Afraid of Tariq Ramadan?" (June 4, 2007).

Some will recall my own, various ruminations on Ramadan, including one earlier this year on Ian Buruma's New York Times article, "Tariq Ramadan Has an Identity Issue" (February 4, 2007). In my blog entry, "Ian Buruma on Tariq Ramadan" (March 7, 2007), I noted Buruma's conclusion:
Ramadan offers a different way, which insists that a reasoned but traditionalist approach to Islam offers values that are as universal as those of the European Enlightenment. From what I understand of Ramadan’s enterprise, these values are neither secular, nor always liberal, but they are not part of a holy war against Western democracy either. His politics offer an alternative to violence, which, in the end, is reason enough to engage with him, critically, but without fear.
In response, I wrote this:
Engage Ramadan in dialogue, yes -- on that, I agree -- but I would emphasize "critically" in any such engagement with him, for I'm not entirely convinced by his reassurances that he is 'European,' for one can be European in some rather disturbing ways, as we know from Europe's history.
Berman remarks on the same passage in the Buruma article:
All in all, Buruma judged that, despite the controversies and accusations, Ramadan the philosopher offers, in Buruma's words, "a reasoned but traditionalist approach to Islam" based on "values that are as universal as those of the European Enlightenment." He judged that Ramadan's values, although "neither secular, nor always liberal," offer "an alternative to violence, which is, in the end, reason enough to engage with him, critically, but without fear." This was not quite a ringing endorsement. Still, it was an endorsement. It conveyed the unmistakable implication that Ramadan, the worthy interlocutor, stands for more than himself, which is why engaging him might be useful -- in order to discover the human and philosophical principles that Western and Muslim hearts and minds might share in common, and to bridge the divisions, and at last to achieve, between the West and Islam, a cultural peace: the goals that every reasonable person yearns to see achieved, even if not everybody would assent too quickly to a vision of the world that consigns the West to one corner and Islam to another.
Berman is more careful, less cautious, more critical than Buruma, for though I've not finished this article of 65 pages (in my downloaded file), I've read enough to see where Berman is going, as his following remark indicates:
Tariq Ramadan, by acquiring a brilliant fame and refracting its rays in one country after another, has succeeded in brightly illuminating two very different, murky, and related developments during the last few years: a large new development among select circles of pious Muslims in Europe, and not just in Europe; and an equally new and still more remarkable development among the normally impious journalists and intellectuals of Europe and America.
I'm guessing that Berman intends to intensify the rays shining on these two murky developments by sketching an illuminating portrait of how ideas emanating from the Muslim Brotherhood have influenced the intellectual leaders of European Islam and by examining in the light of critical reason the remarkably indulgent reaction of secular Western intellectuals to this sort of Islam as it grows and gains power in the West.

I'll have more to say on this as I read futher in Berman, but I've been putting off -- for over a week now! -- my reading and posting on his views, so I wanted to at least direct people's attention to the article.

Labels: , ,


At 11:48 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Great post. Here is mine...
Here, on how Berman gets Ramadan all wrong.

At 8:29 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Patricia, for the kind word and the link to your post, which I read.

I haven't finished Berman's essay yet, but I find Ramadan a bit slippery, perhaps because he's having to speak to several audiences at once. Irfan Yusuf, an Australian lawyer, notes that Ramadan drew the ire of some Muslims in suggesting a moratorium on the laws of hudud:

"Recently Dr. Ramadan has made the headlines with his claim that there should be a moratorium on corporal punishment, stoning and the death penalty (collectively known as hudud) in the Islamic world. His comments have been condemned by Muslim writers and scholars, including those claiming to follow the legacy of Dr. Ramadan's grandfather."

I quoted Yusuf in my post of March 16, 2007.

Ramadan might be quite the moderate but one choosing his words carefully so as not to lose his Muslim constituency. However, one of my Turkish readers and occasional commentor, "Erdal," who has a wealth of knowledge about things Islamic, distrusts Ramadan and thinks that the man is an Islamist.

We'll have to just see...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home