Thursday, June 21, 2007

Paul Berman Speaks...

Cool Email
(Kool-Aid Man Image from Wikipedia)

This entry will be rather self-indulgent of me, but my excuse is that I've worked hard at blogging over the past couple of weeks and must now back off a bit in order to grade student essays.

After I had finished my eleven blog entries on Paul Berman's inquiry into Tariq Ramadan's views, I wondered if Berman himself might be interested, so I sent him a note at his New York University address:
Dear Professor Berman,

Greetings from Jeffery Hodges. I have recently read your article on Tariq Ramadan in the New Republic.

For the most part, I like your article very much (as I did your book Terror and Liberalism), differing from you only in nuances but broadly agreeing.

Also, I blogged on it here:

Paul Berman on Tariq Ramadan

From my site meter, I can see that several people went on to read your article, which I linked to. I hope that they have read you closely and been spurred to read your book Terror and Liberalism as well.

By the way, I don't expect you to read my blog. I just wanted to express appreciation for learning a lot from you and to let you know that I'm with you on the need for a war of ideas against Islamism.

This should be a point upon which the left, right, and center all agree. Sadly -- as you noted -- they don't.

Best Regards,

Jeffery Hodges
Well, Berman replied a couple of days later:
Dear Mr Hodges,

I've seen your very interesting and perceptive blog. I appreciate the detailed attention to the piece. You raise some points (Rousseau, Romanticism, the history of Christianity), that I will want to think about, and other points where I would argue with you (the possibilities for a modern Islam, in some non-Ramadanian version).

If you ever find yourself in New York, do let me know, and we could think and argue together over a drink.


Paul Berman
In reply, I thanked him, and also elaborated a little bit on my remark about the stark alternative that Muslims face concerning shariah:
Dear Professor Berman,

Thank you for your reply and your kind words about my blog. I would certainly enjoy a discussion over a drink, but I might not be in New York for a long time. In fact -- despite my many travels -- I've never been to the 'World's Greatest City.' But perhaps you'll make a trip to Seoul sometime. I know an excellent wine bar in the Gangnam area of Seoul...

On the possibility of a modern Islam? Well, perhaps I was too rigorous about that. There are undoubtedly more possibilities than the stark alternatives that I set out. The question on shariah, however, remains the crucial one. Without enforced law, what's to prevent Islam from devolving into whatever any individual Muslim thinks that Islam is? That might not be a bad thing, but what is left of Islam in that case?

But save that for the discussion over drinks.

Thanks once again for your response. It was thoughtful of you.

Best Regards,

Jeffery Hodges
That's where it stands -- and where it probably will remain. I probably will never find myself in New York, certainly not anytime soon, and Berman will be even less likely to visit Seoul, so discussion over a drink will have to be put off a long, long time -- perhaps so far in the future that shariah will have become the law of the land, leaving talk of discussion over a drink merely a distant memory.

Unless by 'drink', we're speaking Kool-Aid ... though probably not the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test variety popularized by Tom Wolfe and the Merry Pranksters.

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At 11:32 AM, Anonymous Ranjit Chatterjee said...

Hello Horace,
I just found your blog, read about your life and travels, and read your exchange with Paul Berman.
I'd like to be in touch with you. My web address is
I have a recent book out, preview at
I hope to hear from you at your convenience, after the grading. I do some of that too...
My interests are in language, philosophy and religion, or at least subjects denoted by those words...
Please write sometime.

At 6:37 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Professor Chatterjee,

I've sent an email.

Jeffery Hodges

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