Thursday, June 07, 2007

Who's Afraid of Paul Berman?

A commenter called asia k suggested, in response to my post on Paul Berman's article about European Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, that I post an article by Stephen Suleyman Schwarz that criticizes Berman's piece. As it happens, I ran into that same article independently today, and I'm happy to do so.

Schwarz argues that Berman misunderstands a number of key things about Ramadan. I'm less critical than he of Berman's piece (I think it holds one's attention and is worth entering), but Schwarz's criticisms are mostly worthy. He argues that "Westerners [including Berman] take Ramadan for both a traditionalist and a modernist Muslim, but in fact he's a radical reformer," which has a meaning rather different among Muslim believers than most non-Muslim Westerners might at first think. Like the Muslim Brotherhood (viewed by many as one of the precursors of today's radical jihadism and something of a family business for Ramadan), he says, Ramadan is "calling for a fundamentalist reformism that would supposedly return Islam to what they imagine it to have been at the time of the Prophet Muhammad." Berman misinterprets him, he says, because:

1. He fails to distinguish between religious and political reform.
2. He doesn't challenge Ramadan on the concept of takfir, or excommunication, which declares that "the millions of Muslims who do not accept radicalism are declared to have fallen out of Islam ..."
3. He misrepresents the Muslim Brotherhood, exaggerating its control in Europe.
4. He thinks Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi is a great scholar, whereas many Muslim scholars consider him "a corrupted frontman for the Saudi and other Arab regimes."
5. He misses the boat on Ramadan and the left, and fails to note that Ayan Hirsi Ali, the Somali dissident who was associated with Theo van Gogh and left Holland for the U.S. and AEI, can be subject to honest criticism and has campaigned against practices (female genital mutilation, honor killings) that are not Muslim or exclusively Muslim.
6. He dismisses Al-Ghazali, the medieval Muslim scholar who "arrived at amost excellent balance of reason and faith."

Schwarz concludes that "There is a moderate Islam, unrepresented by Tariq Ramadan and unrecognized by Ayan Hirsi Ali, and ignored by all Western media purveyors of stereotypes."

To drive that last point home, here's another recent article by Schwarz, "The Myth of Muslim Silence; The Persistence of MSM Silence," that argues that moderate Muslims have issued countless denunciations of terrorism and extreme jihadism, but the mainstream media simply haven't reported the fact. After the Fort Dix arrests, for example, "the Presidency of the Albanian Muslim Community in the U.S. and Canada had published the following declaration: "we were shocked and appalled to receive the news of the possible terror act on Fort Dix Military Base in New Jersey. We strongly condemn violence and terrorist activities perpetrated in the name of Islam ... It is forbidden for a Muslim to cooperate with any individual or group that is involved in any act of terrorism or violence." And on and on.

I can attest that after almost every terrorist attack or arrest, the Register gets faxes and e-mail from CAIR (the most active local Muslim group) condemning the act and condemning terrorism -- and CAIR includes elements not as moderate as I might like. Sometimes we print or excerpt them, sometimes we don't. But I agree there are moderate Muslims who despise terrorism, and it will be increasingly important to recognize them and, where possible, work with and help them. But there are huge cultural gaps, and most people prefer to live by stereotypes. Well, maybe not most, but a lot.


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michael said...

Great post. Here is why Paul Berman gets it wrong.