The Flight of the Intellectuals: The Controversy Over Islamism and the Press

Overview

Called "important and devastating in its conclusions" by the New York Times, now with a new afterword by the author

Twenty years ago, Ayatollah Khomeini called for the assassination of Salman Rushdie—and writers around the world instinctively rallied to Rushdie’s defense. Today, according to writer Paul Berman, “Rushdie has metastasized into an entire social class”—an ever-growing group of sharp-tongued critics of Islamist extremism, especially critics from Muslim backgrounds, ...

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Overview

Called "important and devastating in its conclusions" by the New York Times, now with a new afterword by the author

Twenty years ago, Ayatollah Khomeini called for the assassination of Salman Rushdie—and writers around the world instinctively rallied to Rushdie’s defense. Today, according to writer Paul Berman, “Rushdie has metastasized into an entire social class”—an ever-growing group of sharp-tongued critics of Islamist extremism, especially critics from Muslim backgrounds, who survive only because of pseudonyms and police protection. And yet, instead of being applauded, the Rushdies of today (people like Ayan Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq) often find themselves dismissed as “strident” or as no better than fundamentalist themselves, and contrasted unfavorably with representatives of the Islamist movement who falsely claim to be “moderates.”

How did this happen? In THE FLIGHT OF THE INTELLECTUALS, Berman—“one of America’s leading public intellectuals” (Foreign Affairs)—conducts a searing examination into the intellectual atmosphere of the moment and shows how some of the West’s best thinkers and journalists have fumbled badly in their efforts to grapple with Islamist ideas and violence.

Berman’s investigation of the history and nature of the Islamist movement includes some surprising revelations. In examining Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, he shows the rise of an immense and often violent worldview, elements of which survives today in the brigades of al-Qaeda and Hamas. Berman also unearths the shocking story of al-Banna’s associate, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who collaborated personally with Adolf Hitler to incite Arab support of the Nazis’ North African campaign. Echoes of the Grand Mufti’s Nazified Islam can be heard among the followers of al-Banna even today.

In a gripping and stylish narrative Berman also shows the legacy of these political traditions, most importantly by focusing on a single philosopher, who happens to be Hassan al-Banna’s grandson, Oxford professor Tariq Ramadan—a figure widely celebrated in the West as a “moderate” despite his troubling ties to the Islamist movement. Looking closely into what Ramadan has actually written and said, Berman contrasts the reality of Ramadan with his image in the press.

In doing so, THE FLIGHT OF THE INTELLECTUALS sheds light on a number of modern issues—on the massively reinvigorated anti-Semitism of our own time, on a newly fashionable turn against women’s rights, and on the difficulties we have in discussing terrorism—and presents a stunning commentary about the modern media’s peculiar inability to detect and analyze some of the most dangerous ideas in contemporary society.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“An intellectual thriller in the form of a polemic, with Inspector Berman hunting for clues... Maybe Berman's book will start intellectuals talking, and not just about each other. Maybe some of the previously silent will begin to speak out against the death squads rather than snark about their victims and targets.”
Ron Rosenbaum, Slate

"Fascinating... This bracing and volatile book is an important one and devastating in its conclusions."
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"Paul Berman is, just like me and I think many others, surprised—and that’s an understatement—that some liberals choose to defend ideas that are very illiberal and choose to look away from practices that are even more illiberal. Why are they excusing radical Islam? That fascinates Berman and it also fascinates me, what the presence of Islam does to the liberal psyche in the West."
—Ayaan Hirsi Ali

"It has been quite astonishing to see how far and how fast there has been a capitulation to the believable threat of violence.... I join with Paul Berman in expressing utter astonishment at this phenomenon, or rather at the way that it is not a phenomenon."
—Christopher Hitchens

“Berman… has a fair claim to being regarded as the Benda of our time. In The Flight of the Intellectuals he continues his work of redeeming the good name of intellectuals by exposing the corrupt among them.”
—Anthony Julius, New York Times Book Review
 

“How do you distinguish a jihadist from a ‘moderate’ Muslim? Paul Berman's Flight of the Intellectuals brilliantly dissects the moral confusion and cowardice that contrives to sway some brave men and women. Must reading for our times.”
—Harold Evans, Daily Beast
 
“Brilliant, uncompromising.”
—Michael Young, Slate

Praise for Paul Berman
“One of our most gifted essayists, a deeply pensive writer with a lyrical talent for imaginative synthesis.”
The Boston Globe

“One of America’ s best exponents of recent intellectual history.”
The Economist

Anthony Julius
…[Berman's] arguments are always well made. He is an elegant, ironic writer and addresses his readers with an engaging, if at times slightly leisurely, assurance…In The Flight of the Intellectuals [Berman] continues his work of redeeming the good name of intellectuals by exposing the corrupt among them.
—The New York Times
Dwight Garner
…anything but diffident, and watching Mr. Berman pursue his philosophical prey is a bit like playing an academic version of a first-person-shooter video game: Modern Warfare: Bandit Pundit Edition…There's a good deal of inside baseball in The Flight of the Intellectuals. Scores are settled that many readers won't know or care about. But this bracing and volatile book is an important one and devastating in its conclusions about the secret history of some Islamists and especially about the reception of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
—The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
In this sequel to the groundbreaking Terror and Liberalism (2003, etc.), political writer and New Republic contributing editor Berman analyzes the rise of the Islamist totalitarian movement and the Western media's troubling inability-or unwillingness-to identify and investigate its implications. The author begins with Islamic history as defined by its major players, including Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, and Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Drawing from documents stored in government archives in the United States and Cairo, Berman untangles the legacies of Islam and Nazi Germany. Al-Husseini's fervent anti-Semitism met neatly with Hitler's campaign, and al-Banna was al-Husseini's most ardent supporter, a camaraderie that would have profound influence on the future of Islam. The bulk of the narrative concerns the effect that these political events have on modern-day Islam-in particular, on well-known philosopher Tariq Ramadan, who is al-Banna's grandson and whose writings are often cited as part of a progressive Muslim movement, yet whose deeper, more conservative meanings often elude the journalists eager to embrace such rhetoric. As a "Salafi reformist," Ramadan openly reveres his forebears yet purports to stand against violence and oppression. Scrutinizing Ramadan's writings and speeches, Berman writes that his "modern rhetorics invariably turn out to be translations, in one fashion or another, of Koranic concepts," and that Ramadan's opinions carefully provide a "double ambiguity" that draws Western admirers even as his Muslim followers view him as a defender of old-world Koranic ideals. Berman identifies one accomplished Western writer inparticular, Ian Buruma, whose glossy treatment of Ramadan represents the exact "flight" from intellectualism that the title implies. The author concludes, glumly, that "the spectacular and intimidating growth of the Islamist movement" in the last ten years, coupled with the rise in terrorism, are the culprits, effectively suffocating deep journalism with "squeamishness and fear." Despite the complexity, history and nuance of these subjects, the author probes each issue with elegant, incisive language. A stunning, riveting commentary. First printing of 30,000
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781935554448
  • Publisher: Melville House Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/29/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,185,905
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Berman is the author of A Tale of Two Utopias, The New York Times bestseller Terror and Liberalism, and Power and the Idealists. He writes for The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review, and The New York Times Magazine.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

1 The Philosopher and the Press 15

2 Memories of Fascism 27

3 The Cairo Embassy Files 55

4 Crime and Evasion 99

5 Universal Values 127

6 The People on the Left 157

7 The Realm Celestial 205

8 A Rebel Soul 243

9 The Flight of the Intellectuals 265

Afterword 301

Index of Names 314

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