Berman Book Showcases Intellectual Double Standards on Islamists
May 5, 2010
In 1989, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for the assassination of British writer Salman Rushdie in retaliation for his writing a book that depicted Islam in a negative light. Since then, according to veteran journalist Paul Berman, Rushdie "has metastasized into an entire social class" – a continually growing group of intellectuals from Muslim backgrounds who live under threat of violence because they have criticized Islamism.
These people (many of whom live in Western democracies) "survive only because of bodyguards and police investigations and because of their own precautions," Berman writes in his new book, The Flight of the Intellectuals. "Fear - mortal fear, the fear of getting murdered by fanatics in the grip of a bizarre ideology - has become, for a significant number of intellectuals and artists, a simple fact of modern life."
But there is one important, glaring difference: Twenty years ago, the liberal intelligentsia in Europe and the United States rallied around Rushdie and denounced the murder threat. That took real courage. One of Rushdie's translators was murdered and another stabbed. Several Norwegian bookstores were bombed, a British hotel was attacked by a suicide bomber, and more than 50 people were killed in anti-Rushdie rioting around the world.
Despite the danger, Berman writes: "A good many intellectuals reached out to their endangered Arab and Muslim counterparts and colleagues, and celebrated the courage of everyone who refused to be intimidated."
In contrast, today, the intellectuals' reaction often is to target the victim. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who will likely need security protection the rest of her life because she has clashed with the Islamists, has been subjected to ad hominem personal attacks in the press and contrasted unfavorably with supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
What accounts for the change? Two factors have altered the intellectual atmosphere, according to Berman: terrorism and "the spectacular and intimidating growth of the Islamist movement since the time of the Rushdie fatwa."
Probably no one has benefited more from these trends than Tariq Ramadan, grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna, and one of the world's most popular advocates of Islamism today.
Despite his refusals to condemn outright practices like the stoning of women convicted of adultery and statements justifying attacks on U.S. soldiers, Ramadan has often been depicted as a moderate seeking to reform Islam in stories like this, this, and this.
He arrived in the United States last month and has been addressing public forums and private fundraisers around the country. He had been preparing to take a faculty position at Notre Dame University in 2004 when his visa was revoked. U.S. officials cited contributions Ramadan had made to an organization supporting the terrorist group Hamas.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped the ban on Ramadan's entry in January following an appellate court decision that would have required that the government prove he knew the charity had Hamas ties when he made his contributions.
For years, Ramadan's personal charisma and rhetorical skills have enabled him to sidestep uncomfortable questions about Islamic law, or sharia, the Muslim Brotherhood, and his grandfather's embrace of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem and an enthusiastic supporter of Adolf Hitler.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Mufti and Hitler
Ramadan's refusal to candidly address his grandfather's personal admiration for Hitler and his alliance with the Mufti (see especially p. 15 and pp. 19-28 of this article from Yad Vashem's website) is among the powerful, eye-opening themes running through Flight of the Intellectuals.
With World War II looming, it became strategically critical for Hitler to persuade Arab Muslims that Nazi theories on race, which consigned non-Aryan Semitic peoples like Jews and Arabs to inferior status, were no barrier to an alliance with the fascist Axis. So the Nazis needed to demonstrate "that European and Christian superstitions ought to be regarded as authentically Middle Eastern and Islamic," Berman told the Investigative Project on Terrorism in an interview.
To do this, they needed a credible Muslim ally who could rally Arab support, and was enthusiastic about the Nazi message. They turned to the Mufti - "al-Banna's hero and inspiration," Berman said.
After Hitler came to power in Germany, al-Banna published one of his seminal tracts, "To What Do We Summon Mankind?" In it, he wrote that during the course of history, small movements headed by charismatic leaders, among them, the Prophet Muhammad, have won some remarkable victories. He cited some other examples from the history of Islam. The lone non-Muslim on Al-Banna's list of exemplary models was Adolf Hitler.
"And who would have believed that that German workingman, Hitler, would ever attain such immense influence and as successful a realization of his aims as he has?"al-Banna wrote.
By 1936, the Muslim Brotherhood had 800 members. That year, the Arab Revolt - a violent uprising against British rule and Jewish settlement in Palestine - broke out. One of its major leaders of the uprising was the Mufti of Jerusalem. Al-Banna pledged his support and launched a solidarity campaign with the insurrection, which received financial support from the Nazis. By 1938, the Muslim Brotherhood's membership had swelled to 200,000 members.
The Mufti worked energetically to bring about a Nazi victory and expand Hitler's final solution to the Middle East.
In a 1941 meeting, Hitler and the Mufti agreed that the Jews controlled Britain and the Soviet Union, and that the struggle against them was a war "for survival or destruction." In a March 1, 1944 speech delivered on Radio Berlin in Arabic, the Mufti stated:
"Arabs! Rise as one and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion. This serves your honor. God is with you."
A few days later, the Mufti urged Arabs to make every effort to ensure "that not a single Jew and not a single imperialist remains in the Arab countries."
The Mufti's major concern was that the Nazis would not move quickly enough to exterminate Jews. When Heinrich Himmler, one of Hitler's top aides in implementing the Final Solution, tried to save 5,000 Jewish children in return for the release of 20,000 German prisoners, the Mufti successfully lobbied to dispatch the children to the gas chambers.
The Mufti and the SS planned to form the Eisensatzgruppe Agypten - Egyptian-based Nazi mobile killing squads targeting Jews in Egypt and British-occupied Palestine. The squads were modeled after Eisensatzgruppen forces in the Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, which killed well over 1 million Jews, gypsies, communists and others whom the Nazis deemed "undesirable" between 1941 and 1945.
The Mufti's calls "to annihilate the Jews were some of the most shocking speeches of the Holocaust," Berman writes. "They were the voice of the SS, hideously translated into the tones of Islamic scripture, preparing the Arab public opinion to join the campaign that…the Einsatzgruppen were already planning to conduct."
What the Mufti did was "the creating of something monstrous: an infernal blurring of Islam and Nazism," Berman writes. "A victory of Himmler's Islam…A victory for the Islam of fanaticism and hatred over its arch-rival, the Islam of generosity and civilization."
But the Mufti's embrace of Nazism and the Final Solution did nothing to dissuade Hasan al-Banna from embracing him. Berman quotes at length from a 1946 speech to the Arab League by al-Banna hailing the Mufti's escape from Europe, where some Allied officials wanted him tried for war crimes. The speech, reported by Jeffrey Herf, who examined American archives for his book, Nazi Propaganda in the Arab World. is reproduced on pp. 105-107 of The Flight of the Intellectuals. It reads in part:
"The hearts of the Arabs palpitated with joy at hearing that the Mufti has succeeded in reaching an Arab country. The news sounded like thunder to the ears of some American, British and Jewish tyrants.
The lion is at lat free and he will roam the Arabian jungle to clear it of wolves."
"…What a hero, what a miracle of a man. We wish to know what the Arab youth, Cabinet Ministers, rich men, and princes of Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Tunis, Morocco and Tripoli are doing to be worthy of this hero. Yes, the hero who challenged an empire and fought Zionism, with the help of Hitler and Germany. Germany and Hitler are gone, but Amin al-Husseini will continue the struggle."
When Ramadan spoke last month at Cooper Union in New York City, George Packer of the New Yorker asked him why his grandfather made a speech gushing praise for the Mufti, a man who spent the war working with Hitler to achieve the extermination of the Jews. Ramadan replied that Hasan al-Banna did not support Nazism, adding that his alliance with the Mufti needed to be seen in "context:" Hasan al-Banna wasn't pro-Nazi, just anti-Zionist.
Ramadan overlooks the Mufti's expansive definition of "Zionism," Berman counters. The Mufti did not define "Zionism" as a mere conspiracy to create a Jewish nation in "a small sliver of Palestine." To him, Zionism was a conspiracy against Muslims and the Arabs.
In the Mufti's eyes, "Zionism is a gigantic conspiracy to annihilate Islam and the Arab world by supernaturally evil Jews that has been lasting for 1,300 years, and the defeat of Zionism is going to mean the extermination of the Jews. So, this is 'anti-Zionism,'" Berman said. "The Mufti made this point again and again."
Echoes of this genocidal approach to Jewry can be seen today in the platform of Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is no accident that Hamas quotes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in its charter, Berman said.
The charter "is absolutely explicit in saying that the Jews must be killed," he told the IPT. "The charter comes out of the tradition that was established by the Mufti and by al-Banna. And it's a tradition which traces back, I think significantly, to the Nazi influence."
Qaradawi and the Bankruptcy of Tariq Ramadan's Talk of Reform
Echoes of the tripartite World War II alliance between Hasan al-Banna, the Mufti and Nazism can be heard in the modern-day speeches of Imam Yusuf al-Qaradawi – a man Tariq Ramadan would make a central figure in his effort to "reform" Islam in the 21st century.
Tariq Ramadan writes admiringly of Qaradawi, a spiritual guide to the Muslim Brotherhood, and notes that the imam directed the funeral prayer for his father, Said Ramadan, at his 1995 funeral in Cairo. A top aide to Hasan al-Banna who became his son-in-law, Said Ramadan was a key figure in the Brotherhood for close to half a century.
If anything, Berman writes, "admiration" understates Ramadan's opinion of Qaradawi:
"Ramadan appears to hold Qaradawi in higher regard than any other present-day Islamic scholar. Ramadan has sprinkled these signs of personal homage throughout his books…one reference after another, always expressed in a tone of humble respect and deference, always designed to induce a feeling of respect and veneration among readers, as if Qaradawi were an entirely reputable scholar."
But Berman shows that the reality is very different. Qaradawi, best known for his sermons on Al-Jazeera television, has made statements praising Hitler, defending organizations like Hamas, and supporting suicide attacks.
For example, in a January 2009 appearance on the channel translated by the Middle East Media Research institute (MEMRI), Qaradawi spoke about Hitler and the Jews:
"Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption." The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all things he did to them - even though he exaggerated the issue - he managed to put them in their place."
These words about Hitler doing God's work "did not make their way into Qaradawi's oratory from some little-known corner of the Koran," Berman writes. Rather, they are a modern-day televised echo of the Mufti's radio broadcasts from the 1940s.
Two years after 9/11, Qaradawi issued a fatwa authorizing suicide terrorism by Palestinians. In a joint appearance on Al-Jazeera in 2007, Hamas boss Khaled Mashaal thanked Qaradawi for the fatwa.
"I support Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah," Qaradawi replied. "I support martyrdom operations." He issued another fatwa permitting women to carry out acts of suicide terrorism which exempted them from the obligation to conceal their hair under a hijab. When an Iranian news agency attacked him in 2008, Qaradawi defended himself this way: "I am an enemy of Israel and the Mufti of martyrdom operations."
When Ramadan talks about finding forward-thinking ethicists to come up with "reforms" to modernize disturbing aspects of the Islamic faith like the stoning of adulterers, Qaradawi is typically among the first names he invokes.
In Berman's view, Ramadan's suggestion that men like Qaradawi play such a large role illustrates the bankruptcy of his talk of reform:
"His repeated calls for reason and dialogue in an open-minded spirit, his denunciations of bigotry and unfairness. All of this has added up to nothing. Tariq Ramadan remains a man who cannot see that a monstrous figure like Yusuf al-Qaradawi is a monstrous figure."
Targeting Hirsi Ali, While Giving Muslim Brotherhood A Free Pass
Some of Berman's most important work appears in his book's final chapters, which constitute a telling indictment of the media's coverage of Islamism.
Berman contrasts media coverage of Tariq Ramadan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ramadan grew up in relative privilege in Switzerland. Hirsi Ali, by contrast, spent her childhood and adolescence shuttling from home to home in her native Somalia, as well as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya, where "she saw and endured scenes of brutality and suffering of a sort that a privileged boy growing up in Switzerland could not possibly know," Berman writes.
Hirsi Ali joined the Muslim Brotherhood, studied the works of Hasan al-Banna, and prepared to move to Canada to consummate an arranged marriage and begin a new life. But she eventually became disillusioned, and sought and received asylum in Holland. She lived in refugee shelters and worked in factories.
Hirsi Ali learned to speak Dutch and went to work as an interpreter, helping Somali refugees and Dutch officials communicate with each other. She became an advocate of rights for Muslim women and a critic of Islamists, and soon she received police protection. She embarked on a political career and was elected to parliament.
She began a collaboration with Theo Van Gogh to make the film, "Submission, Part I," featuring some disturbing passages from the Koran that were graphically inscribed on women's bodies. After it appeared once on Dutch Television, a Muslim named Muhammed Bouyeri killed Van Gogh – shooting him and slitting his throat on a public street.
Bouyeri left a dagger in Van Gogh's chest, pinning to the body a fatwa calling for Hirsi Ali's death. Eventually Hirsi Ali, who had renounced Islam, concluded she was not safe in Holland and fled to the United States where she lives under police protection. She remains a staunch advocate for women's rights and a sharp critic of abuses of women under sharia.
Berman focuses on the examples of two prominent journalists who have written sympathetically of Ramadan and harshly of Hirsi Ali. One is Ian Buruma, who penned a sympathetic portrait of Ramadan in the New York Times Magazine. He wrote Murder in Amsterdam – a book about the Van Gogh slaying – and wrote about Hirsi Ali in the New York Review of Books. The other is historian Timothy Garton Ash, whose column appears in The Guardian newspaper.
Berman provides example after example in which Buruma and Garton Ash portray Ramadan as a moderate, and belittle Hirsi Ali as simplistic, strident, cruel, dismissive of human suffering, naïve, pampered, tenured and comfortable.
Berman writes that "in the course of looking down his nose at Hirsi Ali in the New York Review of Books," Garton Ash "pointed out that she has been awarded the 'Hero of the Month' prize from Glamour magazine."
"Why was this worth mentioning?" Berman asks. "Garton Ash seemed to regard it as an amusing proof that Hirsi Ali's successes owe more to her looks than to her brains –though, in reading Garton Ash, I can't help observing that here may be proof instead that Glamour magazine nowadays offers a more reliable guide to liberal principles than The New York Review of Books."
In an interview with IPT, Berman likened Hirsi Ali's treatment in the intellectual press to that meted out during the Cold War to refugees from the Soviet Union who would find themselves "slandered in the Western pro-Communist press."
Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Garton Ash wrote extraordinary essays about repression in East Germany and other communist countries. Berman's book suggests that, when it comes to making sense of radical Islam, Garton Ash isn't faring so well.
Garton Ash traveled to Cairo in 2007 to meet Jamal al-Banna, Hasan's 86-year-old younger brother and great- uncle of Tariq Ramadan. Garton Ash wrote a column in The Guardian comparing Hirsi Ali unfavorably with al-Banna, a Muslim scholar who opposes honor killings and stoning adulterers.
The following day, MEMRI issued a report detailing some important information on al-Banna that Garton Ash omitted. Al-Banna had praised the 9/11 terrorists for their "extremely courageous" action. He had signed a petition in 2001 blaming America for having brought on the 9/11 attacks. And al-Banna defended "martyrdom operations" against Israeli civilians.
"How in the world did Garton Ash manage to come up with someone like this as his grand exemplar of Muslim liberalism in a superior version?" Berman asks. "There is something uncanny, almost creepy, about how often the journalistic critics of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who happen to be ardent defenders of Tariq Ramadan, have ended up wandering into the zones of suicide terror and the most prominent of its theorists and champions."