Courtesy Reuters

Islamism, Unveiled

From Berlin to Cairo and Back Again

DECODING DOUBLE TALK

Paul Berman

In "Veiled Truths" (July/August 2010), Marc Lynch's suggestion that clever U.S. diplomats ought to play rival factions of the Islamist movement against one another has a ring of common sense, which I applaud, even if the idea is not exactly novel. But I worry that Lynch's one intelligent remark may lull readers into supposing that his other comments are equally sensible -- for example, his judgment that Hamas is a "moderate" movement, useful as "a firewall against radicalization." But mostly, I worry that this one comment may lull readers into believing anything that Lynch writes about me or my book The Flight of the Intellectuals.

Lynch's complaints about me are large and various, and they rise to a climactic sentence: "Nor is he concerned that expressing extreme anti-Islamic views and embracing only those Muslims who reject Islam might help al Qaeda by antagonizing those hewing to the Muslim mainstream and perhaps convincing them that [Osama] bin Laden is right after all." If you disentangle the complexities of the gerunds and clauses in the sentence, you will see that Lynch has accused me of being an anti-Muslim extremist whose writings are fodder for terrorism. Here, I conclude, is a less than positive review. And yet what dreadful thing have I done?

It has lately been argued that the United States should "engage" with Islamists. I agree. Therefore, I have engaged with the Swiss philosopher Tariq Ramadan. I have done this by taking him seriously as a thinker, by reading his work closely, by examining his philosophical assumptions, and by arguing with him at length. This is not an incitement to terrorism. This is a way to clarify ideas and reduce misunderstandings. To be sure, my study of Ramadan's work has not aroused in me feelings of admiration. But I have laid out in full the reasons for my poor opinion, as critics, unlike diplomats, should always do.

Lynch has immersed himself in Ramadan's world of intra-Islamist

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