Saturday 5 June 2010

Who can speak for or against Islam?

The New Yorker of 6 June 2010 carries an article by Pankaj Mishra, an Indian essayist and novelist, in which he critically assesses the influence of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Paul Berman, and Tariq Ramadan -- three individuals featuring prominently in recent debates of the place of Islam in Western societies and the role of religion in Muslim societies.

Here are some excerpts:

Muslims today, Hirsi Ali believes, must be forced to choose between the darkness of Islam and the light of the modern secular West. In her new book, which bears the additional subtitle “A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations,” she takes an uncompromising line with her own relatives, who remain faithful to their benighted religion. [...]

If Hirsi Ali’s rhetoric has earned her critics among Western liberals, she has a fierce defender in Paul Berman, whose new polemic, “The Flight of the Intellectuals” (Melville House; $26), hails her as a “classic example of a persecuted dissident intellectual.” He upbraids such writers as the Anglo-Dutch journalist Ian Buruma and the British academic Timothy Garton Ash, who, he says, “sneered at Ayaan Hirsi Ali for having taken up the ideas of Western liberalism.” Berman also condemns Buruma and Garton Ash for “grovelling” to Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss-born Muslim professor at Oxford University, whose work seeks to integrate observant Muslims into secular Western societies, and whom Berman sees as an apologist for extremism. For Berman, the spectacle of writers attacking Hirsi Ali while embracing Ramadan points to a dangerous “ reactionary turn in the intellectual world” of Europe and America.

 Ramadan, a prolific author who has preached a “European” Islam in the heart of secular France, has certainly attracted the attention of journalists and academics, along with those uncompromising secularists who use him as a foil [...] Sooner or later, just about every writer of non-Western background finds himself taken to be a representative of, or spokesperson for, his community, nation, race, or religion. Ramadan, who has solemnly, even pompously, embraced this role, seems no more than one of the many academics struggling to fulfill the West’s post-9/11 demand for “moderate” Islam.

Read the whole article here

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