July 12, 2010

Berman fights back


Most publishers advise their authors to suffer negative reviews in silence. But Melville House author Paul Berman says “I glance with pleasure at some harsh reviews” of his book, The Flight of the Intellectuals because “in the worst of them, is my best confirmation.”

Thus, in a flame-throwing commentary for the Wall Street Journal, Berman — who got some some rave reviews, too (such as this one, from the New York Times Book Review, and this one, from Slate columnist Ron Rosenbaum) says scathing reviews in the New Yorker, Foreign Affairs, and the National Interest decidedly prove the key points of his book:

You are not supposed to observe that Islamism is a modern, instead of an ancient, political tendency, which arose in a spirit of fraternal harmony with the fascists of Europe in the 1930s and ’40s.

You are not supposed to point out that Nazi inspirations have visibly taken root among present-day Islamists, notably in regard to the demonic nature of Jewish conspiracies and the virtues of genocide.

And you are not supposed to mention that, by inducing a variety of journalists and intellectuals to maintain a discreet and respectful silence on these awkward matters, the Islamist preachers and ideologues have succeeded in imposing on the rest of us their own categories of analysis.

For example, he notes something he details in the book: that several important Islamist leaders collaborated with the Nazis. Berman quotes many of them, such as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood.


The piece in Foreign Affairs insists that, to the mufti of Jerusalem, Hitler was merely a “convenient ally,” and it is “ludicrous” to imagine a deeper sort of alliance. Those in the National Interest and the New Yorker add that, in the New Yorker’s phrase, “unlikely alliances” with Nazis were common among anticolonialists.

… But these various efforts to minimize the significance of the Nazi-Islamist alliance ignore a mountain of documentary evidence, some of it discovered last year in the State Department archives by historian Jeffrey Herf, revealing links that are genuinely profound.

“Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion,” said the mufti of Jerusalem on Radio Berlin in 1944. And the mufti’s rhetoric goes on echoing today in major Islamist manifestos such as the Hamas charter and in the popular television oratory of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi … “Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one.” Foreign Affairs, the National Interest and the New Yorker have expended nearly 12,000 words in criticizing “Flight of the Intellectuals.” And yet, though the book hinges on a series of such genocidal quotations, not one of those journals has found sufficient space to reproduce even a single phrase.

Then there’s his defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom he calls “one of the world’s most eloquent enemies of the Islamist movement.”

Six years ago, an Islamist fanatic murdered Ms. Hirsi Ali’s filmmaking colleague, Theo van Gogh, and left behind a death threat, pinned with a dagger to the dead man’s torso, denouncing Ms. Hirsi Ali as an agent of Jewish conspirators. And yet, the New Yorker, in the course of an essay presenting various excuses for the Islamist-Nazi alliance of yesteryear, has the gall to explain that, if anyone needs a lecture on the history of anti-Semitism, it’s Ms. Hirsi Ali!

“Such is the temper of our moment,” Berman concludes. “Some of the intellectuals are indisputably in flight–eager to sneer at outspoken liberals from Muslim backgrounds, and reluctant to speak the truth about the Islamist reality.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives