Tuesday, June 4, 2013

That Loud Sucking Sound: Liberals, Libya and Islam

Intellectuals & Islamism

For many liberal intellectuals it is hard to come to terms with the idea that of all religions, Islam is the one now leading in terrorist attacks. The open question is whether Islam itself is the problem or it has a few zealots who have ignorantly taken an ignorant and extreme view of what Islam’s purpose is. Lorna Salzman takes the middle view, which is that there are more than a few radicals within its ranks. “Thus, Barber can, blithely and despite evidence to the contrary, assert there is a “crucial difference between Islam and a few of its radical zealots.” A few? A whole bunch of middle east nations in their entirety including Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and now Turkey? The nations where governments tremble in appeasement before radical Islamist groups, such as Yemen, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon and Pakistan, plus the Central Asian republics?”

by Lorna Salzman

The NY Times Book Review of June 6, 2010, had a fiery tirade by academic Benjamin Barber, protesting an earlier favorable review by Anthony Julius, of Paul Berman's new book, Flight of the Intellectuals.

This was predictable , because Barber is clearly one of the intellectuals Berman is attacking, though a bit late; Barber was just exposed as a consultant to and beneficiary of Saif Qaddafi's fiscal generosity, and has resigned from his foundation's board.

Barber's flight has been a journey from a proponent of “Strong Democracy,” the title of one of his books, to what I call paleo-liberalism, in which former intellectuals abandon the progressive side of the political fence, clamber up, and then remain on top of it. Some of course eventually get both legs over and end up in a heap as neo-conservatives, such as David Horowitz.

What has frozen these former liberals in place? And why now, of all times in history? Actually, the fence-climbing started back in the 1960s as post-modernism reared its regressive, anti-rationalist head in the universities, and then crept into the real world as Identity Politics, Multiculturalism and Cultural Relativism. It found its true authoritarian voice in Islamism and hasn't looked back since.

This is a very long tedious story that has ballooned in the past ten years—since 9/11 in fact—with the appearance of a new form of tyranny: Islamism. This was not new for the Arab and Muslim world of course, but few of us, except for those who followed the cultivation of radical Muslims and the Taliban by our government as a means of beating back Communism, knew anything about life on the ground and in the streets of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and their neighbors.

Now, a candy-coating of the dangers of radical Islam typifies the writings of Benjamin Barber, Ian Buruma and Nicholas Kristof, former liberals and public intellectuals who have defected to the right. In the case of Barber, there is a back story: Barber was just revealed as being a paid consultant to Saif Qadaffi, son of Libya's brutal tyrant, via the Monitor consulting group known for polishing the image of murderous oligarchs and totalitarians. Saif himself set up his own foundation and contributed sacks of money to the London School of Economics (whose director also just resigned), where he wrote a thesis (likely written by the American academics under contract to the Monitor group or, at the very least, plagiarized) entitled “The Role of Civll Society in the Democratisation of Global Governance Institutions.” (LOL)

Barber, like other apologists who think that criticizing any religion other than Roman Catholicism is unjust, exemplifies those who refuse to take the word of dissident Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji at face value and insist that their own analysis and critique, developed at far removal from the reality experienced by Ali and others, is the correct one.

Nicholas Kristof's review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book, Nomad, in the May 30, 2010 edition of the NY Times Book Review, is a leading example of how many intellectuals and social critics have appropriated issues as their own, come up with their own solutions, and discredited those like Ali who have had firsthand experience with the oppression of Islam. In this review he acknowledges the problems with Islam: oppression of women, lack of democracy, anti-Semitism, etc. (without mentioning genital mutilation or stoning of women) and then goes on a rant about Ali, accusing her of exaggeration, overstatement, a “ferocity” that he finds “strident” and “potentially feeding religious bigotry,” but says nothing about Muslim bigotry against non-Muslims. He excoriates HER for excoriating Islam even after listing the quite sound reasons for doing so...despite Ali's personal experience with and escape from Islamic persecution. This is the co-author of “Half the Sky,” about the suffering and repression of women worldwide.

Another example is that of Pankaj Mishra’s “Islamismism,” a review of Ali's book in The New Yorker, which casually asserted that Islamic terrorism was merely a response by traditional cultures to being overtaken by modernity. Yada, yada, yada...

Thus, Barber can, blithely and despite evidence to the contrary, assert there is a “crucial difference between Islam and a few of its radical zealots.” A few? A whole bunch of middle east nations in their entirety including Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and now Turkey? The nations where governments tremble in appeasement before radical Islamist groups, such as Yemen, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon and Pakistan, plus the Central Asian republics? Or the hundred or more groups and movements, with their dozens of affiliates and offshoots, such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, Taliban, Lashkaar al Taiba, Jamaiya Islamaya, whose cadres are found in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, not to mention the "homegrown" terrorists in western Europe and the United States who have bombed Germany, London, Madrid, New York City, Bali, Kenya, not to mention Israel?

A “few” radical zealots indeed.

Barber defends Tariq Ramadan, Muslim Brotherhood front man, as a “true mediator between the three Abrahamic religions and the quarrelsome (sic) civilizations they have engendered.” If you weren't paying attention before, pay attention to this: Christianity and Judaism are on a par with Islam regarding “quarrels.” This is a deft shift in terminology, away from any suggestion that Islam is responsible for engendering something far more dangerous than a quarrel: terrorism, for example.

Then, characteristic of other fleeing intellectuals, he stoops even lower to accuse Berman of being anti-Muslim rather than anti-Islamist,another refuge of paleo-liberal scoundrels, as if there were no such thing as Islamism or radical Islam, or as if the Muslim religion were not culpable in the least, despite the fact that terrorists boast of being inspired by Allah and the qu-ran, just as the Turkish flotilla “activists” still remind us.

It is a sorry and deplorable sight to see scholars and writers like Barber, Buruma, Kristof and others making excuses for repression, hatred and violence. If I were one of them, I would flee fast before the public finds out just what they stand for.

The author, a graduate of Cornell University, has been an environmental writer, lecturer and activist since the 1970s. Her articles on environment, energy, biodiversity and natural history have appeared in leading journals here and abroad, including The Ecologist, Index on Censorship, Resurgence, New Politics, and Business & Society Review. Her professional career began when David Brower, the leading conservationist of the 20th century in the USA, hired her as mid-Atlantic representative for Friends of the Earth, where she worked on wetlands, coastal zone and nuclear power issues for over a decade. In this period she was instrumental in the preservation of two key wildlife habitats (Swan Pond and Maple Swamp) in Suffolk County, NY.

Later she became an editor at the National Audubon Society's journal, 
American Birds, followed by directorship of the anti-food irradiation group, Food and Water. In the mid 1980s she co-founded the New York Greens, later the New York Green Party, on whose state committee she served for several years, and became active in the national green movement.

She worked for three years as a natural resource specialist in the NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection, focusing on wetlands and coastal zone protection. In 2002 she was the Suffolk County Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1st CD on eastern Long Island, and in 2004 she was a candidate for the U.S. Green Party's presidential nomination. Her hobbies are mushroom hunting, classical music and birding around the world with her composer-husband Eric. They have twin daughters, one a pop composer and lyricist in NYC and the other a poet and writer based in England. They live in Brooklyn Heights, NY, and East Quogue, NY, and have lived for extended periods in Italy and France.

Copyright ©2013. Lorna Salzman. All Rights Reserved. It is published here with the author's permission. More of her writing can be found at www.lornasalzman.com.

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