Not as an exemplum of it but because I wanted to have an Islamic voice in the book and Ramadan was one of the rare Islamic intellectuals who had publicly disclaimed anti-Semitism—though not anti-Semites, as Berman copiously demonstrates. In the excerpt I published, Ramadan expresses a desire to share the world with other faiths, which, even if Berman believes that Ramadan speaks with a forked tongue, is not a bad message to spread around. Some might take it as sincere. I'm still not convinced that this view, or reprinting the essay, was a mistake.
In the original essay and the book, Berman meticulously dissects both Ramadan's claim to be a voice of moderation and the Western intellectuals' little love affair with Ramadan. For Western intellectuals, Berman explains, Ramadan solves a problem. His views allow them to believe both in Enlightenment values and a multiculturalism that can embrace an Islam that is open to the reformation of such practices as the honor killing of women.
The problematic nature of Ramadan's moderation can perhaps best be illustrated by his call for a "moratorium" on the stoning of women to death in Islamic societies for "honor" violations. The fact that he called for a "moratorium" at all has been hailed by Western, particularly European, intellectuals as a comforting sign for those concerned about women's rights in the growing Muslim communities of the West.
The fact that he did not condemn the practice outright or call for its outlawing, and instead only called for "debate" with Islamic scholars and theologians on the matter during the "moratorium," is not entirely reassuring to others.
For Berman, Ramadan has become a White Whale. Berman is infuriated by the blindness of intellectuals to what he believes is Ramadan's true and sinister purpose: to shield the growth of anti-Enlightenment political Islam behind a facade of modernization. Berman is particularly infuriated by an admiring profile of Ramadan that calls him a bridge to Euro-Islam modernity by Ian Buruma in the New York Times Magazine. I think Berman has a case that the effect if not the intent of Buruma's article was to whitewash Ramadan, but again it's a subjective matter. Did Buruma deliberately play down Ramadan's connections with alleged terrorist sympathizers in the article? Or was he genuinely convinced that Ramadan's more modernizing tendencies ought to be taken seriously, perhaps even on opportunistic grounds. If we in the non-Muslim West respond to this ostensibly reformist aspect of him—the fact that he's not dogmatically single-minded—it will be re-enforced. For Berman, he is single-minded but two-faced, a wolf in sheep's clothing who was using Buruma.
But it is Berman's final section—especially Chapter 9, the title chapter, "The Flight of the Intellectuals"—that will make this an old-fashioned "event" in the intellectual history of the question that is at the heart of so much contention: the question of whether Islamists can coexist pluralistically in Western societies.
By the "flight of the intellectuals," Berman means their flight from the values they espoused when defending Salman Rushdie in 1989, and their sniping, snarking, and subverting Ayaan Hirsi Ali this century. Is it just that she's not one of the boys? Berman suggests that a combination of colonial guilt and colonial superiority is at work here, that Western intellectuals fear the direct criticism of other cultures, which Hirsi does in a more direct and literal way than Rushdie's literary excursions.
But I think another kind of fear is at work. What made the difference between the wholehearted response to Rushdie and the cold-hearted response to Hirsi Ali? Berman may disclaim it, but I think the subtext of his critique of Ali's nitpickers is that, in the two decades since the Rushdie affair, standing up against Islamist death threats requires more physical courage than the intellectuals are willing to muster. They would rather allow pettifogging criticism to be a fig leaf, a way to distance themselves from danger.
But now the threat of murder, the attempted murder, and the actual murder of dissidents from Islam have all become a regular feature of the intellectual landscape of Europe. The most shocking and dramatic passages in Berman's book are those in which he recounts, often casually, his encounters with the harried and hunted figures who have offended some radical mullah or other.
One of the most powerful sections of the book is Berman's roll call of those dissidents—both Islamic and non—who have been threatened with death and may have to live with 24/7 security for the rest of their lives because of these threats.