Paul Berman's outraged attack on Ayaan Hirsi Ali's attackers.

Scrutinizing culture.
March 25 2010 10:41 AM

Bonfire of the Intellectuals

Paul Berman's outraged attack on Ayaan Hirsi Ali's attackers.

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It was not healthy for Theo van Gogh to get too close to Hirsi Ali. The Danish cartoonists are still under constant death threats, Berman reports. And Ibn Warraq, the pseudonym of another apostate, reads death threats against himself online *, while Bassam Tibi, who, Berman tells us, "pioneered the concept of Islamism as a modern totalitarianism and pioneered the concept of a liberal 'Euro-Islam' [as well] ... spent two years under twenty four hour police protection in Germany. ... [T]he Egyptian and Italian journalist Magdi Allam ...was travelling with a full complement of five bodyguards. ... The Italian journalist Fiamma Nienstein … was accompanied by her own bodyguard. … Caroline Fourest in France, the author of the first and most important extended criticism of Ramadan, had to go under police protection. ... [T]he French history professor Robert Redkeker had to go into hiding. In 2008 the police in Belgium broke up a terrorist group that had planned on assassinating, among other people Bernard Henri Levy."

He spends an evening in New York "... with Flemming Rose the culture editor of the Danish newspaper who was visiting New York only because at that particular moment it was too dangerous for him to remain in Denmark."

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The list continues. Kurt Westergaard, Boulem Sansal. This is cumulatively (and individually) scandalous. The fact that we so rarely hear a peep about the cumulative terror experienced by these writers and artists from the likes of these intellectuals while they find time to sneer at Hirsi Ali is the real scandal to me. The fact that theological censorship backed by death threats has been installed on the continent of Europe with just about everyone deciding it would be wiser to keep silent about it is once again burying the lede. But to my mind, printing it at all is a service.

A certain kind of irreverent speech once valued in Europe since the time of Chaucer and Rabelais has been, it seems, powerfully threatened if not silenced, and the heirs to that intellectual tradition are too scared to speak out about that silence. Maybe Berman's book will start intellectuals talking, and not just about each other. Maybe some of the previously silent will begin to speak out against the death squads rather than snark about their victims and targets.

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Correction, March 26, 2010: This piece originally stated that Timothy Garton Ash coined the phrase "Enlightenment fundamentalism." Ian Buruma coined that phrase. ( Return to the corrected sentence.) It also stated that Ibn Warraq travels with security guards. In fact, Warraq reads death threats against himself online. ( Return to the corrected sentence.)