June 16, 2010

Reading Paul Berman in Kurdistan

Last month when I interviewed Paul Berman about his outstanding new book The Flight of the Intellectuals, we briefly touched on how religion and politics in the Arab world differs so radically from religion and politics in some other parts of the Muslim world.

On that note, take a look at what Dr. Sabah A. Salih has to say about Berman's book at the Kurdish Media Web site.

Islamism, which is markedly different from the way most practicing Muslims in Kurdistan understand the faith, as something spiritual rather than political, has never been a friend of the Kurds. Despite its noisy claims of universality and rejection of national boundaries, Islamism is sectarian through and through. In fact, its actions and programs are intended to put non-Arabs under the political and cultural hegemony of Arabs. Historically, Islamism has been just another name for Arab imperialism. To conceal that, Islamism has been relentless in insisting in its usual totalitarian fashion that its program comes straight from Allah.

This is how most people in Kurdistan view Islamism. There, clerics like Al-Jazeera Television’s wordmonger-in-chief Yusuf Qaradawi or Muslim Brotherhood’s point man in Europe Tariq Ramadan carry no weight. In Kurdistan, a person trading in dogma and medieval irrationality, as these men do, is not considered a person worth listening to. But outside Kurdistan, especially in the heart of Western democracies, as Paul Berman points out in this valuable new book, these are the very people a great many intellectuals embrace as moderate, mainstream, even authentic.

Using their own words and a rich body of scholarship, Berman shows that in fact these Islamists and the Islamism they champion are not moderate or mainstream or authentic at all. This is not a point that political culture in Kurdistan is unaware of. But the culture is not sufficiently informed about Berman’s larger point: How a great many Western intellectuals, having lost faith in their culture’s values of secularism and human rights, have decided that Enlightenment is no better than Islamism, and that therefore the likes of Qaradawi and Ramadan deserve to be taken as seriously as say Voltaire—not only that but that they need to be supported and their enemies, especially Muslim dissidents, attacked as misguided self-hating individuals that mistakenly believe Western culture to be superior to Islamist culture.

This is an important point for the people of Kurdistan to be aware of, important because the Western enablers of Islamism refuse to distinguish between Islamism and the faith; what’s more, they portray Islamism as mainstream rather than as the fringe it has always been and they portray all opposition to Islamism as an attack on Islam. As a consequence, today there is more willingness to criticize Islamism in Kurdistan and in Arab and Muslim countries than in the West. These days, if you happen to be a Muslim dissident living in the West, chances are you will be viewed by the mainstream media and the intellectual establishment as a traitor: traitor to your religion, traitor to your culture, and traitor to your past. And if you speak your mind freely and bravely, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali frequently does, you will be called a bomb thrower, a fanatic, a Muslim hater.

You can read the rest of the review here, and order Berman's book here.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 16, 2010 7:43 PM
Comments
Salih makes many good points about Arab imperialism and about Qaradawi and Ramadan. However the problem is that what Salih describes as Islamism, and which he asserts is a "fringe", is more realistically described and seen as mainstream Islam by the vast majority of Muslims outside Kurdistan. Qaradawi and Ramadan and the Ikhwan are not at all "fringe". Nor is Sistani (who includes "kafirs" on a list of haram, along with semen and dogs, if I recall, which is why he always refused to meet Bremer), nor is Khamenei, nor was Khomeini. Would that they are and were.

Good for Kurdistan, but Salih's comments seem to be from a parallel, nicer, universe, not this one.
Posted by: del at June 16, 2010 8:58 pm
del: is more realistically described and seen as mainstream Islam by the vast majority of Muslims outside Kurdistan.

In some (but not all) Arab countries, yes, but not in most places, no.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 16, 2010 9:06 pm
You jump from this:

"How a great many Western intellectuals, having lost faith in their culture’s values of secularism and human rights, have decided that Enlightenment is no better than Islamism, and that therefore the likes of Qaradawi and Ramadan deserve to be taken as seriously as say Voltaire—not only that but that they need to be supported ..."

to this:

"As a consequence, today there is more willingness to criticize Islamism in Kurdistan and in Arab and Muslim countries than in the West. "

Apparently equating certain useful idiots of dubious influence with "the West."
Posted by: Jonny K at June 16, 2010 9:21 pm
MJT,

I assume you meant to write, "But in most places, no".

I obviously disagree. For discussion purposes, I might temporarily grant you Albania, Kosovo and Azerbijian (all quite small non-Arab countries), and I realize that even in Saudi Arabia there are some dissidents, but nevertheless I would rephrase your last sentence as "In most (if not all) Arab countries, yes, and in most other places, yes as well, particularly among the devout."

In Indonesia?, Nigeria? Turkey? There are lax believers in those large non-Arab countries, but for the devout, even in the US, Islam is clearly political rather than merely spiritual.

I'm not going to go on and on and realize that you're not about to agree with me, so I'll leave it at that.
Posted by: del at June 16, 2010 9:31 pm
In fact, its actions and programs are intended to put non-Arabs under the political and cultural hegemony of Arabs. Historically, Islamism has been just another name for Arab imperialism.

How does that jibe with the Islamism of the Iranians, and now the Turks?
Posted by: Joo-LiZ at June 17, 2010 4:42 am
the Western enablers of Islamism refuse to distinguish between Islamism and the faith; what’s more, they portray Islamism as mainstream rather than as the fringe it has always been and they portray all opposition to Islamism as an attack on Islam

One could say the same thing about right-wing anti-Jihad activists like, say, del. They portray Islamism as mainstream and they insist that opponents of Islamism must also oppose Islam.
Posted by: Mary Madigan at June 17, 2010 6:07 am
"Using their own words and a rich body of scholarship, Berman shows that in fact these Islamists and the Islamism they champion are not moderate or mainstream or authentic at all. "

This is an interesting statement. I have not yet started his book and am now reading Lee Smith's "The Strong Horse". His belief, it seems is 180 degrees opposite to Berman's. Even in the Intro Smith says: "It is a common misconception that Islamism is a deviant, radical ideology....Far from being deviant, the Islamists' reliance on violence is all too characteristic not of Islam but of the region...."
Now that's a bit depressing!
I would appreciate your comments, Michael since you know both authors.
Thanks.
Posted by: jb at June 17, 2010 6:53 am
"The unnamed "Kosovo Albanian male" probably had a role in this North Carolina jihad plot, which is known to have included Kosovar Albanian Muslims -- which must come as a shock to the dhimmis, the willfully ignorant, the useful idiots and the collaborators at places like Commentary and elsewhere, who have staked so much on the false assumption that Albanian Muslims in Kosovo are all moderate, peace-loving supporters of the United States." JW

I suppose Spencer would say you're one of the above with your thread here. Any semblance of the excluded middle is directly in the lines of fire.
Posted by: Maxtrue at June 17, 2010 8:48 am
JB: I would appreciate your comments, Michael since you know both authors.

They're both right. All three of us know each other, and we're all fans of each other's work.

Lee's point is that political violence is characteristic of the Arab Middle East, which is true, whether those deploying it are Islamist, secular, nationalist, sectarian, or whatever. This has nothing to do with what happens in, say, Kazakhstan.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 17, 2010 12:03 pm
JW: must come as a shock to the dhimmis, the willfully ignorant, the useful idiots and the collaborators at places like Commentary and elsewhere, who have staked so much on the false assumption that Albanian Muslims in Kosovo are all moderate, peace-loving supporters of the United States."

What a ridiculous thing to say. It's not possible for any country to have zero extremists. I've written about the extremists who do exist there, as has Stephen Schwartz and everyone else who has written about Islam in Kosovo.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 17, 2010 12:05 pm
As I said, caught in the lines of fire between one extreme view and another. I have never heard you make such generalizations. All is not part of your daily vocabulary....
Posted by: Maxture at June 17, 2010 2:54 pm
I have my doubts about how widespread "moderate Islam" outside of the Arab countries.

I've been told by people who've lived in various parts of Asia, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia etc. that anti-American conspiracy theories are universal among Muslims, and I've seen signs that anti-semetism is rife in places like Indonesia where they've never seen a Jew.

If you're saying that "moderate" Islam is promoting paranoia and hatred everywhere, then in what sense is it moderate?
Posted by: Josh Scholar at June 17, 2010 3:15 pm
The problem isn't Islamism, or Islam. It's religion as a whole.
Posted by: Don Cox at June 18, 2010 1:52 am
http://news.antiwar.com/2010/06/18/turkey-over-100-kurdish-rebels-killed-in-strikes-on-iraq/

Anti-war claims the US is providing Intel to Turkey......Now that would be a story, yes?
Posted by: Maxtrue at June 18, 2010 1:24 pm
Mary Madigan,

"right-wing anti-Jihad activist"?

Heh. I'm not "right-wing" and I'm not an "activist", but I certainly am anti-Jihad, so I'll take that as a compliment, whether or not you meant it as such.

Are you pro-Jihad? :)

What I "portray" Islam as has no effect on what it actually is.

Here is another Erdogan quote for you, from modern, moderate Turkey: "The mosques are our barracks, the domes are our helmets, the minarets are our swords, and the faithful are our army." Is that "spiritual" or what?

And remember: "Turkey rocks!"
Posted by: del at June 18, 2010 6:01 pm
What I "portray" Islam as has no effect on what it actually is.

No, it doesn't. The way I portray Islam has nothing to do with what it is, which is one reason why I avoid these 'moderate Muslim..?' arguments. I know that there are plenty of Muslims who are opposed to Islamism. I know there are plenty of leftists who are enraged by what they call "Islamophobia" who are just as anti-terror as Robert Spencer.

I also know that our problems with terrorism are due to the fact that we insist on allying with terrorists, believing that 'our' terrorists will help us fight 'their' terrorists. I know that all the rational arguments in the world about Muslims, Islam and terrorism won't convince people that this stupid policy is stupid.

In any case, I visited Turkey about 3 years ago, and was impressed by the fact that urban Turks respected the idea of separating church and state more than most Americans or Europeans. Although the country is 99% Muslim, they understand that the decision to be veiled is a political statement, not a religious one. Turks were anti-Jihad before we even knew what jihad was. They were anti-jihad when we helping our pious mujahideen friends fight the Russians.

However, when Erdogan was elected, these urban Istanbul residents were talking about leaving Turkey. The army has a history of overthrowing extremists, but the EU wouldn't approve of that sort of savage and violent behavior, so the Turks knew that Erdogan was there to stay.

I don't know how many of these anti-Jihad Turks are still in the country, but if Turkey is becoming part of the Saudi/sunni terrorist infrastructure, we only have ourselves, the Europeans and our stupid 'great game' to blame.
Posted by: Mary Madigan at June 18, 2010 8:22 pm
Islam is Islamism. There is no moderate Islam. Kurdistan is moderate not because they have an authentically moderate brand of Islam, but because the elite quietly despises Islam in the same way the American elite quietly despises Christianity.

We are in a holy war. There was an intermission during the colonial period from 1830 to 1960, due to overwhelming European domination, but apart from that, have always been in a holy war with Islam, and always will be, short of one side or the other winning decisively, as in 1830.
Posted by: James A. Donald at June 20, 2010 1:25 pm
Post a comment

Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Read my blog on Kindle









Sponsored Links

Buy a used boat

Shanghai Hotels

Yachts for sale


Recommended Reading