Veiled Truths: The Rise of Political Islam in the West

Veiled Truths
The Rise of Political Islam in the West
Marc Lynch, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2010

In The Flight of the Intellectuals, Paul Berman argues that it is not violent Islamists who pose the greatest danger to liberal societies in the West but rather their so-called moderate cousins, such as Tariq Ramadan. Such a reading of contemporary Islamism, however, misses the many nuances of the movement and the real battles between reformers and Salafists.

This spring, Tariq Ramadan arrived in the United States nearly six years after being denied a visa by the Bush administration. The U.S. government had previously refused Ramadan entry on the grounds that he had donated to a French charity with ties to Hamas. Then, last January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Ramadan was welcome. His appearance in the United States seemed to manifest the White House's changing rhetoric about the Muslim world. In June 2009, President Barack Obama spoke in Cairo of reaching out to Muslims with "mutual interest and mutual respect." Figures such as Ramadan -- symbols of a nonviolent Islamism long shunned as enablers of extremism -- may now represent a bridge across previously intractable divides.

Paul Berman will have none of this. His book The Flight of the Intellectuals, based on a 28,000-word essay published three years ago in The New Republic, mounts a furious counterattack from the bygone days of the Bush administration. Too many in the United States and Europe, Berman argues, are confronting the wrong enemy. Violent Islamists do not pose the greatest danger; instead, it is their so-called moderate cousins, who are able to draw well-meaning liberals into a poisonous embrace. Their rejection of violence is both partial -- not extending to Israel or to U.S. troops in Iraq -- and misleading. In Berman's telling, the Islamist project of societal transformation from below does profound violence to the individual Muslims who are forced to live in an increasingly constricted milieu. The only defensible response is to repel the stealth Islamism of putative moderates with a morally pure vision of liberalism.

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