Book Review
Paul Berman, The Flight of the Intellectuals

by Lorna Salzman

I would not be exaggerating to say that this book is the single most important and revelatory book on the 20th century origins and objectives of Islamism, its connection to Nazi Germany, and how the left came to align itself with a totalitarian movement that is if nothing else dedicated to extermination of the left.

It takes off from the phenomenon of Tariq Ramadan, poster boy philosopher living in Switzerland (ousted from France) and holding a fellowship from St. Anthony's College, Oxford.

Berman is a tireless scholar, seeker of truth and exposer of mendacity, so Ramadan offers him a grand opportunity, coming as he does directly out of the radical Salafist branch of Islam as purveyed by Qutb, Qaradawi and most closely his grandfather Hassan al Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood (the progenitor of Hamas), and al Banna's frenetic defense of the pro-Nazi views Anwar al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem in the 1920s and 1930s.

Husseini broadcast virulent pro-Nazi propaganda during World War II, though the allies let him off the hook after the war. At his death, al Banna eulogized not only Husseini but his Nazi views, in spades. Not since the death of JFK have such encomiums and unconditional praise emanated from anyone, for such a vile purpose.

Yet Tariq Ramadan, whose father founded the noted Islamic center in Geneva and which is now run by Tariq's brother and functions as ground zero for Islamism and Islamist propaganda, seems to have suffered a memory lapse, for in his biography of his grandfather, any mention of his association with and admiration for Husseini is virtually absent. This fact was also noted by New Yorker writer George Packer at the recent Cooper Union forum that highlighted Tariq Ramadan and his subsequent tour of the USA. Ramadan evaded the issue despite Packer's repeated questioning.

Similarly, in a 2007 New York Times interview with Ramadan, conducted by writer Ian Buruma, this stunning history got short shrift, as Buruma repeatedly softened the already soft questioning of his subject. Buruma seems less concerned with the lapses and inconsistencies in Ramadan's tortuous writings and life than with casting aspersions on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somalian who escaped a forced marriage, moved to the Netherlands where she served in the parliament for many years, assisted Theo Van Gogh in a film, Submission, that resulted in Van Gogh's assassination by a Muslim fanatic, began receiving death threats, surrounded herself with bodyguards, and finally moved to Washington DC and to the American Enterprise Institute, after realizing that no one in the Dutch or American feminist movement nor anyone in liberal academia wanted anything to do with her.

Buruma, like another critic, Timothy Garton Ash (who, unlike Buruma, subsequently amended his own criticism of Ali), is one of the intellectuals who have taken flight from confronting Islamism or acknowledging its resemblance to and emulation of traditional fascism. Berman makes this resemblance quite clear, refuting the fudged claims by some historians and liberals that World War II fascism was not the same as Islamism.

This book stands out as one of the most insightful analyses of the moral failure of the left that I have come across. In its concise way, it is also one of the most accessible of books for the general reader on the historical and philosophical roots of totalitarianism, both religious (Islamism) and secular (leftism).

This one book will clear away the mists and myths around Islamism for those who are either puzzled or frightened by what they see happening here and in western Europe, or in Times Square or the subway of London or the railway of Spain or the nightclubs in Bali, or most disturbingly, in the American campuses where the newest totalitarian alliance since Hitler/Stalin is now wreaking havoc through intimidation, propaganda, and the suppression of freedom of speech.

A word of caution: Berman's support for the war in Iraq has earned him enmity from many liberals and the left, as happened with Christopher Hitchens. But it does not undercut the rest of his critique. In any case, attacks from the left cannot be taken seriously given their support for tyrannical oppressive Islamic regimes and terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, support which would justify nominating today's left as neo-Nazis.

© 2002 Lorna Salzman. All rights reserved. Material may be quoted with permission.