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Noted: Berman and March on Tariq Ramadan.

By ANDREW F. MARCH [Dissent] – Berman would probably be the first to admit that he is out of his depth on internal Islamic legal and moral reasoning. Thus, we need to untangle some of his themes and claims to get back on dry ground.

As noted, Berman portrays Ramadan as a man with genuinely reformist and liberal instincts, but whose utterances are filled with caveats and silences. This is certainly true, but there are two problems here. First, Berman never gives an account of what Ramadan’s reformist project actually consists of–its concerns and anxieties, its opponents, its modes of argument and persuasion, its doctrines. Given that this is almost the entirety of what Ramadan does, that is troubling for anyone who rejects Berman’s implicit assumption that a Muslim public intellectual is defined negatively in terms of what he or she has or has not denounced. Berman mentions that Ramadan’s reformist ideas exist, and occasionally quotes a favorable statement, but the reader of this book will come away with no idea of what Ramadan actually stands for and why people take an interest in him. Rather, they will think that the reformist statements are scattered and random, and the equivocations on Islamist violence are his main contribution….

By PAUL BERMAN [Dissent] – Andrew F. March puzzles over what sort of book I have written. Its theme and nature elude him. I will quote from the book’s second page. The Flight of the Intellectuals is a study of “a central debate of our moment—the debate over Islamist ideas in the Western countries, and over the reluctance of journalist and intellectuals from Western backgrounds to grapple seriously with the Islamist ideas.” I have selected Tariq Ramadan as a representative figure in that debate. My book is therefore about Ramadan. And my book is about Ramadan’s reception among a certain kind of liberal intellectual, whom I criticize—the people who, faced with someone like Ramadan, are reluctant to identify what stands before their eyes; the people who, for fear of giving offense, will not speak openly about Nazi legacies; the people who will not describe Sheikh Qaradawi in full; the people who, out of a paternalism that pictures itself as anti-racism, want to tell us that Tariq Ramadan is the best that more than a billion Muslims are able to produce. The Flight of the Intellectuals is a book, that is, about Andrew F. March.

Continued at Dissent | More Chronicle and Notices.

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