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Ramadan’s Mau-Mauing of the intellectuals.

By DENIS BOYLES [Claremont Review of Books] – In reviewing Berman’s book, critics have pointed out that the self-delusion of liberal intellectuals has been the subject of other books. The New York Times‘s review cites Nick Cohen’s What’s Left? How the Left Lost Its Way (2007) and Julian Benda’s celebrated Treason of the Intellectuals (1927). But the most apt comparison, I think, is with Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers (1970). Unlike Berman, Wolfe saw clearly that fear of fact-checking—repeating the “gotcha” mantra—would never be enough to inspire real intellectual rigor, the kind that can swim upstream and destroy the insipidity of “conventional wisdom.”

The reason for this is simple. The victory of Tariq Ramadan has been due to his ability to manipulate the ignorance of friendly intellectuals—men and women whose intellectuality has been consecrated by a kind of laying-on of the hands of other intellectuals. These are people who cannot both confess ignorance and maintain their intellectual claims. Ramadan demonstrated this brilliantly in 2006, when Pope Benedict, making a scholarly reference at a theological conference, quoted 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus’s comment that there is little rationalistic tradition in Islamic theology—a problem, when it comes to dialogue. The editorialists at the New York Times may not have known whether there was any truth to that, but the paper nonetheless lamented “Muslims’ shock at the Pope’s remarks,” and invited Ramadan to contribute an op-ed piece to express said shock. Ramadan dutifully denied the pope’s assertion, and cited one of his grandfather’s favorite teachers, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, an early 12th-century Persian mystic, as the source for his claim that Islamic theology has a strong rationalist tradition.

Except it doesn’t; rationalism has always been viewed with suspicion in Islam. (Berman looks at that claim carefully, although not in connection with Benedict’s comment.) If he is a student of al-Ghazali, Ramadan’s “rationalism” isn’t the “rationalism” Benedict obviously intended as a basis for discussion. Although some claim Al-Ghazali may have ultimately paved the way for some sort of Islamic adaptation of Aristotelianism, in The Incoherence of the Philosophers he specifically rejects rationalism as a means to faith.

Continued at The Claremont Review of Books | More Chronicle & Notices.

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11 years ago

Hallka you seem to be one those postmodernists who would like read Al-Ghazali into their own mind. How on earth can one equate Decartes’ rationalism with Al-Gazali’s position? You are obviously ignorant of the works of both authors.

11 years ago

”Except it doesn’t”. What a peremptory statement you made here! How can you state such an assertion without going through the history of all the islamic thinking. I am not a fane of TR’s grand father nor I always agree with Tariq Ramadan but I found you piece very poor in information and not at all equiped to support your doubfull conclusion. Al-Ghazali is not only TR’ grandfather favorite teacher, he is one of the most studied and respected scholar of mainstream muslim communities. To state that Al-Ghazali’s rationalism was different from Descartes’s or Aristotal’s need more that your artcile… Read more »

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