Tuesday, May 25, 2010

March on Berman on Ramadan and Berman on March on Berman on Ramadan (repeat until fade)

Andrew F. March and Paul Berman trade blows over here - one - two - in the electronic pages of Dissent.

My own view, for what it's worth, is that March comes out of it best, but that's probably because I've basically been of the opinion pretty much since I read Terror and Liberalism that Paul Berman is as shifty a writer as he thinks that Tariq Ramadan is, whereas Andrew F. March, by contrast, has always struck me as a fine man and an excellent scholar of political ideas. But the Bermanisti out there can content themselves with the thought that I probably would say that, wouldn't I?


Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

it doesn't exactly help Berman that he says this:

Andrew F. March, who does not acknowledge the sheer mass of new information on these topics in my book

before revealing that the 'new information' is actually just a bunch of stuff about the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem which seems to have been cobbled together off websites, and all of which is freely available. and un-referenced in Berman's book.

I'm not 100% sold on Ramadan as the shining light of reform, but I don't quite see why everything has to be one or the other. One can say that he has sonme good ideas and some bad; one can look at the al-Qaradawi stuff with scepticism while accepting that guilt by association would damn Berman, among others (tolerating absolutely no criticism of Ayaan 'start a war against every muslim country' Hirsi Ali, for example), as much as it damns Ramadan.

It's testament to Berman's lack of knowledge of the Muslim world that it has to be Ramadan or Hirsi Ali - he scoffs at the idea that Ramadan 'is the best the muslim world can produce' yet his only other 'thinker' is the very lightweight Hirsi Ali. Surely his 'research' skills would be better off directed towards finding other reformers, as opposed to writing what looks like an un-referenced scattergun rant?

In truth, the debate here is between those who think that reform of Muslim extremism is more likely through people who are still Muslims, and still part of Muslim communities; or people who are outright Muslim-haters.

The debate is also between people who are fully convinced by guilt through association (Berman's central complaint against Garton ash and Buruma, after all, is that they don't spend enough time criticising al-Qaradawi, because after all, Ramadan has written a couple of short prefaces to his work), and those who aren't.

That's why my idea about Berman holds true - that if you already agree with him, you'll be convinced; if you don't, you won't. So his entire effort is pointless, since it won't actually change minds. Nick Cohen, his biggest fan, did say that Terror and Liberalism didn't even change his mind...

5/26/2010 07:39:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

kind of on topic, there's an intersting interview with cohen here:


He manages to duck the hard questions ehich are very well-put to him - he's very odd on the neocons who he claims here 'not that powerful' at the time of Iraq...

5/26/2010 03:39:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

MK: So you think Bush and Blair are doing the lefts job?

NC: Oh yeah, massively more moral and honourable than the left.

[bangs head against wall several times]

5/26/2010 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

I love that interview, especially when Nick asks why nobody marched through London protesting darfur and chanting "Not in my name". I wonder why that would be?

5/26/2010 07:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Back on Berman, I think his defence is if anything more damning than March's critique. Slightly reordered:

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.”

Andrew F. March emphasizes that I am not an expert on Islamic law, and this is true. But it is irrelevant.

Ramadan presents himself as a religious philosopher, and I am happy to judge his work from this angle, not because I am myself a religious philosopher but because I take myself to be a proper literary critic

I regard Ramadan’s notion of an Islamic ethics as worthless. Andrew F. March responds by observing that I am not an expert on Islamic ethics. Does he mean to suggest that Islamic ethics are fundamentally different from ethics per se? I don’t see why a sincere champion of Islamic ethics would have any trouble issuing a forthright condemnation of violence against women ... Surely a sincere champion of Islamic ethics would call on Muslims and on everyone else to think for themselves on topics like these

In short, ethical universalism, the skills of a 'proper literary critic' and and absolutely no specialist knowledge is what best equips you to "grapple seriously with the Islamist ideas". (Which I guess is true if by 'grapple' you mean 'fight strenuously'.)

5/26/2010 08:12:00 PM  
Anonymous bensix said...

Utterly off-topic, but James Woolsey's blurb for Melanie Phillips's latest has me cackling like a vampire on speed...

A trenchant sequel to George Orwell's Politics and the English Language...

5/26/2010 10:16:00 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Sounds like the ultimate yawn fest between two people who view themselves very, very seriously.

5/29/2010 08:50:00 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Bensix... Clearly what the CIA did not do for Woolsey, Mel did. That is, drive him crazy.

5/29/2010 08:52:00 AM  

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