Carlin Romano: Vetting Tariq Ramadan

[Carlin Romano, critic at large for The Chronicle Review, teaches philosophy and media theory at the University of Pennsylvania.]

Like attacking the Catholic Church during its heyday of killing heretics and infidels, criticizing Islamism today is not for those who jump at the sound of bubble wrap cracking.

Ibn Warraq, author of Why I Am Not a Muslim and Defending the West, operates under a pseudonym, a wise move considering that goons called for his murder on a British Muslim Web site in 2008. Bassam Tibi, a Muslim liberal who deems Islamism totalitarian, needed 24-hour police protection in Germany for two years. Magdi Allam, an Egyptian-Italian journalist of similar bent (who further outraged some Muslim peers by converting to Catholicism) travels at times with multiple bodyguards, an entourage also necessary for the Somali-Dutch author Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Infidel, Nomad), who fled to the United States when the Dutch scotched (so to speak) her protection.

The list of critics of Islamism who've paid a high price in loss of personal freedom goes on: Italian journalist Fiamma Nirenstein, French critic and gay-rights activist Caroline Fourest, French philosophy teacher Robert Redeker, Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, and the most famous example of all, the novelist Salman Rushdie, forced into underground life for years after the Ayatollah Khomeini demanded his murder.

The examples come courtesy of Paul Berman, the shrewd, engagé New York intellectual and former MacArthur Foundation fellow who has become, after the death of Susan Sontag, our paramount lifeline to the trenches of French intellectual battle. Berman, author of Terror and Liberalism (Norton, 2003), among other important books, doesn't mention whether he's got his own beefy contingent laying low. But his provocative new The Flight of the Intellectuals (Melville House)—a tough-minded examination of Muslim reformist thinker Tariq Ramadan, at various times dubbed the "best-known Muslim in all of Europe," a "Muslim Martin Luther," and "the prophet of a new Euro-Islam"—gets high marks for bravery at the same time that it highlights another modern truth all public intellectuals should acknowledge....

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