The Flight of the Intellectuals

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A senior fellow at the World Policy Institute, professor of journalism and distinguished writer in residence at NYU, and member of the editorial board of the Dissent Magazine, Paul Berman discusses his new book, The Flight of the Intellectuals.


Paul Berman

Comments [35]


Great job, Brian. You really put Berman on the spot and exposed his slipperiness. He had no answers to your questions. Well done.

Jun. 01 2010 12:12 PM
gaetano catelli from Greenpernt, Crooklyn

excellent segment, Brian.

May. 12 2010 12:00 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Fatima M. from Bay Ridge,
The Islamic world has huge issues to deal with the rights of humanity, failed economies, poverty, health, technology, you name it. But what I object to is that certain western pundits and intellectuals use these failing as cover for their bigotry and support of colonial and imperial domination of Islamic countries. One has be clear as what is honest discourse on very, very serious issues bedeviling the Islamic world on one hand and on the other hand cynical manipulation of western public opinion.
As for Miz Ayann Hirsi Ali I thought she is a fashion model.

May. 05 2010 02:02 PM
Maria from Norwalk

It is amazing that he is attacking the liberals(as does the New Republic) as he claims liberals attack Ali H. If he claims he wants free speech then he should not attack the liberals as he does in his book ..he and his supporters are being hypocritical. Why does he not talk about Shirin Ebadi, the human rights lawyer from Iran who is engaging within forces of her country to make changes. There are millions of Shirin Ebadis thourghtout the world why does he not write books about them? Ali H. and her kind are about a cottage industry that looks to make money of the unfortuate situations the world sees itself. Attacking Islam or its believers does not help with 2billion in the world. Working with so many muslims and so many good people of this world changes can be made but attacking ALL Muslims is not helpful. Ali and Mr. Berman see fit that the only solution is to attack and unstabilize these regions which is not to anyone's benefit as we can see everyday.
It is unfortunate that NPR chose to have this speaker on its show today. He is as extremist and radical and dangerous a
terrrorist as Mr. Shahzad because he has the ear of government officials and radio shows. What he advocates and promotes hurts US interest and freedom loving people of the world.

May. 05 2010 01:35 PM
valentin from brooklyn ny

I am a liberal-minded but support Paul Berman's position. I'd advise him to use in all further discussions of his book, and in particular in regard to Tariq Ramadan, this line. When potential Muslim terrorists (and they are mostly confused altruists) hear discussions in defense of the good in Islam, they, without getting into the hair-splitting differences, are getting a message that they don't have to change anything. They are feelling themselves to be following the good in Islam. In other words, anybody who defenses Islam in context of discussions of the Islam inspired terrorism supports terrorism, however unwillingly (and unwittingly).

May. 05 2010 12:43 PM
DAT573 from Nathan Straus Projects

We just finished killing thousands of Muslims in
Iraq, are killing more in Afghanistan,
may continue killing Muslims by attacking Iran,
or allowing Israel to attack Iran.

We supply with weapons, cash and political
cover at the UN, Israel when it rains
cluster bombs on Palestinians.

We imposed the Shah of Iran in Iran,
and backed him, while he conducted a campaign
of brutality against his people.

Can anyone blame them if they hated us?

May. 05 2010 12:38 PM
senga6 from Brooklyn

Isn't Berman's argument for Ali essentially based on a sort of intellectual infighting and nitpicking? Picking up the criticism of two academics who are liberals, and then extrapolating it to "Liberals don't like Ayann Hirsi Ali" is a bit much. I'm liberal, and I have mixed opinions of Ms. Ali's work, but I respect the woman and what she has been through.

May. 05 2010 12:14 PM
Fatima M. from Bay Ridge

Taher, there's plenty of outcry against china and it's human rights violations, tibet etc...

but by any measure, such atrocities are worse in Islamist countries than in China.

Islamists love to deflect attention on their own myriad problems by finger pointing to some other country that's allegedly worse ... like a little kid crying about how Timmy is worse than me.

But Timmy isn't worse...

May. 05 2010 11:53 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

HughSansom, unfortunately Brian and his staff seem at times to be uninformed or misinformed. Hence he can’t challenge bigots unless they are wearing a hood while being interviewed.

May. 05 2010 11:52 AM
paul from ny

Re motivation for "liberals" to refrain from criticizing Islamists: First, I would distinguish between liberals and radicals - it is that latter who are the appeasers of radical Islam. Second, for many of the Far Left, especially the Trotskyites, anti-Semitism is the wedge issue to excite the Third World against the West with the aim of undermining democracy and instituting a Trotskyite Nirvana throughout the world.

May. 05 2010 11:46 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

It is really interesting how certain Western intellectuals concern themselves with the human rights, women rights, democracy in Islam while not word is said on China and other authoritarian states. Their concern is nothing but rouse for what is the real agenda, which is the West’s occupation and control of Islamic nations that are rich with oil.

May. 05 2010 11:46 AM
Fatima M. from Bay Ridge

Far Left always sides with tyrants, bigots and those who oppress women & LGBTQ - as long as these people are against the West.

The enemy of my enemy is my friends.

for shame.

May. 05 2010 11:45 AM
a g from hudson co nj

the caller has proof from the koran no less. yes i've got proof from the bible that adulterers should be stoned to death. genius! does the sun also revolve around the earth?

May. 05 2010 11:43 AM
The Truth from Becky

Oh go ahead read it, read the quote on the air, bet if it were about another minority you would.

May. 05 2010 11:40 AM

I seriously don't see how anyone who has looked at culture in it's own context can back Ms.Ali there are women suffering in her native country,and not because of islam but because of foregin policy and world bank issues. And the culture of other countries is the issue we have to be able to see the forest for the trees does she support or has she been to her home country to help women there? no one will say she not passionate but she takes everything out of context and it is hard to take her seriously. And she has women who are at best prividleged as her main audience,so how if you are really just listening to one women from the upper class who has never had to walked miles for food say I am real ?

May. 05 2010 11:40 AM
Stanley Dorn

I tried to give Mr. Berman the benefit of the doubt since he is an NYU professor, however, it became immediately clear that he is an ideologue. As for being an intellectual, I find him vague. In the first very few minutes I heard the phrases "liberal media" and "fellow travelers", among others. I think he demeans the level of debate.

May. 05 2010 11:37 AM
chad Kia from Providence

Ali works for a right-wing think tank precisely because the liberals were too confused and rejected her on pc grounds.

May. 05 2010 11:37 AM
Charles from Bed-Stuy

It's false that progressives or the left ignore what is done in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Muslim world. It's that we notice that Saudi Arabia has been propped up by the United States for many decades because of oil.

Hawks like Berman are finessing the US role in promoting, protecting, and using reactionary Islam to promote imperial goals. The left knows that reforming Islam is a task best left to liberal Muslims after the US ceases to behave imperially in the Muslim world. To do otherwise is to taint Islamic liberalism with the whiff of porn toting, hard drinking US Marines urinating in a bombed our mosque in what remains of Iraq.

May. 05 2010 11:36 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

The fact that Ali is at right-of-center AEI EXACTLY proves Berman's point!!! The "progressive" think tanks wouldn't touch her out of fear of reprisals, cowardice, or political correctness.

May. 05 2010 11:36 AM

The problem is that no liberal foundation offered Ayaan Hirsi Ali a job!

Ali is a rational thinker who has more than just "an interesting story". The male caller who bashed her would not have any idea how women suffer in places like Somalia, that is the problem.

May. 05 2010 11:36 AM
B.K. from New York NY

"Shrill, hysterical," Tom from Brooklyn? The forms of bigotry are legion, as evidenced by your choice of phrasing here. Misogyny in particular exists in many forms-- whether in the phrasing you use below, in the puerile, facile, patently misogynistic arguments /stances of some so-called liberal academic intellectuals, or the minds of some Islamic fundamentalists. Very sad.

May. 05 2010 11:35 AM
Fatima M. from Bay Ridge

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is attacked by extremist Liberals because she likes the US.

May. 05 2010 11:32 AM
John from NYC

Berman seems to just argue that if you do not share his manichean worldview you are equivalent to a terrorist sympathizer. This is an anti-intellectual and illiberal position because there is nothing wrong with opposing both the violence and oppression religious extremists and the overly simplistic us v. them view that Berman advocates.

May. 05 2010 11:25 AM
Tom from Brooklyn

I've read her book, and, I don't believe Ayaan Hirsi Ali, she is a serious public intellectual - she's a polemicist and a publicity whore - a Somali Ann Coulter.

All she does is offer up shrill, hysterical, un-nuanced smear jobs against her own religion and people. Every group has their loudmouthed malcontents, but they offer limited insight at best.

Why do you think she's become such a darling of the American right?

May. 05 2010 11:23 AM
Audrey Carr from Carmel, NY

Ms. Ali is not an intellectual & to compare to her to Mr. Rushdie disingenuous
Ms. Ali lied to obtain refugee status in Holland and became "credible" by creating a career for herself denouncing Islam, which endeared her to the U.S. Remarkably, she obtained lawful status in this country despite her false refugee claim in Holland. Any other Somali who had lied on a refugee application in another country and then sought refugee or asylee status in the U.S. would have been deported.

May. 05 2010 11:22 AM
george from Astoria

It is very simple. The ideals of the founding fathers are to be maintained at all costs. Fundamentalist ideals have no place in America and if a fundamentalist has a problem with some one elses freedom of speech and committs a crime against someone because of their freedom of experssion the fundamentalist should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. No sympathy to fundamentalist views should be considered. Muslim or Christian or anything else. Bill of Rights comes first.

May. 05 2010 11:22 AM
John from Brooklyn

I'm a professor of Religious Studies at an unnamed college. That stated:

Berman claims that the new terrorism is emphatically not truly Muslim. He and others must reconsider the notion of fundamentalism in religion.

A 'core text' theory of religion sees each religion as continually returning, fundamentally, to their core text. Fundamentalist Christianity will always return to the Gospels (not the Hebrew scriptures) and will embody a St. Francis hippie attitude to correct any excesses. Muslims will always return to the warring tendency in the Qur'an as a corrective against any pluralistic tendencies in Islam. And then there is the use of Hebrew scripture to defend their ownership and domination of contemporary Israel.

Its all about the core texts and their fundamental message that returns in every religion as a corrective.

Not so many Buddhist wars throughout history, as a result.

May. 05 2010 11:22 AM
Fatima M. from Bay Ridge

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is my hero - thank you Mr. Berman for helping bringing her to more attention of this world. Also, re: Mr. Sansom, whenever someone critiques extremist Islamists they are also smeared as being a racist anti-Arab. This is a tired old tactic meant to stifle intellectual conversation.

A good example of the bizarre alliance between the extreme left and the Mullahs and Islamist dictators who want to muzzle women and other critics.

May. 05 2010 11:21 AM
Aisha from New

Question for Berman: Can you discuss how you think the "flight of intellectuals" plays out in the case of academics' attitudes toward violations of women's rights and dignity in certain contexts where Islam is a strong influence? Thanks.

May. 05 2010 11:20 AM
Jenny from brooklyn

I agree with Berman. Ayaan is my hero, she is truly a great thinker who is trying to promote peace, progress and women's equality, and it endlessly frustrates me that so-called intellectuals have bashed her, while also conveniently ignoring the worst dictators in the world, like the leaders of Turkmenistan, Burma, Eritrea, Iran--and the human rights abuses of so many radical Islamic governments, like Saudi Arabia, which denies basic rights to women. It's maddening and bizarre.

May. 05 2010 11:19 AM
Jeremy Walton from New York

As an NYU professor who teaches classes on Islam, I am deeply ashamed to call Paul Berman my colleague. Don't be fooled--his caveat that his vitriol only applies to Islamism, not Islam as a whole, is insincere. Like so many other Islamophobes, his calls to free speech only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes about Islam.

May. 05 2010 11:17 AM

Mr .Berman has the right to say muslims are xy and z but for him to think that folks likes Ms.Ali who was proven to be a lie in regards to facts in her life and it is very hard to take her seriously because was being used as a tool for the hard racist right in Holland. As an African-American women who was born as a muslim I am very alarmed at the calls by Mr.Berman ideal that folks like Ms.Ali is actually a real and factual critic of islam when she makes quotes from the quran that are false and sees no beauty in any of its verus. The bible the torah contain many beautiful and helpful verus for all mankind and she just throghs out everything in the quran. I am not writing that there is problems in the ummah but its not the islam it is the crazy mullahs who still say women are not equal etc. but I belive islam is a beautiful but not all followers are . Peace or Salaam

May. 05 2010 11:16 AM
a g from hudson co nj

i agree with the core of his premise. however,our sensation seeking media is not conducive to nuance. too few forums for this sort of engament exist. our gov't does not readily engage supporting moderate dissidents,for reason geo-political and otherwise. where is the fertile ground for this sort of discussion? who are you blaming?

May. 05 2010 11:15 AM

Berman is an unabashed anti-Arab racist. He supported the atrocities in Iraq and then, when none by irrational madmen like Dick Cheney could deny the crimes of Bush, tried to pretend he hadn't supported the war. In 2004, Berman was writing of "war's virtues" (his words). In "Terror and Liberalism," Berman went so far as to claim -- patently absurdly -- that the US has done more for Muslims than any other nation.

The same Berman who excoriates liberals for not supporting Arab and Muslim dissidents (flatly wrong on the facts) has remained utterly silent on Israeli war crimes and has even charged _Jewish_ critics of Israeli atrocities with anti-Semitism. Berman expressly supported Israel's atrocities against the Palestinians of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

Berman demands that Tariq Ramadan continuously commit acts of penance for the acts of Ramadan's _grandfather_. Would Berman condemn the acts of Irgun or the Stern Gang? Of course not.

Philip Weiss, of, ran an excellent critique of Berman by Jack Ross. Ross notes that Berman's rhetoric closely fits the "Paranoid Style of American Politics" described by Richard Hofstader. Berman is projecting himself in his condemnations. Berman does precisely what he damns in others.

The question during this segment will be whether Berman's misrepresentations and outright falsehoods will go unchallenged.

May. 05 2010 10:17 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Paul Berman is a hero for his warnings to naive "progressive liberals" that their reluctance to confront the darker questions of Islamic theocracy (in the same way that they eagerly attack, say, fundamentalist Christians) is at odds with their professed love of tolerance and freedom. They march arm-in-arm with those who would kill or imprison gays, for example. Muslims who speak out against Islam are largely kept at arms length, unless it is tied to women's issues. Berman raises political correctness as a cause. Others might not be so charitable, citing dishonesty and cowardice.
Will be interested to hear Berman's thoughts.

May. 05 2010 09:48 AM

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