Pankaj Mishra discusses Ayaan Hirshi Ali‘s Nomad along with Paul Berman‘s Flight of the Intellectuals in the current New Yorker here. Mishra puts some valuable context and nuance on both books — and nails the authors when their passion outweighs their argument. Useful, since relatively few of us in the West know the Islamic figures Berman cites. But it seems to me Mishra elegantly sidesteps Berman’s more central point, that while intellectuals rushed to defend Salman Rushdie in 1989, regardless of their opinion of his fiction, those similarly threatened today are increasingly isolated: “How times have changed! The Rushdies of today find themselves under criticism … During the Rushdie affair, liberals who called for courage were applauded. Liberals from Muslim backgrounds were positively celebrated.” Elsewhere:
“And so, Salman Rushdie has metastisized into an entire social class. … who survive only because of bodyguards and police investigations and because of their own precautions. This is unprecedented in Western Europe since the fall of the Axis. Fear — mortal fear, the fear of getting murdered by fanatics in the grip of a bizarre ideology — has become, for a significant number of intellectuals and artists, a simple fact of modern life.”
Meanwhile, I like the New Yorker cover. Before I got to the Table of Contents and learned its title is “Five Weeks Later…” I was anticipating it would be called “A Jury of Peers.” I still like my title better.