Barely six weeks after the 9/11 attacks in America, a prominent New Yorker and ‘liberal’ intellectual, Paul Berman, published an essay in American Prospect with the title ‘Terror and Liberalism’. It was later turned into a book by Berman with the same title and became a much-talked-about bestseller. The message in both works was a stark one for a supposed left-wing intellectual, as it echoed (albeit in a sophisticated way) the already well-known theses of Bernard Lewis on ‘Muslim Rage’, and its derivative in Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilisations’ argument.
Berman accuses liberals of being too naïve to see ‘Islamic terror’ for what it was: a species of an irrational reaction to liberalism which originates in the same impulse as totalitarianism in both its Bolshevik and fascist manifestations. The common impulse is a perception of an apocalyptic threat to the purity of the community, emanating both from foreign enemies and their accomplices at home. It is an ‘infection’ that ‘will require bloody internal struggles, capped by gigantic massacres’ in order to root it out. Movements generated by this impulse are by their very nature irrational, and the error of liberals is to believe that one could reason with them. However, the truth is that only an all-out war with no quarters given, coupled with an equally merciless ideological struggle, could eliminate this threat.
In doing his bit for this ‘ideological jihad’, Berman follows Lewis’s example by enumerating possible grievances Muslims may have against America, Israel or former colonial powers, before dismissing them as explanations for Muslim hostility. He admits that these are many, but argues that Palestinian hostility to Israel had nothing to do with dispossession and brutal repression. Similarly, anger against America has nothing to do with supporting Israeli injustices and all sorts of tyrannies, or with causing the death of millions of Iraqis. For even if Israel and America stopped robbing Palestinians and attacking Arabs, they would still be hated, because they were ‘liberal’ countries. So they might just as well get on with it.