European Progressives, Islamists: More Alike Than We Think?

I am currently reading The Flight of The Intellectuals, Paul Berman’s new book. The book is a continuation of an article published in The New Republic. In the first chapter, "The Philosopher and the Press," Berman describes Tariq Ramadan’s rise to the top of the European intellectual elite.

What struck me the most about these pages was Berman’s innocuous reference to Ramadan’s tenure at the College de Saussure: “His [Ramadan’s] colleagues there were disturbed by his arguments in favor of Islamic biology over Darwin.” In other words, his secular colleagues were not bothered or outraged by the philosophy espoused by Ramadan, but by his willingness to introduce a form of creationism to the curriculum.

Following the reference to Ramadan’s experience at Saussure, Berman goes on to explain how Ramadan was ultimately abandoned by many -- seemingly strange bedfellows -- who in the past had shared a common cause. However, Ramadan is still considered a voice for liberal Islam. He is viewed as the face of the modern, European version of Islam. Berman writes: “Some mainstream journalists in France were drawn to him from the start. The Islam-and-secularism correspondent at Le Monde, full of admiration, plugged him regularly and sometimes adopted his arguments. At the Le Diplomatique, Ramadan became a cause, not just a story. The editor lionized him. Politis magazine promoted him. On the activist far left, some of the anti-globalist radicals and the die-hard enemies of McDonald’s saw in Ramadan, because of his denunciations of American imperialism and Zionism and his plebian agitations, a tribune of progressive Islam, even if his religious severities grated left-wing sensibilities.”

Note: “his religious severities grated left-wing sensibilities.” The left felt uneasy with Ramadan's religiosity, not with his illiberalism.