The Age of the Zipped Lip

Paul Berman takes the thesis of his outstanding new book, The Flight of the Intellectuals, to the pages of the Wall Street Journal and dubs the age we live in that of the Zipped Lip.


“You are not,” he writes, “supposed to observe that Islamism is a modern, instead of an ancient, political tendency, which arose in a spirit of fraternal harmony with the fascists of Europe in the 1930s and ’40s. You are not supposed to point out that Nazi inspirations have visibly taken root among present-day Islamists, notably in regard to the demonic nature of Jewish conspiracies and the virtues of genocide.”

As he said to me on the phone when I interviewed him in May, the mere mention of Nazi Germany’s foreign policy in the Arab world and its lingering effects in our day “gets people red in the face.”

Lest you think there aren’t any lingering traces of Nazism in the Arab world, along comes Wiam Wahhab, a former member of Lebanon’s parliament, and confirms that there are. “I like the Germans,” he says in an interview on Al-Jadid/New TV, “because they hate the Jews and they burned them.” Then he laughs like it’s the funniest thing he’s heard in a week.


Now, this man isn’t mainstream. He belongs (of course) to the Hezbollah-led “March 8” coalition, which is apparently incapable of winning an election or getting its way except by using or threatening violence. And he claims that the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon — which was set up in 2005 to investigate the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri — is an Israeli-American plot to destroy the country. He’s firmly in the minority camp.

Still, can you imagine any American politician from either the House or the Senate, from either the Republican or Democratic party, saying something like that and yukking it up on TV? It would be the instantaneous mother of all career-enders. Wahhab’s career, though, won’t suffer one bit as a result of his saying this.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.



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