March 22, 2016


The Daoud Affair : How Western intellectuals turn themselves into the enemies of an entire class of liberal writers from Muslim backgrounds (Paul Berman and Michael Walzer, 3/21/16, The Tablet)

For 20 years he has written for the Algerian newspaper Le Quotidien d'Oran, but, in the wake of his novel's success, his journalism began to appear prominently in Le Monde and other European newspapers. He was invited to write for the New York Times. And he responded to these opportunities in the way that any alert and appreciative reader of his novel might have expected.

He offered insights into the Islamic State. He attacked Saudi Arabia, with a side jab aimed at the extreme right in France. But he also looked at the mass assault on women that took place in Cologne on New Year's Eve by a mob that is thought to have included men from the Arab world. He dismissed a right-wing impulse in Europe to regard immigrants as barbarians. And he dismissed a left-wing, high-minded naïveté about the event. He pointed to a cultural problem. In the New York Times he wrote: "One of the great miseries plaguing much of the so-called Arab world, and the Muslim world more generally, is its sick relationship with women." More: "The pathological relationship that some Arab countries have with women is bursting onto the scene in Europe." In Le Monde he wrote that Europe, in accepting new immigrants and refugees, was going to have to help them accept new values, too--"to share, to impose, to defend, to make understood." And now his troubles began.

A group of 19 professors in France drew up a statement accusing Daoud of a series of ideological crimes, consisting of "orientialist cliches," "essentialism," "psychologization," "colonialist paternalism," an "anti-humanist" viewpoint, and other such errors, amounting to racism and Islamophobia. Le Monde published their accusations. A second denunciation came his way, this time in private. It was a letter from the author of the New York Times Magazine profile, the American literary journalist Adam Shatz. In his letter Shatz professed affection for Daoud. He claimed not to be making any accusations at all. He wrote, "I'm not saying you're doing it on purpose, or even that you're playing the game of the 'imperialists.' I'm not accusing you of anything. Except perhaps of not thinking, and of falling into strange and potentially dangerous traps"--which amounted to saying what the 19 professors had said, with the additional accusation of stupidity.

Daoud published the American journalist's letter in Le Monde, just to make clear what he was up against--though he did it with an elegant show of friendliness. He explained that he, and not his detractors, lives in Algeria and understands its reality. He noted the Stalinist tone of the attacks on him. He insisted on the validity of his own emotions. He refused to accept the political logic that would require him to lapse into silence about what he believes. And then, in what appeared to be a plain and spiteful fury at his detractors, he declared that he is anyway going to do what the detractors have, in effect, demanded. He is going to silence his journalism: a gesture whose emotional punch comes from The Meursault Investigation, with its theme of silence. Or, at minimum, Daoud threatened to be silent--though naturally the calls for him to continue speaking up have already begun, and doubtless he will have to respond.

The two of us who are writing this commentary call attention to a second pattern in these condemnations, which dates to the days of Soviet Communism. 

Posted by at March 22, 2016 6:52 PM