Having published a prize-winning French novel, the Algerian journalist Kamel Daoud began receiving invitations to write for European and American papers. Now he has become a target of condemnation—most notably in an open letter by a group of nineteen professors in France. The reason: he has criticized Saudi Arabia, labeled attitudes toward women in Arab countries as “sick,” and otherwise challenged the orthodoxies of his erstwhile patrons on the Western left. Paul Berman and Michael Walzer write:
The denunciations of Daoud are . . . doubly distressing because they conform to a pattern that has become familiar. It goes like this: a writer with liberal ideas emerges from a background in Muslim countries, or perhaps lives there now. The writer proposes criticisms of Islam as it is practiced, or of sexual repression under Islamic domination (a major theme), or of the Islamist movement. The criticisms seem blasphemous to the Islamists and the reactionary imams, who respond in their characteristic fashion.
In the Western countries, intellectuals who mostly think of themselves as progressive make their own inquiry into the writer and his or her ideas. They hope to find oblique and reticent criticisms of a sort that they themselves produce. But they find something else—criticisms that are angrier and more vehement, or more sweeping, or more direct.
The Western intellectuals, some of them, recoil in consternation. And, as if liberated from their reticence, they issue their own condemnation of the offending writer, not on grounds of blasphemy but on grounds that purport to be left-wing. The Western intellectuals accuse the liberal from the Muslim world of being a racist against Muslims, or an Islamophobe, or a “native informant” and a tool of imperialism. Sometimes they accuse the liberal from the Muslim world of stupidity, too, or lack of talent.