After the Fall
Although Ian Buruma was removed as the editor-in-chief of the New York Review of Books in September 2018 as a result of his decision to publish a controversial essay on #MeToo, he still has no reservations about speaking his mind. In fact, that, he tells Malin Ekman of Svenska Dagbladet, is the very essence of intellectual life.
NEW YORK – In September 2018, Ian Buruma was forced out as editor of The New York Review of Books, following an outcry over the magazine’s publication of a controversial essay about #MeToo. A year later, in a conversation with Svenska Dagbladet US correspondent Malin Ekman, he reflects on lost assignments, literature, cancel culture, threats to freedom of speech, and the state of liberal democracy.
Goodbye to All That
Malin Ekman: In September 2018, you left The New York Review of Books just 12 months after becoming its editor. You had published an edition on “The Fall of Men” that included an essay by Jian Ghomeshi. Under the headline “Reflections from a Hashtag,” the Canadian media personality recounted his journey from fame to infamy.
The essay – and the decision to publish it – drew immediate criticism. More than 20 women had previously accused Ghomeshi of sexual assault and harassment, but neither the scope nor the nature of those accusations was discussed in detail in the text. Women had testified in court that Ghomeshi beat, choked, and taunted them during sex. Ghomeshi had been acquitted, but, as part of a civil settlement, apologized to a colleague for the sexual abuse of which he had been accused.
In a September 2018 interview with Slate, you explained that the point of including the essay was to give voice to a man who had been pilloried, and to consider #MeToo from the accused’s point of view for a change. Critics, however, claimed that you neglected the accusations against Ghomeshi and displayed your own insensitivity to the current mood.
Ian Buruma: There is not much you can do about what people think. My reason for publishing the piece was not to defend what Ghomeshi did, but to examine the nature of social sanctions.
ME: In Europe, you’re known as a liberal voice in culture, an intellectual praised for your books on Asia and essays on right-wing extremism and radical Islam. It seems ironic that you would become the symbol of a generation of (mainly) men who were seen as not understanding contemporary perceptions of power and oppression.