November 19, 2007


Charles M.

I can't say I'm overwhelmingly impressed with his article. He pretty clearly stacks the cards in ways that favor his argument and ignores the cards that don't.

Take the quote you selected:

Do another substitution here and imagine the reaction had Judaism been the subject. .... Those who claim that Islamophobia can't be racist, because Islam is a religion not a race, are fooling themselves: religion is not only about faith but also about identity, background and culture, and Muslims are overwhelmingly non-white.

How about instead we do a substituion and ask:

"Is Communism good for England?" or "Is Fascism good for England?"

Suddenly it doesn't seem so horrible.

Those who think its different because it is a religion are fooling themselves. Religion is not merely faith, it is also ideology and we should be able to judge it as such, not cower in fear because people will call you racist no matter how logical or coherent your arguments are against an ideology that happens to have mostly non-white adherents.

Charles M.

This is not to say I agree with Martin Amis's comments, but the article in question is full of too many blatant fallacies to really take seriously, IMHO.

Steven Augustine

I have to agree with Charles M on this. The GU-reading Left in London bends over backwards to accommodate a worldview that is comparable, in terms of women's rights, at least, to that of the Boers... and only because this worldview is identified overwhelmingly with the olive-skinned and brown is it given a PC free-pass.

If Islamism isn't, among other things, a kind of sexual Apartheid, what is it? Since when is the first-principle-antiSemitism of Islamism not a hate crime? Ditto with the prescribed lethal Homopobia.

It's time for someone to counter that "Islam is a religion of peace" mantra with a little hard-eyed analysis. We know well enough that Fundamentalist Christianity isn't a "religion of peace"...no problem admitting that, is there?

It really isn't an issue in the US, which is capacious enough to absorb all kinds of extremism without anyone but the locals (near to whatever compound or bunker or heavily guarded settlement) to worry about it. In the EU, this is an in-your-face problem: Theo van Gogh's murder, Hirsi Ali's death threats, the violent flap over the Allah-satirizing cartoons in Denmark, the alarmingly high incidence of "honor killings" here in good old Berlin...an unassimilated 14th-century worldview crashing its way into liberal, multi-culti 21st century urban centers in Europe is problematic to say the least.

When local adherents to a certain "faith" start blowing up innocent people on trains in the explicit name of that "faith", Amis, a sometime resident of the city in which the bombs went off, has every right to counter the action (and the implied threat of future such actions) with reflections which aren't entirely nice.

Those bombers had mothers, fathers, friends, lovers, mosques and so forth...they had support systems; they didn't just spring up like mushrooms with autonomous urges to kill. Either the support systems encouraged what they did, or they turned a blind eye to the problem.

Considering the constant, well-known outpouring of various mullahs calling for the deaths of all Jews (and which rarely get serious condemnation from the intelligentsia), Amis's remarks had the timbre of a puffpiece written for a starlet in a glossy magazine.

What's with the double standard?


It's nice of Ronan Bennett to repudiate remarks that Mr Amis has already repudiated.

Leaving that aside, Bennett does draw attention to the main problem with Amis's worldview on this subject - the ease with which he elides Islam into Islamism.

One is not born an Islamist as far as I can tell, so when Amis talks about "them" outbreeding "us", he's actually just talking about Muslims. 'Muslim' is now a de facto political category, it would seem.

In partial defence of Amis's consistency at least, I would just point out that being a Westerner in his world is also to belong to a distinct political category. I gather we have some sort of duty to prevail on behalf of the Enlightenment. Unfortunately, this seems to involve betraying the Enlightenment by falsely homogenising both ourselves and our "enemies".

Amis has always been a rather hysterical political thinker. When he wrote about nuclear weapons twenty years ago, when he wrote that "the entire world is the front-line in this war", you could almost hear him playing with his very own version of the Red Button. He would like to live in interesting times: the more interesting the better. On a related point, I read a remark by John Updike about Amis's writings on Islam last year, in which Updike said that he lacked Amis's "ability - or perhaps willingness - to see evil in things."

It's that willingness that should give Amis pause.

Steven Augustine

Niall, I'd love to share your complacency about the looming threats of nuclear warfare and religious fundamentalism (and the very possible dovetailing of the two), but I can't see how Amis invented or exaggerated the lethality of either. Neither problem is, or will be soon, a thing of the past over which to chuckle knowingly.

Re: eliding Islam into Islamism: that's semantics, isn't it? The atrocities under implicit discussion were committed in the name of Islam. This "Islamism" riff is a diplomatic flourish. Islam is a tent under which many worldviews cluster, obviously....it's no different with Christianity. When fundamentalist Christian fanatics kill abortion-performing doctors, moderate Christians say, "That's not Christianity"...out of embarrassment, perhaps, but with no actual authority. Yes, I'm afraid that *is* a form of Christianity.

The train-bombers and beheaders are as Muslim as the doctors and poets; the clinic-bombers and IRA assassins are as Christian as the guitar-strumming seminarians. Religion has used that escape clause for far too long; fanatics carrying the ingrained prejudices of their belief systems to their logical, violent conclusion have in no way defined themselves out of their religions. If this is a contradiction, the holy books themselves are *rife* with contradiction. There need to be PC-free discussions of the problem: can a modern society bear up under the pressure of accommodating ancient, and violently intractable, belief systems?

As to the inability to see evil in things: is this the voice of wisdom, or a cosseted detachment from geopolitical reality, or just a numbly hip pose? Maybe Updike should visit a mass grave or two (there are thousands to chose from)...or put more effort into imagining one.


Mr. Augustine said just about everything I wanted to but with an eloquence I'd never reach. Cheers.


Actually, I think Niall's observation about Amis wishing to live in interesting times is a rather brilliant observation. And I do think that there's considerably more than semantics at play here. Although it's worth noting that when Updike turned his attention to this problem ("Terrorist") the results were embarrassing to put in mildly.


Steven, I'm afraid I'm going to try a few of Bennett's tactics out on you:

"Re: eliding the IRA into Irishness: that's semantics, isn't it? The atrocities under implicit discussion were committed in the name of Irish unity. This "IRA" riff is a diplomatic flourish. Ireland is a tent under which many worldviews cluster, obviously.... When fundamentalist IRA fanatics kill British soldiers, moderate Republicans say, "That's not representative of Irishness" ... out of embarrassment, perhaps, but with no actual authority. Yes, I'm afraid that *is* a form of Irishness."

The vulgarised argument above is patent nonsense - unless you seriously think that there is something innate in the condition of being born Irish that will tend to produce physical-force Republicanism in a significant minority of its population. Because, applied to Muslims, that is exactly what you and Amis appear to be arguing.

When Amis talks of the Muslim world outbreeding "us" in the West, he is talking as though each one of those children is going to be male, heavily bearded, and carrying the dual burden of an antique Kalashnikov and a deep sense of racial grievance. I would be more worried about this - or, to use your formulation, "less complacent" - if that argument wasn't so obviously stupid.

Regarding Updike's remark: I don't know how familiar you are with Amis's work in general and his fiction in particular. The main question raised by his style of constant rhetorical ante-upping was well put by Adam Mars-Jones in the 80s: "When you have described a woman's perfume as being 'like a punch in the face', what do you do with an actual punch in the face?'

As much as I've enjoyed reading Amis over the years, there is always something wearying about following him to the worst place he can think of, or, better said, orienting the rest of his world around the worst thing he can think of. (London Fields in particular couldn't be more rhetorically unremitting - or more hysterical - if the Martians came along at the end and drowned the world in shit.) World-historical badness obviously excites him as an idea, and I do wonder if his occasional sprees of political writing aren't a complex atonement - and justification - for the fact of his unworthy excitement.

Charles M.

The vulgarised argument above is patent nonsense - unless you seriously think that there is something innate in the condition of being born Irish that will tend to produce physical-force Republicanism in a significant minority of its population. Because, applied to Muslims, that is exactly what you and Amis appear to be arguing.

And I'm afraid that again your argument is fallacious, because race does not equal religion/ideology.

Race is genetics, it is a question of the body. Ideology is a question of hte mind. Race is chosen for us, religion/ideology are chosen ourselves (note: I realize that many people are forced into religions from birth, but plenty of people were forced into Nazism, Stalinism and all sorts of things and we wouldn't pretend that adherents of those can't be criticized)

It is FAR different to claim someone will have X or Y traits because they were born with a skin color than to claim someone will have X or Y traits based on their ideological beliefs. Those two claims aren't even in the same ballpark... not even in the same stratosphere.

To quote someone from the Bookninja thread on this:

There is a big difference—an obvious difference—between someone who rants against Muslims out of sorry Christian chauvinism, anti-immigrant nativism, etc, and a non-religious intellectual who criticizes an aggressive ideology that is itself based on religious chauvinism. Those who miss the difference often give the impression of having missed it on purpose.

It is both lazy and above all DANGEROUS thinking to conflate all opponents of something.

Islam is an ideology with tenants, claims and beliefs that we should be as free to criticize as thinkers as capitalism, maoism, fascism, christianity or anything else. If we aren't allowed to, that's a much greater degeneration of our intellectual culture than anything Amis said.

Steven Augustine


"The vulgarised argument above is patent nonsense - unless you seriously think that there is something innate in the condition of being born Irish that will tend to produce physical-force Republicanism in a significant minority of its population. Because, applied to Muslims, that is exactly what you and Amis appear to be arguing."

If your rejoinder were a tennis ball, it would've landed in some nice lady's lap in the stands. Aside from the fact that you're equating a belief system (with its basic set of known practises and tenets) with a geographical association (you said it yourself: what's innate about being born Irish?... versus what's peculiar to certain religious beliefs), you're conveniently ignoring the fact that a good many of the Irish were anything but ambiguous in their loyalties/antipathies. Or are you claiming there was no way to tell a Protestant from a Catholic; the pro-English from the rest?

When moderate Muslims start organizing yearly marches down the middle of Walthamstow, proclaiming, for all the world to see, their antipathy towards that other sort of Muslim, you'll have a viable analogy on your hands.

And are we seriously debating (as is implied in the final sentence in the analogy I quote) whether there *is* a significant minority of "physical force" militants amongst Muslims in various enclaves? Are you claiming that the 7/7 bombers were an aberrant, ahistorical, unsupported, one-off phenomenon we should put behind us before moving forward into the multi-culti cuteness of a pre-millennial Hanif Kureishi movie?

In the end, it's the absurd and rankling irony of Bennett's claim that "we" have a responsibility to repudiate Amis's remarks...whilst Muslims have no equivalent responsibility to...(yawn)...and so forth...

(Christ, I've lost the will to go around and around on this.)

Mark, Niall: these are "interesting times" whether Amis wants them so or not, eh?

Steven Augustine

PS Niall: I've read everything by Amis save Dead Babies and The Rachel Papers (and I think "The Information" runs rings around "London Fields", which is, in many ways, the former's prototype)...I'd say the hyperbole in his fiction is called "satire" (check out Gulliver's size as described by Mr. Swift) and the alarmist tone in his writings about Nuclear War was...you know...proportionate to the subject.

Didn't much care for "Yellow Dog", though, did I?


What Amis posits is essentially that Islamism is a genius virus within the body politic of Islam - a virus that sickens (or at the very least makes suspect) the whole.

Steven will perhaps remember the op ed pages of British - and some Irish - newspapers during the IRA campaign of the 1980s, many of which descried a direct connection between the innate poverty/pugnacity/stupidity (etc.) of the Irish and the actions of the IRA. He may remember the Daily Mail editorial that ended with the words: "It is surely better to be born a dog than Irish."

You'll pardon me for seeing more similarities than differences between this sort of rhetoric and the kind of thing Amis has been saying recently. A certain people is held to be innately susceptible to the virus of terrorism; a certain state of being (or belonging) is immediately turned into a political designation; something that was not an ideological matter - the accident of one's birth into a particular faith or country - has suddenly become one.

No, I think my rewriting of your argument made exactly the point I wanted it to, thanks.

And by the way, Steven - there have been many demonstrations by Muslims around the world against the actions of al Qaeda and their confreres. Some of them have even taken place in London. I'm going to put your demands that they demonstrate "in Walthamstow" and "yearly" down to an obscure personal quirk, and leave it there.

Steven Augustine

Cheers, Niall

milo j. krmpotic

just as mr. amis has always felt inclined towards "enfant-terribleness", he has also managed to leave some doors open even in his most provocative of speeches. the problem with mr. eagleton and mr. bennett's texts is that they quote only what they need in order to feel outraged; that is, they missquote: wouldn't the situation change, e.g., should the words "The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order. What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation" be preceded by the introduction "What can we do to raise the price of them doing this? There's a definite urge - don't you have it? - to say...", as it originally was? when the fight against racism is based on such interested omissions, one should wonder whether the prosecutors are acting under the same intellectual onanism as the defendant here...

milo j. krmpotic'

christopher hitchens exposes a similar idea (only way more eloquently) in today's guardian:
"This is exactly the bull that Amis was taking by the horns. You don't have to know him, or for that matter to be an expert on Jonathan Swift, to see that the harshness Amis was canvassing was not in the least a recommendation, but rather an experiment in the limits of permissible thought. As he once wrote in another connection: "What am I to do with thoughts like these?" In that celebrated essay, he was rehearsing the idea of killing his wife and children to spare them the horror of a nuclear groundburst. Critics as literal-minded as Eagleton and Bennett would no doubt detect, in this, a buried and lurid fantasy of murder and infanticide."

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