Monday, September 11, 2006

Save us from Amis

Martin Amis has written an ignorant, monomaniac and hysterical essay about what he calls ‘Islamism.’ You can read it here:,,1868732,00.html

He makes all kinds of ridiculous assertions. For example, “Today, in the West, there are no good excuses for religious belief.” So there you are: all you Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, non-aligned-but-aware-of-the-spiritual types, all of you non-atheists in the West – you have no excuses! So that’s tidied up. Amis has sussed you (just like I thought I has sussed all the stupid believers when I was a teenager), and that’s all there is to it. No need to explain further.

But Amis’s target is Islam. He trots out the usual insulting idiocies. Genital mutilation, honour killings and wifebeating are taken as representative of Islam and Muslims, in the same way that the most unhinged Wahabbi preachers take heroin addiction and child abuse as representative of the Crusading West. Amis concedes that all religions have their terrorists, but says: “we are not hearing from those religions. We are hearing from Islam.”

Two problems here. One is that religions are not the only forces to practise terrorism. Corporations and states, often covering themselves in semi-religious vocabulary like ‘civilisation versus barbarism’, also terrorise, often in a much more efficient fashion than the religious loons.

The second problem is, it depends who Amis’s ‘we’ are. If ‘we’ means bourgeois Anglo-Saxons whose range of news exposure runs from Fox News to the BBC, then, yes, we hear of terror issuing only from Muslims. If you watch Al-Jazeera, however, you become aware of the daily crimes committed by or resulting from the Western war machine, crimes which range from the slow ethnic cleansing of Palestine to the drenching of Mesopotamia in Depleted Uranium, from CIA coups to bring people like Saddam to power to the ‘shock and awe’ used to remove them again, from the deliberate dismantling of states so that only sectarian militias will hold sway to the construction of police states to guard the ‘Western interests’ under those states’ geographical control. If you watch the al-Qa’ida videos instead of al-Jazeera (and it is al-Qa’ida media rather than Jazeera that best mirrors Fox News and Amis) you will hear how all of the trouble in the world, from Kashmir to Chechnya, Lebanon to Somalia, needs no more context than this: “We are hearing from the Crusaders. We are hearing from the Jews.”

For Amis, Hizbullah, Hamas, the Taliban, the Egyptian Muslim brothers, the Saudi regime, are all the same thing. All Islamists. No matter if they are Sunni or Shia, right or left wing, conservative or revolutionary, if they keep women locked in the home or encourage them to get involved with media and social work, if their focus of opposition is foreign occupation or another Muslim sect. No need for context or discrimination. They’re all the same. Just like al-Qa’ida’s Crusaders and Jews.

Amis is suffering information deficit. In his essay he relies on the notorious racist and Islamophobe VS Naipaul, and on Bernard Lewis, the neo-cons’ own historian. Naipaul’s thesis in Among the Believers is that non-Arab peoples who adopted Islam have been culturally deformed, as Islam is an Arab religion. This argument is not only an insult to the plurality of Islamic cultures, but is as absurd as saying that Nigerian and Irish Christians have mutilated their own cultures by adopting a Palestinian-Jewish religion. And Bernard Lewis, whose son is an AIPAC leader, is hardly an impartial, or sane, observer. It was Lewis who told Cheney that US troops would be welcomed with flowers in Baghdad. Lewis who last month predicted that Ahmedinejad was planning a ‘cataclysmic event’ to match an occasion in the Islamic calendar corresponding to August 22nd.

Poor Amis suffers serious information deficit. He thinks ‘intifada’ means ‘earthquake.’ In fact it means ‘shaking off’ or ‘uprising.’ He says the second intifada “got under way….with a steady campaign of suicide mass murder,” and that an Israeli ‘crackdown’ only began when Barak succeeded Sharon as Israeli prime minister. In fact, the second intifada began as a series of stone-throwing demonstrations. Barak’s government killed dozens of unarmed Palestinians every day. After some months of this, with Amis-like members of the Western commentariat raising not a peep except against the Palestinian ‘terrorists,’ the intifada was militarised.

Amis on Palestine is about as offensive as he manages to get. The phenomenon of the suicide bomber in Palestine is, he tells us, all about an entrenched culture of murderous martyrdom. And that’s all. Why did it show itself in recent years and not before? It just did. Decades of dispossession, occupation, torture, imprisonment and murder, decades of waiting for states and international institutions to help, all to no avail, had absolutely nothing to do with it.

On second thoughts, blaming Amis’s blindness on information deficit is too charitable. When he makes it seem that Ken Livingstone’s comments on Palestinian suicide bombers were intended for the bombers of the London tube, he is doing something worse than being ignorant. He is consciously twisting truth to smear a politician who has sought genuine understanding and real solutions.

Much contemporary Islamism is indeed ugly, and especially the Wahabbi variety which America did so much to support and extend during the Cold War. Muslims, particularly Arabs, have a great deal of work to continue to do to challenge the inner demons of sectarianism, oppression of women and minorities, literalist approaches to scripture, failed education and economic systems, and so on. But the selective generalisations and prejudices of non-Muslims, in fact anti-Muslims, like Amis, neither help nor aim to help the success of this work.


Maya said...

Well said - excellently written! I hope you've sent this to him.

Bill Harshbarger said...

It is good to have these ideas expressed so well. I'll continue to be interested in your thoughts.