Amis is at it again. In an essay in the London Times he’s had another rabid go at Islamism. (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article2424020.ece) Previously he has told us that the battle of ideas in the Muslim world is over, and that extremism and literalism have won, everywhere. He’s also told us that a doorkeeper at the Aqsa mosque wanted to kill his mother. His evidence? He just knew it to be so.
We should be thankful, perhaps, that there has been a slight development in his position. This time Amis is able to distinguish, just, between Islamists with a comprehensible agenda like Nasrallah and Ismail Hanniyeh on the one hand and nihilists like Bin Laden on the other. He even begins to recognise that, in Wahhabi-nihilist violence, “what we are witnessing is not spiritual certainty so much as spiritual insecurity and spiritual doubt.” Perhaps there’s hope for him. He may be a rancid Islamophobe and a fiction writer crippled by the contempt in which he holds his characters, but to his credit he has opposed the idiocy of the Iraq war, and he is clearly a clever man. It may be that continually spewing venom about Muslims onto paper will lead eventually to a nuanced perspective on the Muslim world.
But it’s more likely that his commitment to Zionism will stop this happening. His latest essay mocks the third world Arabs for being defeated by little Israel. (But last summer’s war with Hizbullah suggests that the age of defeat is coming to an end.) Amis scorns the Arab world for calling the 1948 catastrophe a catastrophe (nakba), and implies that the ethnic cleansing and occupation of Palestine doesn’t matter, because little Israel covers only 0.6% of Arab land. I’m not sure what he means by Israel here, if the 0.6% of Arab land refers to the borders determined by an imperial United Nations in 1947, or the land captured in 1948, or all of the land now controlled by Israel. The point is that 100% of Palestine has gone. If Amis wants to ignore Palestine and see this in terms of the Arab world, we could ask what percentage of the Anglo-Saxon world is covered by Greater London. The Anglo-Saxon world covers the deserts of Australia and the prairies of Canada, and I’m sure that Greater London makes up less than 0.6% of it. So I presume that if invaders drove out the population of London and made it their exclusive ethnic property, supposedly for all eternity, Amis would not consider this to be a catastrophe. He would sneer at Londoners and their sympathisers for calling it a catastrophe. Of course, London is important not for the amount of space it takes up but for its cultural and economic power. Palestine is holy land for Muslims and Christians too, and is central to Arab history. It is one of the few fertile areas in the Arab world, and it bridges Syria and Egypt.
Amis can’t distinguish between Arab and Muslim, and says the key psychological problem posed to Arabs by the establishment of the Jewish state is that Muslims have been promised victory by God, and through Israel God has humiliated them. This is shoddy thinking, not only because Christian Arabs have been engaged in the struggle against Zionism. It is only in the last ten years that the struggle has been cast, unfortunately, in religious terms. Before that the language employed by most Arabs to describe their problems with Israel was nationalist and anti-imperialist.
Amis describes Islamism as a fanatical death cult. Already he has forgotten his recognition that there are different types of Islamism, but if he means Wahhabi nihilism, I agree with him. The problem is that he wants us to magnify the cult to a status equal to Nazism and Bolshevism. He wants us to ignore the Palestinian tragedy – the refugees, the tens of thousands dead in the West Bank and Gaza and Lebanon, the brutal occupation – and simultaneously to exaggerate al-Qa’ida violence against Westerners to earth-shaking proportions.
We don’t need to call it 9/11, he says, September 11th will do. In fact, just September. The murderousness of it is big enough to be iconic, to wipe everything else out of consciousness. But on another September 11th the democratic government of Chile was toppled by a US-backed military coup, and thousands were tortured and killed. In another September the puppet king of Jordan attacked the Palestinian camps in his country, killing thousands.
For Amis, some killing isn’t worth remembering. Only the killing which afflicts Western cities deserves the force of his literary pyrotechnics.
I previously had a go at Amis here: http://qunfuz.blogspot.com/2006/09/save-us-from-amis.html
Terry Eagleton on Amis: http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/article3024729.ece