Sunday, September 10, 2006

More Amis fiction

Confronted this morning with Martin Amis' 12,000-word essay on "Islamism", I felt a tremendous urge to respond. I had to in order to return to the unique calm of Sunday. But it's all too much to absorb and reply in full with any coherence without ruining the entire day. But the day is ruined now anyway.

For Amis, it isn't just Sunday that's threatened. For quite a time I have felt that Islamism was trying to poison the world. So never mind messianic fundamentalists in charge of the most powerful army in world history, never mind greenhouse gases, global corporate capitalism and Simon Cowell, the problem is isolated, violent resistance to Western hegemony in far off lands (with oil). He says the virulence of the poison made him abandon a satirical novel (so it does have its plusses!).
Islam [...] is a total system, and like all such it is eerily amenable to satire. But with Islamism, with total malignancy, with total terror and total boredom, irony, even militant irony (which is what satire is), merely shrivels and dies.
He still managed to write about the last days of Muhammed Atta, which is sullenly, despairingly satirical. Failure is always good for fiction.

Amis compares what has happened in the world with what might:
On our side, extraordinary rendition, coercive psychological procedures, enhanced interrogation techniques, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Mahmudiya, two wars, and tens of thousands of dead bodies. All this should of course be soberly compared to the feats of the opposed ideology, an ideology which, in its most millennial form, conjures up the image of an abattoir within a madhouse. I will spell this out, because it has not been broadly assimilated. The most extreme Islamists want to kill everyone on earth except the most extreme Islamists; but every jihadi sees the need for eliminating all non-Muslims, either by conversion or by execution.
So, on our side the reality of invasion and occupation, on their side the fantasy world of a few. Which do you think worries him? The answer suggests the feats of Islamic ideology are not the only ones that haven't been "broadly assimilated".

Later on, Amis mentions the derangement of Mao to show how institutionalised irrationalism can take over a country. A figure of 70 million Chinese dead is used. No doubt this will become a mantra like so many other figures circulating among empire loyalists. But there's no mention anywhere in the 12,000 words of the very long history of the ideology of capitalism and the number of dead it has caused and is still causing. 70 million would be a conservative estimate, for the post-war period at least. Who's counting? Maybe it doesn't count because it's a coldly rational ideology.

As you plough though Amis' essay, it's worth bearing in mind Jason Burke's (mercifully) shorter piece on Islamism in the same edition of Guardian Books.
The question now, five years after the atrocious day of the attacks, is has al-Zawahiri ["the poster boy of al-Qaeda"] succeeded? It is tempting to point to the bombs in London and elsewhere, to the hideous mess in Iraq, to recent victories of Islamists, to the violent and polarised rhetoric and answer yes. But though a growing number may be answering the call of al-Zawahiri and others, the total remains minimal and the great uprising of the Muslim masses that he hoped to spark has not occurred. His most recent interventions have had a defensive, almost peevish and frustrated air. Yet he and bin Laden are still in Afghanistan - or just over the border in Pakistan - apparently easily evading the clumsy attempts to catch or kill them.
(Why on earth would the enemy not want to catch them? Gosh, that's a tough one). If Burke is correct, where does this leave Amis' fetishistic focus on Islam and "horrorism"? Well, the caricature of reality that constitutes his fiction gives a good indication.

UPDATE: Ellis Sharp has some intriguing links about Amis, Updike and research into Islam.

And here's proof, if proof be need be, that Richard Seymour is Amis's and Hitchen's polemical equal.
Amis's irrational attachment to a racist state in the Levant is only a logical corrolary of the passionate intensity with which he embraces the capitalist Herrenvolk. Its crimes must be externalised.


  1. Anonymous5:17 pm

    Is that the best you can come up with? Excuse Mao because others have done -or so you say- worse? And you dare give lessons to others... If I steal five books of yours and you steal six of mine, does that make me less of a thief? Is morality and ethics just a question of mathematics?
    On a sidenote, you might want to check out how many people lived in the UK in 1750 and how many do now. Then, you might want to know what economical system enabled such a rise (and such a decrease in child mortality, starvations, etc)... No, the answer is not communism.

  2. Anonymous5:51 pm

    I do think Lawrence Wright's work, as described in Burke's review, is a good antidote to Amis's Islamofasciophobia (!?). Wright's article in last week's New Yorker, for instance, illustrates quite clearly that the idea of a disciplined, horrifying Islamist enemy is misguided, and that from the Islamists' POV things are not going so well for them. But I think segueing from that to what you see as the horrendous evils of capitalism (sic) is a bit silly and immature. Speaking as someone who would consider the best of all possible worlds to be less mercantile and less money-driven, I would still assert that a regulated free market system has so far proven to be "the best for the most" in the heterogenous and cosmopolitan world humans have been creating over the last few hundred years. Yes, a smaller-scale, communal, village-type model is almost certainly more humane, but in a cosmopolitan, large-scale world--i.e. a world where people like you and me can send their thoughts out to the world over a worldwide network like this--it's just not an option.

  3. Heh. Hands up apologists for mass murder!

    You two really ought to read what I wrote rather than deducing from it any opinion. Fausto assumes I support communism because I point out that Amis doesn't mention the deaths resulting from his own preferred ideology, and Walt says it's silly and immature to mention them at all. Got something to hide lads?

  4. Anonymous9:30 pm

    Fausto, truly, is all you learned from this post is Steve's "excusing of Mao?" As for you and the fellow below you, it is quite distressing, though not surprising in the Two Pary, Two Minds world (Repub. or Dem., Con. or Lib.) that you believe the only choices for the future are either capitalism or communism. Capitalism has been useful in many ways, (interesting ideas as such outlined in Hardt and Negri's Empire, etc.) however the negatives now far outweight the positives, inequality and corruption are increasing, resources are dwindling, and wars are raging. Quite simply, the world cannot continue to co-exist much longer with the villanous culture spawned by modern day (late) capitalism.

  5. Anonymous4:17 am


    Don't worry about striving for coherence in your posts, it's not your strong suit. Just stick to blasting away at anyone who doesn't share your morally repugnant, mean and cowardly politics.

  6. I notice you don't point point out what's incoherent.

    So opposing mass murder for corporate gain is morally repugnant to you? I think we've got a clue there what H stands for.

  7. Anonymous10:21 am

    Amis has said what the media dare not-we need to defend liberalism with the same fanatical passion as your islamist. Maybe a time for liberal fascism? Truth is that what is required is TOTAL adhereance-the fanatic is always clear by a vast lack of humour-offence and ridicule should be our weapons in the face of this infantile media-evil nonsense. Here is hoping for an Islamic enlightenment...



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