[DEBATE] : Re: DEBATE Amis demands Muslims join in 'factory siren' over terror plots
bstefan at gmail.com
Tue Dec 4 14:19:16 GMT 2007
There was a recent reply from Amis regarding this row (not quite sure
why he goes on about meeting a 'black man', and I wonder why, in "I am
not a racist" arguments like these, the idea of approving of people
from different planets, as long as they're "upstanding", tend to
No, I am not a racist
Last week in the Guardian Ronan Bennett accused Martin Amis of racism.
Here the writer rejects the charge, insisting his views on Islam are a
question of ideology, not ethnicity
Saturday December 1, 2007
I want to talk about the discourse, and about the kind of public
conversation we should be hoping to have. But before I do that, I will
pay my Islamic readers - and I know I have a few - the elementary
courtesy of saying that I DO NOT "ADVOCATE" ANY DISCRIMINATORY
TREATMENT OF MUSLIMS. AND I NEVER HAVE. And no one with the slightest
respect for truth can claim otherwise.
On November 19 the arrival of "the new racism" was eagerly heralded on
the cover of G2 - tricked out, for the occasion, to resemble some
scabrous, illiterate hate-sheet of the 1930s (Julius Streicher's Der
Stürmer, for example). Well, this is what's new about the new racism:
it isn't racist. Ronan Bennett writhes and toils in the coarsest of
category errors. The question before the house is not about race. It
is about ideology.
When I was five or six years old, my father took me to meet a black
man. To be more accurate, my father (at that point, incidentally, a
communist and universalist) made a call on a visiting academic from, I
think, Nigeria, and he brought me with him. "He's a black man," said
my father on the way. "With a black face." We went there by bus, and
my sensorium was entirely immersed in the savage joy of riding on the
red doubledecker (upstairs, in the smoking section). "He'll be black.
He'll have a black face." And I remember thinking, Whew, Dad's going
on about this a bit, isn't he? On arrival, I entered the room - and
there was the black man, who had a black face.
"You've got a black face!" I said, and burst out crying.
"Of course I have! I'm black!" he said, and burst out laughing.
And when my father comforted me, I already felt that I had failed to
deserve his consolation.
That was in Swansea in the mid-1950s. I had never seen a black man
before (not even on television: we had no television). And now I feel
that this was the only serious deprivation of my childhood - the awful
human colourlessness of South Wales, the dully flickering whites and
grays, like a Pathe newsreel, like an ethnic Great Depression. In
common with all novelists, I live for and am addicted to physical
variety; and my one quarrel with the rainbow is that its spectrum
isn't wide enough. I would like London to be full of upstanding
Martians and Neptunians, of reputable citizens who came, originally,
from Krypton and Tralfamadore. It makes me uneasy to quote myself, but
I must use the weapon others use. Here are three gobbets from the
Independent (January 2007):
"The form that Islamophobia is now taking - the harassment and worse
of Muslim women in the street - disgusts me. It is mortifying to be
part of a society in which a minority feels under threat."
"The difficulty has to do with the nature of national identity; and
the American model is the one we ... should attempt to plagiarise. A
Pakistani immigrant, in Boston, can say "I am an American", and all he
is doing is stating the obvious. Can his equivalent, in Bradford, say
the equivalent thing in the equivalent way? Britain needs to become
what America has always been - an immigrant society. That is in any
case our future."
"The best thing [about returning to the UK after a 30-month absence]
has been to find myself living in what, despite its faults (despite a
million ills), is an extraordinarily successful multiracial society.
This is a beautiful idea, with a good chance of becoming a beautiful
Can Ronan Bennett really be so hard-up for racists that he is reduced
to excoriating the author of those lines? My observations were made in
response to questions posed by the newspaper's readers, and they were
sent in by email. So: somewhere between an interview and an essay. And
can we hang on to that distinction for just a little while longer?
What you say about something is never your last word on any subject.
But what you write should aspire to be just that: your last word. To
paraphrase and slightly adapt Vladimir Nabokov (Strong Opinions): I
think like a genius, I write like a distinguished man of letters, I
talk like an idiot.
Ronan Bennett thinks like an idiot. An extraterrestrial just off the
ship, reading him, would assume that nothing unusual has happened
since September 10, 2001 - except for a dismaying increase in what he
(uselessly) blankets as "Islamophobia". My inflammatory remarks, made
in a newspaper interview, inflamed no one at the time, because the
time (August 2006) was also the context. August 2006, and the
revelation of a third jihadist conspiracy, in the space of 13 months,
to massacre a random sample of British citizens: in this case 3,000
people. The comments I made, in addition, were prefaced by the
following: "There's a definite urge to say..." When Bennett wonders
why I don't "recant", what does he expect me to do? Pretend that I
didn't in fact experience this transient impulse (which was not racist
but simply retaliatory)? Does he want - do you want - novelists to
sound like politicians, or like the pious post-historical automata
that Bennett and Eagleton claim to be? Do you want the voice of the
individual, or the aggressive purity of the ideologue?
"Islamophobia is racist": this is Bennett's single contribution. But
before he can clamber on to his Medusa's Raft, he first has to put it
about that I make no distinction between Islam and Islamism: "[He] is
talking about Islam, not Islamism, Muslims, not Islamists". All right.
Here's another quote (from the essay of 2006 originally and hereafter
entitled Terror and Boredom: The Dependent Mind):
"We can begin by saying, not only that we respect Muhammad, but that
no serious person could fail to respect Muhammad - a unique and
luminous historical being... Judged by the continuities he was able to
set in motion, Muhammad has strong claims to being the most
extraordinary man who ever lived... To repeat, we respect Islam - the
donor of countless benefits to mankind ... But Islamism? No, we can
hardly be asked to respect a creedal wave that calls for our own
elimination ... Naturally we respect Islam. But we do not respect
Islamism, just as we respect Muhammad and do not respect Muhammad
Now comes Bennett's dialectical leap. He writes that I am hostile to
Islam on racial grounds - a self-evident absurdity. Consider what a
vast project of antagonism he sets before me. Racial hatred directed
at over a quarter of humanity; racial hatred directed at pretty well
every ethnicity on earth. (And what does he imagine I make of someone
like David Myatt, the neo-Nazi and Holocaust-denier who now calls
himself Abdul-Aziz ibn Myatt? Do I crinkle my nose in indulgence,
because this fierce jihadist is white?) It ought to be a rule of the
discourse, of any discourse, that one novelist should give another
novelist the basic credit of not being a maniac.
I must have seen Bennett coming when, in April of this year, I
reviewed Mark Steyn's alarmist but broadly pertinent book, America
Alone (and here I quote myself for the last time):
"Any acknowledgment of the fear of being out-bred inevitably reminds
us of eugenics and forced sterilisation and the like; and many good
modern westerners, reading Mr Steyn, will feel the warm glow of
righteousness that normally precedes an accusation of 'racism'."
But it's not about race. It's about ideology.
If every inhabitant of a liberal democracy believes in liberal
democracy, then it doesn't matter what creed or colour they are. If,
on the other hand, some of them believe in Sharia and the Caliphate
(and believe, too, that slaughtering the attendees of ladies' night at
the Tiger Tiger discotheque is a good way of bringing that about), the
numbers start to matter.
When I interviewed Tony Blair earlier this year I asked him if
continental demographics had yet become "a European conversation". He
said: "It's a subterranean conversation." And we know what that means.
The ethos of relativism finds the demographic question so saturated in
revulsions that it is rendered undiscussable. As a multiculturist
ideologue, Bennett cannot engage with the fact that a) the indigenous
populations of Spain and Italy are due to halve every 35 years, and b)
this entails certain consequences. He reaches, like a flustered
commissar, for the polemical violence of "white supremacism"; he
reaches for the race card - that silver hand-grenade of the virtuous.
Terry Eagleton started this ragged furore, with an attack in the
Guardian that contained three factual errors in its first sentence
[one of these, concerning the publication date of Amis's essay, was
the Guardian's mistake, not Eagleton's]. Bennett, who is rather more
scrupulous, now comes in at the scavenger end of it. Anyway, it is a
miserable chore even to imagine these writers at work, dourly
assembling their diatribes, hopscotching and cherrypicking from a
press interview here, a TV interview there, an essay, a short story,
some gout of alphabet soup in the Daily Mail, distorting this,
suppressing that, and fudging the other. They are not interested in
arguments and ideas, but in staking out "positions", in sending
"signals", and in flirtatiously seeking the approval of the
likeminded. This isn't the first time I have been accused of racism
("anti-Semitism" in 1991 for the novel Time's Arrow); and it is a
calumny like no other. It paints a cross on your front door.
Let us as close as Bennett closes. It is a little epiphany, a little
poem, of pharisaical self-congratulation: Amis got away with it. He
got away with as odious an outburst of racist sentiment as any public
figure has made in this country for a very long time. Shame on him for
saying it, and shame on us for tolerating it.
Well, shame on me, right enough, and shame on everyone else - but not
on you, Mr Bennett. Read that last sentence again. You didn't tolerate
it, did you? No, you come out of this uncommonly well. Your disgrace
isn't social; your disgrace is moral, intellectual and artistic - but
no one's going to bother you about that. I will just say, in parting,
that the ideology you appease (let's follow Francis Fukuyama and call
it jihadism) is irrationalist, misogynist, homophobic, inquisitional,
totalitarian and imperialist. And it isn't merely "racist". It is
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: Riaz K Tayob <riazt at iafrica.com>
> To: "Debate List (ZA)" <debate at lists.kabissa.org>
> Date: Tue, 04 Dec 2007 11:19:21 +0100
> Subject: [DEBATE] : Amis demands Muslims join in 'factory siren' over terror plots
> Amis demands Muslims join in 'factory siren' over terror plots
> Riazat Butt Tuesday December 4, 2007 The Guardian
> Martin Amis 'Retaliatory urges' ... Martin Amis
> Martin Amis last night fired another salvo in the war of words over
> Islam, condemning an "abject failure" by Muslims to vigorously denounce
> suicide bombings.
> At a debate at Manchester University, where the novelist is head of
> creative writing, he told a packed auditorium that only a machine would
> not have experienced "retaliatory urges" upon learning in August last
> year of the alleged plot to bomb transatlantic aircraft, in which, Amis
> said, 3,000 people could have died.
> Article continues "There should be from every corner of the west a
> permanent factory siren of disgust for these actions," he told students,
> staff and members of the public, including Afzal Khan, the first Muslim
> to be lord mayor of Manchester. He acknowledged Muslim efforts "to put
> their house in order" were made more difficult by the jihadis' "monopoly
> on intimidation".
> But there was less assent when he went on to speak of a "distorted
> sympathy" towards Palestine. "I have sympathy for Israel. It's not
> nothing to have six million of your number murdered in central Europe in
> the last century. Don't you think that this has had a psychological
> effect on this race or religion, or whatever you want to call the Jews?
> "Palestinians have never suffered anything as remotely terrible as that.
> There is an inexplicable numbness about Israel."
> The debate comes in a robust polemic between Amis and Terry Eagleton,
> the university's professor of cultural history.
> In an interview after the plot was exposed, Amis said Muslims should be
> made to suffer. Eagleton denounced him in a new preface to his 1991 book
> Ideology, and had been in the line-up for last night's event, Literature
> and Terrorism, but event organisers said a diary clash forced him to
> Instead Amis was joined on stage by novelist Maureen Freely and former
> Islamist turned author Ed Hussain.
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