They’re b-a—a-a-a-ck! The glimmer twins, Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie, back in the game, ricocheting off the side of the current British festival of Islamophobia (all venues, ongoing). Rushdie has waded into Jack Straw’s bizarre freakout about veil-wearing women constituents, by noting that he has three Muslim sisters and that “the veil sucks” (the sisters were unavailable for comment, not being prizewinning male novelists).
Amis is everywhere and, as noted here earlier, offered his own views in a long essay on “Horrorism” leading up to the publication of his upcoming novella about the last days of Mohammed Atta (his current novel House of Meetings is a revisit of an earlier love-triangle book – Success (1977) – with the Gulag dropped in the background like a painted music-hall fly).
I’ve always thought that enthusiasm for Martin Amis’s non-fiction was the mark of a second-rate mind, so I was disappointed to see a few people I like praising it. For 20 years he banged on about nuclear weapons in the worst sort of adolescent generationalist terms. Then his dad died and he took over the family firm, announcing that Stalin was a bad guy (even the Spectator was moved to note in reply “Stalin killed a lot of people. Perhaps you already knew this.”).
The latest foray simply recycles the most oversimplified view of the “father of Islamic fundamentalism”, Sayyed Qutb, focusing on his misogyny and puritanism. Qutb – as any fule kno by now – was pretty alarmed by lascivious Western women wearing makeup and revealing clothing – but no more so than say, TS Eliot, Pope Pius XII or Billy Graham.
What’s never noted is what else Qutb was shocked by – the Jim Crow racism of the US, and the corrosive effect on the “ummah” or Muslim collective life – of Western colonialism.
Instead we get an old 60s Freud/Reich/Marcuse analysis, that suicide bombers are literally bursting with sexual frustration, which doesn’t even begin to stack up with the evidence – that suicide bombers have wives and girlfriends, and often Western-style relationships.
Amis’s attack, like Rushdie’s cheap shot, presents itself as liberalism, but it’s nothing of the kind. It’s illiberal modernism, which has so little confidence in its own philosophical basis that a piece of cloth worn by a small number of women gives it the wobbles. Must be a pretty p-ssweak civilisation if that amounts to a threat.