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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

It Begins

Listen! What's that sound, that distant rumble? Could that be, finally, the turning of the worm?

That's Martin Amis's long and digressive Observer essay, "The Age of Horrorism". Touching on a variety of seemingly-unrelated topics (his daughter, an abandoned novella, the liquor laws of Greeley, Colorado in 1949), it has the feel of a long walk in a meadow with a vicar who reveals, in between pointing out the interesting flora and fauna, that he has become a Moonie. (Or a Muslim, Mormon, atheist, Zoroastrian, neo-pagan...whatever you find most shocking. Or a Christian, for the truly jaded.)

Perhaps that's the reason for the nature walk, to reassure you that he hasn't gone off his rocker, that he's still the same thoughtful, tolerant, gently-contemptuous, fashionably-ironic fellow we've always known. It's just that these chaps want to kill us all, you see. And for the most illiberal of reasons! True, the Americans are ghastly, but these Muslim chappies are even more ghastly, if you can credit such a thing.

On his rambles, Amis touches on something we of a more direct (and ghastly) nature have realized (and said) for years: that terrorism is less a product of American foreign policy than of the pathologies of the Islamic world.

We should understand that the Islamists' hatred of America is as much abstract as historical, and irrationally abstract, too; none of the usual things can be expected to appease it. The hatred contains much historical emotion, but it is their history, and not ours, that haunts them.


The main distinction is that the paradise which the Nazis (pagan) and the Bolsheviks (atheist) sought to bring about was an earthly one, raised from the mulch of millions of corpses. For them, death was creative, right enough, but death was still death. For the Islamists, death is a consummation and a sacrament; death is a beginning.


That's what all this was supposed to be: not a clash of civilisations or anything like that, but a civil war within Islam. Well, the civil war appears to be over. And Islamism won it. The loser, moderate Islam, is always deceptively well-represented on the level of the op-ed page and the public debate; elsewhere, it is supine and inaudible.


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.

(Note the distinction between "Islamists" and "jihadis", suggesting that the latter are more numerous than the former.)

And (regarding suicide bombings during the "Second Intifada"):

The parallel process was the intensive demonisation of Israel (academic ostracism, and so on); every act of suicide-mass murder 'testified' to the extremity of the oppression, so that 'Palestinian terror, in this view, was the measure of Israeli guilt'.

(Amis's quotes are from Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism.)

These are ideas that his Guardian audience would reject, coming from neocon warmongers like Bush. Will they take them any better from kindly padre Amis?

Perhaps they will, since he washes these bitter truths down with a few teaspoonfuls of sugar in the form of obligatory genuflection to the Other...

Let us make the position clear. 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.

...swipes at the vulgar cowboys we are saddled with...

The fatal turn [in the Iraq war] was the American President's all too palpable submission to the intoxicant of power. His walk, his voice, his idiom, right up to his mortifying appearance in the flight suit on the aircraft-carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln ('Mission Accomplished') - every dash and comma in his body language betrayed the unscrupulous confidence of the power surge.

...and ritual self-flagellation:

Since [9/11/01] the world has undergone a moral crash - the spiritual equivalent, in its global depth and reach, of the Great Depression of the Thirties. 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.

These reminders may comfort those who would flee from sharing any cause with the "mortifying" Bush.

However, this essay will likely give his reluctant audience the wrong ideas. His recounting of Sayyid Qutb's exile to the bubbling fleshpot of Greeley, Colorado is fascinating, for those who don't know the story. (Short version: Qutb decided America was Satan at a dance in a church basement in Greeley in 1949, which was at that time a dry town.) While Amis is no doubt correct that the horror of the female is one of the major psychoses of the Muslim (more likely, the Arab) world, his history will probably give unneeded support to those who believe that Bush's nasty bellicosity results from his unsatisfactory sex life. (And, yes, I have read lefty blogs where this was seriously suggested.)

He also blames religion, all religion, not just Islam or its extreme forms. I might be on board with that, if not for the previous example of fascism and Communism.

Anyway, it's possible this is the first step to at least some of those who claim to cherish liberty to wake the hell up and start defending it, if only with words.

The other day, Scrappleface had a post on ABC's special on the fiftieth anniversary of 9/11. At the risk of spoiling the joke:

But then the tide turns in favor of the budding Islamic caliphate (Allah be praised!). As memories of the 2001 attacks fade, world opinion turns against the Great Satan. Then the Great Satan turns on itself, consumed from within by a toxic combination of political ambition and cowardice masquerading as tolerance.

But that's not how it's going to go.

No, in 2051 9/11 will be remembered as a heroic time when the entire country woke up to the peril, thanks to the pleading of liberal intellectuals who alone recognized the barbaric, implacable nature of Islamofascism. The country rallied behind the President, the news media supported his policies, and patriotic celebrities cheered up the troops and the public. And so America united to whip yet another totalitarian ideology, and gained the eternal gratitude of the world.

(Speaking of implausible alternate histories, see here.)