Martin Amis and the politics of paranoia

Pankaj Mishra replies to Martin Amis’s article in last week’s Observer:

“Martin Amis’s essay on Islam and Islamism goes on for more than 10,000 words without describing an individual experience of Muslim societies deeper than Christopher Hitchens’s acquisition of an Osama T-shirt in Peshawar and the Amis family’s failure to enter, after closing time, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

“‘The impulse towards rational inquiry,’ Amis asserts, ‘is by now very weak in the rank and file of the Muslim male.’ There are countless other startling claims (according to Amis, the army was on the Islamist side in the Algerian civil war) in his essay, whose pseudo-scholarship and fanatical conviction of moral superiority make it resemble nothing more than one of bin Laden’s desperately literary screeds.

“Such a bold and hectic display of prejudice and ignorance invites the dinner-party frivolity of Amis’s genitals-centric analysis (constipation and sexual frustration) of radical Islam. But what forces us to take it seriously is not only that its author is one of our leading novelists, but also that his cliches about non-western peoples (they are all very irrational out there) and strident belief in ‘Western’ rationality are now commonplace in elite liberal-left as well as conservative circles in the government and media.”

Observer, 17 September 2006