It seems a shame to let Martin Amis’ essay on violent Islamism (from yesterday’s Observer) pass by without the opportunity for a discussion here, as those on all sides of the usual arguments should find something to get their teeth into. It is a rather long piece however, so I will confine myself to a few quotations whilst urging you to read it in full (should you have the time.)
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.
What unusual things might appease it I wonder (should we be in the business of “appeasing” at all of course….) Amis himself is in no doubt that rational approaches are of no use:
Contemplating intense violence, you very rationally ask yourself, what are the reasons for this? And compassionately frowning newscasters are still asking that same question. It is time to move on. We are not dealing in reasons because we are not dealing in reason.
To lose the conviction that you can actually be right – about anything – seems a recipe for the End of Days chaos envisioned by Yeats: when “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”.’
Amis relies a lot on the work of our old friend Paul Berman (although he thinks that Berman is far to respectful to the ideological father of Islamism Sayid Qutb,) whose experiences in the west led to Islamism proving itself:
… responsive to European influence: the influence of Hitler and Stalin. And one hardly needs to labour the similarities between Islamism and the totalitarian cults of the last century. Anti-semitic, anti- liberal, anti-individualist, anti-democratic, and, most crucially, anti-rational, they too were cults of death, death-driven and death-fuelled. 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.
He is however optimistic about the final result even though it will be a long drawn out battle:
Over the past five years, what we have been witnessing, apart from a moral slump or bust, is a death agony: the death agony of imperial Islam. Islamism is the last wave – the last convulsion. Until 2003, one could take some comfort from the very virulence of the Islamist deformation. Nothing so insanely dionysian, so impossibly poisonous, could expect to hold itself together over time. In the 20th century, outside Africa, the only comparable eruptions of death-hunger, of death-oestrus, were confined to Nazi Germany and Stalinite Kampuchea, the one lasting 12 years, the other three and a half. Hitler, Pol Pot, Osama: such men only ask to be the last to die. But there are some sound reasons for thinking that the confrontation with Islamism will be testingly prolonged.
Finally, Amis turns his attention to those who wish for American humiliation in the war on terror:
There are vast pluralities all over the West that are thirsting for American failure in Iraq – because they hate George Bush. Perhaps they do not realise that they are co-synchronously thirsting for an Islamist victory that will dramatically worsen the lives of their children.
It is a thought provoking essay, whatever you think about it’s conclusions (go on, tell us what you think why don’t you?)