Amis and the untermenschen

William Dalrymple reviews The Second Plane, Martin Amis’s new collection of essays and short stories about the post-9/11 world:

“Only in one place in the book does Amis actually come across a living Muslim. Arriving at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem after it has closed for the night, he tries to talk his way into the enclosure, and is rebuffed by the guard. ‘I will never forget the look on the gatekeeper’s face’, he writes, ‘when I suggested … that he … let me in anyway. His expression, previously cordial and cold, became a mask; and the mask was saying that killing me, my wife, and my children was something for which he now had warrant.’ This hysterical reaction, and the strong whiff of racial prejudice it gives off, is smelled again and again throughout this book.

“Islamists, in Amis’s view, are not people with a political complaint against the West and its foreign policy. Instead, they are all ‘irrationally abstract’ in their hatred of America, ‘haters of reason’ whose ‘armed doctrine is little better than a chaotic penal code underscored by impotent dreams of genocide’, ‘fanatics and nihilists’ who have created ‘a cult of death’ and wish to ‘eliminate all non-Muslims’.

“It is the lack of nuance that is most alarming. For Amis, all Islamists are the same, whether mass-murdering jihadis, or completely non-violent but religiously conservative democrats. Nor is it just the militant Islamists he dislikes: ordinary Muslims are regarded with equal contempt. He writes, with deep distaste, of ‘the writhing moustaches of Pakistan’ and ‘the shoving, jabbing, jeering brotherhood’ that Christopher Hitchens encounters in Peshawar. It seems, to Amis, that people’s religion and ethnicity can remove them from rational discourse, and relegate them to the position of untermenschen.”

Sunday Times, 27 January 2008