Martin Amis on Islamism

martin amis“Until recently it was being said that what we are confronted with, here, is ‘a civil war’ within Islam. 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. We are not hearing from moderate Islam. Whereas Islamism, as a mover and shaper of world events, is pretty well all there is…. we respect Islam – the donor of countless benefits to mankind, and the possessor of a thrilling history. But Islamism? No, we can hardly be asked to respect a creedal wave that calls for our own elimination…. Islam, in the end, proved 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.”

Martin Amis in the Observer, 10 September 2006

Here, “Islamism” is ignorantly conflated with terrorism. Judging by the article, Amis’s sources of information on this question are Paul Berman’s book Terrorism and Liberalism and Sam Harris’s The End of Faith. Perhaps he should read a little more widely on the subject. He would discover that, to quote Soumaya Ghannoushi, “Islamism, like socialism, is not a uniform entity. It is a colourful sociopolitical phenomenon with many strategies and discourses. This enormously diverse movement ranges from liberal to conservative, from modern to traditional, from moderate to radical, from democratic to theocratic, and from peaceful to violent. What these trends have in common is that they derive their source of legitimacy from Islam….”

Richard Seymour describes Amis’s piece as “an utterly clueless essay that casually asserts this and that idiocy about the West and Islam with evidently no more thought than the average Sun leader writer”.

Update:  See Pankaj Mishra, “The politics of paranoia”, Observer, 17 September 2006