This is from a NY Times review of John Updike’s most recent collection of nonfiction by Christopher Hitchens. It’s nicely written, informative and all that. We also learn that Hitchens writes “Yuck” and ticks in the margins of his books, but, as I said in a German text on this blog, certain minds seem to be unable to refrain from mentioning Islam in a stupid and self-revealing way. I wonder if a get-together of Hitchens and his editor looks like Fawlty Towers all over again, just this time nobody cries: DON’T MENTION THE WAR but DON’T MENTION ISLAM, however, given the frequency of Hitchens’s Islambashing this is improbable. Though I must admit, he does kinda remind me of John Cleese’s character. Here’s the fun part of his so-so review
Discussing Grass’s rather recent discovery that Germans had also been the victims of atrocities, Updike asks:
“Can a nation war against a regime without warring against the people the regime rules? Is the very concept ‘war crime’ tautological, given the context of determined violence? As Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, said a few weeks ago, ‘War is always a catastrophe.’ Are discriminations possible between appropriate and excessive bombing, between legitimate and atrocious ship-sinkings, between proper combat of armed soldiers and such tactics as using civilians, including children, as human shields or disguising an ambush as a surrender? An American soldier recently wounded in such an ambush, when interviewed on television, shrugged and, with striking dispassion, conceded that, given the great imbalance of firepower between the Coalition and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, he could hardly blame his attackers for their murderous ruse.”
This is evenhandedness taken almost to the point of masochism. (What of the “imbalance” between the jihadists and the girls’ schools they blow up?) And Updike doesn’t choose to answer any of the questions — familiar enough at a sophomore level, as is Annan’s affectless remark — that he poses. I have the suspicion that he is overcompensating for the rather lame defense of the war in Vietnam that he mounted in his memoir “Self-Consciousness.”
For balance (?) here’s Kakutani’s good review of Mr. Updike’s most recent novel, Terrorist.
And now, in comes Basil Fawlty (yes, any review of a book an Islamism will mention Islam, several times, but read on, you’ll see what I mean)in his own review of that book
Indeed, Updike continues to offer us, as we have come to expect of him, his grueling homework. The sinuous imam of the local mosque (Shaikh Rashid) does not try to impress the half-educated and credulous Ahmad with the duty to fight the enemies of the Prophet. Far from it. He prepares him for stone-faced single-mindedness with some intricate Koranic hermeneutics, designed to shake his faith. And guess which example is adduced? The theory of the German Orientalist Christoph Luxenberg, who has argued that the “virgins” promised to martyrs in Paradise are actually a mistranslation for “white raisins.” Bet you never heard that! My feeling — call it a guess or an intuition — is that this is not how madrassas train their suicide bombers. My other feeling is that Updike could have placed this rather secondhand show of his recent learning in some other part of the novel.
It sorta makes me wonder whether he’s drunk when he’s writing his essays. Or high on some very damaging drugs.