Kakutani on Amis’ new book
Equally offensive are the eruptions of anti-Islamic vituperation […].
In this book Mr. Amis says that, going through airport security with his daughters, he wants to say something like: “Even Islamists have not yet started to blow up their own families on airplanes. So please desist until they do. Oh yeah: and stick, for now, to young men who look like they’re from the Middle East.”
Reviewing Mark Steyn’s controversial book, “America Alone” — which forecasts a dark future in which Old Europe falls under the influence of Islamic fundamentalism — Mr. Amis writes that “not a single Western European country is procreating at the ‘replacement rate’ of 2.1 births per woman,” adding: “A depopulated and simplified Europe might be tenable in a world without enmity and predation. And that is not our world. The birth rate is 6.76 in Somalia, 6.69 in Afghanistan and 6.58 in Yemen.”
Mr. Amis writes of an Islamist “death-hunger,” comparable “outside Africa” only to what existed in Nazi Germany and Stalinite Kampuchea. He suggests that the Islamist war on the West is “a kind of thwarted narcissism,” rooted in sexual frustration and anger at Islam’s impotence on the world stage (completely ignoring the experts like Michael Scheuer, the former C.I.A. officer and Qaeda specialist, who argue that Osama bin Laden’s declaration of war is a reaction to specific United States foreign policies like support for Israel and an American presence in Muslim lands). And while he writes that “we respect Muhammad” (just not “Muhammad Atta”), he makes gross generalizations about the “extreme incuriosity of Islamic culture” and the differences between Sunnis and Shias (“The Sunni are more legalistic. The Shia are dreamier and more poetic and emotional.”)
As for civil war between the Shia and the Sunni, Mr. Amis glibly declares: “We can say, with the facetiousness of despair, that it’s just as well to get this out of the way; and let us hope it is merely a Thirty Years’ War, and not a Hundred Years’ War.”
Many of the arguments in this book are deeply indebted to other writers. On Islam, Mr. Amis leans heavily on the works of Bernard Lewis, the Middle East scholar who influenced the thinking of some members of the Bush administration. And on the irrationality of religion, he leans heavily on the work of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Mr. Amis adds nothing illuminating to these writers’ thinking, while blindly accepting some of their more debatable assertions.
I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, and when I saw the Clinton ad’s central image — innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger — it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn’t help but think of D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad — as I see it — is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat.
The ad could easily have removed its racist sub-message by including images of a black child, mother or father — or by stating that the danger was external terrorism. Instead, the child on whom the camera first focuses is blond. Two other sleeping children, presumably in another bed, are not blond, but they are dimly lighted, leaving them ambiguous. Still it is obvious that they are not black — both, in fact, seem vaguely Latino.
Finally, Hillary Clinton appears, wearing a business suit at 3 a.m., answering the phone. The message: our loved ones are in grave danger and only Mrs. Clinton can save them. An Obama presidency would be dangerous — and not just because of his lack of experience. In my reading, the ad, in the insidious language of symbolism, says that Mr. Obama is himself the danger, the outsider within.
Did the message get through? Well, consider this: people who voted early went overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama; those who made up their minds during the three days after the ad was broadcast voted heavily for Mrs. Clinton.
Almost two months ago, in a Slate commentary, Hitchens drew our attention to the Clintons’s questionable behaviour with respect to race:
How can one equal Bill Clinton for thuggery and opportunism when it comes to the so-called “race card”? And where does one even start with the breathtaking nastiness of his own conduct, and that of his supporters, in the last week?
This is always a fun game. Look at the truth and tweak it so it still looks like the truth, sharing most facts with it but is actually a malicious lie. People like Daniel Pipes, Oriana Fallaci and Henryk Broder are adept at this tactic when writing their hateful screeds against Islam. A case in point is Daniel Pipes’ treatment of the Westerhoff affair. While Angry White Man/columnist Christopher Hitchens uses the expression “alleged plot”, Daniel Pipes indulges in a bit of his usual hate informed tweaking and describes the affair thusly:
This month, Denmark’s police foiled a terrorist plot to murder Kurt Westergaard, the cartoonist who drew the strongest of the Muhammad pictures, prompting most of the country’s newspapers to reprint his cartoon as an act of solidarity and a signal to Islamists that their threats and violence will not succeed.
Nice. By the way, this is a different way to look at the affair
Virtually the entire media in Denmark reprinted the notorious caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed on February 13.
The decision to re-print came just one day after three men, two Tunisians and a Danish national, were arrested for an alleged plot to kill one of the cartoonists, Kurt Westergaard. At least 15 papers across Denmark reprinted images of the cartoons, in what can only be described as a calculated provocation. Despite having no evidence regarding the guilt of the three detained, since the security service claimed it moved on suspicion and did not have enough grounds to charge the men, the Danish media raced to be first to print the cartoons, supposedly to underline their defence of “free speech.”
Funny, how the second statement fits in better with reports like amnesty international’s which claimed
In its report on Denmark, published in May, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) expressed deep concern at worsening intolerance and xenophobia against refugees, asylum-seekers, minorities in general and Muslims in particular. ECRI noted with concern legislative provisions disproportionately restricting the ability of members of ethnic minorities to acquire Danish citizenship, to benefit from family reunification, and to access social protection. ECRI also highlighted an atmosphere of impunity, created by the low rate of prosecutions for incitement to racial hatred despite, among other things, inflammatory statements by some politicians and the media.
Funny, eh? Ah, it’s always the same. It’s just redundant to write about the likes of Pipes. So predictable (as I am, eh?). In contrast even someone like Hitchens, the “football hooligan of rational thought”, is refreshing in that he bashes Muslims but also bashes Christians, Jews etc. and he is not afraid of clobbering those who hold opinions close to his own.
Here’s a fitting exemplification of this. After digging around a bit I discovered this 2003 essay by Hitchens on Pipes and found it described the man well:
I am not myself a pacifist, and I believe that Islamic nihilism has to be combated with every weapon, intellectual and moral as well as military, which we possess or can acquire. But that is a position shared by a very wide spectrum of people. Pipes, however, uses this consensus to take a position somewhat to the right of Ariel Sharon, concerning a matter (the Israel-Palestine dispute) that actually can be settled by negotiation. And he employs the fears and insecurities created by Islamic extremism to slander or misrepresent those who disagree with him.
[…] To put it bluntly, I suspect that Pipes is so consumed by dislike that he will not recognize good news from the Islamic world even when it arrives. And this makes him dangerous and unreliable.
On more than one occasion, Pipes has called for the extension of Israel’s already ruthless policy of collective punishment, arguing that leveling Palestinian villages is justifiable if attacks are launched from among their inhabitants. It seems to me from observing his style that he came to this conclusion with rather more relish than regret.
You see? That’s why I’m suddenly beginning to like Hitchens. People like Pipes and Broder show me how much worse hateful polemicism can get. Hitchens isn’t racist, unlike Pipes et al. He’s just a wee bit daft, but I tell ye, I’ll take daft over racist anytime. If that were the choice, I’d say thank God for daft people.
[I thought of doing an longish explanation of the Archbishop’s speech, but in the end I scrapped that post and decided to let his words mostly speak for themselves, with a slightly critical remark at the end]
The Archbishop of Canterbury held an interesting speech on February 7, 2008, which provoked an incredible backlash by the usual islamophobic suspects and many others. People, that’s my guess, largely didn’t read a transcript of the speech or at least listen to the damn thing at least once or twice before lashing out at his alleged endorsement of an introduction of Sharia (read: multiple wives, wivebeating, female genital mutilation, honour killings, ah, you know the drill) into British law.
As always, one should be wary reading such driveling assessments of vaguely pro-Islamic persons. Experience should teach one as much. But, upon reading the transcript, I was really shocked, because the Archbishop’s speech was considerate and thoughtful. Not only did he explain what he meant by Sharia:
something that has to be ‘actualized’, not a ready-made system. If shar’ designates the essence of the revealed Law, sharia is the practice of actualizing and applying it; […] there is no single code that can be identified as ‘the’ sharia
he also explained how in his and other theoreticians’ view, “law” as in “British law” should be understood, and what problems arise in connection with the current interpretation of it: “
If the law of the land takes no account of what might be for certain agents a proper rationale for behaviour […] it fails in a significant way to communicate with someone involved in the legal process (or indeed to receive their communication), and so, on at least one kind of legal theory […], fails in one of its purposes.
This is, in a nutshell, where he’s heading. The law should not exclude whole communities from public communication. There is a disadvantage that these communities have, as far as power or status is concerned, and secular courts, which do not consider some communities’ “rationale for behaviour” will alienate these communities further:
a communal/religious nomos, to borrow Shachar’s vocabulary, has to think through the risks of alienating its people by inflexible or over-restrictive applications of traditional law, and a universalist Enlightenment system has to weigh the possible consequences of ghettoising and effectively disenfranchising a minority, at real cost to overall social cohesion and creativity.
Look close. Here, as everywhere else in the lecture, he tells us that we as a society may have to choose between one and the other. Do we want to have “social cohesion” or do we want to eject these communities from our countries? Because that’s the choice really. A ghettoised minority is likely to become more and more radical. Here in Germany that’s remarkably obvious. Driving these communities out might be, in a few decades, the only choice left. Plus, it’s possible that the imbalance of power and status has had a hand in creating these communities in the first place. We know how these things happen, there are multiple studies showing how communities and images are created and dissolved, one of the most readable accounts being Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness
However, in discussions with friends I usually, at one point or other, hear the word “enlightenment” and the phrase “the law is the law”. That the uncritical use of both these terms can be problematic is adressed by Dr. Williams as well: “
So much of our thinking in the modern world, dominated by European assumptions about universal rights, rests, surely, on the basis that the law is the law; […] so that recognition of corporate identities or, more seriously, of supplementary jurisdictions is simply incoherent if we want to preserve the great political and social advances of Western legality.
There is a bit of a risk here in the way we sometimes talk about the universal vision of post-Enlightenment politics. The great protest of the Enlightenment was against authority that appealed only to tradition and refused to justify itself by other criteria […]. The most positive aspect of this moment in our cultural history was its focus on equal levels of accountability for all and equal levels of access for all to legal process. […] But this set of considerations alone is not adequate to deal with the realities of complex societies: […] Where this has been enforced, it has proved a weak vehicle for the life of a society and has often brought violent injustice in its wake.
So far we have only looked at Dr. Williams’ criticism of the jurisprudence as it is practiced and of the ideologies that support said practice. What, we might ask, about the dangers of introducing what he calls “supplementary jurisdiction”? He does see these dangers, especially
the effect of reinforcing […] some of the most repressive or retrograde elements.
He talks amply about the
risks of any model that ends up ‘franchising’ a non-state jurisdiction so as to reinforce its most problematic features and further disadvantage its weakest members.
He makes clear that however this supplementary jurisdiction might look like in practice, it cannot be allowed to become a “communal legal structure which can only be avoided by deciding to leave the community altogether”. The fact that he emphasizes what he calls “ground rules”, together with the fact that he continually speaks rather vaguely of the practicality of his propositions (“if”, “appears”, “seems”, see also the log’s take on this), may mean that the system he envisions may never see the light of day.
However, the practicality of Dr. Williams’ proposals presupposes the universal principle that he, by the way, explains thusly:
‘human dignity as such’ – a non-negotiable assumption that each agent (with his or her historical and social affiliations) could be expected to have a voice in the shaping of some common project for the well-being and order of a human group.
This presupposition hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Archbishop who goes on to write ”
if my analysis is right, the sort of foundation I have sketched for a universal principle of legal right requires both a certain valuation of the human as such and a conviction that the human subject is always endowed with some degree of freedom over against any and every actual system of human social life.
(something which I would deny emphatically), and concludes this thought by saying that
both of these things are historically rooted in Christian theology.
Indeed, indeed it is. It is fundamentally dishonest of muslim-bashing commentators to praise the judeochristian tradition and denounce the bishop because of his alleged break with it, when all he does is abide most closely by exactly that tradition.
Personally, I believe that this is exactly where his theory goes wrong. I think that, by giving communities as ideologically bound as religious communities usually are, the “freedom” to adhere to their religious/cultural principles, by giving them the freedom of choice, you take away or deny them the freedom to adhere to secular laws, especially the weaker parts of the community. I believe that a religious culture is like a dangerous trap. An insignificant example is Bavaria in Germany, where, even after the German supreme court has ordered the state to take down the crosses in classrooms if even a single student complains, few crosses have been taken down, because even those who feel uncomfortable are pressured into silence. And this is a small, small example. Nobody gets hurt. Can the government run the risk of intoducing legislation that leads to even a single person being severely disadvantaged just because he or she is caught in the religious trap? And we don’t even have to imply pressure from the community. Far from being in “a conscious relation with God”, as Dr. Williams asserts, devout people, in any religion, are, well, devout, which means that they are, as Merriam-Webster’s has it “ardently dedicated and loyal”. There is room for freedom there but not enough, possibly, to justify such a legislation.
Excuse me for indulging in my dislike for religion. That was highly polemic and even wrong. For one thing, secular ideologies don’t leave their own devout followers more wriggle room, as the maddening attacks on Dr. Williams (or Richard Dawkins’ or Christopher Hitchens’ recent writings, for that matter) demonstrated many times over. Second, in view of the fact that I approve of Dr. Williams’ analysis of the problem, my approach was not very constructive. He says, correctly, that “
the important springs of moral vision in a society will be in those areas which a systematic abstract universalism regards as ‘private’ – in religion […], but also in custom and habit.
No, I am with Nagel and his socks, I don’t think that being religious and being moral is correlated. But the fact remains that moral vision emerges from that which is private, and we as a society cannot afford to shut out sizable minorities and their private lives. The fact that religion plays a vastly more important role in these communities is something that we have to come to terms with. IF we want a harmonious society. If we want disadvantaged minorities to be given a voice. For as long as we silently suppose law to “of course” be just for everybody, we are effectively silencing those communities who have cultural loyalties which sometimes clash with their loyalties as citizens.
Coming to terms with that does not mean introducing “special legislation”. But these minorities are already seeking religious advice. Why not incorporate that into the practice of law we have. It is a dangerous and tough task but a necessary one. Turning away from these communities and denouncing them as a whole is not helpful, nor is turning away from them in a gesture of tolerance. As Dr. Williams said:
It is always easy to take refuge in some form of positivism
and indeed it is, especially so-called sceptics can be found in hiding whenever asked to engage with religion. Supplementary jurisdiction might not be the best way to solve our problems (if it is not, the Archbishop himself provides the reasons why it may not be, this cannot be stressed enough, as he tells us what the precondition to such a solution would be.) , but solve them we must. And we must be thankful for the likes of Dr. Williams for pointing them out the way he did.
Ach, ich weiß gar nicht, ob ich dazu was sagen soll. Aber der Vollständigkeit halber. Broder, der wie ich offenbar nichts besseres mit seiner Zeit anzufangen weiß, als herumzupöbeln (ist er auch krank? Ein Arzt hat mir heute gesagt: erstmal 12 Stunden nichts essen und schwarzen Tee (in Massen) sowie moderate Mengen ausgesprudelter Cola trinken. Bitteschön, lieber Henryk), schrieb zum Attentat auf Bhutto folgendes
Zwei Tage nach der Ermordung von Benazir Bhutto breitet sich in Pakistan das Chaos aus, und der Rest der Welt ist entsetzt und ratlos. Wie konnte es nur soweit kommen? Wusste Frau Bhutto nicht, welche Gefahr ihr drohte? Warum wurde sie nicht besser geschützt?
Unruhen in Pakistan nach dem Bhutto-Mord: Die Welt ist entsetzt – und ratlos
Und vor allem: Wird es in Pakistan im Januar demokratische Wahlen geben?
Dass die islamischen Fundamentalisten, die nicht nur Frau Bhutto ermordet, sondern auch Tausende ihrer Landsleute vom Leben zum Tode befördert haben, nur noch eine Armlänge von der Verfügungsgewalt über Atomwaffen entfernt sind, bereitet den Kommentatoren nur leichte Kopfschmerzen. Denn wenn Indien die A-Bombe hat, dann kann man es den Pakistanern nicht übelnehmen, dass sie mit dem großen Nachbarn auf gleicher Augenhöhe kommunizieren wollen.
Dieser Artikel spricht ja im Grunde für sich. Es ist ja der selbe dumme Mist, den er auch schon in Buchform veröffentlicht hat. Interessant ist nur, daß es ja nur womöglich gar keine Islamisten waren, sondern die machtbewußte Regierung. Oder so. Es ist schon faszinierend, wie schnell Broder aufschreit, sobald ihm etwas in sein schlecht denkendes (und unterirdisch unbelesenes) Hirn paßt. Ich muß mal suchen. Es gibt bestimmt eine Stellungnahme von Christopher Hitchens.
PS. Tatsächlich, es gibt eine und Hitchens’ Stellungnahme ist weit weniger haßerfüllt als Broders. Klar, daß sich die Meinungen dieser beiden Geistesgrößen nur wenig unterscheiden, aber durch die Hereinnahme von Bhutto in den Kreis der zumindest teils Bösen ergibt sich irgendwie (correct me if I’m wrong) differenzierteres Bild.
Who knows who did this deed? It is grotesque, of course, that the murder should have occurred in Rawalpindi, the garrison town of the Pakistani military elite and the site of Flashman’s Hotel. It is as if she had been slain on a visit to West Point or Quantico. But it’s hard to construct any cui bono analysis on which Gen. Pervez Musharraf is the beneficiary of her death. The likeliest culprit is the al-Qaida/Taliban axis, perhaps with some assistance from its many covert and not-so-covert sympathizers in the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence. These were the people at whom she had been pointing the finger since the huge bomb that devastated her welcome-home motorcade on Oct. 18.
She would have been in a good position to know about this connection, because when she was prime minister, she pursued a very active pro-Taliban policy, designed to extend and entrench Pakistani control over Afghanistan and to give Pakistan strategic depth in its long confrontation with India over Kashmir. The fact of the matter is that Benazir’s undoubted courage had a certain fanaticism to it.
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.
It has been online for awhile, but it’s so perfect a phrase that I can’t resist pointing it out to anyone who hasn’t read it yet. Associate Professor Berlinerblau from the University of Georgetown, in a rare stroke of genius, called the writers spearheading the recent wave of dumb atheistic writers “the football hooligans of rational discourse”. Such a perfect phrase, isn’t it?