Monday, 28 January 2008

Amis on jihadism, masculinity and resentment

I heard Martin Amis on Radio 5 Live this afternoon, talking about The Second Plane, his newly-published collection of articles written in the aftermath of 9/11. I found his diagnosis of jihadism in terms of threatened masculinity particularly interesting, especially as I have an academic interest in issues of gender and identity. Amis suggested that fundamentalist men in the Muslim world might experience the liberation of women in the west as a threat to their last, patriarchal vestige of power, in the context of the diminishing influence of Islam: thus fuelling a generalised anti-western rage. And although I remain suspicious of the use of psychoanalysis in political argument, I liked Amis' suggestion that anti-Americanism, whether of the psychotic Islamist variety or the milder European kind, might derive from an unconscious resentment/envy of the new superpower, against the background of the decline of both the Islamic and European empires (echoing something I wrote here).

Oh dear. The Sunday Times has root-causer William Dalrymple reviewing Amis' book. According to Dalrymple:

The Second Plane is a compilation of second-hand views, in this case lifted from Islamophobic neocon primers (the works of Bernard Lewis, VS Naipaul and Paul Berman).

Phew. If one all-purpose debate-stopping insult doesn't do the trick - then why not try using two? So a writer with impeccable liberal-left credentials, like Berman, is not only a 'neocon' but an Islamophobe to boot! 

Dalrymple argues that  'Amis' simplistically Freudian explanation of terrorism ignores the stream of explicitly political statements issued by Al-Qaeda' and he writes that Osama bin Laden has 'made it clear that his grievance against the West was not cultural or religious, or indeed sexual, but political.'  Oh well, if Osama has 'made it clear', then it must be true. Dalrymple's willingness to take the statements of mass-murdering religious fanatics at face value is naive in the extreme. And he has the cheek to call Amis 'simplistic'.

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