Monday, April 28, 2008

Leon Wieseltier's Trashing of Martin Amis's Islam-Bashing

My shul-buddy Leon Wieseltier led off the New York Times Book Review yesterday with a devestating piece on The Second Plane, a bigoted anti-Islam screed by the novelist, Martin Amis. Wieseltier is a maven of literary invective (and single malt scotch, but that's another story.) Just read the opening paragraph of the review, and you will know what I mean.

On Sept. 10, 2001, nobody in America seemed to know anything about Islam. On Sept. 12, 2001, everybody seemed to know everything about Islam. Well, not quite; but it is really a wonder the way the arcane particulars of an alien civilization now trip off every tongue. People who would not know if a page of Arabic is upside down or right side up helpfully expound upon the meaning of jahilliyah. Sayyid Qutb is quickly overtaking Reinhold Niebuhr as the theologian about whom the un- or antitheological pronounce with the most serene authority. Nothing creates intellectual confidence like catastrophe. After the mind breaks, it stiffens; in the aftermath of grief, it lets in only certainty. In a time of war, complexity is suspected of a sapping effect, and so a mental curfew is imposed. From the maxim that we must know our enemy, we infer that our enemy may be easily known.

According to Wieseltier

Amis seems to regard his little curses as almost military contributions to the struggle. He has a hot, heroic view of himself. He writes as if he, with his wrinkled copies of Bernard Lewis and Philip Larkin, is what stands between us and the restoration of the caliphate. He is not only outraged by Sept. 11, he is also excited by it. “If Sept. 11 had to happen, then I am not at all sorry that it happened in my lifetime.” Don’t you see? It no longer matters that we missed the Spanish Civil War. ¡No pasarĂ¡n!

I particularly like the phrase: "with his wrinkled copies of Bernard Lewis and Philip Larkin." What passes for knowledge of Islam among non-Muslims is so pathetic.

Not that Wieseltier has adopted a multi-cultural stance towards all faiths and creeds. He is still very much the liberal hawk that many of my readers can't abide. And yes, there is the obligatory line that shows that he, too, can be an undiscriminating Islamist basher:

[Amis] is correct that in Islamism the many doctrines of antimodernism, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are one doctrine

And there is a nary a word about other, more moderate forms of Islam, or non-lethal forms of Islamism.

But the book offends deeply two components of Wieseltier's identity -- his commitment to historical scholarship in all its complexity, and his faith as a religious Jew. Only a deeply religious person could have been so wounded by Amis's indiscriminate attacks on religion, as if it is the source of all modern evils. What Amis and others of his ilk don't realize is that reason, tolerance, and skepticism, are found just as much among the religious as they are among the secular or among the great masses of neither -- and this is as it has always been. Bigotry, sloppy thinking, and, I may add, bad writing, are not the monopoly of any group. On the contrary, the position of the religious intellectual in society, as a member of a beleaguered minority within an elite, cultivates her intellecutal skepticism and humility.

Yasher Koah, Leon. Maybe this calls for an extra shot next Shabbat.

1 comment:

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