How the left turned against Martin Amis

A 2006 at­tack by the lit­er­ary dar­ling on Bri­tish Mus­lims has stirred up a hor­nets’ nest


UNIVER­SITY CAM­PUSES can be poi­sonous places, as lit­er­ary gad­fly Martin Amis is learn­ing to his cost. When he re­cently took up the post of pro­fes­sor of creative writ­ing at Manch­ester Univer­sity, all hell broke loose. One of his new col­leagues, the Marx­ist aca­demic Terry Ea­gle­ton, de­cided to take up the cud­gels against the nov­el­ist for his al­leged Is­lam­o­pho­bia and the misog­yny of his fa­ther, the late Kings­ley Amis.

The row has re­fused to die, spread­ing from the pages of left­ish posh pa­pers, the In­de­pen­dent and the Guardian, to the mid-mar­ket world of the Mail and Tele­graph. The trig­ger was an ar­ti­cle by Ea­gle­ton in which he plucked from ob­scu­rity a 2006 Amis in­ter­view. The nov­el­ist had ob­served: “The Mus­lim com­mu­nity will have to suf­fer un­til it gets its house in or­der. What sort of suf­fer­ing? Not let them travel? De­por­ta­tion — fur­ther down the road. Cur­tail­ing of free­doms. Strip-search­ing of peo­ple who look like they’re from the Mid­dle East or Pak­istan.” For good mea­sure, Ea­gle­ton ac­cused Kings­ley Amis of hav­ing been a “racist, an­tisemitic boor, a drinksod­den, self-hat­ing re­viler of wo­man, gays and lib­er­als”.

The younger Amis rose to the bait. He pointed out that the com­ments on Is­lam had been made in the con­text of the ter­ror­ist threat which brought Heathrow to a stand­still in the sum­mer of 2006 and came from an in­ter­view which was spon­ta­neous, rather than the thought­ful writ­ten word. As for his fa­ther’s short­com­ings, Kings­ley may have been mildly an­tisemitic, but there was no es­cap­ing the fact that he in­cluded Bernard Levin among his friends and three out of the four guests at his sec­ond mar­riage hap­pened to be Jewish.

The beauty of the ex­change be­tween the Marx­ist war­rior and the metropoli­tan lit­er­ary dar­ling is the cast of char­ac­ters it has drawn in. On the side of Ea­gle­ton is the Indy colum­nist Yas­min Alib­hai-Brown, who ac­cused Amis, with whom she had ex­changed friendly drinks at the Chel­tenham lit­er­ary fes­ti­val, of be­ing “with the beasts”.

In an open let­ter to Alib­hai-Brown, the au­thor took on Ea­gle­ton, ac­cus­ing him of be­ing “an ide­o­log­i­cal relic, un­able to get out of bed in the morn­ing with­out the dual guid­ance of God and Karl Marx... an em­bar­rass­ment to the aca­demic pro­fes­sion”.

Among the more rig­or­ous voices rush­ing to de­fend Amis, af­ter he was turned over by Ro­nan Ben­nett in the Guardian, was Christo­pher Hitchens. He ac­cuses Ben­nett of liv­ing in a fan­tasy world for writ­ing that “those who point to the il­le­gal­ity of Is­rael oc­cu­pa­tion are an­ti­semites. Those who protest against the war in Iraq are al-Qaida sym­pa­this­ers and moral rel­a­tivists.”

Hitchens mocks this, not­ing that the world to which Amis is ob­ject­ing is one where hon­our killings and forced mar­riages hap­pen and in which mosques dis­trib­ute tapes call­ing for the mur­der of Jews and Hin­dus. He also chal­lenged Is­lamic views on women and ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

Hitchens ar­gues that all that Amis and oth­ers like him are do­ing is “to ven­ti­late the ques­tion” of big­otry and vi­o­lence. He is re­warded for this with the ac­cu­sa­tion of prej­u­dice.

When Ea­gle­ton wrote his orig­i­nal piece, he could never have en­vis­aged the hor­nets’ nest he would stir. What is re­mark­able is how the left-lib­eral press colum­nists and let­ter-writ­ers have taken it upon them­selves to lam­bast Amis as if he was some kind of lit­er­ary di­nosaur, a chip of the ge­netic block.

One would have thought by now that even the left­ist es­tab­lish­ment had seen enough of Is­lamic ex­trem­ism to tem­per its words. Ap­par­ently it hasn’t. Alex Brum­mer is City Ed­i­tor of the Daily Mail

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