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