[Marxism] Eagleton versus Amis, part 2

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Oct 10 07:34:47 MDT 2007

Rebuking obnoxious views is not just a personality kink

I took Martin Amis to task for advocating the hounding of Muslims, but 
this has been reduced to an academic spat

Terry Eagleton
Wednesday October 10, 2007
The Guardian

In an essay entitled The Age of Horrorism published last month, the 
novelist Martin Amis advocated a deliberate programme of harassing the 
Muslim community in Britain. "The Muslim community," he wrote, "will 
have to suffer until it gets its house in order. What sort of suffering? 
Not letting them travel. Deportation - further down the road. Curtailing 
of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they're from the 
Middle East or from Pakistan ... Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts 
the whole community and they start getting tough with their children..."

Amis was not recommending these tactics for criminals or suspects only. 
He was proposing them as punitive measures against all Muslims, guilty 
or innocent. The idea was that by hounding and humiliating them as a 
whole, they would return home and teach their children to be obedient to 
the White Man's law. There seems something mildly defective about this 

In fact, I wrote so in a new introduction to my book Ideology: An 
Introduction, little suspecting that a volume that investigates Lukacs 
and Adorno would be seized upon by the Daily Express. The press last 
week resounded with the Amis-Eagleton row. But why? Because there were 
vital political issues at stake here? Not in the least. What caught the 
media's eye was the fact that Amis and I are members of the same school 
of arts at Manchester University. It was the prospect of a senior common 
room punch-up (not that we have anything as posh as a senior common room 
at Manchester) that set even the broadsheet press slavering. The 
question of whether or not to insult a whole sector of the population 
was instantly reduced to a departmental spat (not that we have anything 
as dangerously autonomous as departments at Manchester).

Even Professor John Sutherland, who ought to know better, engaged in 
this trivial pursuit in his Guardian blog. Was this, he implied, a 
deliberately timed broadside by a crusty old Marxist to coincide with 
Amis's arrival at Manchester as a professor of creative writing? No 
doubt some will insist this is the unsavoury truth, just as there are 
those who refuse to believe that Henri Paul was drunk in charge of a 
princess. In fact, I had no idea when I wrote the piece that Amis was 
about to become my colleague, and it makes no difference either way. The 
views he expressed are vile, and saying so was my only point.

Sutherland is concerned that I may have got Amis into hot water. After 
my intemperate diatribe, will Muslims and other minorities really want 
to attend his Manchester classes? Or have I let him in (with malicious 
forethought, perhaps) for a torrent of politically correct abuse? 
Astonishingly, Sutherland seems not to consider that Amis may have let 
himself in for such critical debate by writing what he did. The real 
crime in the professor's view is to have drawn attention to Amis's 
words. Perhaps it would have been healthier for liberal democracy to 
have hushed the thing up, so that insensate student radicals do not 
swarm into Amis's classes on Nabokov and string him up by his thumbs.

Sutherland even gently insinuates that one might be censured for such 
uncollegial conduct. Perhaps forcible political disagreements with 
colleagues should land you on the dean's carpet, like playground 
brawlers before the beak. Would this include feminists objecting to 
sexist comments? Or is it alright if they do so sotto voce

I had imagined that liberals such as Sutherland were all for a free 
market in ideas. So they are; it's just outright conflict that they find 
distasteful. There is scarcely a word in Sutherland's piece about the 
obnoxiousness of Amis's views. The same was true of the press reaction 
as a whole. A Sunday Times profile of me attributed my wrath to a 
visceral, punk-like obsession with clobbering others. Rebuking 
influential writers who propose the strip-searching of innocent Muslims 
is just a kind of personality kink.

If they cannot find a flaw in your reasoning, the great radical William 
Hazlitt wrote, they will certainly find one in your reputation. In his 
usual intellectually slovenly style, Rod Liddle accuses Marxists such as 
myself of supporting "Islamism", despite the fact that blowing the heads 
off little children in the name of Allah was not exactly what Marx had 
in mind. Amis's panic-stricken reaction to 9/11 is part of a wider 
hysteria that has swept over sections of the liberal left, one to which 
creative writers seem particularly prone.

Suicide bombers must be stopped forcibly in their tracks to protect the 
innocent. But there is something rather stomach-churning at the sight of 
those such as Amis and his political allies, champions of a civilisation 
that for centuries has wreaked untold carnage throughout the world, 
shrieking for illegal measures when they find themselves for the first 
time on the sticky end of the same treatment.

Is there a media conspiracy against me? You bet there is. The Sunday 
Times asked the Manchester University press office for a mugshot of me 
for its profile, and we graciously obliged. The paper then used the 
photo to draw a portrait that made me look a lot balder than I am. If 
that isn't cause for litigation, I don't know what is.

· Terry Eagleton is John Edward Taylor professor of English literature 
at Manchester University

comment at guardian.co.uk

More information about the Marxism mailing list