[Marxism] Eagleton versus Amis, part 2
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
Wednesday October 10, 2007
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
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