Saturday, November 18, 2006

The age of horrorism

Now that the Dems have some power, the left is suddenly taking notice of Islam again...I can't wait for them to solve it.

The age of horrorism (part one)

Martin Amis
Sunday September 10, 2006
The Observer

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of 9/11, one of Britain's most celebrated and original writers analyses - and abhors - the rise of extreme Islamism. In a penetrating and wide-ranging essay he offers a trenchant critique of the grotesque creed and questions the West's faltering response to this eruption of evil.

It was mid-October 2001, and night was closing in on the border city of Peshawar, in Pakistan, as my friend - a reporter and political man of letters - approached a market stall and began to haggle over a batch of T-shirts bearing the likeness of Osama bin Laden. It is forbidden, in Sunni Islam, to depict the human form, lest it lead to idolatry; but here was Osama's lordly visage, on display and on sale right outside the mosque. The mosque now emptied, after evening prayers, and my friend was very suddenly and very thoroughly surrounded by a shoving, jabbing, jeering brotherhood: the young men of Peshawar.

At this time of day, their equivalents, in the great conurbations of Europe and America, could expect to ease their not very sharp frustrations by downing a lot of alcohol, by eating large meals with no dietary restrictions, by racing around to one another's apartments in powerful and expensive machines, by downing a lot more alcohol as well as additional stimulants and relaxants, by jumping up and down for several hours on strobe-lashed dancefloors, and (in a fair number of cases) by having galvanic sex with near-perfect strangers. These diversions were not available to the young men of Peshawar.

More proximately, just over the frontier, the West was in the early stages of invading Afghanistan and slaughtering Pakistan's pious clients and brainchildren, the Taliban, and flattening the Hindu Kush with its power and its rage. More proximately still, the ears of these young men were still fizzing with the battlecries of molten mullahs, and their eyes were smarting anew to the chalk-thick smoke from the hundreds of thousands of wood fires - fires kindled by the multitudes of exiles and refugees from Afghanistan, camped out all around the city. There was perhaps a consciousness, too, that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, over the past month, had reversed years of policy and decided to sacrifice the lives of its Muslim clients and brainchildren, over the border, in exchange for American cash. So when the crowd scowled out its question, the answer needed to be a good one.

'Why you want these? You like Osama?'

I can almost hear the tone of the reply I would have given - reedy, wavering, wholly defeatist. As for the substance, it would have been the reply of the cornered trimmer, and intended, really, just to give myself time to seek the foetal position and fold my hands over my face. Something like: 'Well I quite like him, but I think he overdid it a bit in New York.' No, that would not have served. What was needed was boldness and brilliance. The exchange continued:

'You like Osama?'

'Of course. He is my brother.'

'He is your brother?'

'All men are my brothers.'

All men are my brothers. I would have liked to have said it then, and I would like to say it now: all men are my brothers. But all men are not my brothers. Why? Because all women are my sisters. And the brother who denies the rights of his sister: that brother is not my brother. At the very best, he is my half-brother - by definition. Osama is not my brother.

Religion is sensitive ground, as well it might be. Here we walk on eggshells. Because religion is itself an eggshell. Today, in the West, there are no good excuses for religious belief - unless we think that ignorance, reaction and sentimentality are good excuses. This is of course not so in the East, where, we acknowledge, almost every living citizen in many huge and populous countries is intimately defined by religious belief. The excuses, here, are very persuasive; and we duly accept that 'faith' - recently and almost endearingly defined as 'the desire for the approval of supernatural beings' - is a world-historical force and a world-historical actor. All religions, unsurprisingly, have their terrorists, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, even Buddhist. But we are not hearing from those religions. We are hearing from Islam.
All writers of fiction will at some point find themselves abandoning a piece of work - or find themselves putting it aside, as we gently say. The original idea, the initiating 'throb' (Nabokov), encounters certain 'points of resistance' (Updike); and these points of resistance, on occasion, are simply too obdurate, numerous, and pervasive. You come to write the next page, and it's dead - as if your subconscious, the part of you quietly responsible for so much daily labour, has been neutralised, or switched off. Norman Mailer has said that one of the few real sorrows of 'the spooky art' is that it requires you to spend too many days among dead things. Recently, and for the first time in my life, I abandoned, not a dead thing, but a thriving novella; and I did so for reasons that were wholly extraneous. I am aware that this is hardly a tectonic event; but for me the episode was existential. In the West, writers are acclimatised to freedom - to limitless and gluttonous freedom. And I discovered something. Writing is freedom; and as soon as that freedom is in shadow, the writer can no longer proceed. The shadow, in this case, was not a fear of repercussion. It was as if, most reluctantly, I was receiving a new vibration or frequency from the planetary shimmer. The novella was a satire called The Unknown Known

Secretary Rumsfeld was unfairly ridiculed, some thought, for his haiku-like taxonomy of the terrorist threat:

'The message is: there are known "knowns". There are things that we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.'

Like his habit of talking in 'the third person passive once removed', this is 'very Rumsfeldian'. And Rumsfeld can be even more Rumsfeldian than that. According to Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, at a closed-door senatorial briefing in September 2002 (the idea was to sell regime-change in Iraq), Rumsfeld exasperated everyone present with a torrent of Rumsfeldisms, including the following strophe: 'We know what we know, we know there are things we do not know, and we know there are things we know we don't know we don't know.' Anyway, the three categories remain quite helpful as analytical tools. And they certainly appealed very powerfully to the narrator of The Unknown Known - Ayed, a diminutive Islamist terrorist who plies his trade in Waziristan, the rugged northern borderland where Osama bin Laden is still rumoured to lurk.

Ayed's outfit, which is called 'the "Prism"', used to consist of three sectors named, not very imaginatively, Sector One, Sector Two and Sector Three. But Ayed and his colleagues are attentive readers of the Western press, and the sectors now have new titles. Known Knowns (sector one) concerns itself with daily logistics: bombs, mines, shells, and various improvised explosive devices. The work of Known Unknowns (sector two) is more peripatetic and long-term; it involves, for example, trolling around North Korea in the hope of procuring the fabled 25 kilograms of enriched uranium, or going from factory to factory in Uzbekistan on a quest for better toxins and asphyxiants. In Known Knowns, the brothers are plagued by fires and gas-leaks and almost daily explosions; the brothers in Known Unknowns are racked by headaches and sore throats, and their breath, tellingly, is rich with the aroma of potent coughdrops, moving about as they do among vats of acids and bathtubs of raw pesticides. Everyone wants to work where Ayed works, which is in sector three, or Unknown Unknowns. Sector three is devoted to conceptual breakthroughs - to shifts in the paradigm.

I think Amis may have abandoned his novella for one of the same reasons I abandoned my doomsday screenplay that involved Islamists.

Perhaps at some basic level, his survival instinct kicked in and told him not to publish a freaking road map for them to follow.

After 9/11, I contributed a few ideas to fighting the War on Terror, via a screenwriter here who has written some of the most famous action movies, and is consulted, on a regular basis, by the Pentagon and CIA during "brainstorming" sessions

The idea was to come up with terrorist scenarios that no one had thought of before... what he calls Rumsfeld's Unknown Unknowns.

And after 9/11, I wanted to do whatever possible I could To Help Save Civilization From These Animals, given my existing tools, which consisted of little more than a vivid imagination and a computer, in order to help prevent what happened that day from ever happening again.

And that's why, when I came up with a terrifying scenario that I was sure would be an amazing action movie, I stopped 30 pages into it, after the completion of the first act. And deleted it.

There was no reason for me to make this plan known to the world, other than my own financial and ego-enrichment. And every reason not to.

I also wonder how honest Amis is being with himself.

He's seen what Salmon Rushdie's life is like. They are friends.

And he's seen the Daniel Pearl video too.

Is there an element of Thanatos driving his need to publish *some* of the details... a war within his own head... one side with his own survival instinct, both for his own life, and for the life of his country and his civilization, and the other side his own self-loathing, his own suicidal urges, an urge that every writer worth reading has struggled with at one time or another.

Or is Martin Amis just a coward, and the rest is fancy rationalization? Perhaps.


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