In an essay for the Guardian UK, writer Ronan Bennett takes novelist Martin Amis to task for his alleged racism towards Muslims.
We can dispense with Amis’s polite fiction that he is talking about “Islamism”; there are just too many generalisations (“The impulse towards rational inquiry,” Amis wrote elsewhere, “is by now very weak in the rank and file of the Muslim male”), too many references to “them” and “us”. When he says, for example, “they” are gaining on “us” demographically, he is demonstrably not talking about “Islamists”. The danger of being overrun, outnumbered, outbred is a repugnant trope beloved of supremacists everywhere (it was used by the Evening Standard about “aliens” 100 years ago). It is, for example, horribly familiar to Arab Israelis, and to Irish Catholics (from whom Eagleton is descended). When Amis voices his fears of being overrun, he is, and he knows he is, perpetuating and enhancing the spectre of the other, and loading it with the potent imagery of swarming poverty, violence and ignorance.
I haven’t read Amis’s particular remarks here, so I can’t comment on them, but I have seen him behave like an ass in print before, and very little he says would surprise me.
However, there’s a far more interesting point here: is criticizing Islam racist? I don’t think so. Bennett himself disagrees, saying this:
Those who claim that Islamophobia can’t be racist, because Islam is a religion not a race, are fooling themselves: religion is not only about faith but also about identity, background and culture, and Muslims are overwhelmingly non-white. Islamophobia is racist, and so is antisemitism.
But a few paragraphs down he talks about the “sheer variety of belief” and “cultural diversity” within Islam.
I think the Muslim faith is generally infantile and dangerous. But I also feel that way about Christianity and Judaism. (I tend to look more kindly upon Hindus and Buddhists…not because I think their beliefs are any less stupid, but because they seem to be far more lassaiz faire than the Big Three in the West. There’s nothing, so far as I know, in Hindu or Buddhist faith about killing or converting infidels. So they’re definitely a lot less dangerous.) I do think that Amis’s statement that rational inquiry is short on the ground in the Muslim population is probably true…but the same can be said of fundamentalist Christians or orthodox Jews.
On the other hand…well, I can’t remember the last time the Pope issued a death edict to anybody for suggesting that Christ may have been making it all up, or that Jews rioted violently over cartoons mocking Moses, or the last time someone was arrested and threatened with serious beating and/or death for naming a teddy bear Jesus. Despite the excesses of Mossad, Jews are not particularly known for suicide bombing.
Is it some sort of Western cultural imperialism to suggest that killing people for disagreeing with or disregarding your faith is pretty goddamn barbaric? That stoning women to death for perceived misbehavior — another act that happens at least a few times a year in Islamic communities, and not so much in Christian or Judaic communities — is something other than merely a different cultural norm?
And if the Islamic community in general is really so outraged and scandalized by these lunatic behaviors, why do those who commit them generally go unpunished either in secular or religious courts?
I do not believe this has anything to do with any particular ethnic groups within the Islamic diaspora at large. For many centuries, Arabic culture was far more rational and refined than European culture, by anybody’s standards, for example. I don’t even think that intolerance, barbarism and misogyny are indelible signifiers of Islam itself. And I believe that there is much of philosophical and sociocultural value to be found in the Qu’ran, as there is in the Bible and the Talmud and the Bhaghavad-Gita, even if you do not choose to join the faiths associated with these works.
But it’s hard to argue that, out of the three belief systems that dominate in the West, Islam does seem to produce the most violence both within and without its ranks.
I don’t think this means Islam should be suppressed (or at least, suppressed any more than any other religion), or that Muslims ought to be persecuted. People have a right to their beliefs, no matter how goofy.
But I do think that the Islamic community at large might want to think about reconsidering the tolerance with which it handles the more lunatic fringe within itself. Or hire some better PR people.
Of course, you could say the same thing of Martin Amis.