The age of horrorism

Martin Amis writes an incredible piece in the Observer on the rise and status of Islamism (distinct from Islam). The piece is also incredibly long and though I recommend it, I will do you the service of snipping a few of the good bits. Do let this tempt you to read it all:

So, to repeat, we respect Islam – the donor of countless benefits to mankind, and the possessor of a thrilling history. But Islamism? No, we can hardly be asked to respect a creedal wave that calls for our own elimination. More, we regard the Great Leap Backwards as a tragic development in Islam’s story, and now in ours. Naturally we respect Islam. But we do not respect Islamism, just as we respect Muhammad and do not respect Muhammad Atta. . . . . . .

The most extreme Islamists want to kill everyone on earth except the most extreme Islamists; but every jihadi sees the need for eliminating all non-Muslims, either by conversion or by execution. And we now know what happens when Islamism gets its hands on an army (Algeria) or on something resembling a nation state (Sudan). In the first case, the result was fratricide, with 100,000 dead; in the second, following the Islamist coup in 1989, the result has been a kind of rolling genocide, and the figure is perhaps two million. . . .

[On the world view of Sayyid Qutb, founder of Islamism, whose story Amis tells:] The emptiness, the mere iteration, at the heart of his philosophy is steadily colonised by a vast entanglement of bitternesses; and here, too, we detect the presence of that peculiarly Islamist triumvirate (codified early on by Christopher Hitchens) of self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-hatred – the self-righteousness dating from the seventh century, the self-pity from the 13th (when the ‘last’ Caliph was kicked to death in Baghdad by the Mongol warlord Hulagu), and the self-hatred from the 20th. And most astounding of all, in Qutb, is the level of self-awareness, which is less than zero. It is as if the very act of self-examination were something unmanly or profane: something unrighteous, in a word.

Still, one way or the other, Qutb is the father of Islamism. Here are the chief tenets he inspired: that America, and its clients, are jahiliyya (the word classically applied to pre-Muhammadan Arabia – barbarous and benighted); that America is controlled by Jews; that Americans are infidels, that they are animals, and, worse, arrogant animals, and are unworthy of life; that America promotes pride and promiscuity in the service of human degradation; that America seeks to ‘exterminate’ Islam – and that it will accomplish this not by conquest, not by colonial annexation, but by example. . . .

[And then on the use of suicide and murder as Islamism’s weapon of choice:] Suicide-mass murder is more than terrorism: it is horrorism. It is a maximum malevolence. . . .

By the summer of 2005, suicide-mass murder had evolved. In Iraq, foreign jihadis, pilgrims of war, were filing across the borders to be strapped up with explosives and nails and nuts and bolts, often by godless Baathists with entirely secular aims – to be primed like pieces of ordnance and then sent out the same day to slaughter their fellow Muslims. Suicide-mass murder, in other words, had passed through a phase of decadence and was now on the point of debauchery. In a single month (May), there were more human bombings in Iraq than during the entire intifada. And this, on 25 July, was the considered response of the Mayor of London to the events of 7 July:

‘Given that they don’t have jet planes, don’t have tanks, they only have their bodies to use as weapons. In an unfair balance, that’s what people use.’

I remember a miserable little drip of a poem, c2002, that made exactly the same case. No, they don’t have F-16s. Question: would the Mayor like them to have F-16s? And, no, their bodies are not what ‘people’ use. They are what Islamists use. And we should weigh, too, the spiritual paltriness of such martyrdoms. ‘Martyr’ means witness. The suicide-mass murderer witnesses nothing – and sacrifices nothing. He dies for vulgar and delusive gain. And on another level, too, the rationale for ‘martyrdom operations’ is a theological sophistry of the blackest cynicism. Its aim is simply the procurement of delivery systems. . . .

[On Islamism against other isms:] Like fundamentalist Judaism and medieval Christianity, Islam is totalist. That is to say, it makes a total claim on the individual. Indeed, there is no individual; there is only the umma – the community of believers. . . .

So Islam, in the end, proved responsive to European influence: the influence of Hitler and Stalin. And one hardly needs to labour the similarities between Islamism and the totalitarian cults of the last century. Anti-semitic, anti-liberal, anti-individualist, anti-democratic, and, most crucially, anti-rational, they too were cults of death, death-driven and death-fuelled. The main distinction is that the paradise which the Nazis (pagan) and the Bolsheviks (atheist) sought to bring about was an earthly one, raised from the mulch of millions of corpses. For them, death was creative, right enough, but death was still death. For the Islamists, death is a consummation and a sacrament; death is a beginning. . . .

There is no momentum, in Islam, for a reformation. And there is no time, now, for a leisurely, slow-lob enlightenment. The necessary upheaval is a revolution – the liberation of women. . . .

Millennial Islamism is an ideology superimposed upon a religion – illusion upon illusion. It is not merely violent in tendency. Violence is all that is there. . . .

  • Jim

    Civilization is on the decline around the world. The world is in a state of terror, war and alarm. If it’s not terrorists scaring the people, it’s some government doing it. I don’t pay much attention to all of it. I’m busy today. I need to water the garden, fix some dinner and organize a few things. I’m doing some writing here and there. The last thing I want to think about is the horror that surrounds me everywhere. I keep trying to forget about it. It’s always in your face on the TV. I’m not at war, it just seems like that sometimes because it’s a new kind of war so they say. We’re in the new new age of war. Can’t find a remedy on my TV, it’s nothing but the same old bad news.

  • penny

    Martin Amis has written perhaps the most accurate and chilling summation of the evil we face than anyone I’ve read in the past five years.

    Islam, as distinct from Islamism, as distinct from Islamofascism, as distinct from a Death Cult…….as I read on I felt he was not making hard distinctions. If he was, they were with his own pen fading and falling apart.

    His fictionalized conversation between OBL and John Walker Lindh contains this nugget:

    “Now would be a good time to strike, John would tell Osama, because the West is enfeebled, not just by sex and alcohol, but also by 30 years of multicultural relativism. They’ll think suicide bombing is just an exotic foible, like shame-and-honour killings or female circumcision. Besides, it’s religious, and they’re always slow to question anything that calls itself that.”

    So much for the Left’s continued charade of moral equivalency and vacuous multi-culti posturing that dictates all cultures and religions be accorded equal status.

  • Sorry, I just find such broad stroke essays unhelpful. Tagging people as “evil”, for example, forestalls any analysis of their motivations.

    The US has many times allied itself with evil groups, sometimes to prevent a bigger evil, but in many cases for selfish reasons of its own.

    That there are groups of religous fundamentalists who want to remake society along their lines is always true. Iran is a current, moderately successful, example. But to think that these people have global ambitions, or even if they do, that they represent a real international threat is a subjective conclusion.

    There are many nominal Muslims just as there are many nominal Christians or Jews and expecting that they would be willing to give up their, mostly secular, lifestyles for a theocracy has not been demonstrated.

    I find this current theme remeniscent of the same claims made about the threat of global communism for the 40 years following the end of WWII. It turned out that much of the “information” about the degree of threat was not accurate as the collapse of the USSR revealed.

    Who stands to gain from this type of demonizing are the military and intelligence agencies. Without an imminent threat to point to they are at risk of having their budgets cut. Under Bush the military budget has doubled, so the transition to a new enemy has worked from a bureaucratic point of view.

    I’d like to see some thoughtful essays from regional experts, rather than from someone with little expertise.

  • penny

    Sorry, I just find such broad stroke essays unhelpful…..I’d like to see some thoughtful essays from regional experts, rather than from someone with little expertise.

    Robert, perhaps you missed that threaded throughout the essay were quotes from “regional experts” by name. The piece was anchored with a lot of scholarly research.

    But, then, maybe you didn’t notice that?

    No footnotes. No Robert. To each his own.

  • Penny:
    Quoting others always filters what is used through the lens of the person doing the quoting.

    So one thing doesn’t preclude my wish to have more thoughtful essays from people with direct experience.

    We are never going to agree on the degree of threat posed by extremists, but trying to assess the level of danger does not make one an apologist. Neither does trying to understand their motivations. “Know thine enemy” and all that.

    Misreading your enemies intentions or capabilities can cause bad choices to be made which can actually have the opposite effect than what is desired. Look up the story of the Maginot Line for a famous example of misreading an enemy’s plans.

    Today someone said in a Times editorial that the US is engaged in “security theater”. If, so this is a dangerous game. We need real security, which may be more effective but less visible. I fail to see how soldiers with M16’s in Penn Station provide useful security. In the event of an incident would they start firing into a crowd of commuters?

    On the other hand changing the patterns of chemical storage and transport could be useful, but is apparently lagging behind in implementation. One is visible and, perhaps, meant to reassure people that steps are being taken, the other, if done well, is invisible and thus has no psychological effect.

  • kat

    Who would such regional experts be?? Muslims ? James Zogby who says we need to understand islam better–does he mean we become one or understand the sugar coated version? And then that guy on ABC who claims we are just ignorant for not understanding the terrorists and that Bush has caused us to be uneasy by denouncing islamic terrorists. What the hell is he supposed to do–praise them and hail them as martyrs?

    This is an excellent article. We need to understand the scum that is hell bent on destroying the world as it is and trying to force that islamic shit they believe in, on us. We can’t all be as selfish as Jim and think the world revolves around us. The people who died 5 years ago weren’t at war either. They were attacked for allah. They will never again water a garden, fix dinner, or organize a few things. Islamists saw to that.

  • Jim

    “I fail to see how soldiers with M16’s in Penn Station provide useful security. In the event of an incident would they start firing into a crowd of commuters?”

    I think that is done to keep people calm by scaring the hell out of everybody. We keep hearing it’s a new kind of enemy and all of that. They do the auto weapons show at airports. Give up your hairspray or we’ll spray this place with bullets. When I see this sort of thing, I think of Kent State in Ohio. There they did open fire on Americans. When the government decides we need war, it’s public and public opinion be damned. Military force is trained to destroy targets, not police an area. Police prevent killing, not engage in killing. That’s the reason for limits on using the military in civilian areas. They have the military acting as police in Iraq and the police using military tactics here in the U.S.. It’s typical of how things are being done. It’s not a convention enemy, but we are fighting it with a conventional war strategy. We have the ability to defeat the enemy, we have the will and the manpower. The people running this out of Washington are getting our service people killed because of a failed strategy. All we keep hearing is how well it’s going. I don’t think most people are buying it. We’ll see what happens in November. One party rule makes for all sorts of unchecked shenanigans. In Iraq nobody is in charge. It’s getting better, yeah right!

  • Jim

    What to do kat? In the old days they killed the leaders, now they kill innocent people. I can’t afford a security detail. If they get me they get me. I’m not going to stop doing what I want to do. My neighbor was in the Air Force. Like he said we deal with all this shit, so you don’t have to. This sleazy politics of you’re with us or with the terrorists is nonsense. So you open up with this guilt trip of how people who didn’t get killed should feel like shit about watering a garden or living because other people were killed by “islamists”. I guess I’m no better than a piece of crap terrorist for watering the garden and having dinner in your opinion. Take a pill.

  • Jim

    I think we can determine that kat is totally nuts.

  • Jim

    “We need to understand the scum that is hell bent on destroying the world as it is and trying to force that islamic shit they believe in, on us.”

    I believe that half the CIA is on that job along with the FBI and who knows who. Hey guys, check with kat, who figured all this out for the rest of us. I think there’s an effort to convert all the Presbyterians in NYC to “islamic shit”. Won’t happen but check with kat on this. Screw understanding scum, kill them all and let God sort them out.

  • penny

    Jeff, I feel sorry for you. You posted Martin Amis’ brilliant and timely essay and immediately out of the woodwork on cue come the idiotic Usual Suspects that haunt your site.

    I’m all for freedom of speech, but, isn’t is time to address idiocy when it tracks up your carpet? They may be why intelligent folks hesitate to post.

  • Jim

    Oh poor Jeff. Spare us the sympathy bit. All the smarties like you are watching ABC tonight instead of here bitching about what other people write on buzzmachine.

  • Reviewed yesterday in the NY Times:
    “What Terrorists Want – Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat” by Louise Richardson

    The subhead:
    “A terrorism expert and Harvard professor examines the origins of militant movements and how to combat them.”

    I suggest we all read the book and resume this discussion after we have.

  • So much for the Left’s continued charade of moral equivalency and vacuous multi-culti posturing that dictates all cultures and religions be accorded equal status.

    That’s funny — I thought we on the Left were the ones who were intolerant of intolerance, and it was the Right who were making all the goo-goo eyes at the “Islamofascists” all the way up until September 10th on account of agreeing on so many things like the proper place of women, homosexuals, and blasphemers.

    Then again, I did leave my Little Red Book at home today, so I might be mistaken…

  • While I’m not sure I agree with Martin Amis’ central premise that the West is somehow faltering in its response to the threat of Islamist terror (how many more countries in the Middle East must we knock over in order to prove our resolve?), he does hit the ball out of the park at the conclusion of his essay:

    All religions are violent; and all ideologies are violent. Even Westernism, so impeccably bland, has violence glinting within it. This is because any belief system involves a degree of illusion, and therefore cannot be defended by mind alone. When challenged, or affronted, the believer’s response is hormonal; and the subsequent collision will be one between a brain and a cat’s cradle of glands. I will never forget the look on the gatekeeper’s face, at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, when I suggested, perhaps rather airily, that he skip some calendric prohibition and let me in anyway. His expression, previously cordial and cold, became a mask; and the mask was saying that killing me, my wife, and my children was something for which he now had warrant. I knew then that the phrase ‘deeply religious’ was a grave abuse of that adverb. Something isn’t deep just because it’s all that is there; it is more like a varnish on a vacuum. Millennial Islamism is an ideology superimposed upon a religion – illusion upon illusion. It is not merely violent in tendency. Violence is all that is there.

  • steve

    “The facts… speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation…

    Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

    I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

    Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

    With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounded determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.”

    December 8, 1941

  • Patrick

    With enough scholarship to buttress his anecdotes, Martin Amis has published a rhetorical tour de force that, amazingly enough, confirms what all rational agents in Western civilization have suspected for some time: that Islamism, which apparently is so readily distinguishable from Islam, and both of which can be readily described in such broad and sweeping terms, is in fact the new fascism; what is more, it is the worst kind of fascism imaginable since it is the death cult of all death cults and absolutely anathema to women as such, who are nothing more than chattel slaves, if that.

    Way to play the feminism card.

    Islam and Islamism are both world-historical forces that comprehend the entirety of local struggles going on from North Africa to Pakistan to Indonesia.

    I guess the neocons were right after all about the war on “Islamism”, it’s just that their tactics were completely wrong and they themselves were doomed by their own arrogance.

    Islamism and it’s ilk are utterly irrational and completely driven by ideology, whereas the West, for all it’s fault and moral shortcomings, is at least rational and therefore open.

    These sorts of opinions, which have their own ideological biases, masquerading as reasonable positions scare me just as much as what Amis depicts in his piece. Since the new fascism has been adequately described by a host of others including Bernard Lewis and now Martin Amis, you’re either against it or . . . . ?

  • Sam

    Where is the harm in stating Islamism is bent on destroying civilization for a ridiculous cause? Is this not a true statement? Also, feminism doesn’t exist in the Islamic world. Women barely do. I don’t think Amis is playing anything when he offers this as an avenue of peace. As for Patrick’s succinct definition of Islam and Islamism being “forces that comprehend”, I don’t think that any one opposed to Islamism is stating this. To do so would render that person incompetent.
    And yes, we all know that planning for the assault on terrorists worldwide has been messy. I wouldn’t have pictured it any other way. I can’t imagine raiding an apartment with suspected terrorists without thinking of the worst-case scenario. But it is because they hold the death first card that biased accounts of Islamism exist in the first place. And yes, as Amis explained moderate Islam has no voice just as a moderate position against Islamism can not exist. You are either for it or against it.