Fourteen essays on the theme that “our understanding of September 11 is incremental and can never hope to be intact and entire.”
Islamism (Islamic fascism to some, Islamofascism to others), notes the ever-provocative British novelist and essayist Amis (House of Meetings, 2007, etc.), may be associated with Saudi Arabia, but it had its modern origins in Greeley, Colo., in 1949. “The story is grotesque and incredible,” he writes, “but then so are its consequences.” One of those curious consequences, familiar to anyone who has experienced war, terror or extreme stress, is boredom, for in such endeavors when one is not scared witless there is by definition not much going on. The war against Islamist terror has, Amis hazards, an especially boring additional component, our presumed inability to begin to communicate with “a mind with which we share no discourse.” Amis’s alignment as a self-described “Islamismophobe” puts him in a similar orbit with sometime friend and sometime rival Christopher Hitchens, save that, unlike Hitchens, Amis does not support the war in Iraq, as one of the pieces, an in-flight interview with Tony Blair, makes clear. (But then, that interview hints, Blair didn’t much like the war either.) Amis is rather less blustery than Hitchens; one piece is a surprisingly empathetic attempt to get inside 9/11 hijacker Muhammad Atta’s mind. As always, Amis proves eminently readable, his observations enlightening. Who other would ascribe to Kuwait City an “almost artistic cheerlessness” that speaks to the deadening touch of women-hating fundamentalism “under a sinister mist of damp dust”? Amis may not make any friends among the PC set, but he makes clear and inarguable the fact that the Islamist enemy is an enemy of reason, just like Hitler and Stalin.
“The only thing Islamism can dominate, for now, is the evening news,” Amis concludes in good fighting spirit. His book fires a welcome, left-tending salvo.