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Crazy Sane
Martin Amis on Islam on Spiked, written by a somewhat tsk-tsking Emily Hill. Hill writes here of a talk Amis gave, and the silly ideas of "tolerance" and multi-culti relativism too many people have -- in England and here in the USA:

Put your hands up, said Amis, if you think you are morally superior to the Taliban. When a minority of the audience did so, Amis muttered: ‘About 30 per cent…’ His implication is that, in our current relativistic climate, it is taboo to assert your superiority to anything – even the Taliban. Anyone who values freedom, Amis says, should have a problem with Islamism. He graphically went through some of the feudal punishments that the Taliban metes out to women who step out of line. ‘We’re in a pious paralysis when we can’t say we’re morally superior to the Taliban’, he said. His attack on cultural relativism is welcome, and it certainly exposed moral sheepishness amongst the assembled at the ICA. But I couldn’t help thinking: is that it? Is that what it means to be ‘Enlightened’ and principled today – to be Not-The-Taliban? Amis didn’t go any further on the matter.

Islam, in Amis’ view, ‘is a religion that’s having a nervous breakdown’. And Islamism is a variation on a death cult – an ‘ideology within a religion, a turbo-charge, steroid version of murderous belief’. He made some interesting points about suicide bombing, describing it as a ‘paltry’ act, signifying nothing but a ‘besplattering’ of the self. What the Islamic world needs, he said, is dramatic progress: ‘Martin Luther, John Calvin… religious wars, then Enlightenment, then you enter the modern world 300 years after that.’ He argued that it is the Western world that is giving Islamism its power to commit atrocity, even helping to legitimise that atrocity, by trying to ‘understand it’. Society does not question or interrogate Islamist values openly out of fear of becoming the target. Amis, however, is the Dirty Harry of the literary world. Come on, mad mullah, make my day. ‘I want to be a target. There are no Switzerland positions here’, he said.

Amis was particularly scathing in his assessment of certain Western liberals who, in the course of ‘listening’ to Islamist grievances, end up treating the views of Osama bin Laden - and those who blow themselves up at his bidding - with respect. Bin Laden, he announced, ‘is the Che Guevara of the current age, the poster boy for this amoral doctrine’. Amis argued that some admire bin Laden’s ascetic lifestyle. ‘He lives in a cave, drinks contaminated water, suffers.’ It’s eco-friendly, borderline holy. But in truth, Amis said, Osama and his crew are not only murderous criminals, they are completely ridiculous figures. ‘At one time’, he said, all Osama’s henchmen ‘had one eye. They are tin-legged zealots, amputeed mullahs, they’re all in bits. Osama is a very stupid man. But he did at least have the wit to stay in one piece.’

John Pilger, the veteran investigative journalist, also came in for a hiding, as did London Mayor Ken Livingstone. Amis quoted Ken’s words: ‘[T]he Palestinians 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.’ Amis then puckered up his lips and blew a fully formed raspberry of disgust. Is blowing yourself up really going to help matters, he asked?

Posted by aalkon at November 1, 2007 9:50 AM

Comments

Meanwhile in the USA, airport security testing continues apace:

ATLANTA -- Authorities are investigating why two men tried to sneak knives and other weapons onto a flight from Atlanta to New York.

One of the men even made it through security and onto the Delta Air Lines flight.

Authorities surrounded 60-year-old Chhaganbhai Patel ... after he was found with a number of knives ...

Authorities also found 20 small knives wrapped in tin foil [AND] ... razor blades hidden in the battery compartment of a toy car.

Another man Patel was traveling with had already made it ... onto the flight, which was bound for New York and then to India.

... police said they found a box cutter and $5,000 cash in the second man's bag.

Posted by: Gog_Magog_Carpet_Reclaimers at November 1, 2007 8:07 AM

Further on in the linked piece, the author’s clumsy slurs against Amis include this gem:

"[V][iolent Islamism, certainly of the al-Qaeda variety, remains a pretty insignificant threat to the Western way of life."

I guess it all comes down to whether and how much you agree with that statement.

Posted by: martin at November 1, 2007 8:26 AM

> In an unfair balance

Those are the magic words. It's not just liberals, but dim bulb nihilists of many kinds want everything to be perfectly even and free of judgment or will. Maybe they (even the atheists) think that's when God steps in to tip the scales.

Posted by: Crid at November 1, 2007 8:41 AM

Islamism sure wasn't an insignificant threat to those 2800 innocents who were incinerated while at work or in flight on 9/11/01. Guess it kinda matters *who* you are, too.

Question is, whether someday (sooner or later) could we step into the shoes of those 9/11 victims? If so, it's a threat to us, too. If not, well, just go back to what you're doing and pay no attention to our rantings.

Posted by: cpabroker at November 1, 2007 9:24 AM

Hmmm. Amis seems to be all over the board here.

The first point about feeling morally superior is a good one. Why would or wouldn't a person feel morally superior to another? I would have been in the 30% that raised their hands, but I haven't particularly analyzed why and it doesn't mean much to me. If someone attacks me on the street, I'm going to fight back. I'll feel morally superior about it, too, but even if I didn't I'd still fight back just as hard.

"There are no Switzerland positions here"

I'll bet there are. Switzerland might even be in one itself. Through long practice they've gotten pretty good at it.

"Osama is a very stupid man"

Apparently he's smart enough to successfully attack the most powerful country in the history of the world and go 6 years without being caught. I've never met the man, so he may indeed be dumb. It's even dumber to underestimate him, though.

Posted by: Shawn at November 1, 2007 11:29 AM

> I'll feel morally superior
> about it, too

And you'll be right about that. Because you were attacked without cause. Get the picture?

The one thing Amis is not is "all over the board." He's got tremendous focus.

Posted by: Crid at November 1, 2007 12:17 PM

Authorities are investigating why two men tried to sneak knives and other weapons onto a flight from Atlanta to New York.

Not that it's relevant. Using box-cutters or knives or to hijack planes in the U.S. was a one time deal. The only way the planes-as-missiles trick works again is if terrorists start getting jobs as pilots.

It's not just liberals, but dim bulb nihilists of many kinds want everything to be perfectly even and free of judgment or will.

I regularly have fun with some of my more liberal friends who trot out moral equivalence arguments when discussing how we combat militant Islam. I remind them that, imperfect though we are in the U.S., we are indisputably morally superior to countries like Iran, where they stone women (with rocks not smokables) for having premarital sex or hang men for being gay.

Posted by: justin case at November 1, 2007 12:25 PM

"Get the picture?"

Honestly, no. At least not very completely. Morality is an issue that I haven't spent enough time thinking about. I don't know what it means to me, hence at the moment I'm cautious about actions or arguments based on it.

"The one thing Amis is not is 'all over the board.' He's got tremendous focus."

My Amis summary:
They're morally inferior.
We have better weapons.
Making an effort to understand them justifies their actions.
Living an ascetic lifestyle does not make up for being a murderer.
Also, they're dumb, ugly and smell bad.
[other stuff]

That, to me, is all over the board.

Posted by: Shawn at November 1, 2007 1:18 PM

"My Amis summary:"

Yes, taking the most cynical and superficial items and ignoring the actual point really helps here.

I think Amis' point is that it's okay to feel morally superior and that too much equivalence-based thinking leads one to excuse behavior that shouldn't be excused. It shouldn't be about tolerance, because the actions involved should be universally considered intolerable regardless of the situation. It shouldn't matter if they're Muslim, Irish, Catholic, or Ohioan. Tolerance applies when someone isn't doing something to YOU. Once they've crossed the line into your space, what they did is what matters - deal with that and argue the why's later.

Killing people purely because their religious beliefs disagree with yours. Moral, or immoral? Easy enough question, and most people would say it's immoral. But when you put it in the perspective of seeming prejudicial against those of other religions, people start getting butterflies in their tummies. "I don't want to be thought of as intolerant!"


Feel free to correct me if any think my interpretation is way off.

Posted by: Jamie at November 1, 2007 1:55 PM

"I think Amis' point is that it's okay to feel morally superior..."

If so, I agree with it, although you do a much more coherent job of making it than the article does.

It seems to me that he has more than one point and it's hard to get any kind of complete feel for most of them.

Posted by: Shawn at November 1, 2007 4:30 PM

> Morality is an issue that
> I haven't spent enough time
> thinking about. I don't know
> what it means to me, hence
> at the moment

Well, for the moment, it means you can use the word "hence" without being mocked as an Alan Alda-vintage undergraduate poseur. Isn't it great to live a morally superior venue like ours? Anyway, almost everyone else who ever lived has given a great deal of time to thinking about morality, and we look forward to your wholehearted, unrestrained participation in the discussion after you've done the reading.

> Making an effort to understand
> them justifies their actions.

Huh?

> Also, they're dumb, ugly
> and smell bad

I musta missed that passage. (He mighta been right if he'd said that, but I don't think he did.)

Posted by: Crid at November 1, 2007 5:40 PM

> > Making an effort to understand
> > them justifies their actions.

> Huh?

From the article:
"He argued that it is the Western world that is giving Islamism its power to commit atrocity, even helping to legitimise that atrocity, by trying to ‘understand it’."

> > Also, they're dumb, ugly
> > and smell bad

> I musta missed that passage. (He mighta been
> right if he'd said that, but I don't think he
> did.)

Again, from the article:
"'He lives in a cave' ...they are completely ridiculous figures. ‘At one time’, he said, all Osama’s henchmen ‘had one eye. They are tin-legged zealots, amputeed mullahs, they’re all in bits. Osama is a very stupid man."

The "smell bad" part was my own addition based on the general tone of what he was saying in that paragraph.

> Anyway, almost everyone else who ever lived has
> given a great deal of time to thinking about
> morality

I understand (hope) that this is sarcasm. Yes, most people don't think about morality and still make arguments about policies with massive consequences based on it. How is that a good thing? Also, when people talk about morality I really don't have any precise idea of what they mean. It frequently seems like just a catch-all classification for "I'm right, but I don't have any logic or evidence to support what I'm saying."

Posted by: Shawn at November 1, 2007 11:48 PM

> From the article:

Hardly the same thing. Also, he's right.

> The "smell bad" part was
> my own addition

Don't do that.

> most people don't think
> about morality and still
> make arguments about policies
> with massive consequences
> based on it

As with so many people I disagree with on Any's blog, its seems like your view of matters is built around a need to look down on the little people. I hate that. The little people have built a handsome little civilization over here, and they ought not be mocked.

Minutes ago I read this a man I admire and thought of you: http://urltea.com/1ytc

---

What Posner really despises, though, is, as he sees it, the whining, sanctimonious pedantry of moral philosophers. Asking oneself whether one's beliefs are justified, he feels, is an esoteric, self-indulgent business, practiced only by those safely ensconced in tenure. Ordinary people are unreflective, simply believing whatever they believe; moreover, moral reflection has never persuaded anyone to change his mind or pursue one course of action over another, and thus is a deluded and useless activity. "Knowing the moral thing to do," he writes, "furnishes no motive, and creates no motivation, for doing it." (The contention that no one has ever been persuaded by a moral argument, and that non-philosophers never question their beliefs, strikes his philosophical critics as so obviously wrong that they have tended to throw up their hands rather than rebut it.)

---

And what I thought is, this guy is so wrong.

Posted by: Crid at November 2, 2007 1:04 AM

"your view of matters is built around a need to look down on the little people."

I don't think of it that way, but I'm sure it's a fair characterization. Two counterpoints: To the degree that I'm "looking down on them," they likely look down on me also. I prefer to use the term "disagree." Second, I don't go to the little people when I want expert assistance. Neither does anybody else with any brains and the money to make the choice.

"And what I thought is, this guy is so wrong."

I think 2 + 2 = 5 is wrong. It doesn't have anything to do with morality. As I said before, I'm unsure, but right now morality strikes me as lipstick on a pig.

Posted by: Shawn at November 2, 2007 5:31 AM

"Asking oneself whether one's beliefs are justified, he feels, is an esoteric, self-indulgent business, practiced only by those safely ensconced in tenure. Ordinary people are unreflective,"
Crid, not sure which point you disagree with of his (moral arguments don't convince anyone, only tenured academics ponder these things, etc) but this was my reaction.

I've seen far more of the latter than the former. However, I don't see the former as self-indulgent either. I see it as an improvement over the former.

I think introspection and questioning one's belief frequently comes from the desire to be responsible for themselves. If you realize that you are responsible for anything you do - regardless of consequences - part of that responsibility is questioning yourself. Those who just "believe what they believe" are more indulgent (in my opinion) because they are being lazy with non-think, taking for granted that however they choose to live (or worse, are TOLD to live by others) is the best way. Seriously questioning yourself is more difficult than just taking it all for granted - that's intellectual laziness.

Posted by: Jamie at November 2, 2007 6:10 AM

> they likely look down
> on me also.

How is this counterpoint? I'm, like, so what?

> I don't go to the little
> people when I want expert
> assistance

You have weird ideas about morality if you think it comes from experts. Despite her enthusiasm for giving advice, Amy's blog is built around distrust of clergy. So is civilization, if you ask me.

> I'm unsure, but right now

I used to adore the radio show Loveline, where young people would phone in and ask a doctor for help with their fucked-up lives. The phrase "right now" was a poker tell. After hearing tales of woe and baseless persecution, the hosts would ask the caller: how do you make your living? And the caller would say "Right now? (...beat...) Uh, right now, I'm flipping burgers... But I'm planning to enroll in Junior College next fall!" Eventually they noticed that nobody ever said "Right now, I'm in my third year as chief litigator at a downtown firm specializing in international shipping, but I hope to open a neurosurgery clinic out by the beach this summer."

> morality strikes me as
> lipstick on a pig.

Remember to tell that to the banker next time you apply for a loan, or to the TSA agent at the metal detector.

> because they are being
> lazy with non-think

Naw, they're just shits, that's all. People who get really insistent that others buckle down and think, think hard, really concentrate and I-mean-it-this-time usually have a terribly strong ideas about what the conclusions of all this thought are supposed to be. I agree with you that there are plenty of people who think the world owes them everything, but I don't think there's a book you can give them or a class they can take that'll enlighten them mechanistically. These people are assholes.

And there are plenty of other people who've given just as much thought to morality as you have, even if they've come up with different conclusions, and we should think twice before snubbing them.

> that's intellectual laziness.

This is an old topic here: What's the difference between intellectual laziness and other kinds? I think that term is just a way to be snotty.

Posted by: Crid at November 2, 2007 10:05 AM

"I don't think there's a book you can give them or a class they can take that'll enlighten them mechanistically. "

I don't think so either. When I have seen people start looking at themselves and ask those sort of questions, it's because they've come to the realization that their current "solution" really isn't working. It's not something that they can be told to do. I think one can be taught or encouraged successfully to do it if it happens when they're young (i.e. while still forming these notions), but even then it isn't guaranteed. By the time they're adults, they have to really hit some kind of wall and have an epiphany to get there.

"And there are plenty of other people who've given just as much thought to morality as you have, even if they've come up with different conclusions, and we should think twice before snubbing them."

I agree. My brother and I disagree about a great many topics concerning stuff like this. However, I at least know that his views were given serious thought. It wasn't just a knee-jerk reaction, or whatever his parents taught him and blindly accepted. If it was a knee-jerk reaction, then there's no point in discussing it, because he wouldn't have much to say other than "because that's what so-and-so told me to do." He's entitled to his conclusion, provided it doesn't directly impact my rights to have mine.

"This is an old topic here: What's the difference between intellectual laziness and other kinds? I think that term is just a way to be snotty."

And I think "non-think" sounds inherently condescending. However, it's frequently an accurate term when used here. To me, intellectual laziness is a lot shorter than saying "not bothering to think about it, and taking the most comfortable/easy route regardless of future consequences." If that's snottiness, then I accept it with general ambivalence.

Posted by: Jamie at November 2, 2007 10:33 AM

> Remember to tell that to the banker next time you
> apply for a loan, or to the TSA agent at the metal
> detector.

I repeat, lipstick on a pig. You seem to think there's some nebulous thing called morality that I'm depending on in these situations. It seems to me that empathy and enlightened self-interest are enough to explain those situations. Feel free to define exactly what you mean by morality.

> You have weird ideas about morality if you think
> it comes from experts.

You have weird ideas about insight if you think it comes from the masses. Of course maybe morality doesn't involve insight or logic or evidence. Once again I await your definition.

> clergy

What? When I said experts I didn't mean experts in having imaginary friends, fleecing the gullible or having sex with children.

> "right now" was a poker tell

I don't know can be and in this case is an accurate answer. Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho. Your Jesuit mind tricks don't work on me, young Crid.
Seriously, I've seen you make many good arguments before and I expected better than this grasping.

Posted by: Shawn at November 2, 2007 3:01 PM

Good luck out there.

Posted by: Crid at November 2, 2007 4:04 PM

"Using box-cutters or knives or to hijack planes in the U.S. was a one time deal. The only way the planes-as-missiles trick works again is if terrorists start getting jobs as pilots."

Actually, it was a four-time deal.

I'm sure you're right, though. No one would attempt to humiliate and harm us by pulling the same trick a fifth time, and they certainly wouldn't continually test our defenses when they heard that 3/4 of the test bombs made it through some of our screeners.

It's common knowledge that after numerous successes, even Lucy Van Pelt gave up pulling the football away from Charlie Brown.

Posted by: Gog_Magog_Carpet_Reclaimers at November 3, 2007 5:43 AM

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