Yesterday, I finished reading The Second Plane, Martin Amis’s new book of essays and short stories (all reprinted from various newspapers and magazines). It’s occasionally repetitive (and if you’ve heard any of the interviews with Front Row or Simon Mayo or anyone else you’ve probably encountered some of highlights already). The two short stories are disappointing - apparently wearing research as heavily as McEwan has in his recent fiction. AMis acknowledges the articles have been lightly edited if at all since original publication. This is a pity.
On this first reading a couple of passages were of particular interest.
First, prior to the launch of war against Iraq Amis wrote in “The Wrong War” comparing the treatment of Iraq and North Korea, He perceptively noted that,
“even without WMDs North Korea could inflcit a million casulaties on its southern neighbour by flattening Seoul. Iraq couldn’t manage anything on this scale, so you could attack it. North Korea could, so you couldn’t. The imponderables of the proliferation age were becoming ponderable, Once a nation has done the risky and nauseous work of acquisition, it becomes unattackable. A single untested nuclear weapon may be a libaility. But five or six constitute a deterrent.
“From this it crucially follows that we are going to war with Iraq because it doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction. Or not many.” (p 24)
And the following passage in an article for The Times entitled “September 11″ written last year reminded me of aspects of Nick Cohen’s What’s Left.
“We are drowsily accustomed by now, to the fetishistaion of “balance”, the ground rule of “Moral equivalence” in all conflicts between West and East, the 100-per-cent and 360 degree inability to pass judgment on any ethnicity other than our own (except in the case of Israel). And yet the handclappers of Question Time had moved beyond the old formula of pious paralysis. This was not equivalence; this was hemispherical abjection. Accordingly, given the choice between George Bush and Osama bin Laden, the liberal relativist, it seems, is obliged to plump for the Saudi, thus becoming the appeaser of an armed doctrine with the following tenets: it is racist, misogynist, homophobic, totalitarian, inquisitional, imperialist, and genocidal.” (pp 199 – 200)
Amis can still phrase make, but the most memorable in the book comes (in part) from someone else,
“the Middle East is clearly unable, for now, to sustain democratic rule – for the simple reason that its peoples will vote against it. Did no one whisper in the SItutaion Room – did no one say what shcolars have been saying for years? The “electoral policy” of the fundamentalists, writes Lewis, “has been classically summarised as “One man (men only), one vote, once”", Or, in Harris’s trope, democracy will be “little more than a gangplank to theocracy”" (p 84)
I’ve read a few things now around the clash between Islam or Islam-ism and iiberal western values, and still feel that I’m groping my way towards some form of understanding. However, what I have to trust is that my belief in the core liberal values of a western democracy, what we still refer to as the rule of law and those principles, civil liberties, which have been steadily eroded by the responses of our government to terrorist attacks and the perceived threat of attacks, remains fundamental.
Anyway, while I grapple with these issues,in the interim I turn to Crusaders by Richard T Kelly, a novel of the mid to late 1990s in the north east, and thus far good stuff.