Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ready, Amis, Fire …

Just when you start to believe that today’s writers are only in it for the Ferraris and hot chicks, along comes Ronan Bennett (right). In a piece in Monday’s Guardian, the author of ZUGWANG takes Martin Amis to task in no uncertain terms for what Bennett believes are Amis’s inflammatory remarks about Muslims. Bennett, who was wrongly convicted of murdering an RUC officer in 1974, and spent 18 months imprisoned in Long Kesh, was subsequently arrested in London in the mid-’70s for the now-legendary offence of “conspiring to commit crimes unknown against persons unknown in places unknown” and tried at the Old Bailey in the so-called ‘anarchists’ trial’. Acquitted after defending himself in court, he has perhaps more capacity than most for the ‘imaginative sympathy’ he believes is lacking in the West for a persecuted minority. The gist, proceeding by excerpts, runneth thusly:
What do you make of the following statement: “Asians are gaining on us demographically at a huge rate. A quarter of humanity now and by 2025 they’ll be a third. Italy’s down to 1.1 child per woman. We’re just going to be outnumbered.” While we’re at it, what do you think of this, incidentally from the same speaker: “The Black community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.” Or this, the same speaker again: “I just don’t hear from moderate Judaism, do you?” And (yes, same speaker): “Strip-searching Irish people. Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole Irish community and they start getting tough with their children.” The speaker was Martin Amis and, yes, the quotations have been modified, with Asians, Blacks and Irish here substituted for Muslims, and Judaism for Islam - though, it should be stressed, these are the only amendments. Terry Eagleton, professor of English literature at Manchester University, where Amis has also started to teach, recently quoted the remarks in a new edition of his book IDEOLOGY: AN INTRODUCTION. Amis, Eagleton claimed, was advocating nothing less than the “hounding and humiliation” of Muslims so “they would return home and teach their children to be obedient to the White Man’s law”. […] The views quoted by Eagleton first appeared last year, in an interview Amis [right] gave to Ginny Dougary of the Times. That they passed with virtually no comment at the time says a great deal about the depoliticised state of intellectual debate in Britain. While a great deal of media time and energy is spent discussing the latest translation of WAR AND PEACE or the artwork in the refurbished St Pancras station, there has been, with a few notable exceptions, a puzzling lack of effort when it comes to something as critical as expressing support for an increasingly demonised minority in our society. Martin Amis should have been taken to task by his peers for his views. He was not. […] This is a community under attack, and not just by novelists. By every official index, violence and discrimination against Muslims have increased since 2001. The victims of physical violence will always be a minority – although Asian people are twice as likely to be stabbed to death than they were ten years ago – but what the majority experience in their daily lives is much more insidious, the kind of coded rejection that in this more enlightened age takes the place of outright expressions of racism. And, of course, hanging over them are threats of control orders, curfews, arrest and extended periods of detention without trial. Just as the 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act left the Irish community in Britain feeling like a suspect nation, so the infinitely more repressive anti- terrorist legislation – including 28 days’ detention without charge rather than the old seven when the IRA were active – of today intimidates, alienates and inflames Muslims. […] I can’t help feeling that Amis’s remarks, his defence of them, and the reaction to them were a test. They were a test of our commitment to a society in which imaginative sympathy applies not just to those like us but to those whose lives and beliefs run along different lines. And I can’t help feeling we failed that test. Amis got away with it. He got away with as odious an outburst of racist sentiment as any public figure has made in this country for a very long time. Shame on him for saying it, and shame on us for tolerating it.

Ronan Bennett wrote the screenplay of THE HAMBURG CELL, a film about the 9/11 hijackers. His latest novel is ZUGZWANG.


John McFetridge said...

First of all, The Hamburg Cell is a fantastic film.

Now, in a lot of ways we're really in unchartered territory here. Multi-cultural societies will be the biggest challenge of the 21st century (oh, I know, we think we have them now, but the lack of reaction to Amis pretty much proves we don't, doesn't it).

Recently Macleans magazine in Canada (kind ofour Time or Newsweek) ran a cover story about how bigoted we Canadians are. Many were shocked by the allegations, we always think of ourselves as some kind of multi-national paradise, taking in immigrants and regugees from pretty much every country in the world.

But one letter to the editor in the next issue said simply, "Where is the non-bigoted country?"

Yes, Amis got away (is getting) with it and almost no one is saying anything about it. This is the second blog I've seen this on,though, so that's something.

Linkmeister said...

Can we borrow that guy for over here? I know a few columnists and bloggers who need a good slapdown of that sort.

Wouldn't make them change their ways, but it would hurt a little.

Declan Burke said...

Gents - We're into the whole 'freedom of speech' issue here, I suppose ... The central point being, regardless of whether you agree with Amis or Bennnett, or neither, that no commentator of Amis's standing or profile saw fit to contradict or challenge his opinion. Cheers, Dec