By Charlie Kimber
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Islamophobic novelist Martin Amis dies

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Novelist Martin Amis dies aged 73
Issue 2856
Novelist Martin Amis

Novelist Martin Amis (Picture: Coen Peppelenbos)

Novelist Martin Amis died last weekend and among the loving tributes it would be easy to miss that he was an Islamophobe.

In an interview with The Times newspaper on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Amis said, “There’s a definite urge—don’t you have it?—to say, ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’ What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation—further down the road.

“Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan. Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children. They hate us for letting our children have sex and take drugs—well, they’ve got to stop their children killing people.”

Amis also was an early adopter of the far right “great replacement” panic. He also warned that Muslims 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.”

Writer Terry Eagleton likened Amis’s statements to “the ramblings of a British National Party thug”. And Amis’s criticism of Jeremy Corbyn was that he was “undereducated”, “slow-minded” and “humourless”.

Amis had not followed his great friend Christopher Hitchens into urging on the invasion and destruction of Iraq in 2003. But he was very happy to repeatedly pump out the slurs and lies about Muslims that made the war much easier to begin. And a million dead as the result of George Bush and Tony Blair’s assault did not cause him to miss a beat in his admiration and affection for Hitchens.

But Amis’s book on Stalin was so thinly-researched that even Hitchens said it made him wince. Large sections of it were directed at Hitchens who responded, “I find myself embarrassed at the thought of an actual gulag survivor reading this and finding his or her experience reduced to a boys’ tiff.”

At this point, a certain sort of left winger says, “Well, that may all be true. But could he write well?” Sometimes he could. He had a good eye for the personalities of some of the bullies that populate the top of politics. He captured something about Donald Trump when he wrote, “Perhaps that’s the defining asset—a crocodilian nose for inert and preferably moribund prey.

“Trump can sense when an entity is no longer strong enough or lithe enough to evade predation. He did it with that white elephant at the Grand Old Party. The question is, can he do it with American democracy?”

His Einstein’s Monsters was a sustained assault on the horrors of nuclear war. But a lot of his fiction falls short because he projects contempt for ordinary people on the page, and his characters become one-dimensional and unbelievable.

One of his best-known books, London Fields, is at least partially about a world dominated by empty values of consumerism and money. So is another major novel, Money. But most of the characters are just lazily‑drawn targets for mockery. Was it a brilliant observation for a London Fields central character Keith Talent to end many of his sentences with “‘innit?”, Was it revelatory to have described the speech of one of his girlfriends as “He comes round my owce. Eel bring me… booze and that. To my owce. And use me like a toilet.”

The problems with Amis’s novels flow directly from his political failings. And that set of politics, and a “daring” willingness to “say what we all feel” about Muslims, is why Amis is so celebrated by a section of literary critics and Guardian writers.

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