Stranger Than Fiction

By Tepperman, Jonathan | Newsweek, April 14, 2008 | Go to article overview

Stranger Than Fiction


Tepperman, Jonathan, Newsweek


Byline: Jonathan Tepperman

Martin Amis is a crack novelist. But as a post-9/11 political analyst, he's turned into a bit of a crackpot.

Toward the end of "The Second Plane," Martin Amis's new book on the roots and impact of 9/11, the British novelist describes a fellow writer as "an oddity: his thoughts and themes are -- serious--but he writes like a maniac. A talented maniac, but a maniac." Amis is describing Mark Steyn, a controversial anti-Islam polemicist, but he could just as well be describing another angry, Muslim-bashing firebrand: himself. Talented, yes. Serious, yes. But also, judging from the new book, a maniac.

Amis's apparent break from sanity shouldn't come as a surprise. Throughout his career he's courted controversy with brilliant but furious and raunchy novels. More recently, however, the buzz around him has issued from another source: his mounting hatred of radical Islam--or, it often seems, toward Muslims in general. The trouble's been brewing since 2006, when Amis, in an interview, seemed to advocate the deportation of Western Muslims if terror attacks continued.

Now, in "The Second Plane," Amis returns to the theme. A chronological collection of 12 essays and two short stories written since 9/11 and previously published elsewhere, it presents his musings on the problem of writing after the terrible events, the larger meaning of the attacks, the motivation of Muhammad Atta and his cohort, and observations on the Iraq War, George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, among others. Amis's real preoccupation, however, is radical Islam: its origins, its perpetrators and the proper Western response.

He starts moderately enough, urging the West to respond to 9/11 in a "non-escalatory" way and suggesting that the United States might consider why it engenders so much antipathy. What's striking about the early pieces--including one written just a week after 9/11 and a short story, published in 2004, that sympathetically imagines the plight of Saddam Hussein's body doubles--is how Amis's innate sense of justice and humanity shines through. He describes 9/11 and its aftermath as a "moral crash" and is quick to chastise the West for its excesses in response (including "extraordinary rendition -- Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib -- two wars, and tens of thousands of dead bodies.") He criticizes all religion as violent and reactionary.

But as time, and the book, progresses, Amis abandons this evenhandedness--and soon sense itself, as though to prove his point that "terrorism undermines morality. Then, too, it undermines reason. …

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