The obvious becomes shocking

I don’t want this blog to turn into ‘Mitchelmore Watch’. But our old friend at This Space has surpassed himself with another attack on – oh, you’ll never guess – Ian McEwan.

What mischief has the old rogue got into this week? Well, it seems that McEwan has given an interview to an Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, in which he says the following:

I myself despise Islamism, because it wants to create a society that I detest, based on religious belief, on a text, on lack of freedom for women, intolerance towards homosexuality and so on – we know it well.

Fairly obvious point and principle. I can’t find the interview online, but this is how the Independent reported it:

The novelist Ian McEwan has launched an astonishingly strong attack on Islamism, saying that he ‘despises’ it and accusing it of ‘wanting to create a society that I detest’. His words, in an interview with an Italian newspaper, could, in today’s febrile legalistic climate, lay him open to being investigated for a ‘hate crime’.

I’m not sure how prone to surprise you have to be to be ‘astonished’ that someone is against a far-right totalitarian ideology – and I’m no lawyer but how exactly would McEwan be charged with a ‘hate crime’ for saying the above?

This is not Amis redux. McEwan – at least in the piece that Mitchelmore and I link to – does not make anything like the appalling suggestions for which Amis has been rightly criticised. He can’t even be accused of singling out Islam:

McEwan’s interviewer pointed out that there exist equally hard-line schools of thought within Christianity, for example in the United States. ‘I find them equally absurd,’ McEwan replied. ‘I don’t like these medieval visions of the world according to which God is coming to save the faithful and to damn the others. But those American Christians don’t want to kill anyone in my city, that’s the difference.’

He also says this:

As soon as a writer expresses an opinion against Islamism, immediately someone on the left leaps to his feet and claims that because the majority of Muslims are dark-skinned, he who criticises it is racist.

And again he does no more than state the obvious. There is a section of the left that sees atheism as racism, and is astonished by common sense.

Nevertheless, the astonishment appears to be shared by Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour and the ridiculous Islamophobia Watch site. Mitchelmore adds, ‘While Seymour answers better than anyone what McEwan says, I’ll take issue with what he doesn’t.’

Translation: I don’t know how to deal with McEwan’s stated arguments so I’ll make up imaginary arguments and attack those.

This is where we get to what I call ‘classic Mitchelmore’.

However ‘controversial’ Amis’s comments or ‘brave’ McEwan’s position on the indigenous culture of neo-colonies, both are red herrings. Nowhere in this interview does McEwan express any regret, let alone horror and shame, at his nation’s responsibility for the deaths of more than a million people in Iraq and Afghanistan… One would have thought the continuing aggression of the most powerful army in the history of mankind and its allies would be more pressing than media-enabled paranoia about a foreign religion.

As always: where to start, where to stop? Let’s begin with Mitchelmore’s grave theological error: conflating Wahabbi fundamentalism with Islam as a whole.

Fact: most of Al-Qaeda’s victims are Muslims. Indeed, they regularly blow up mosques, and even commit such atrocities during Ramadan. Islamism has almost zero support from Muslim communities, so why does Mitchelmore describe it as ‘the indigenous culture of neo-colonies’?

To suggest Islamism as ‘indigenous’ to Islamic countries is to buy into the BNP lie that all Muslims are terrorists.

He is on safer ground when it comes to civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq. These indeed call for regret, horror and shame. But McEwan is no more responsible for civilian casualties than Mitchelmore himself. By Mitchelmore’s standards, anyone who pays tax in this country has blood on his hands. Should we all go around, Enfield-like, saying ‘I apologise for the conduct of my nation during the Iraq war?’ (Let’s leave the Medialens-style sneer at ‘media-enabled paranoia’ for now; surely we can agree that Islamism actually exists.)

It gets even better as Mitchelmore segues seamlessly from an attack on McEwan to an attack on… Prince Harry.

While McEwan asks for his fellow subjects to start “to reflect on Englishness: this is the country of Shakespeare, of Milton, Newton, Darwin”, he does not reflect that this is also the country of Prince “Bomber” Harry, a member of the English royal family involved in military attacks on civilians. During his time in Afghanistan, he is said to have guided fighter jets ‘towards suspected Taliban targets‘. In mitigation, McEwan can, with the rest of us, claim not to know what is really happening. After all, the London media that fawns over each of his claustrophobic and inorganic novels tends not to report that the ‘suspected Taliban’ are often women, children, wedding parties and even herds of sheep. (Maybe we’d hear more about it if they lived in tower blocks).

Well: for what it’s worth, I’m against the monarchy as an institution. Perhaps McEwan is too. Why not email him and ask? (And what is the ‘tower blocks’ reference about?)

And as for the comments about Englishness. What McEwan says is this:

‘Great Britain is an artificial construction of three or four nations. I’m waiting for the Northern Irish to unite with the Irish Republic sooner or later, and also Scotland could go its own way and become independent.’

Does the prospect disturb him? ‘No,’ he replied, ‘I think that at this point we should start to reflect on Englishness: this is the country of Shakespeare, of Milton, Newton, Darwin…’

Note to Mitchelmore: Ian McEwan is talking about devolution, which means independence from British rule. One would think the tireless anti-imperialist of This Space could get behind that.

And there’s a case for highlighting the positive aspects of English culture (the NHS, Orwell, Darwin) as well as the negative (imperalism, kingship, Peter Kay).

For some saner coverage, see David Thompson. Thanks: Harry’s Place, RSB.

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