The Second Plane: September 11: Terror and Boredom
The angry novelist
By Steven Martinovich
Amidst all the words that have been spilled about September 11, 2001 and the subsequent events it spawned, the most compelling often come from novelists. Charged with creating whole worlds out of their imaginations, their struggle to understand the events of recent years often brings a different perspective from those of journalists and pundits. Few have been more upfront in sharing that perspective than British novelist Martin Amis.
Amis' The Second Plane: September 11: Terror and Boredom is a collection of his writings beginning with an essay one week after the terrorist attacks in the United States and continuing on to today, a chronological examination of the terrorist attacks and their key players, the war in Iraq, and a rancorous broadside against religion in general. It is a vitriolic collection which sees Amis unload with both barrels, reload and shoot again, at his targets – typically George W. Bush and damage caused by religion, "ours" and "theirs".
Back in 2006 Amis sparked a row in the United Kingdom when he opined in The Times of London that British Muslims needed to suffer by being profiled, discriminated against until they excised their radical element and – if necessary – "Deportation — further down the road." Though he accurately compares Islamism and Nazism in terms of the death cult that underpins both, he stands on more tenuous ground when he argues that a civil war between moderate and extreme Islam appears to have already been decided in favour of the later. Most would argue that "Muslim Reformation" has only just begin.
Like his friend Christopher Hitchens, however, Amis' real anger post September 11 seems aimed at religion in general. Despite noting in his earlier work Koba the Dread that Joseph Stalin's war on religion was a "war against human nature" and his own admission he's more agnostic than atheist, he rips it as a symbol of "ignorance". Bush's faith is unfavourably compared to that of Islamists, a splinter of Islam he refers to as "racist, misogynist, homophobic, totalitarian, inquisitorial, imperialist, and genocidal." He lauds Tony Blair, whom he seems to have some admiration, for deliberately avoiding the topic of religion.
Though Amis has been attacked by the political left for his musings on the "Muslim question," The Second Plane makes it clear that he despises Bush and was against the Iraq War from the beginning. He mentions, almost as an aside, that the United States was responsible for the destruction of 5 per cent of the Iraqi population before the latest war. Elsewhere he declares Bush to be more psychologically primitive than Saddam Hussein and Texas similar to Saudi Arabia – a noxious set of contentions that could only be taken seriously by the Michael Moores of the world, and that the war was predicated on falsehood.
The Second Plane is not without its merits. Though his attempt at chronicling the last hours of Mohamed Atta is a little clunky – his protagonist isn't merely a murderous monster, he also suffers constipation lasting months – the short story "In the Palace of the End" masterfully explores the dangerous life of a body double for the son of a Middle East dictator, one whose duties include torture and rape. His review of the film United 93 captures its angst and power while the collection's opening essay, "The Second Plane", explores the anger, fear and desire for vengeance that many felt in the hours and days after the September 11 attacks.
That Amis is a master of language is unquestioned – and he demonstrates that novelists do indeed have a role in exploring the post-September 11 world that monsters spun out of their imaginations – but actually made real. His arguments, however, are often too broad or dubious to be taken seriously – and though he's as outrageous as Hitchens, he often fails to sell his point of view as effectively. Though we can all cheer at his attacks on those animals who embrace death both for themselves and innocents, The Second Plane is marred by too many flaws.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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