Friday, November 23, 2007

What's in a name: Islam, Islamism, Jihadism

Two related things:

1 comment:

The Contentious Centrist said...

Martin Amis is not a racist. But that hardly means anything these days, since the term "racist" has been depleted of its former powerful pejorative content by the indecent diluters of meaningful language. The same people who wish to apply "antisemitism" as racism that applies to all Semitic people (like Arabs...). The very same people who call themselves anti-racist activists when they really want to say they are anti-Zionists. So these people, whose aim is to becloud the terms of engagement in order to make gains in their ideological battles, they call Martin Amis a racist.

I myself have great respect for Martin Amis, for his clear courage in owning to paradigm shifts in his worldview, for his fabulous command of the English language, unparalleled even by Hitchens. My admiration does not prevent me from noticing his flaws: arrogance, and a certain linguistic propensity to sexism, which I'll expand here.

I ran into two examples:

One, when he was interviewed by Charlie Rose about his latest book. He narrated the story as that of two brothers who fall in love with the same Jewess. Now, "Jewess", by dictionarial authority is a pejorative name for a Jewish woman. And I have seen Amis use it in his books, not just in colloquial language. I have no idea why he prefers to use it. It's not that he has any contempt for Jewish women (obviously). I think it might be an arrogant assumption on his part that he can afford to use it without the pejorative nuance. I remember Charlie rose was pretty surprised by his choice of words and repeated after him: So these two fell in love with the same Jewish girl? I doubt anyone even noticed it except for me, but I had my own reasons for being alerted to the eccentricity of this usage. (Actually, I myself have used it on occasion, wryly).

The second example I encountered in an Amis interview with a woman journalist. He insouciantly averred that women lose their sex appeal once they hit forty-five. He never even noticed that the lady he was speaking to was herself beyond that age. Again, there is some arrogant assumption in the way he makes these assertions. It's as if he is thinking: ain't no chance someone is going to take this the wrong way. But why would he even think that? Whatever gives him to confidence that his words will not be taken literally to mean exactly what the dictionary tells us they mean? Now that's an interesting question, which is worth thinking about. Not whether Amis is an Islamophobe or a racist or whatever.