Page 1 of 2 BOOK REVIEW Rebranding 9/11 The Second Plane by Martin Amis
Reviewed by Julian Delasantellis
Son of the witty chronicler of English postwar cultural decay, Kingsley Amis,
Martin Amis' first book, 1973's The Rachel Papers - the diary of a very
methodical young man's attempts at romantic conquest - just screamed rebellion
and disrespect for authority. The jacket cover's author photo had him as a
veritable Mick Jagger with a pen, shaggy haired, dark-eyed, brooding, intense,
fairly thick lipped-in other words, he looked, and wrote, as if the purpose he
had been selected and designed for by evolution was to be a fornication
Following up the success of The Rachel Papers - for which Amis was
awarded the Somerset Maugham prize for best writer under the age of 35 - Amis
built a noted career as an expert and exquisite craftsman of the English
language, with about 20 more
novels and non-fiction books, most notable among them 1978's Success,
1984's Money and 1989's London Fields.
Once a clear and dedicated polemicist for the political left - his 1987 book of
essays Einstein's Monsters was basically a jeremiad about the dangers of
nuclear weapons and proliferation - Amis' most recent work The Second Plane:
September 11, Terror and Boredom, indicates, that much like his father,
Martin Amis' outlook is ranging far afield from where he started as a youth.
One wonders if he has but one last fit of youthful rebellion against the
British literary and cultural elite left in him; these days, what could be more
infuriating to that establishment than writing as if who you wanted to be when
you grew up was George W Bush?
Amis certainly didn't sound like one of those multicultural loving/diversity
respecting morally relativistic British intellectuals when, in 2006, following
the revelation of the plots to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners, he told the
Times of London, "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."
Amis' seeming turn to the right did not start with The Second Plane; his
two recent works on the evils of Soviet totalitarianism, 2002's non-fiction, Koba
the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million and his 2006 novel House of
Meetings, prepared the way for his current line of thought.
But as that those dealt with an evil, Stalinism, gone at least a half a century
now they raised little fuss among the cognoscenti, after all, following the
publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago in 1973,
it wasn't even chic to be a Stalinist in Knightsbridge or Notting Hill anymore
- it was another story in the faculty lounges of England's red brick
However, with the 13 essays and two short stories in The Second Plane offering
a full-throated defense of the justification and manner of which the
Anglo/American alliance of Bush and premier Tony Blair alliance has prosecuted
the "war on terror" since September 11, 2001, Amis surely must have realized
how devastating an incendiary he was tossing towards the English language's
literary and political vanguard in its unending daily exile at Starbucks. Like
rebels throughout time I'm sure that prospect did not displease him in the
In the essay that opens the book The Second Plane , first printed on
September, 18, 2001 in The Guardian, you can see the true appeal of this, or
any other Amis product - his finely crafted sentences.
"It was the advent of the second plane, sharking in low over Statue of Liberty:
that was the defining moment. Until then, America thought she was witnessing
nothing more serious than then the worst aviation disaster in history; now, she
had a sense of the fantastic vehemence ranged against her ... That second plane
looked eagerly alive, and galvanized with malice, and wholly alien. For those
thousands in the South Tower, the second plane meant the end of everything. For
us, its glint was the worldflash of a coming future ... The message of
September 11 ran as follows: America, it is time you learned how implacably you
are hated. United Airlines 175 was an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile,
launched in Afghanistan, and aimed at her innocence. That innocence, as it was
here being claimed, was a luxurious and anachronistic delusion."
Many literary voices have claimed Amis' sentences are currently the best being
produced in the English language, and I have no problem with that. In a long
review of the book in The New Republic, Leon Wieseltier claims that the prose
is so well constructed and eloquent that it takes away and diminishes the
actual terrorist horrors that the prose is actually referring to. For me, a
person who likes to turn the occasional clever and witty axiom, reading Amis is
like a middle aged weekend basketball player watching the US Olympic Dream
team. Oh, if only I could play the game like that. It is only when you stop
savoring the text rolling around on your palette and try to swallow that it
becomes so problematic.
Like other current British voices such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard
Dawkins, along with American Sam Harris, Amis has little respect for religion
and religious believers -very, very little respect.
One of the pieces in book, Terror and Boredom,:The Dependent Mind, was
first published in September 2006 by The Guardian.
"Today in the West there are no good reasons for religious belief - unless we
think that ignorance, reaction and sentimentality are good reasons ... the time
has come for a measure of impatience in our dealings with those who would take
an innocent personal pronoun (which as just minding its own business) and exalt
it with a capital letter. Opposition to religion already occupies the high
ground, intellectually and morally. People of independent mind should now start
to claim the spiritual high ground, too."
Amis seems to want to elevate a worship of reason into the pulpit in religion's
place. That's not exactly a new concept - enlightenment types have been trying
to sell this idea to the human race for about three centuries now.
In September 11, first published in The Times of London on September 11,
2007, Amis claims that religious belief automatically means "the rejection of
reason - the rejection of the sequitur, of cause and effect, of two plus two.
Strikingly, in their written works and their table talk, Hitler and Stalin -
and Lenin - seldom let the abstract noun 'reason' go by without assigning a
scornful adjective to it: worthless reason, craven reason, cowardly reason.
When those sanguinary yokels, the Taliban, chant their slogan, 'Throw reason to
the dogs,' they are making the same kind of Faustian gamble: crush reason, kill
reason, and anything and everything seems possible-the restored Caliphate, for
instance, presiding over a planetary empire cleansed of all infidels. To
transcend reason is of course to: transcend the confines of moral law; it is to
enter the illimitable world of insanity and death."
It is interesting here that Amis classifies the 20th century's doleful
experience with state socialism as the rejection of reason - other
philosophers, notably William Irwin Thompson, Andre Glucksmann and Bernard
Henri-Levi write about the Gulag and the Khmer Rouge's killing fields as
nothing but reason's fullest flowering.
But here, you can see Amis begin to make the leap from contempt for religion in
general to his seeming hatred of Islam in particular. All religions are bad,
but since Islam now seems to have the most devoted and fervent proponents, it
must be the worst.
In Terror and Boredom, Amis states that "all religions, surprisingly,
have their terrorists: Christian, Jewish,Hindu, even Buddhist. But we are not
hearing from those religions. We are hearing from Islam."
Proponents of the "war on terror" vigorously attempt to affirm that it's not
the entirety of Islam that the West is fighting, only Islamic extremism. Amis
makes no such distinction.
"Until recently it was being said that what we are confronted with, here, is 'a
civil war' within Islam. That's what all this was supposed to be, not a clash
of civilization or anything like that, but a civil war within Islam. Well, the
civil war appears to be over. And Islamism won it. The loser, moderate Islam,
is always deceptively well represented on the level of the op-ed page and the
public debate; elsewhere, it is supine and inaudible. We are not hearing from
moderate Islam. Whereas Islamism, as a mover and shaper of world events, is
pretty well all there is."
In The Voice of the Lonely Crowd, first published in The Guardian in
June 2002, Amis further develops the point that, as the terror of September 11
originated in religious faith it only reinforces the tragedy's horrific
"September 11 was a day of de-enlightenment. Politics stood revealed as a
veritable Walpurgis Night of the irrational. And such old, old stuff. The
conflicts we now face or fear involve oppressed geographical arenas, but also
opposed centuries, or even millennia. It is landscape of ferocious
anachronisms: nuclear jihad on the Indian subcontinent, the medieval agonism of
Islam; the Bronze Age blunderings of the Middle East."
Do you want more commentary on how "Islamism" has led its followers down a
hopeless path of irrationalism and destruction? There's plenty of that here.
"Like fundamentalist Judaism and medieval Christianity, Islam is totalist. That
is to say, it makes a total claim on the individual. Indeed, there is no
individual; there is only the umma - the community of believers.
Ayatollah Khomeini, in his copious writings, often returns to this theme. He
unindulgently notes that believers in most religions appear to think that, so
long as they observe all the formal pieties, then the rest of the time they