Mishra on Amis

I thought that Martin Amis’s long essay–published, not coincidentally, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks– was quite short-sighted. I also found myself in agreement with Pankaj Mishra, who has a reaction to Amis in yesterday’s Observer. Under the title “The Politics of Paranoia,” Mishra examines the failure of many policy makers and intellectuals to understand large parts of the world with which they are engaged.

Many people, such as Martin Amis last weekend, may continue to berate Muslims for their apparent incompatibility with ‘Western’ values of democracy and rationality. We could go on debating forever whether the terrorist acts of British Muslims are directly linked to British policy in the Middle East. But a more urgent question is: where will all this rage and distrust end? Are we hurtling towards the kind of wars that made the previous century so uniquely bloody? How can we change policies that have so comprehensively failed?

These questions are relevant in democracies, where responsibility for far-reaching decisions lies with political and business elites as well as such shapers of public opinion as journalists, columnists and think-tank pundits. There is no place for such questions in societies that men like Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah preside over, countries where intellectual debate and press freedoms are severely limited. Yet even as these questions have become increasingly urgent in democratic countries, the answers remain elusive. For the ‘war on terror’ is not just a political and military fiasco but also an intellectual one, combining fatally the arrogance of power with the arrogance of mind.

Mishra uses the Vietnam war as an example of what went wrong. You can read the article in full here.