Muslims are not doing enough to engage with Britain’s otherwise thriving multicultural society, Martin Amis has said.
Commenting on the recent row over Islamic veils, the author said at the Festival: “The only element that’s not fitting in is Islam. Who else is not fitting in?”
Amis, who has written extensively about Islamist terrorism, and wrote a short story imagining the last days of Muhammad Atta, the 9/11 hijacker, said that home-grown terrorism was a separate problem, bound up in the allure that “death cults” have to the vulnerable young men who become suicide bombers.
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“In this country what’s happening is that young men in late adolescence and early manhood have a period of self-hatred and disgust and thoughts of suicide,” he said. “The idea you can turn this into world history is tremendously powerful.
“The absolutely crucial thing is to see whether it mutates. Death cults take on a terrible momentum.”
The allure of a philosophy based on the rejection of reason and embrace of death was intense but short-lived, Amis said. However, if this fused with a sense of the individual exerting an influence on history “then al-Qaedaism will mutate as we feared”.
Amis, 57, returned to Britain last month after 21/2 years in Uruguay, where part of his wife’s family lives. He said that he had been struck by how successful British society appeared when viewed through fresh eyes. “It looks like a multicultural society that’s working apart from a few miserable bastards.”
Amis’s father, Sir Kingsley, was a passionate communist who became a virulent anti-communist after the Soviet Union’s crushing of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956.
Amis himself is suspicious of ideologies and says he welcomes the similarity between the two main political parties in Britain. “All the big [political] battles have been won. We no longer rule a quarter of the world but we are supposed to feel relieved about that because we don’t like empires, do we?” he said.
“What we have now in England is an evolved market state that doesn’t feel humiliated about the loss of its position at the highest table. The result seems to be an increasing concentration on surfaces, outlines and glitter without substance.
“As The New Yorker said, ‘the Brits are now at the point where they feel Schadenfreude about themselves’.”