Terry Eagleton continues his sniping at Martin Amis, but now includes other "liberal supremacists" (delightful term - rather like "enlightenment fundamentalist") Dawkins and Hitchens - and, for good measure, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie. They have all, unwittingly, become "weapons in the war on terror". There's a lengthy preamble about liberalism and leftism, which is little more than a throat-clearing to give the impression of intellectual depth, before we get to the meat:
If the test of liberalism is how it confronts its illiberal adversaries, some of the liberal intelligentsia seem to have fallen at the first hurdle. Writers such as Martin Amis and Hitchens do not just want to lock terrorists away. They also tout a brand of western cultural supremacism. Dawkins strongly opposed the invasion of Iraq, but preaches a self-satisfied, old-fashioned Whiggish rationalism that can be wielded against a benighted Islam. The philosopher AC Grayling has an equally starry-eyed view of the stately march of Western Progress. The novelist Ian McEwan is a freshly recruited champion of this militant rationalism. Both Hitchens and Salman Rushdie have defended Amis's slurs on Muslims. Whether they like it or not, Dawkins and his ilk have become weapons in the war on terror. Western supremacism has gravitated from the Bible to atheism.
This is absurd. Or rather, it's personal invective dressed up as argument. Dawkins "preaches a self-satisfied, old-fashioned Whiggish rationalism that can be wielded against a benighted Islam" - but, as anyone knows who's read any Dawkins at all, the man's always targeted Christianity far more than Islam. By Eagleton's overblown rhetoric, anyone who argues in favour of science and against religion can be condemned as a champion of Western supremacism. This is some kind of reduction ad absurdum of multiculturalism.
The irony is clear. Some of our free literary spirits are defending liberal values in ways that threaten to undermine them. In this, they reflect the behaviour of western states. Liberals are supposed to value nuanced analysis and moral complexity, neither of which are apparent in the slanderous reduction of Islam to a barbarous blood cult.
Again, it's all about Islam, but the only slander on show here is Eagleton's outrageous misrepresentation of the position of all these "militant rationalists". Where have any of Dawkins, Grayling, Hitchens, or the rest, called Islam a "barbarous blood cult"?
There is also an honorable legacy of qualifying too-absolute judgments with an awareness of context: the genuine liberal is appalled by Islamist terrorism, but conscious of the national injury and humiliation that underlie it. None of the writers I have mentioned is remarkable for such balance. On the whole, they are more preoccupied with freedom of expression than freedom from imperial rule.
A trace of an argument at last - though, this being Eagleton, you have to dig for it, and it's not presented as an argument but as an undisputed fact: that underlying Islamist terrorism is "national injury and humiliation". Well, I , and plenty of others, would disagree on that, tending to view the grievance claims as somewhat thin given the wealthy Saudi backgrounds of, for instance, the 9/11 attackers, or Bin Laden himself. What of Amis, Dawkins, Rushdie et al.: the objects of this diatribe? What do they think? We're not told. They all have differing, and differently argued, positions - but not one quote is provided. Instead, in a grotesque piece of intellectual dishonesty, they're all grouped together and maligned equally.
Really, even by Terry Eagleton's own standards, this is a disgrace.