“It was mid-October 2001, and night was closing in on the border city of Peshawar, in Pakistan, as my friend – a reporter and political man of letters – approached a market stall and began to haggle over a batch of T-shirts bearing the likeness of Osama bin Laden. It is forbidden, in Sunni Islam, to depict the human form, lest it lead to idolatry; but here was Osama’s lordly visage, on display and on sale right outside the mosque. The mosque now emptied, after evening prayers, and my friend was very suddenly and very thoroughly surrounded by a shoving, jabbing, jeering brotherhood: the young men of Peshawar.
At this time of day, their equivalents, in the great conurbations of Europe and America, could expect to ease their not very sharp frustrations by downing a lot of alcohol, by eating large meals with no dietary restrictions, by racing around to one another’s apartments in powerful and expensive machines, by downing a lot more alcohol as well as additional stimulants and relaxants, by jumping up and down for several hours on strobe-lashed dancefloors, and (in a fair number of cases) by having galvanic sex with near-perfect strangers. These diversions were not available to the young men of Peshawar.
More proximately, just over the frontier, the West was in the early stages of invading Afghanistan and slaughtering Pakistan’s pious clients and brainchildren, the Taliban, and flattening the Hindu Kush with its power and its rage. More proximately still, the ears of these young men were still fizzing with the battlecries of molten mullahs, and their eyes were smarting anew to the chalk-thick smoke from the hundreds of thousands of wood fires – fires kindled by the multitudes of exiles and refugees from Afghanistan, camped out all around the city. There was perhaps a consciousness, too, that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, over the past month, had reversed years of policy and decided to sacrifice the lives of its Muslim clients and brainchildren, over the border, in exchange for American cash. So when the crowd scowled out its question, the answer needed to be a good one.
‘Why you want these? You like Osama?’
I can almost hear the tone of the reply I would have given – reedy, wavering, wholly defeatist. As for the substance, it would have been the reply of the cornered trimmer, and intended, really, just to give myself time to seek the foetal position and fold my hands over my face. Something like: ‘Well I quite like him, but I think he overdid it a bit in New York.’ No, that would not have served. What was needed was boldness and brilliance. The exchange continued:
‘You like Osama?’
‘Of course. He is my brother.’
‘He is your brother?’
‘All men are my brothers.’
All men are my brothers. I would have liked to have said it then, and I would like to say it now: all men are my brothers. But all men are not my brothers. Why? Because all women are my sisters. And the brother who denies the rights of his sister: that brother is not my brother. At the very best, he is my half-brother – by definition. Osama is not my brother.”
From the opening of Martin Amis’s essay “The Age of Horrorism”.
I’d encourage any of you to read the remainder of this essay, as well as the larger collection it is published in, The Second Plane: September 11: Terror and Boredom.
By the way, Amis has since disclosed that the friend he mentions in this story is none other than his best pal, Christopher Hitchens.