Guardian

The moral confusion of Ian McEwan


If we lived in a just world, where people didn’t stand idly by in the face of the continuing assault on Israel’s moral legitimacy, Author Ian McEwan would have reacted with outrage at demands by Palestinian groups that he participate in a boycott of Israel by refusing to accept the Jerusalem Prize for Literature.

In such a world, McEwan would have passionately denounced the letter to the Guardian from a group called British Writers in Support of Palestine, which urged him to decline the award which they characterized as “a cruel joke and a propaganda tool for the Israeli state” and which went on to denounce the Jerusalem Municipality as complicit in the “illegal colonisation of East Jerusalem.”

McEwan, in such a scenario, would have responded by noting that Israel, whatever its imperfections, remains a small bastion of freedom in a region plagued by despots and tyranny, and is in fact the last nation in the Middle East deserving of such opprobrium and sanctions.

In short, he would have turned the charge around and expressed to his Palestinian interlocutors how appalled he was at the mere suggestion that Israel, the nation where freedom of political and artistic expression is most arduously protected, should be isolated by the artistic community.

But, as we’re all too aware, the  moral discourse about Israel often has little or no relationship to truth or decency.

McEwan, in accepting the award, found it necessary to condemn the Jewish state and – both in his original defense of his decision to go, as well as in his acceptance speech in Jerusalem – engage in the morally and intellectually unserious equivalence between Israel and Hamas.

In his defense of his decision to accept the award he said:

“I am not a supporter of the Israeli settler movement, nor of Hamas.”

Then, in his acceptance speech in Jerusalem:

“Hamas has embraced the nihilism of the suicide bomber, of rockets fired blindly into towns, and the nihilism of the extinctionist policy towards Israel [but] its [Israeli] nihilism to make a long-term prison camp of the Gaza Strip. Nihilism has unleashed a tsunami of concrete across the occupied territories.”

I have no doubt of Ian McEwan’s literary prowess, and am sure his honor, in receiving the Jerusalem Prize for Literature, was well deserved.

However, when it comes to making sound decisions relating to the continuing assault on a progressive democracy under siege – often waged by the most reactionary movements in the world – McEwan has shown that he is a political and moral amateur.

39 replies »

  1. What is even more disturbing is the decision to award the Prize to this moral masturbator, giving him a platform to his wankings. This is pure masoquism.

  2. McEwan also gave an interview on Channel 1 in which he said that if he were to boycott every controversial country he wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning, i.e. he should boycott Britain as well. But then again, he is a “political and moral amateur” ….

    Nihilism: “total and absolute destructiveness, especially toward the world at large and including oneself”.

    Well, a lot of people, including millions of Israelis, think that describes perfectly the settler movement and the policies in the West Bank and Gaza (although nobody has ever been able to tell me what exactly is the Likud policy and vision for the territories).

    So to sum up this article, anyone who has an opinion that doesn’t agree totally with Adam Levick’s view is a “political and moral amateur”. That’s very professional of you, Adam.

  3. Leave him alone – he’s simply echoing the deception he’s fallen into. If he knew the truth he’d blush at his statements.

  4. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/02/18/uk-people-mcewan-interview-idUKTRE71H48M20110218

    “There is a great chunk, an interesting chunk of the British Left that have got into bed with bits of radical Islam. What binds them is a hatred of the United States,” McEwan said.

    “(But) there is a huge middle bit of intellectual people. Many, many people came up to me and said, ‘I’m glad you’re going. I hate what they (Israel) are doing, but I’m glad you’re going.’ People who want Israel to exist, rather than not exist.”

    At a time of anti-authoritarian tumult in the Arab world, McEwan voiced hope that Israel might “proselytise” its democratic values rather than expand West Bank settlements on occupied land where Palestinians have struggled for statehood.

    “I don’t think Israel can prosper unless Palestine prospers,” he said.

    “There’s a circle of Dante’s hell where people have a high wall around them, and they sort of flourish but they can never get to heaven, because they can never get over the wall. They never get out of hell. That is not prospering.”

  5. “Well, a lot of people, including millions of Israelis, think…”

    Not millions of Israelis by a long shot. Not in the civil year 2011, after more than a decade of conclusive proof that Jews evacuating any territory on the Land of Israel only leads to more terrorism.

    “the settler movement…”

    There is no settler movement in Palestine except the Arab settler movement. By definition, Jews cannot be settlers in Palestine; that is because they are the one and only true Palestinian nation, the indigenes of Palestine. By definition, Arabs are settlers, colonists, invaders in Palestine; that is because they are the indigenes of the Arabian Peninsula, not of Palestine. The faux-Palestinian nation is a fraud maintained for propaganda purposes; they are Arabs and not a nation in its own right.

  6. http://actforisrael.org/blog/delegitimization/tag/ian-mcewan/

    One group of writers and academics that are active in the delegitimization campaign of Israel – British Writers in Support of Palestine – signed a letter in Monday’s Guardian calling on the talented writer to refuse the prize and join the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel. McEwan fired back by pointing out that in the past prize winners included Bertrand Russell and Simone de Beauvoir and added:

    “I hope you will have the humility to accept that these writers had at least as much concern for freedom and human dignity as you do yourselves. Your ‘line’ is not the only one. Courtesy obliges you to respect my decision, as I would yours to stay away.”

    McEwan also stated,

    “I’m for dialogue, engagement, and looking for ways in which literature can reach across political divides.”

  7. “McEwan voiced hope that Israel might ‘proselytise’ its democratic values…”

    Why should we do that? Are we like the French colonials of old in North Africa, inseminating our culture and values to the “benighted savages,” or the contemporary British with Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden”? No. We Jews are the indigenous of this land. Our only obligation is resistance to the Arab colonials who wish to take away what is ours.

  8. ziontruth

    (“McEwan voiced hope that Israel might ‘proselytise’ its democratic values…”)
    “Why should we do that ?”

    Ha ha – we all know very well that you don’t believe in “democratic values” and the only “value” that Israel would be able to export if you had you way would be legal persecution of anyone who dared to voice a dissenting opinion (a value that the Arabs already have). What a hypocrite !

  9. MindOfCrap, the only hypocrite here is the one who believes that Arabs can not be held to the same standards expected of NON-Arabs. As if Arabs are too emotional, too primitive to meaure up.

    The standards that its illegal to hijack planes, hijack ships, hijack countries like Lebanon, threaten other states with death, engage in current day slavery as in Sudan and Mauritania), dismember people convicted of stealing, stoning women to death to restore family honor, hang gay people, dehumanize people (likening them to pigs and apes), lionizing shitler, bombing planes like Pan Am 103, using poison gas on the people of Halabja Iraq, dynamiting 1,500 year old Buddhist statues in Bamiyan.

    Get it MindOfCrap?

  10. “Our only obligation is resistance to the Arab colonials who wish to take away what is ours.”

    Hear, hear!

  11. “I don’t think Israel can prosper unless Palestine prospers,” — Ian McEwan

    I suppose that is why Israel is booming and Britain is bankrupt.

  12. ‘“I am not a supporter of the Israeli settler movement, nor of Hamas.”’

    How does that condemn the Jewish state, Adam?

    He only condemns the Jewish state if you equate the settler movement with it.

  13. ‘There is no settler movement ‘

    Of course there is, and Avigdor Lieberman is probably its de facto leader.

    Don’t get me wrong, I support retaining some settlements as per the Geneva Accord.

    But their inhabitants shouldn’t lead state policy as, in the person of Lieberman, they increasingly are.

  14. McEwan – another one of these wretchedly confused British intellectuals working in a dead medium (literature) pointlessly pontificating to peoples about things he has no understanding of – he would be better off saving his remarks for the local poet’s society in Chipping Sodbury where pedantic pillocks of his ilk probably find a ready audience.

  15. “working in a dead medium”

    As I’m in love with that dead medium, I guess that makes me a necrophiliac. I never realised it could be so much fun.

  16. “Don’t get me wrong, I support retaining some settlements as per the Geneva Accord.”

    “But their inhabitants shouldn’t lead state policy as, in the person of Lieberman, they increasingly are.”

    Let’s get this straight. You support the Geneva Accord which was negotiated by individuals, at least on the Israeli side, who were not elected by anyone or even appointed by those who were elected, and which was funded by hostile foreign powers and groups. On the other hand, you are against policy which is formulated and/or supported by democratically elected Israeli government officials. Do I have this right?

  17. Ha Hoi Polloi – you are referring of course to the sub-branch of deconstructive philosophy known as Hauntology (aka screwing around with the dead) ?

  18. ‘On the other hand, you are against policy which is formulated and/or supported by democratically elected Israeli government officials. Do I have this right?’

    I am afraid ‘the people’ don’t always get it right: that is one of the points of leaders: to make better decisions than the mob.

    Do you think the Palestinian people have got it right?

  19. Further, I don’t the inhabitants do represent in full or even mainly the views of the majority. Yisroel Beitanu certainly does not. And yet it is de facto leading through Lieberman.

    Netanyahu is a pussy who can’t lead.

  20. Just in case people have forgotten, Ian McEwan was awarded the prestigious Jerusalem Prize for Literature for just that- literature. He didn’t get any prize for his political views or his moral stance, whatever these may be. Like all of us, he is entitled to his opinion, however erroneous it may seem to some, and to express it in any forum in Israel. F

    From my point of view, both he and all concerned with the prize giving ceremony came out with much credit. Not so, the churlish and frankly deceitful people who signed the letter to the Guardian, urging him to betray his positive instincts by refusing to accept the prize.

  21. It is entirely to Israel’s credit that McEwan was able to make his acceptance speech in Jerusalem.

    It needs to be emphasised that Israel is a free country, and unlike the states that surround it, holds freedom of speech and freedom of thought in high esteem.

    McEwan’s speech should be widely cited as evidence of Israel’s political maturity and moral superiority.

  22. “I am afraid ‘the people’ don’t always get it right”

    Who is to decide when the people have got it wrong? On what basis will they decide? Should they be able to enforce their decisions? If so to that last, in what ways would they be able to enforce them? After all, perhaps the leaders of Israel will reach a peace agreement in the future in which they will decide to give up all the settlements. Maybe that decision will be ratified by a national referendum. Following your logic, what would stop the settlers and their supporters from telling themselves that the people have in fact got it wrong and that they won’t go along with the dismantlement of their homes and businesses?

    It is a very dangerous road you have gone down.

  23. “McEwan’s speech should be widely cited as evidence of Israel’s political maturity and moral superiority.”

    And likewise, the debate in this forum should be cited as evidence of our maturity and moral superiority. We are not attempting to shout him down or throw shoes at him. We are merely discussing whether he is a moral moron.

  24. MTC, please provide a clear answer to the following: Asserting a moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel is a morally indefensible position? Agree or disagree?

  25. OK, so Israel should also invite David Irving and Tariq Ramadan and even Al-Qaradawi, to show the world her moral superiority and maturity. As if “the world” gave a s*it about that. This Ian McMoron is of the same moral caliber as that other idiot and Nobelist José Saramago (piss be upon him) and just don´t deserve prizes from Israel at all.

  26. ‘Who is to decide when the people have got it wrong? On what basis will they decide?’

    That is one of the reasons people elect leaders: to make those kinds of decisions. It is a matter of trust. The people elect leaders to lead. Not to be led. It is not their business to submit every decision to a vote.

    Again: have the Palestinian people got it right?

  27. In any case, I do not think Yisroel Beitanu is representative of most Israelis, including most Israeli Jews, as you say. In some respects, yes. In others, no.

  28. ‘Following your logic, what would stop the settlers and their supporters from telling themselves that the people have in fact got it wrong and that they won’t go along with the dismantlement of their homes and businesses?’

    Surely that is your logic: it is you who are saying they have an executive power over and above that of the state or government.

    In any case, most settlements would not be removed. Some would be. They will just have to deal with it or be forcibly removed by the army, or deal with the Palestinians, on their own, without protection from the army.

  29. You call yourself hoi polloi after the ancient Athenian democracy. But one of its problems was that the citizens voted too often (possibly most gathered to vote 10 times a year), and were entirely dependent on slaves to carry on the work while they took the time to do so.

    It was hoi polloi that voted to take on the policies that led Athens to disaster, and the end, practically speaking, of its democracy forever.

  30. http://debka.com/article/20700/

    Netanyahu is a useless, paralysed pussy. He is incapable of taking the decisions a leaders needs to take. He should be hammering militants in Gaza, maybe even sunk those Iranian ships which just docked in Syria, and reorganizing the IDF for its southern front.

    And he fired the Gabi Ashkenazi, the best leader the IDF has had for years, again, for a complacent, politicking pussy like him.

  31. I am not so sure about McEwan’s literary powers: “a tsunami of concrete” indeed. Apart from the fact that he is using a word that has been adopted for all manner of trivia that somebody happens to feel upset about (I came across a reference to the “tsunami” of disappointed expectations that some radio enthusiasts had experienced on hearing that a well-liked radio station was to close!), because the word became “fashionable” after the real disaster in south east asia: like the Holocaust, the meaning of tsunami doesn’t lend itself to these casual parallelisms, and by mixing the word with an inappropriate body such as “concrete” leaves the reader confused – but when one’s moral bearings are lost and aesthetics takes over confusion is only to be expected. I did like an article which he published in 2003 on the eve of the invasion of Iraq where he candidly admitted to being confused, on the one hand wars are horrible things, so his heart was with the doves, but Saddam was an even more horrible thing, so his head was with the hawks. An honest and probably fairly universal quandary for most decent people I should think. But I never liked his short stories, and his novels seem to me at best the sort of clever but untidy productions a brainy sixth former might come up with: A Child in Time seemed to me muddled and morally ambiguous (in the worst sense) in the extreme. If he genuinely thought as he does, why accept the prize? In accepting the prize a little thought for his hosts – is that too much to ask? Thoughtless in Jerusalem…. while in making the comparison he has of course to be really Eyes-averted in Gaza….

  32. At least Umberto Eco who was at the fair did not feel it his duty to lecture Israel and talk about its supposed nihilism. Most importantly Eco indicated ” that unlike McEwan, he faced no pressure from colleagues to stay away from the Israeli book fair”.

    “Renowned Italian writer Umberto Eco said at an Israeli book fair Wednesday that boycotting scholars for their governments’ policies is akin to racism.

    It was his response to British writers who called on prominent British novelist Ian McEwan to reject an Israeli literary prize this week as a way of protesting Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

    Eco told reporters that unlike McEwan, he faced no pressure from colleagues to stay away from the Israeli book fair, and he does not support boycotts.

    “I consider it absolutely crazy” and “fundamentally racist to identify a scholar, a private citizen, with the politics of his government,” Eco said.

    Eco, 79, is the author of best-selling books including “The Name of the Rose” and “Foucault’s Pendulum.” He is one of Italy’s most widely read novelists.”
    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4033133,00.html