Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda: Islam as Rehab for Women

British novelist Martin Amis has expressed regret that his late sister did not embrace Islam to save herself from self-destruction. Everyone is understandably confused.

To begin with, Amis is not a neutral figure on Islam and women: he thinks that Muslims should be masterminded into becoming “more like human beings.” He likes the idea of being a “gynocrat,” a feminist self-styling so unconvincing even the most naïve will feel cynical about his political predilections. In an interview with Abu Dhabis’ The National, Amis revealed that his sister Sally, who died in 2000, was “pathologically promiscuous” and had severe depression and alcoholism. Amis believes that Islam would have come to her rescue, despite her conversion to Catholicism.

There are many problems with Amis wishing that his late sister had been a Muslim. First, despite his negative views of Muslims, Amis views Islam as a rehab program for troubled souls who needs to be “fixed.” According to him, “The continence of Islam, the austerity, the demands it makes” on Muslims may prove to be an excellent regimen for “such an uncontrollable girl” like his sister. Amis is perhaps unaware or refuses to acknowledge the fact that an overwhelming number of Muslims make a conscious choice about practicing Islam, rather than seeing that Islam makes demands of its adherents. The Islamic austerity that he cooks up in his imagination is partly mythical and wildly unrepresentative of any religious group.

His opinions about Islam only thinly veil his wish that his sister would have been better off subjected to intense control rather than making a healthy recovery on her own terms. Had his sister been a well-adjusted and sober woman, would he recommend the Islamic life to her? Most likely not. After all, a happy woman should not have to live under such an oppressive religion!

Had he a brother, hypothetically speaking, who was enduring similar circumstances, would a dose of the strictest interpretation of Islam be a way out of a turbulent life? Unlikely, as Amis is quite aware about what Islam can do to disaffected Muslim men (hint: they become terrorists!).

It doesn’t help that Amis has made condescending remarks about Islam in the past on the one hand, and has turned to making cryptic (but spun as positive) ones on the other. When gender is thrown into the mix, a deeply unsettling picture emerges from the mind of a writer who not only enjoys speaking his mind, but who obviously revels in the controversy that he courts. His new, “very feminist” book, The Pregnant Widow, was motivated by the life of his sister—who he describes a “victim” of the sexual revolution in the 1960s. I have not read his book, but judging by the novel’s premise about a group of youth carrying on in Italy during the Sexual Revolution of the ’70s (which screams out “every heterosexist male fantasy”), his book will not find itself on my bookshelf anytime soon.

Giving Martin Amis the publicity to air his provocative views about women and Islam illustrates not only the media’s outmoded fascination with highbrow enfants terrible, but also the dividing of public opinion about the issue of women’s conformity to a certain moral code and Islam. Whether you think Amis is ignorant about Muslim women and Islam in general or not, he has certainly stirred a perennially angry beehive.

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