The big lie

The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity

By Mark Heffernan

A review of The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, And Identity by David Solway

Published on October 11, 2007

The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, And Identity
David Solway

Lester, Mason & Begg
$24.95
paper
320pp
978176502

David Solway is a brilliant writer. The power of his sentences, amplified by a rich and precisely honed vocabulary, places him in that rarefied category of essayists for whom, as with Christopher Hitchens, rhetoric is a genie that holds sway over the reader’s mind. He is also, like Hitchens, a former leftist who now supports the Bush doctrine.

The first part of The Big Lie, entitled “Platform,” uses Michel Houellebecq’s novel of that title and the French author’s notorious Islam-bashing as reference points for a 90-page tirade against Islam in which, pointing out the joy expressed by Moslems over the decimations of the terrorists (as in 9/11), he concludes that “they (Moslems) can scarcely be considered, in the vocabulary of Western humanism, as ‘ethical subjects’ but remain in the service of an exclusionary universal and as such are inaccessible to us.”

In the second part of the book, entitled, “On Being a Jew,” Solway lays about with his broadsword like Achilles with his heel still intact, striking at a prejudiced Western media and Europe’s “relativist approach to multiculturalism,” which is undermining its own Enlightenment values. Solway believes 2003 is a repeat of 1938, when the first aggressions of a delinquent nation were met with a soft European response. Doubting that any negotiation is possible with the Palestinian Authority, Solway unleashes one of his many fireballs:

 

As for the ‘peaceful’ advocacy of such people – the journalists, the broadcasters, the

bien pensants, the instapundits, the talking heads and Teledontosauri , the frequently consulted Arab plenipotentiaries – this amounts to nothing more than a subtle technique of persuasion intended to promote the bloody agenda of Arab leaders like the late Yassar Arafat and Hizbullah fanatic Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

The socio-historical origins of terrorism do not concern Solway. He vehemently rejects any and all reasons for occidental guilt and, strangely for a poet and former leftist, is baffled by the apparent “death wish” in Western culture, the knell for which has been sounded by poets and philosophers from William Blake to The Dialectic of Enlightenment. Solway rejects the postmodern critique of the Enlightenment, and the entire discourse surrounding the tyranny of reason with its concomitant social backlash of alienated youth, dysfunctional families, and countercultural movements. His bold attack on the ideological constructs of academia appears to derive from some embattled front where Solway has been witness to imminent doom. Mocking Derrida’s ghastly stutter in response to 9/11 (it was a “telegram of metonymy”), appalled by the “we had it coming to us” views of Edward Said and Noam Chomsky – he dismisses the latter’s work as “ideological blather” – Solway believes that the intellectual Left is incapable of recognizing reality, that it wants to feed the planet on Coleridge’s “honey-dew.” He describes the climate of Western academic dementia as follows:

 

[…] Hatred of one’s own, a proneness to delusion, and the seductive reverie of antirealism, moral evasiveness and the habit of rejigging the past seem hardwired into the mindset of this strange human colony, so glibly eloquent and yet so morally inarticulate.

 

He is equally troubled by the kind of internationalism that seeks a feel-good, Kantian brotherhood of man at the very moment when the “barbarians are at the door”:

 

Under the rubric of “social justice,” the Left is busy trying to dismantle the imperfect but still effective political and economic structure of the world’s greatest democracy, the bulwark of what we know as civilization, in order to pursue a universalist program of salvation on earth…

 

Profoundly informed, contentious, bellicose, masterfully composed, bracingly un-Canadian in its passionate opinions, The Big Lie rides roughshod over the problem of the creation of social wholes in which – whether they are God-centered cultures or capitalist ones – there will be glaring inadequacies. Neither Solway nor Hitchens appear to have any understanding of the contemplative richness of lives lived under a transcendent ideal, nor of the dangers of a time-bound society that manufactures commercialized identities. The Barbie dolls that strut about with the “I-am-an-object-to-be-desired” look on their faces may be remotely related to the terrorist. But Solway’s polemic is a provocation to all left-leaning intellectuals who have withdrawn into a dream world of imagined togetherness, who have been lulled into a soporific reverie by the constant drone of conflict, or who have crawled snail-like into a rhetoric-encumbered postmodern liberal arts shell.

Bearer of a tremendously personalized world of learning, and thus never pedantic, Solway is that rare species of lone gun intellectual who must be treated with cautious respect. mRb

Mark Heffernan is a Montreal writer.

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