Leading article: Thinking allowed

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The Independent Online

"We live," said Martin Amis in his memoir, Experience, "in the age of mass loquacity". Indeed, we do. It's a feature of contemporary life he might have had cause to regret in recent months, as his own contributions to the conversation of the cappuccino-sipping cognoscenti have not been such as to win him any well, let's not use words like "brownie points" in a debate already fuelled by accusations of racism and worse.

Ever since Amis confessed, in an interview last autumn, to an urge to make the Muslim community "suffer" for terrorist acts done in the name of Islam, the gloves have been off, as a succession of writers and journalists Terry Eagleton, Ronan Bennett, our own Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, among others have led a groundswell of outraged opinion in response. In the course of a distinguished, and at times, explosive, literary career, Amis has spawned a smogasbord of spats, and charges ranging from anti-Semitism (Time's Arrow) to misogyny (everything). He has always responded with spirited eloquence, but he has never yet provoked what he calls the "calumny" of being called a racist.

In an article at the weekend, and in a debate at Manchester University on Monday night, he declared that he did not "advocate" any discriminatory treatment of Muslims" and "never" had. Mr Amis is right to stand up for the right, in a culture of free speech, to think aloud. The spoken word is, he said, paraphrasing Nabokov, a provisional but necessary part of debate: "I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished man of letters, I talk like an idiot". We can only applaud the right to be an idiot.