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October 2, 2004 1:10 PM   Subscribe

What's up with Christopher Hitchens nowadays? Here is an interview with him by Johann Hari.
posted by semmi (58 comments total)

 
he grew up?
posted by andrew cooke at 1:23 PM on October 2, 2004


It seems more like a second childhood, with all the attendant naivete about his new daddy.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 1:28 PM on October 2, 2004


This, in his own words, appears to be what is "up" with him.

"The United States was attacked by theocratic fascists who represents all the most reactionary elements on earth. They stand for liquidating everything the left has fought for: women's rights, democracy? And how did much of the left respond? By affecting a kind of neutrality between America and the theocratic fascists." He cites the cover of one of Tariq Ali's books as the perfect example. It shows Bush and Bin Laden morphed into one on its cover. "It's explicitly saying they are equally bad. However bad the American Empire has been, it is not as bad as this. It is not the Taliban, and anybody - any movement - that cannot see the difference has lost all moral bearings."

posted by loquax at 1:31 PM on October 2, 2004


the links after the article are worth reading too. this one addresses the kind of group-think mentality that we see here on mefi, for example.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:32 PM on October 2, 2004


By affecting a kind of neutrality between America and the theocratic fascists.

nothing but pathethic straw men.
and you still have the gall to lecture others, instead of hanging your head in shame, because we've warned you about the folly of this war and you just didnt listen.

all that remains to the wingnuts who dragged America into the Iraqi disaster? straw men. all that blood, all that hate, all those invisible weapons of mass destruction. and you can't do better than that -- you just burn silly straw men to cover the smell of innocent blood, Iraqi and American, that your war has shed.

please link where, say, Kerry or Dean or whomever of any importance among progressives (yes, Bush makes even Kerry look like a giant of the Left) ever said something like "we're neutral", "if Al qaeda wins we're happy".
after the Iraqi carnage GI's wingnuts' rants cease to be amusing. they're just so disgusting. so shameless.

enjoy your new, post-Abu Ghraib America. but after all, you got your war, it's all that counts.
and blame straw men, blame the librul press that "stabbed you in the back" (Godwin, OK, I dont care), if that makes you sleep better at night.
go have dinner to some swanky restaurant with your buddy Ahmed Chalabi. go ahead, it's on the US taxpayers tab. saner people will have to find a solution for the disaster you gave us
posted by matteo at 4:07 PM on October 2, 2004


The left is not one monolithic entity equating Bush with Bin Laden, any more than the right is one monolithic entity equating all muslims with terrorists. Given that he's set aside his principles enough to get in bed with America's own theocratic fascists, he doesn't seem to be in a position to lecture on moral bearings.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 4:08 PM on October 2, 2004


"after the Iraqi carnage GI's wingnuts' rants cease to be amusing"

should read of course "after the Iraqi carnage of civilians and GI's wingnuts' rants cease to be" etc

disgust hurts my sintax, and my typing skills
posted by matteo at 4:09 PM on October 2, 2004


He's afraid.

And i agree with you exactly, Armitage Shanks (and you too matteo). Failing to see those same tendencies in our side is unacceptable in someone who is supposed to be intelligent and analytical.
posted by amberglow at 4:24 PM on October 2, 2004


I think it's interesting to compare him to Andrew Sullivan (who i don't like at all)...Sullivan's been making his way back to a normalcy, and against the abuses/mistakes/unAmerican activities of Bush and us "good guys". Hitchens, on the other hand, goes further and further down some dark alley with Perle and Wolfowitz.
posted by amberglow at 4:27 PM on October 2, 2004


"Given that he's set aside his principles..."

Of course his point is that he has remained faithful to the "principle" while the new left has not.
posted by semmi at 4:37 PM on October 2, 2004


"...The United States was attacked by theocratic fascists who represents all the most reactionary elements on earth. They stand for liquidating everything the left has fought for: women's rights, democracy?" - That would be the rump faction of far right wing American Southern Baptists, correct?
posted by troutfishing at 4:38 PM on October 2, 2004


"The United States was attacked by theocratic fascists who represents all the most reactionary elements on earth. They stand for liquidating everything the left has fought for: women's rights, democracy?
Enough about the republicans, what does his think about terrorists?

See also: David Horowitz.

People change positions. Extremists change them quicker and harder than most.
posted by skallas at 4:40 PM on October 2, 2004


Wasn't there, some time back, before the vision thing struck Hitch on his way to Damascus and he converted some big thing about having sold out a friend simply to get a nice few bucks for a story? He betrayed a pal, I seem to recall. That ended my nice feelings for the guy, though I do admire still his writing skills and his literary criticism.

The Left is a bunch of asses. The Right is a bunch of asses. But the Left gave us unemployment, minimum wages, social security, medicare, oversite on various drugs and other products, and integrated the schools in the South and the American military (1950)...Under Ike, we fought Hitler's racist thought with--segregated military forces.

Under the last vistige of a liberal--Clinton--we had a balenced budget; today,the largest deficit in American history. In his noble fight against Osama, Bush has us mire;d down in Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the attack on 9/11. And now the war continues in Iraq as the Taliban come back to Afghanistan. Best precition: civil war in Iraq in a year's time...but Hitch will blame that on the Left too, doubtless.

I guess he know that the coproations own the magazine etc and thus this is the side to be on for a good salary.
posted by Postroad at 4:40 PM on October 2, 2004


Hitchens, on the other hand, goes further and further down some dark alley with Perle and Wolfowitz.

It's really odd. Given that he's chosen to live in the United States and obviously admires much about the country, I can certainly understand his moving to the right politically. But given that he's so opposed to authoritarianism, I find the fact that he's written so little that's critical of this administration to be a complete cognitive disconnect. I mean, even if you buy into the principles of the neocon agenda, you have to see some unpleasant effects in the way it's been implemented.

On preview: Semmi, which principle are you referring to?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 4:41 PM on October 2, 2004


Also - more directly on Hitchens : these sorts of 180 degree swings are really quite common among dedicated ideologues, who tend to search in their political beliefs, somehow, for a satisfaction or joy they have not found in their lives outside of politics.

In other words, political ideology-as-religion begets surprising and sudden swings in allegiance.

Both political ideologies and religion - held too fervently - involve belief in things unseen, ephemeral answers for the ills of the world.

In other words, Hitchens is crazy.

[ Aren't we all. ]

Or not - he has merely found a new opiate.
posted by troutfishing at 4:46 PM on October 2, 2004


You know, thinking on this and the debate the other night...

In WW2 Germany a great majority of the troops were decent people and the leader and the leadership class was very, very bad. Conventional Right wing wisdom would celebrate one who voiced dissent in WW2 Germany, yet to Hitch and to our White House it is a great insult to our troops to question the motives of those who sent them.

Hitch even goes so far as to claim that the Left, in calling Bush a bad leader and the Taliban regime bad is to draw an equivilancy.

This kind of thinking could produce proof for ANYTHING. His theses are utterly divorced from any real truths. He never cites real world examples, and simply glosses other commentator's work and pulls sentances out of context with which to build his strawman arguments. He has gone beyond the real into a virtuality. And I always thought that all the Postmodern political theorists were just goofing around. It has actually begun to happen. Soon we will live in a world where it is nearly impossible to form a political opinion about anything, which is just what *our* ruling class seems to want, unfortunately. I wonder if the journalistic equivalent of the 'oceans' dying' is happening.... the beginning of the end.
posted by n9 at 4:47 PM on October 2, 2004


the Blumenthal/Monica thing, Postroad? the recent scandal involving the English left-wing journalist Christopher Hitchens. Sidney Blumenthal, President Clinton's spin-doctor, whom Hitchens refers to as his "old friend," denied to one and all that he had described Monica Lewinsky to the press as a "stalker." In a sworn affidavit, Hitchens implied that Blumenthal was lying. Many people on the left believe that Hitchens volunteered this adverse testimony, or at any rate could have kept the matter to himself. In their eyes, Hitchens not only betrayed his friend. He did it on behalf of them-the reactionary forces of family, country, religion, and law, embodied in the person of Kenneth Starr.
posted by amberglow at 4:49 PM on October 2, 2004


Given that he's set aside his principles enough to get in bed with America's own theocratic fascists ...

- That would be the rump faction of far right wing American Southern Baptists, correct?


see, I think you're only proving his point - to equate right wing america ("America's own theocratic fascists") with the islamic fundamentalists is simply factually wrong. Pre-emptive war is a dangerous decision, and bush's administration has never had a workable plan, it seems, but at the same time, it's a serious underestimation of islamic radicals to suggest that they're just some foreign equivalent of jerry falwell.

Hitchens has always been an "us vs them" kind of thinker - he's at his best when he's fighting tooth and nail against someone or something. He's sharp and interesting, but he's never been into nuance or diplomacy. His shift was not a surprise to me, and I still respect him, despite thinking he jumped to quickly to back a plan that wasn't well thought out. I think he's been true to his principles while some on the left have gotten so caught up in sticking with their team that they aren't paying attention to actual consequences (not saying everyone against the war falls in this camp - I consider myself against this war, but not without qualifications, which is to say, there might have been a way to do it right).
posted by mdn at 4:53 PM on October 2, 2004


I think the vast majority of us in the US, even on the left, were for going into Afghanistan to get Osama. No one i know wasn't. It's everything after that (and not finishing the job there) that's been so wrongheaded, and wrong. That's been recognized by generals in the Pentagon, and people on all sides of the debate.

It's the bait-and-switch of it all.
posted by amberglow at 4:59 PM on October 2, 2004


On preview: Semmi, which principle are you referring to?

A.S.: The same one you were.

"...in the light of the political developments of the last three years, that I don't think the only, or even the most important, thing one needs to know about someone today in forming a judgement about the character of their political outlook is whether or not they are of the left. Rather more significant is to know what their all-round relationship is to certain values that have always been central to the historical project of the left: democratic and egalitarian values; a decent conception of justice (such as aims to achieve for everyone the possibility of a secure and fulfilled existence); and the protection of individual human beings from the more egregious types of assault to which they are subject when such values are denied or cast aside."
posted by semmi at 5:08 PM on October 2, 2004


it's a serious underestimation of islamic radicals to suggest that they're just some foreign equivalent of jerry falwell.

It's also a serious underestimation of the religious right to suggest that they're not extremely dangerous people in their own way, and buying into a movement that gives them more power is worthy of concern.

I think that Islamofascsists are to fundamentalist Arab states as Christofascists are to to the United States. That doesn't mean they're equally awful; it means that they'd each like to drag their own cultures a similar distance backward from where it is now (luckily for us, we're already a lot further from the Dark Ages).
posted by Armitage Shanks at 5:08 PM on October 2, 2004


The problem is Islamofascists -- a segment of the global population I think we all agree is bad -- is that you can't just kill a bunch of them, bomb their countries, and be done with them. The conditions in their countries, which were almost all established by the Brits after WWI, breed a kind of conflict between dreams and secular reality that can only be solved by extremist religious doctrines. It makes it easier to bear that split if you can declare the infidel evil and look forward to limitless bounty in the afterlife (and I'd say the conditions in Kansas are much the same, and the same applies to fundamentalist Christians). So as long as women have baby boys, there'll be recruits.

Funny, I learned much of this from reading Christopher Hitchens after the first Gulf War broke out (some article in Harper's about drawing a line in the sand); then I read David Fromkin's "The Peace to End All Peace" at Martin Amis' suggestion (he read it because Hitchens, his best friend, told him to). Now I'd ask Hitch to read Avishai Margalit and Ian Buruma's Occidentalism. But why would he listen to me?
posted by judlew at 5:22 PM on October 2, 2004


...a decent conception of justice (such as aims to achieve for everyone the possibility of a secure and fulfilled existence); and the protection of individual human beings from the more egregious types of assault to which they are subject when such values are denied or cast aside.

The first five words that come to mind:

Abu Ghraib,
Geneva Conventions,
Torture.

It remains to be seen if Extra-Judicial Executions can be added to that list.
posted by y2karl at 5:25 PM on October 2, 2004


Damn, I just realized it's Saturday night and I'm home contemplating Christopher Hitchens' "flip-flop."
posted by eatitlive at 5:30 PM on October 2, 2004


From reading the article it seems that Hitchens' views are at least in part governed by a negative reaction to certain people, be it Clinton or those who attack Bush. He often cites his disgust at those who think that the Islamofascists (a good term BTW) are "merely people with a grievance", but in this I see a straw man maneuver, that (perhaps honestly) perceived by someone actively looking for grievances. Frankly I don't see the masses of Bush haters somehow thinking that all Bin-Laden needs is cash and a hug, yet that's pretty much the way Hitch sees the world.

Unfortunately he's as self-blinded as those with whom he finds faults. While he pays lip service to Palestinian suffering he's also throwing his lot behind the Administration which gives an enthusiastic thumbs up to Sharon, and he's unable to realize that the man who personally signed over 150 executions in Texas also signed the marching orders of Iraq. I don't see him explaining how razing Fallojah is hurting -- rather than helping -- the Islamofascist cause. Or how Paul Wolfowitz can be so moved by the Palestinian cause but unconcerned about the thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq. I can definitely sense an unwillingness to see the argument through in the interview -- not an inability, but a conscious act of denial.

But, in short, one can't help but think of Hitchens as an intellectual bully -- one who goes around picking fights mostly for the sake of fighting. A bit like a William Bennett with an English accent and no gambling problem.
posted by clevershark at 6:37 PM on October 2, 2004


I'm pretty sure Vanity Fair is paying him to drink himself to death and write about it.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:06 PM on October 2, 2004


He cites the cover of one of Tariq Ali's books as the perfect example. It shows Bush and Bin Laden morphed into one on its cover.

I assume he is referring to the cover of The Clash of Fundamentalisms which has a picture of Bush composited with someone else, who I'm pretty sure isn't bin Laden, unless of course, you know, they all look the same to you. And besides, I think it's a joke.
posted by euphorb at 7:23 PM on October 2, 2004


Good call on that euphorb... that looks nothing like bin Ladin.
posted by clevershark at 7:33 PM on October 2, 2004


Islamofascists (a good term BTW)

I reckon that it's an intellectually lazy, deeply dishonest, fundamentally misleading afterbirth of a phrase, along with such PNACular ones like 'ethnic cleansing' and 'collateral damage'. But that's just me, perhaps.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:22 PM on October 2, 2004


Hitch's final column for The Nation mentions, among other things, his friend Mazen Zahawi, murdered and tortured by the regime of Saddam Hussein, which certainly should have been included as one of the motivators in his current journey. Another signpost was his review Lightness at Midnight [q.v. Slate], which exposed, continued, or concluded his feud with onetime close friend Martin Amis over, essentially, who had been more against Stalinism, or earliest to reach that conclusion. Hitchens does argue that the Left must remain self-critical, while pointing out that it has always had dissent within its own ranks (in this case, the question of celebrating rebellion from within Bolshevism against the Bolshevik regime). He's intelligent enough to make these distinctions, laying them at the feet of his own deeply held principles transcending allegiance, but should also be cognizant of others' choices in these matters -- a likely weakness which has been key in his alienation.

This article also tellingly fails to plumb Hitchens on his reaction to the current state of affairs in Iraq. It doesn't require an imperturbable opposition to 'Islamofascism' in order to take a dim view of the accomplishments there so far. You can even blame it all, if you like, on people other than your ideological allies across the fence in neoconservatism such as Wolfowitz, or at least to a failure of vision or of execution. I don't think, since this article misses this discussion (probably deliberately), that we can judge Hitchens as a fool or tool, though he's certainly been much more vocal on much less, shall we say, certain evidence.

But there's much merit to his warning that the Left has taken a wrong turn when it fails, itself, to denounce -- as a matter of political expedience -- that which is wrong in Milosevic, in Hussein, in other targets of its greater nemesis, which is the international statist power structure headed by the US. Canaries in coal mines often end up dead. That may, in effect, be what is happening to Hitchens, as Marc Cooper implies. It's unfair in many ways to let Hitchens bear the burden of pointing out these failures alone. The Left in its entirety will never be taken seriously by many people when it allows these lazy enemy-of-my-enemy equivalences to become core arguments. If they are expedience, we must be brutally honest, just as we expect the US to be brutally honest about its own expedience in choosing, say, Uzbekistan as an ally.

Stav, to the extent that Islamofascism is a bad term, its partly because the religious fundamentalists -- in its own way an even more misleading term -- are generally in the opposition to regimes which are properly termed secular fascist states (on a sliding scale ranging from Ba'athist Iraq to Pakistan and Egypt). One can certainly oppose both. It's certain, though, that there is little traditional liberalism, let alone anything resembling progressivism, in what these guys want to create, unless you wish to somehow enlist them in the antiglobalization cause (and then we're back at square one with this thread). I do await your trenchant linguistic suggestions, of course.

The photo was a 'shop contest, probably either Something Awful or Worth1000. (The only attributions I can find online, however, point to BushSpeaks, which is certainly a recirculator.) The original subject was not bin Laden, but it is traditional Afghan headdress. The link [by the artist] is to the Taliban directly, rather than bin Laden, but that's a mild slip, to be sure, as the intent by Tariq Ali [as editor] is almost certainly to make the equivalence explicit. In other words, it's a fair knock on Ali, even if you disagree that Ali was going as far as Hitchens implies.
posted by dhartung at 8:49 PM on October 2, 2004


This has probably been linked here before, but this brief memoir of the early days of Hitchens by Roz Kaveney pretty well puts him in his place.
Christopher Hitchens is, these days, an urbane drunken fop who still lays some sort of claim to left principles, and argues that supporting the Iraq war was a form of those principles. He made something of a name in the US by arguing for the prosecution of Henry Kissinger as a war criminal, and by debunking Mother Theresa - and by denouncing Bill Clinton as a rapist, a drug dealer, a war criminal, a signer of death warrants for political advantage and so on.
However, Hitchens isn't completely lost as this excellent article shows (originally written for The Atlantic, but poted to freerepublic for some odd reason). Even in this though, he goes wonderfully off the rails a few times:
Even today a faint, saintly penumbra still emanates from the Old Man. Where once the Stalinist press and propaganda machine employed the curse of Trotskyism to criminalize and defame the "rotten elements" and "rootless cosmopolitans," now the tribunes of the isolationist right level the same charge at neoconservatives and the supporters of regime change. In Patrick Buchanan's vituperations, and in a plethora of related attacks on a hidden American "cabal," it is openly said that the cunning members of a certain ethnic minority are up to their old tricks of "permanent revolution," and even that the arcane figure of Leo Strauss is the partial reincarnation of Trotsky.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 10:26 PM on October 2, 2004


Extremists change them quicker and harder than most.
I eagerly await the day LGF and MF switch places. Comedy technetium.
posted by darukaru at 6:45 AM on October 3, 2004


You eagerly await the day MetaFilter becomes a hive of racist assholes?
posted by Space Coyote at 6:50 AM on October 3, 2004


I reckon that it's an intellectually lazy, deeply dishonest, fundamentally misleading afterbirth of a phrase

I don't agree with you here... I think it' an appropriate, if sensationalistic term. The enemy wants to impose a state of religious absolutism -- in a sense, to "bind the fasces" around the Koran. It has never recognized national boundaries, and instead dreams of a "grand caliphate" entirely ruled by sharia. It do not see non-muslims as being human, nor does it see those who collaborate with foreigners as being muslims, and as such any and all means can be used to deal with them and "set them right".

It certainly fits into the model of what is seen as "fascism" in our modern world.
posted by clevershark at 8:22 AM on October 3, 2004


mdn and dhartung nail it. This isn't really so much of a flip-flop as it looks; Hitchens comes from a generation of leftists who watched (and helped) the intellectual elite endorse Stalin out of some sick sense of party loyalty. That makes for a pretty defining moment, and Hitchens has always been a contrarian; he's consciously operating in the tradition of Orwell, who called himself a socialist but spent a great deal of time and energy decrying the left's excesses, self-delusion, and doublethink. Orwell, you will recall, was discovered after his death to have shopped several friends in the movement to the British government because he believed them to be dangerously aligned with Communism. This is the tradition which Hitchens considers himself to have inherited and I think he's held it up fairly well; he sees in the rush to condemn the war, in the constant quotes from the press from Iraqis who claim to have been happier under Saddam, echoes of the old apologists for Stalin, and he doesn't like it one bit. Whether he's reaching to see parallels between the two situations is another question.

Of course, if (as has been stated here — I haven't been reading Hitchens lately) he is in fact defending not merely the war but the administration itself and its incompetence and domestic abuses simply because he believes the eradication of militant Islam justifies these measures, then he's guilty of precisely the my-political-allies-right-or-wrong mentality which he's spent his career decrying, and that's a damn shame. I liked Hitchens.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:56 AM on October 3, 2004


I think however that Hitchins really mistakes the argument between himself and the left. Not too long ago, the only rumblings that Islamic Fascism might be dangerous came from the left. When the Taliban destroyed Buddhist relics, the only concern was from the left. I remember it was not too long ago that Saudi Arabia's Islamic law was pointed to as an positive example by some on the right as a rationale for tougher prisons and captial punishment. Suddenly, post 9-11, the right flip-flopped from treating Islamic religious facism as their concern to our concern.

But a large part of the debate on the left is how do we address problem, coupled with a skepticism that we can impose American-style democracy by force.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:09 AM on October 3, 2004


I wrote this last night - metafilter was down when i tried to post it but it still seems worth posting. Ishmael: that's precisely what he's doing. Unfortunately. His article on Kissinger was a wonderful piece of journalism among many.

---

It's worth pointing out, though Hitchens implies in this interview that Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and company actually careabout promoting democracy, that it's a driving force for them, and that that realization was part of what makes him pro-Bush despite having been anti-Kissinger.

I have two words for that. Bull. Shit.

Second: More worthwhile reading on Hitchens' change of attitude, from Norman Finkelstein. I tend more towards this second opinion and less towards the first. Among other very good points, it contains a succinct rebuttal of Hitchens' dismissal of the idea of "root causes" leading to support for Islamic fundamentalism, by showing where he explicitly contradicts himself on that point, since his so-called "conversion".
posted by louigi at 11:52 AM on October 3, 2004


To expand on that a little bit. I don't think anyone on the left believes that the Taliban or Hussein were good. The basic problem is that the history of the U.S. intervention in foreign affairs inspires some well-justified skepticism about the ability of the U.S. to foster regime change in ways that actually advance civil rights. The U.S. has a disturbing track record of installing governments that benefit U.S. interests more than the local populations.

In addition, there is a sense that the most successful examples of democratic regime change in the 20th century have been triggered by internal pressure rather than external force. So the question has never been whether Islamic facism is bad, but whether our best long-term bet in fighting Islamic facism involves the use of military force, with the result of alienating moderates who don't like Hussein, but are not willing to accept a long-term American occupying force, or a puppet government either.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:57 AM on October 3, 2004


Funny how this mentions Hitchens's criticism for Clinton over the bombing of the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory and how it led to the death of 10,000 people.

Hitchens actually disagreed that the bombing was that serious and accused Chomsky of overestimating it's impact.

I don't have a political allegiance now, and I doubt I ever will have again.

Hitchens is a self-serving, straw man-building, devil's advocate. He froths with contempt for Clinton but lets Bush's mistakes slide.

Hitchens was on a TV debate with the leader of a small socialist party in the Irish daily. "He said these Islamic fascists are doing this because they have deep-seated grievances. And I said, 'Ah yes, they have many grievances. They are aggrieved when they see unveiled woman. And they are aggrieved that we tolerate homosexuals and Jews and free speech and the reading of literature.'"

or in other words, they hate our freedom. Does he really believe this simplistic analysis?
posted by destro at 12:12 PM on October 3, 2004


To expand on that a little bit. I don't think anyone on the left believes that the Taliban or Hussein were good.

The problem, I think, is that everyone gets defined by their enemies, to a certain extent - that is, by whatever they fight against as much as what they fight for. No leftist would ever claim Saddam to have been good, but the evilness of saddam tends to be equated with the evilness of george bush - which to my mind means people are somewhat lackadaisical about saddam. If bush wins in november, there are many things which will suffer - education, the environment, our relationships with other countries, etc - but we will not literally be worried for our lives. People may leave the country because they don't want to live under such an embarrassment of a president, but not because they may be tortured and executed for speaking against him.

And when Hitchens first began talking about how the war might be the right thing, he did not dissociate himself from the left. In fact, I remember thinking at the time that it was good that there were people on the left willing to support the intervention, since obviously saddam's regime was antithetical to everything the left stands for, and hence it seemed to me that some level of ambivalence about the way forward was reasonable. But the rest of the left wasn't willing to allow that, which is what leaves hitchens without "any political affiliations" as he says.

Anyway. I agree that under different circumstances the christian right would be dangerous, and that the islamic fundies can't be explained with a simplistic "they hate freedom", but it seems to me it's still dangerous to downplay the fact that at heart we are much closer to gwbush than to saddam hussein.
posted by mdn at 3:38 PM on October 3, 2004


mdn: The problem, I think, is that everyone gets defined by their enemies, to a certain extent - that is, by whatever they fight against as much as what they fight for. No leftist would ever claim Saddam to have been good, but the evilness of saddam tends to be equated with the evilness of george bush - which to my mind means people are somewhat lackadaisical about saddam. If bush wins in november, there are many things which will suffer - education, the environment, our relationships with other countries, etc - but we will not literally be worried for our lives. People may leave the country because they don't want to live under such an embarrassment of a president, but not because they may be tortured and executed for speaking against him.

Perhaps not here. However, given the history of regimes that we have tended to support, it is not clear whether those freedoms will hold in Iraq, or Afghanistan (interesting that we have not heard much from Afghanistan either.) With a U.S. proposal on the table to limit the upcoming elections to those parts of Iraq least resistant to the occupation, I think that some reasonable doubts as to how much freedoms the Iraqi people will have. Which is one of the point that people objecting the war have consistently made since it was first proposed. The war will have minimal impact on the lives of most American citizens, it will have a huge impact on the lives of people in the countries we occupy. In addition, early in his administration, Bush managed to surround himself with cold war relics such as Abrams and Poindexter who have previously gotten into trouble for their belief that the rights of people in the American sphere of influence were secondary to American interests.

The "seeing no difference" strawman seems to be a common meme over the last few years, and should be exposed for what it is. I don't recall any of the arguments against the war depending on the equation of Hussein to Bush.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:19 PM on October 3, 2004


Stav, to the extent that Islamofascism is a bad term, its partly because the religious fundamentalists -- in its own way an even more misleading term -- are generally in the opposition to regimes which are properly termed secular fascist states (on a sliding scale ranging from Ba'athist Iraq to Pakistan and Egypt).

Perhaps I misunderstand which people those who would use the term are indicating when they use it.

I do await your trenchant linguistic suggestions, of course.

Korantagonists?
Ammohammedans?
Muslimperialists?
Allahuakbarbarians?

Those Freepery neologisms (which I just made up, at your request, sir) hit the target about as well, which is to say, not hardly at all, I'd say.

Ah heck, why not just call them 'evildoers' if we're going to buy into the Bushian broad brushstroke stratageregy?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:34 PM on October 3, 2004


I hasten to note before someone gets all het up that the above was meant solely as parody of the term 'islamofascists'
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:46 PM on October 3, 2004


Christopher Hitchens' Slate columns are beyond just merely unsubtle. They're outright bizarre and sad, and don't make very much sense in the context of what's really happening in Iraq. Hitchens should have remembered Mark Twain's great rule, as listed in "Pudd'nhead Wilson:"

"Behold, the fool saith, "Put not all thine eggs in the one basket" -- which is but a manner of saying, "Scatter your money and your attention"; but the wise man saith, "Put all your eggs in the one basket and -- watch that basket!"
posted by raysmj at 6:05 PM on October 3, 2004


The following is a little o/t. It's also just an opinion I wanted queried so don't be offended:

I get a bit frustrated with the constant, grinding arguments about the root causes of Al-Qa'eda, or more precisely the dichotomous form the debate tends to take. One side says simply, "they hate our freedom", the other dissents asserting instead that, "they have genuine grievances". Both have a kernel of truth but a truth so simplified as to be misleading, and more dangerously, to be morally questionable.

On the right, the tendency of the sentiment, "they hate our freedom" is to dehumanise "them". It encourages us to ignore the disquieting truth that even men willing to testify to their hatred of the West through self-atomisation, do so after rational thought. Instead, it's just "evildoers" "terror" and the "perfectly good us vs. the "totally evil them". The simplification comforts so it beguiles: it gives free rein to that instinctive response to violent assault - the desire to cathartically destroy something, anything that can be made to represent the pain and anger felt.

You only need to read LGF comments after an Israeli missile attack to see why "us vs. them" is such a risky intellectual and emotional framework. Who can read those comments and not feel the posters have lost respect for the dignity and value of all human life? But if such simplifications carry considerable ethical risk, it is nevertheless true that acts of terror are incompatible with humanity's common search for peace and that ultimately, justice in one form or another must be served.

Conversely, the Left's steadfast loyalty to the idea that humanity can do better, that men and women are all born with the potential to work with others peacefully, makes them loathe to admit that some people you just can't reach; that groupthinking terrorists are so mind-closed that as a group they are irredeemable. Thus, there is often a refusal to accept that negotiations with Al-Qa'eda can never bear fruit for the simple reason that negotiations "prove" the weakness of the West and the practical utility of their indiscriminate murder. More to the point, the driving force of pan-global Islamist terror isn't a dislike for specific foreign policies that negotiations might repeal.

Rather, the ultimate source of OBL and his ilk is a general malaise affecting a historically successful, inherently chauvinistic, evangelising faith cum society, the self-image and pride of which is consistently brought into question by the realities of the modern world. Those overwhelmed by Islam's modern affliction are tempted into and then enveloped by Islamist terror's addictive drugs: self-righteousness and a sense of empowerment. In consequence, groups of terrorists cannot be reasoned out of their comforting group-think, not unless separated from their milieu. They are irreconciliables. The failure of many on the Left to see this in the actions and words of Al-Qa'eda is a noble, but flawed attempt to keep faith in all humanity.

Depending on which instinct a person values most - the feeling that justice for an inexcusable transgression is right and good vs. the feeling that all human beings desire cooperation over conflict - generally determines a person's side in the debate and inevitably colours his/her perceptions of those opposing. It's short-sighted but given the constant, underlying atmosphere of fear and the undeniable emotional impact of TV warporn, many feel the need to take a strong moral stand. It's depressingly predictable. It also means that both sides, unwilling to accept any validity in the opposition's core principle - because it appears to challenge the principle they value more - instead compromise their adherence to the lesser ideal. The result: both sides make arguments that sound great to those who have made the same, unnecessary moral choice but which sound utterly wrong to those who haven't.

I'd also add that the personality and oratorical skills of the current US President have magnified the sense that people must make an artificial choice: the whole "with us or against us" schtick forced a lot of idealistic, good people around the world to jump away from a foreign policy idealism - the spread of democracy - that many could otherwise support. If Clinton had taken on exactly the same pro-democracy agenda, the US would not be as isolated in Iraq and globally as currently she is.
posted by pots at 6:44 PM on October 3, 2004


pots: Conversely, the Left's steadfast loyalty to the idea that humanity can do better, that men and women are all born with the potential to work with others peacefully, makes them loathe to admit that some people you just can't reach; that groupthinking terrorists are so mind-closed that as a group they are irredeemable. Thus, there is often a refusal to accept that negotiations with Al-Qa'eda can never bear fruit for the simple reason that negotiations "prove" the weakness of the West and the practical utility of their indiscriminate murder.

Here is the thing. I think it is obvious that Al-Qa'eda is irredeemable. However Al-Qa'eda is not Iraq, Afghanistan, or Islam.

I don't have any faith in Al-Qa'eda. I don't think that anybody on the right or the left does.

However, I do have faith that the best weapon we can have against Al-Qa'eda is a growing group of moderate and liberal muslims who try to make bridges between Western and Eastern culture.

F16s, Warthogs and clusterbombs won't stop terrorism in the long-term. But movements within Islam will. The good faith we had with mainstream muslims was strained a bit after Afghanistan. There is some evidence that we lost it completely with an expeditionary war in Iraq.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:36 PM on October 3, 2004


Lately, whenever Hitchens begins writing a political column, the ouroboros of cognitive dissonance starts passing out cigars, because sure as hell CH will once again use the same basic ingredient for both target and tactic - willful naivete. Watch for it. It's fun. A baby ouroborus always goes rolling away, happily eating itself.
posted by Opus Dark at 9:16 PM on October 3, 2004


A couple things:

1) This is brilliant satire and says tons about how confused Hitchens has become and is therefore worth repeating: Allahuakbarbarians. Nice work, stav.

2) This strikes me as lying at the crux of why Hitchens is so confused: Al-Qa'eda is not Iraq, Afghanistan, or Islam.

It amazes me that someone as intelligent and well-travelled as Hitchens could mistake entire nations (or regions even) for the rhetoric of their most radical fringes - the equivalent would be assuming that a majority of "Christians" (or "Westerners" or what have you) agree not just in spirit but in action with the Unabomber.

On the other hand, one of the most consistent themes in Hitchens' writing is his intense and sometimes irrational loathing for religion of any kind. (This is a guy, after all, who basically agrees with China's characterization of the Dalai Lama as a theocratic despot.)

In raver terms, he appears to have lost the plot.
posted by gompa at 9:38 PM on October 3, 2004


Pre-emptive war is a dangerous decision, and bush's administration has never had a workable plan, it seems, but at the same time, it's a serious underestimation of islamic radicals to suggest that they're just some foreign equivalent of jerry falwell.

Thank you for putting that so well.
posted by jonmc at 8:36 AM on October 4, 2004


The "seeing no difference" strawman seems to be a common meme over the last few years, and should be exposed for what it is. I don't recall any of the arguments against the war depending on the equation of Hussein to Bush.

I said above that no one would ever explicitly equate them. The point is where the vitriol is directed. It's reasonable, I suppose, that more on the left direct contempt toward bush than toward 3rd world dictators, since bush is more directly relevant to us, but in arguing against the war in iraq, why does the focus tend to be on the ugliness of war, the deaths of soldiers, and the current chaos of iraq? To argue against this war, we cannot argue against factors which are present in all wars. ww2 was ugly, caused death, and was chaotic while it was happening. The difference is that it needed to be fought; hitler had used the willingness of europe to negotiate to his advantage and gained too much power. We could have lost that war; the world would be quite different today if we had. The question about iraq is not about whether war is ugly, but the usefulness of this particular war, the repurcussions it will have, the good or harm that it is capable of producing. The questions should be not how many soldiers have died, but whether terrorist recruits are up or down and whether middle eastern countries are responding with interest or resentment...

To argue about soldiers dying, or as michael moore apparently (I didn't see it) implies in fahrenheit 911, that iraq was pleasant and peaceful under saddam, is to miss the point of the debate. I think a lot of people commenting here have much more intelligent and well-reasoned opinions than this, but you have to admit that there is a contingent of the left just generally spouting "war is bad", paying no mind to the other bad things that war, in its crude and tragic way, is trying to correct for.

However, I do have faith that the best weapon we can have against Al-Qa'eda is a growing group of moderate and liberal muslims who try to make bridges between Western and Eastern culture.

I agree with this, and I also think that if things had been handled differently, it would have been possible to make the war in iraq about helping the moderate muslims reclaim their country, rather than making it seem as if america had imperialistic goals. Yes, change only works if it emerges from the inside out - but that doesn't mean the inside can't use the help of the first world. I think the internat'l community does need a policeman of some sort - i just want it to be the UN, or a similar body, not a country with significant financial interests.

This gets very complicated very quickly with issues of national autonomy, and the current insistence of the bush administration that "we don't need a permission slip" is deeply disturbing to me, as it basically guarantees that might makes right, that the richest or most militarily focused countries can do what they like, and invade the poorer ones for any reason they see fit - and the richest countries will not necessarily be democracies.

Anyway, all this is to say, I appreciate your points of view; I just get a bit frustrated with the oversimplifications and irrelevant arguments made against this war by other democrats.
posted by mdn at 10:19 AM on October 4, 2004


I just get a bit frustrated with the oversimplifications and irrelevant arguments made against this war by other democrats.

mdn, welcome to my world. It's a bit slovenly but it's cozy.
posted by jonmc at 10:37 AM on October 4, 2004


mdn: To me, it's not so much a case of war's being ugly or not - war is ugly, and it cannot be stressed enough that war should always be a last resort. What I saw from the very first time I heard talk about an Iraq war was a jump into war, a decision that it was the right thing to do, immediately. I don't see under what circumstances jumping into war would've been the right thing to do. The only possible argument was, Heck, we've been bombing them every day for years now, with hardly anyone noticing. We might as well finish off the job. But there was never any doubt in my mind that things would somehow get more complicated after that.

I don't have very much faith in Kerry's ability to fix this problem. Methinks we'll have to leave eventually, regardless of who gets into office. But Bush needs to be held accountable. Meantime, Hitchens was totally naive to believe the situation would've turned out much differently - well either that or just outright stupid. I don't see how he's still worthy of my respect. He may still come off as interesting, but not worthy of high regard. I'll be incredibly skeptical of him forever now, whether he's on my side or not. He's lost credibility for the soundest of reasons - he refuses to admit even the slightest amount of error. Having good intentions is enough. No, it's not. People who think so are dangerous.
posted by raysmj at 10:40 AM on October 4, 2004


"it's a serious underestimation of islamic radicals to suggest that they're just some foreign equivalent of jerry falwell." - I disagree......fundamentally. Falwell and his ilk do not need to resort to terrorism in the same fashion : they are empowered under American Democracy and have worked hard to build a legitimate electoral power base.

That does not mean that many (and I did NOT say all) American evangelicals are less extreme than Al Qaeda. It does not mean they are, necessarily.

But they are certainly empowered - or feel as if they are, anyway. George W. Bush sends them coded rhetorical messages all the time. They have no need to resort to terrorism.

Terrorism has, historically, been the last political resort of the poor, the dispossessed or - with Osama Bin Laden - for stateless political movements (also as with the late 19th Century - early 20th Century Anarchist Movement).

American evangelicals are neither poor, dispossessed, or stateless.

But - insofar as they want to impose a theocracy which denies Evolution and seeks to impose a legal code based on a literal Biblical interpretation - they are the exact mirror image, but for their methods, of Afghanistan's Taliban.

I'd say that to view Falwell and his ilk as less dangerous than the Taliban may be in itself a serious underestimation.

Many American evangelicals believe - as does, perhaps, many among Al Qaeda - in an impending showdown between "Good and Evil" : and each side claims to be on the side of the "Good".

Both sides are insane.

_________________


"....Where once the Stalinist press and propaganda machine employed the curse of Trotskyism to criminalize and defame the "rotten elements" and "rootless cosmopolitans," now the tribunes of the isolationist right level the same charge at neoconservatives and the supporters of regime change....." - except that the isolationist right 1) does not control the bulk of the press or, for that matter, the state itself (the Neocons do that) and 2) cannot send anyone off to Gulags (except in a rhetorical sense maybe, but probably not even that).

So, Hitchens' comparison deflates.

"the evilness of saddam tends to be equated with the evilness of george bush" (mdn) - Ummm......by whom ? A random fringe protestor holding a sign ? Or is this an opinion I might hear on public radio ?

".....If bush wins in november, there are many things which will suffer - education, the environment, our relationships with other countries, etc - but we will not literally be worried for our lives....." - This is patently absurd. Under Bush, the ranks of those who hate the US with the sort of extreme passion required of suicide bombers has, probably, swelled ten fold.

You're not worried about the abysmal decline in the World's overall opinion about America and the corresponding rise in the number of Muslims advocating acts of terrorism against the US ? I am.

"I think the internat'l community does need a policeman of some sort - i just want it to be the UN, or a similar body, not a country with significant financial interests." (mdn) - I agree.

"People may leave the country because they don't want to live under such an embarrassment of a president, but not because they may be tortured and executed for speaking against him....." (mdn) As Dave Niewert at Orcinus makes it his task to document, they may very likely be harassed, persecuted, beaten up, their freedoms curtailed......

No, that's not execution. Execution is the next step, which might become possible with a few more terrorist attacks on US soil, a broadening of the definition of "treason", and a law mandating the death penalty for that.

Given the pervasive attempts by Federal agencies to associate many on the left - even longstanding pacifists - with having terrorist sympathies (to the extent of placing non-violent activists and political protestors of many stripes on no-fly lists) while convicted home-grown would be terrorists like William Krar receive, for possession of a small arsenal and construction of a binary chemical bomb (a WMD) capable of killing many thousands, a surprisingly light sentence (10 years - lighter than many a convicted pot dealer).......

I'd say my extrapolation might not be too great a stretch and - in his second and last term - George W Bush and his Administration - supremely confident in the absolute correctness of their actions - would have little to lose by implementing their agenda to the fullest.
posted by troutfishing at 3:07 PM on October 4, 2004


Hitchens is great. Sullivan is great. Thanks for the links.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:23 PM on October 4, 2004


PP - Are they great in the same fashion as Allah ?
posted by troutfishing at 3:57 PM on October 4, 2004


Hitchens loves being a contrarian. Sometimes it's funny (viz. his recent piece in Vanity Fair about breaking New York City laws he perceives as silly) and other times it just seems pathological.

And I agree about the crazy loathing of religion. Don't forget his crusade to DEBUNK THE EVIL THAT WAS MOTHER TERESA OF CALCUTTA!

Unfortunately, I think Hitch has wet-brain these days. He used to make more logical arguments--Tariq Ali is hardly emblematic of "the US left", for instance.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:05 PM on October 4, 2004


Re: jerry falwell - I don't believe in evil; I believe in predispositions and circumstances. Falwell & those like him may have very similar predispositions to islamic fundamentalists, but the fact that he lives in a pluralistic democracy, that he not only has plenty of food, shelter, clothes, etc, for his family, but also has health, education and ipods (or whatever), means that he is not desperate and will not resort to desperate measures. This makes an immense difference in distinguishing between him and the islamic radicals. I really don't care whether he would have been a terrorist if he'd grown up in a different nation, under different circumstances - I can believe it, but it makes no practical difference.

I am not saying he's not dangerous - I am concerned about how close the religious right is to the current administration, and I feel very strongly about keeping church & state separate. But still, he is not going to set off car bombs or kill schoolchildren. Just not going to happen, no way, no how, and that is a major major difference.

"the evilness of saddam tends to be equated with the evilness of george bush" (mdn) - Ummm......by whom ? A random fringe protestor holding a sign ? Or is this an opinion I might hear on public radio ?

did you read my comments above? Two people on this thread implied that the religious right and/or george bush were comparable. You yourself are suggesting that jerry falwell is on the same level as al quaida.

I have to run, and prob no one is reading this anymore anyway, but I'll try to come back to address some of your other points.
posted by mdn at 10:13 AM on October 6, 2004


".....If bush wins in november, there are many things which will suffer - education, the environment, our relationships with other countries, etc - but we will not literally be worried for our lives....." - This is patently absurd. Under Bush, the ranks of those who hate the US with the sort of extreme passion required of suicide bombers has, probably, swelled ten fold.

I was referring to the comparisons of bush to "axis of evil" dictators. Yes, I agree that Bush has not made america safer and may well have made it less safe. But we are not fearful that Bush will kill or harm us - his stupidity may have repercussions that will allow or encourage others to harm us, but that does not make him equivalent to those people.

Again, I feel as if you and others who share your outlook don't understand the real and daily fear of living under a dictator. We are completely free to say things like "bush is a fucking moron" without looking over our shoulders. People do it all the time, in print, on tv, on t-shirts they wear on the street - and no one is worried they'll be punished for it.

You're not worried about the abysmal decline in the World's overall opinion about America and the corresponding rise in the number of Muslims advocating acts of terrorism against the US ? I am.

yes, I am, as I think I made clear above. My concern here is regarding the polemical and simplistic attitude of so many anti-bush activists toward the actions of this president, and towards the war in Iraq. Again, how many soldiers die or how chaotic battle is, are not the issues we should be concerned about. The question is, as you suggest, whether our actions are breeding or quelling terrorism.

"People may leave the country because they don't want to live under such an embarrassment of a president, but not because they may be tortured and executed for speaking against him....." (mdn) As Dave Niewert at Orcinus makes it his task to document, they may very likely be harassed, persecuted, beaten up, their freedoms curtailed......

one more time, my point is that the degrees of injustice are so completely incomparable that it makes the left wing look either (both?) paranoid about the US or/and naive about third world dictatorships.

No, that's not execution. Execution is the next step, which might become possible with a few more terrorist attacks on US soil, a broadening of the definition of "treason", and a law mandating the death penalty for that.

all right, paranoid, I guess. Look, I agree that Bush cuts too close with his policies against terrorism, but at this stage there is absolutely no reason to believe that these actions will extend into execution. You never know how things will go, but the slippery slope is not a legitimate argument.

Given the pervasive attempts by Federal agencies to associate many on the left - even longstanding pacifists - with having terrorist sympathies (to the extent of placing non-violent activists and political protestors of many stripes on no-fly lists) while convicted home-grown would be terrorists like William Krar receive, for possession of a small arsenal and construction of a binary chemical bomb (a WMD) capable of killing many thousands, a surprisingly light sentence (10 years - lighter than many a convicted pot dealer).......

I haven't read about Krar; I'll look into that. I appreciate your concerns, and for the most part share them. But I really think it's silly to compare this administration's policies with terrorists.

I'd say my extrapolation might not be too great a stretch and - in his second and last term - George W Bush and his Administration - supremely confident in the absolute correctness of their actions - would have little to lose by implementing their agenda to the fullest.

what about impeachment? What about destroying the republican party? what about risking assassination? Just because he can't get elected again doesn't mean he's untouchable. And he would have to have the support of the congress and his actions would have to be constitutionally valid.

The thing is, I don't think the detriment this administration will do will be anywhere near as exciting and dramatic as you imagine. I think it will be slow and subtle, and will harm many americans in small ways that they won't even necessarily attribute to the presidency. I think it is frightening that he may have another four years to pursue his agenda, but not because we're going to get tortured and executed. Rather, the culture of fear and division will continue, funding for social programs which will effect the health and opportunities of the next generation will be curtailed; big businesses will be given a longer leash, or none at all; the environment will suffer; and our relationships to other nations, especially western europe, will continue to be difficult.

These are big problems. They should be talked about and discussed. THe country turning into a fascist theocracy is not a big problem that should be at the center of debate, in my opinion, and I think the fact that it does tend to be, in certain circles, makes us look bad.

wow, that was way longer than I meant to go on.
posted by mdn at 12:27 PM on October 6, 2004


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