Actually, technically my title is incorrect. I think Christopher Hitchens jumped the shark a long time ago (if he was ever on the good side of the shark to begin with) but this recent column on the Gaza Flotilla in Slate magazine http://www.slate.com/id/2298332/ is an even bigger repudiation of what he seemed to use to believe in (as well as his true colors coming out)than his support for the Iraq War.
Christiopher Hitchens is a media creation in much the same way Paris Hilton is and as time has gone on with the seeming intellectual depth of Hilton. He is a man of spurious accomplishment, a literary critic who doesn’t write fiction or poetry, a wartime correspondent who spends a lot his columns namedropping and bragging about prior experiences, an author? What exactly has he written? One of his highlights was a short saliva stained diatribe against Bill Clinton that reads like it was written with one hand the other hand being used for stimulation purposes so pathological is his hatred for Bill Clinton.
He has also written about atheism and I am an atheist but reject the dogmatic theocratic-type terms in which Hitchens frames his discussion of atheism. I would never debate whether or not God exists with a religious person because it’s not a logical or rational debate. I would not debate with an eight year old child whether or not Santa Claus exists either. When you debate atheism in this fashion, the advantage is automatically with the deist because you are acknowledging their argument might be true. In these debates, atheism seems reduced by the way it’s presented into some oddball eccentricity and belittled. These debates are just entertainment and since I believe Hitchens is more celebrity (or celebutard as the right wingers say) than an actual person of intellectual distinction he gets off on this. Richard Dawkins is also wrong to engage in these debates but he’s a vastly superior writer to Hitchens.
There is a superficiality in much of Hitchens writing. His columns are full of anecdotes and a bloated self importance and a pseudo-intellectuality (the kind who thinks if he use the word “frisson” it makes him very continental). There is also hypocrisy - he harped on the fact Clinton lied under oath about having a consensual sexual relationship but ignored or defended the Bush administration when it did the same about something far worse; torture. He criticizes Mother Theresa for accepting rides on Charles Keating’s private plane but totally brushes over the fact his hero Thomas Jefferson had sex and children with an underage slave girl. He thrashes Muslim countries for the way in which they treat women but writes old boy type sexists columns about how women have no sense of humor. Worst of all, he correctly describes Henry Kissinger as a “war criminal” and describes the crimes of realpolitik thinking in practice in US foreign policy but strongly supported an invasion of Iraq based on a lie which is itself just more realpolitik.
Most importantly, the foreign policy ideas Hitchens endorsees and writes about are in no way a humanitarian, progressive world view no matter how hard he tries to spin it.
Much of the way the lines are drawn and the sides are defined when it comes to any political debate are not actually reflective of the foreign policy sphere. It’s not really left or right.
Instead, there are people who believe in the total superiority of a Western way of life and that this way of life should be forcefully transposed onto the lives and cultures of the people’s of other countries. At the root of this philosophy are two competing notions. One is the desire to help and empower women, children, poor people etc. and to minimize negative influences (corruption, fanaticism in religion etc.). The other is the chauvinism that states “we are superior to you. Your culture is inferior and consequently your life is not as valuable”. This leads to explotation of resources, of labor etc.. The problem is one might start off believing in the first one and end up with the second one and that’s where the killing starts.
Hitchens is a big time paternalist. If he had lived in a prior time, it is very likely he would have been a colonialist. Considering his physical appearance, if he survives his recent bout with cancer, I imagine he will look more and more like Winston Churchill which is fitting. I myself believe that countries at some point have to sort out their own internal problems particularly when they relate to culture and religion entwined in government. I also believe that democracy is not a clean process rather it is evolutionary and often trial and error and countries have to be free to pick their own leaders even if they may not be what the West finds desirable. They have to be free to make their own mistakes on the way to better government. Also economic democracy has to come first before governmental democracy. No point in having elections if a small percentage of the population controls all the wealth.
The neo conservative and the neo liberal are allies in their belief that the USA should determine the path for other nations and that centuries old traditions and practices can be uprooted. Of course, nobody likes a society where a woman is not allowed to drive a car (to use a recent example from the news) but if you think change can be imposed by outside nations and not come from within, well that’s the attitude that has killed thousands of American soldiers and bankrupted the country.
There is a difference between passing dictators, who leave no trace once their gone other than the decrepit state of the countries the ruled, and what goes on in a place like Iran. One is a boil or a growth easily excised the other is a tumor that has grown around a healthy organ and it will largely be the body itself that will have to fight it.
Reading Hitchens bashing the Gaza flotilla movement with a sneer and I imagine dressed in an ascot and sipping some alcoholic beverage is for me the final straw with this idiotic sot, this man of no integrity who tries to set himself as Orwell’s heir. Comparing Orwell and Hitchens is like comparing the acting prowess of Marlon Brando and Ryan Reynolds.
The truth is the argument that groups that support the Gaza flotilla have to also denounce Syria’s government is a convoluted one. Many of the flotilla participants are citizens of countries whose governments bankroll the fascist apartheid state of Israel. I doubt their governments give the same level of financial support to Syria (in the case of the USA where I am from this is a fact).
Most telling is this line of argument is straight out of the right wing evangelical neo conservative playbook. The fact Hitchens is parroting them makes perfect sense. He has always tried to market himself as a contradictory person (one who always speaks DA TRUTH) although many of his positions make no sense and seem much more tied to his own individual prejudices than anything else.
But sometimes when you are contradictory, it doesn’t mean you are a superior person, it just means you are an asshole!
I’ll leave the final word on the character of Christopher Hitchens to Alexander Cockburn writing in Counterpunch Magazine.
What a truly disgusting sack of shit Hitchens is. A guy who called Sid Blumenthal one of his best friends and then tried to have him thrown into prison for perjury; a guy who waited till his friend Edward Said was on his death bed before attacking him in the Atlantic Monthly; a guy who knows perfectly well the role Israel plays in US policy but who does not scruple to flail Cindy Sheehan as a LaRouchie and anti-Semite because, maybe, she dared mention the word Israel. She lost a son? Hitchens (who should perhaps be careful on the topic of sending children off to die) says that's of scant account, and no reason why we should take her seriously. Then he brays about the horrors let loose in Iraq if the troops come home, with no mention of how the invasion he worked for has already unleashed them.