Christopher Hitchens: Farewell the Hypocrite

A striking number of the many tributes to the late Christopher Hitchens contain in them something about having a, “difference of opinion”, with him “on certain issues”. In many cases this is a euphemistic way of referring to Hitchens’ support for the Iraq war.

Glossing over his active support for a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people as a mere “difference of opinion”, does not give enough credit to the importance of Hitchens’ words and actions. What’s more, considering that having a different opinion was what he was famous for, if we are to honor his combative rhetorical spirit, we cannot go soft on him now, just because he’s dead.

After calling for the trial of Henry Kissinger on war crimes, to accept George W. Bush’s invitation to the white house, and stand arm in arm with Wolfowitz was a hypocrisy of the first order. He seemed, but I suspect was not, unaware that to launch a war of aggression was considered by the Nuremberg Tribunal to be “not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Acknowledging this would render Hitch’s common evasion – that it was not America or her allies that did the majority of the killing in Iraq, but rather local militias and, as he emphasized, terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda – irrelevant. No one was accusing America of going house to house and killing some half a million people, we accused Bush and his cabal of starting that war, him of helping them, and of cheering it on once it was started.

Regarding his anti-religious writing, as an avowed atheist, I was never impressed. He brought no arguments to the table that hadn’t already been articulated one way or another by the time of Bertrand Russel. What he brought mostly was a new level of rhetorical flair, and just a dash of self-righteousness bluster.

What’s more, his pre-occupation with the issue of Muslim religious intolerance, which he erroneously painted as the main reason for the September 11 attacks, helped contribute to a climate in which racist attacks on Muslims as a whole have become commonplace. Indeed the story of Hitch is a perfect way to trace the great failures of the left during the decade of the “war on terror”.

We allowed a wedge issue to split us between those who opposed a war of imperialism, and those who thought it was their duty to stand in defense of the women and homosexuals of Iraq, or something, (despite the fact that both women and homosexuals predictably suffered terribly form the invasion, occupation and the general chaos and poverty that followed the wholesale smashing of the Iraqi state).

The defining quote, comes from a talk he gave in a church (tweeted reverentially by his fans following his untimely demise) where he says that “since september the 11th 2001, to try and help generate an opposition to theocracy, and its depredations” has been his “main political preoccupation”. This is a soft target for a real intellectual. Arguing against theocracy in the 21st century is hardly a courageous or cognitively difficult game.

Whats more it leaves him standing shoulder to shoulder with the real threat, the rising corporatism which drove the Iraq war and other imperial projects, and which drives the growing inequality even in the countries at the centre of the empire.

For when discussing a man who till the end identified himself as an avowed marxist, calling this a difference of opinion seems inadequate. Whether through intellectual or moral failure it is hard to say, but Hitch sold us out.

About Austin G. Mackell

I am a freelance journalist who has worked for a variety of corporate and community outlets from my hometown of Sydney and from the Middle East, including from Lebanon during Israels 2006 invasion and from Iran during the tumultuous presidential elections there in 2009. I have recently moved to Cairo to watch the revolutions in Arab world unfold.
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9 Responses to Christopher Hitchens: Farewell the Hypocrite

  1. Shak says:

    ” What’s more, his pre-occupation with the issue of Muslim religious intolerance, which he erroneously painted as the main reason for the September 11 attacks, helped contribute to a climate in which racist attacks on Muslims as a whole have become commonplace. Indeed the story of Hitch is a perfect way to trace the great failures of the left during the decade of the “war on terror”. ”

    If the religious intolerance of a few crazy Muslims wasn’t the cause of September 11th than what was. It would be foolish and racist to claim that those Muslims were representative of others. It would be foolish to assume there weren’t also sociopolitical justifications for their attacks. It would be equally foolish to discount the role religion played. Can you really claim that those men would have done what they did if they didn’t truly believe that they were waging jihad on the sin of American infidels? That they would sacrifice themselves so willingly if they didn’t expect to be rewarded by their god in paradise?

    • I don’t think religion was a decisive factor. Plenty of Atheists have been equally committed to a cause they see as being the only cause to justice (socialists, anarchists, Nazis,) have carried out similar acts… kamikaze pilots, tamil tigers (a largely secular movement coming out of a hindu population who invented the suicide vest.. there are plenty of other examples). September 11 was just the most horrifically successful version of such attacks.

      • Shak says:

        Atheists have committed atrocities, but they weren’t explicitly for “atheism” as a cause. At least not in any examples I am aware of. When those who organised the attacks, the Bin-Ladens and the Khalid Sheikh Mohammad’s of the world, say it was part of a Jihad to cleanse the world of infidels I tend to take them at their word about that. No doubt political factors contribute to this; but it seems to take willful blindness to discount religion when the perpetrators themselves cite religion as their motivation, use their holy books as justification, train recruits with the promise of paradise, claim to be acting according to God’s commands, and advocate the destruction of another religious group.

        I also contend your proposition that Nazis were overwhelmingly atheists. I’m sure a few were; but Hitler was raised Catholic, frequently claimed he was doing God’s bidding, at one point said “we have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement,” and Nazi uniforms had “god with us” in German on the belt.

        I know I might seem to be a bit combative, but I agree with most of the substance of your post. I’m also a big fan of your interviews on Citizen Radio.

  2. You say you take Al-Qaeda at their word. Where do they say that these attacks were “for Islam”?

    Read bin Laden’s “letter to America”, which came out a year before the attacks. That detail the groups public motivations

    The point of the talk of Jihad is to show it is a war that falls within the laws of Islam.

  3. Shak says:

    The justification for others to join the cause of al-qaeda is religious:
    Bin Laden: “The one who stays behind and fails to join the Mujahidin when Jihad
    becomes an individual duty commits a cardinal sin… The most pressing duty after faith is
    repelling the aggressor enemy. This means that the nation should devote its resources, sons,
    and money to fight the infidels and drive them out of its lands.”

    Read The World Islamic Front’s Statement Urging Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders by Bin Laden
    It begins: “Praise be to God, who revealed the Book, controls the clouds, defeats
    factionalism, and says in His Book: “But when the forbidden months are
    past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, seize them,
    beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war) ” ; and
    peace be upon our Prophet, Muhammad Bin-‘Abdallah, who said: I have been
    sent with the sword between my hands to ensure that no one but God is
    worshipped, God who put my livelihood under the shadow of my spear and who
    inflicts humiliation and scorn on those who disobey my orders”

    Not only does Bin Laden use the Quran as a justification for war, he cites it as a reason to fight against the ‘pagans’: It is not just sanctioned by Islam as you claim. It is actively encouraged by it.

    As to the letter to america, you seem to ignore the parts which point to religion.
    (Q2) As for the second question that we want to answer: What are we calling you to, and what do we want from you?
    (1) The first thing that we are calling you to is Islam
    (2) The second thing we call you to, is to stop your oppression, lies, immorality and debauchery that has spread among you.
    (a) We call you to be a people of manners, principles, honour, and purity; to reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling’s, and trading with interest.

  4. nick says:

    Hi Austin

    I too found Hitch’s pro Iraq invasion stuff indigestible. I realise that it’s good to take dictators down but not if you pull down the whole freaking country at the same time and wipe out half the populace. I wonder had he lived if Hitch wouldn’t have turned into an angry old Blimp.

    I also don’t think that Hitch’s atheism added anything to the pot intellectually. I agree that Russell nailed it. However I think few atheist spruikers are quite a good thing to have around to quench the fire of the US evangelists. (Even though the smugness of Dawkins, Fry, Gervais and co drives me nuts and i’m an atheist myself)

    I dunno if you can hold too much of his very recent stuff against him as chemo does funny things to a mind.

    Letters to a Young Contrarian remains a great read despite the later actions of its creator.

    I’m very happy you’re not still banged up.
    Nick

  5. Merely Individual says:

    His solution to conflict itself is stupid.

    Beliefs can be used for both good and evil purposes. Religion itself has nothing to do with it. Religion has been used to justify war, however, patriotism, nationalism, resources, economic ideology, race, ext. have also been used to justify war. If fact, the need to eliminate religion has caused just as many deaths (Stalin’s regime, Pol Pot, Mao, ext). It doesn’t mean non-religion is bad, it just means it has been used to justify killing.

    The way to do the change needed is nothing different from business marketing. I already said this once before “How does fashion get out of date? How does products get replaced? How do youtube videos get no views? How does languages die? How does companies get bankrupt? You don’t give it attention nor focus on it, and instead replace it by another. Conflict could only dissolve by non-conflict.”

    War composed of events, and events composed of people, and people composed of the ideas/beliefs that they inhabit. Similarly like the skeletal structure of building is what makes the building, or how the skeletal, facial, and body structure is what makes the human being as it is. We are not our identity, we are the “identifier” that identify to an idea that becomes our identity. It therefore means that war happens because of people’s conflicting beliefs. But peace doesn’t exist because we have the same clothes, same house, same sex, same family, same job, same income, same interests, or even same thoughts and lacking any sort of individuality. But that peace exist because despite the difference there is acceptance of differences. Like how the pieces of the puzzle still retain their own uniqueness to create that one whole puzzle through integration of other pieces, or how athletes despite their differences unite for one goal and with that triumphs. Which is why Unity isn’t the lack of individuality but instead the acceptance of the differences of our individuality uniting for the same goal, and thereby achieving peace..

    While I don’t agree in some things on David Icke, I do agree on this statement that he made: “You don’t have to say that we have a law against murder when murdering someone wouldn’t never even enter in your psyche, you don’t need environmental protection laws when harming the planet wouldn’t even occur to you. You don’t need this things. Laws are there to suppress them whelmingly, but also expression of laws are to try to mitigate the distortions that manifest itself in distorted behavior.”

    Most of those that focus their attention is in the already establish effects, while what I’m saying is to focus to how the effects wouldn’t exist in the first place if you evaporate the cause. If society is nourish and have their human well-being develop, or loving one another as they love themselves to point that they why wouldn’t even think the possibility of raping someone, kill them, and many other atrocities. What our trying to remedy is like sweeping a huge broken dam, while that may be done that would only be replaced by another one, while the primary cause of why it is broken and being spilled all over the place being not remedied.

    Our current society is like a factory that produce this products of murder, rape, violence, etc., through the environment around us and from our very foundation — our family. What I’m saying is not to focus on the products (People, the results) instead we should focus on changing the settings that make the factory (Society, the cause) produce this products to produce a different one to that we prefer.

    “Evil like a shadow has no real substance of its own; it is simply a lack of light. You can’t cause a shadow to disappear by trying to fight it, by stamping on it, by railing against it, or by any other form of emotional or physical resistance. In order to cause a shadow to disappear, you must shine light on it.” ― Shakti Gawain

    “You never change things by fighting the existing reality.To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ― Buckminster Fuller

    As Charlie Chaplin had said “We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.” Once we start this aspiration and care for the well-being of others through the heart directing the mind, and not the mind manipulating the heart (the ego structure), then we would create unity and peace. It is not order that we are looking in our reality but harmony.

  6. Luke says:

    Good overview. The contradictions that built up after he apparently decided History reached its peak at the American Revolution need particular airing. (Although, given everything, I can’t help admiring him for what he did before – and even some of what he did after – 9/11.)

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