Monday, 21 May 2012

On Christopher Hitchens ( 1949-2011 )

I think it is possible to regard Christopher Hitchens highly as a polemicist and orator whilst still drawing attention to some of the awful mistakes he made the worst being in siding with the Bush administration's war on Iraq in 2003.

The best part of Hitchens was devoted to freedom of thought and intellect.

Hitchens criticism of the craven attitude of politicians towards what later became a more organised Islamist movement in Britain following on from the 1989 Satanic Verses controversy was superb. He demolished Shirley Williams on Question Time over her hand wringing over whether to award Rushdie a knighthood.

Hitchens was brilliant in demolishing the claims made by religious fundamentalism and totalitarian theocrats.

The problem came when he saw some seamless alliance of Islamists and despots everywhere in very oversimplistic terms. It was this that led him to support Bush and Blair's "liberal interventionism".

Nor was Hitchens wrong about the sinister aspect of the supposedly "anti-war" opposition in Britain and the USA. Following his hero Orwell, Hitchens saw that those media whores such as Galloway were not in fact principled but simply hated the West and tended to support any illiberal movement that was sufficiently anti-US on that ground alone.

The characterisation of the casuistic doublethinking MCB "spokesman" Inayat Bunglawala as "sinister and preposterous" for his sly rationalisations of Islamist terrorism was accurate. So too was his portrayal of those who allied in the anti-war movement with the Islamists of the MAB. RESPECT, he quipped, was the anagram of SPECTRE.

That polemical zeal, however, led him to overlook the fact that simply because the leading self appointed figures in the so-called "anti-war" movement were, in fact, enthusiasts for the USSR and dictatorships or else illiberal Islamists, then the neoconservatives were on the 'right side of history'.

Had Hitchens read Orwell a bit better , he would have realised he was making the same mistake that Trotskyists had in continuing to support one huge power bloc because it was still essentially progressive and dedicated to ridding the world of totalitarian nationalist and 'socialist' dictatorships.

Many neoconservatives had a Trotskyist past.

Despite criticising faith based politics of the theocratic type ( rightly ) , Hitchens was not himself free from faith based visions of inaugurating a new epoch of history through the use of force . In the case of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, it was the global democratic revolution promised by "liberal interventions".

Brought up in the wake of the defeat of Fascism in World War Two, his politics was formed by the 1968 Student Uprisings and the decay of the Soviet Union and the need to fight totalitarian rule in Eastern Europe. Hitchens retained this good versus evil standpoint after 1990 with the rise of Islamism.

Unfortunately, the complexity of politics in the Middle East led him in the wake of the demise of secular revolutionary movements to see Islamism as one totalitarian threat when the reality was that Islamism itself was not one global counter revolutionary movement. It has proved a  diverse set of ideas and not always given necessarily to undemocratic practice as Turkey clearly proves.

It is possible to view Hitchens as a useful contrarian who was effective in attacking the pretensions of "anti-war" frauds and those who rationalised terror attacks as merely being reflex actions to 'our foreign policy' even before they actually understood the real nature of Al Qaida.

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