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Water-Skiing Slug? Hitchens Jumps A Shark

Tawfiq Chahboune

 

One usually does not like to be proven wrong. Sometimes, however, it is an almost pleasurable experience. On September 14, before a packed theatre, George Galloway debated Christopher Hitchens in a battle referred to as the “Grapple in the Big Apple”; “Gorgeous” George belatedly, claims Hitchens, picked up the gauntlet thrown down by “The Hitch”. The motion: “This House believes the war in Iraq was necessary and just.” The two-hour “debate” (more like a slanging match) forced a change of opinion. When Hitchens told me that he would probably debate Galloway, I replied that it was typical of him to choose someone utterly “useless” to debate and that he would “murder” the east London MP. Well, that’s not quite how things panned out. Indeed, as someone who is disenchanted with both these high-profile political celebrities, I felt like an infuriated and atypical version of Buridan’s ass: not because both their positions were so enticing that one knew not which to turn toward, but because both their positions offer no sustenance.

 

As someone who has been on the receiving end of barbed comments by both bruisers - an unique honour, I believe - I was interested to listen to the clash of these highly-skilled orators. The “journalist” Andrew Anthony, like other feeble-minded Hitchenistas, judged, probably beforehand, “The Hitch” to be the winner. Not content with sullying journalism, Anthony sullied the great name of Woody Allen by writing that one would have to refer to early Allen films to find the neurotic anti-imperialist sentiment he had heard from the lips of a socialist attending the debate. Because, according to Anthony and his monumentally stupid ilk, Western imperialism doesn’t exist. It ended during the heyday of George Formby and Vera Lynn. The antiwar theatregoers were more receptive to GG. Others called it honours even. As I saw things a little differently, it is, therefore, left to me, your honourable and unbiased commentator, to judge the proceedings and the imbecilities emanating from the acid-tipped tongues of Blighty’s hard-hitting sons.

 

While Hitchens is a master craftsman of the written word and a gifted orator, when the materials are lacking, as they are so decidedly unforthcoming in his defence of US foreign policy, a craftsman’s goods will not be one filling the aisles. He had to make do with what was at hand, and no matter what veneer he applied or how fancily he dressed the finished article, the product was always going to look shoddy. Realising this, Hitchens naturally decides to attack Galloway, not debate the motion. The tone was set very early on. Hitchens tore into Galloway’s alleged financial dealings with Baathist Iraq (strange that Hitchens is so quiet about his friend Kanan Makiya enriching himself on the deaths of innumerable Iraqis. One is a fact, the other is an unsubstantiated slur, though GG’s continual association with dubious business dealings and extremely shady businessmen is something he should be thoroughly ashamed of and should distance himself from, more so since it reflects so badly on a movement of which he is a leading individual), his alleged chumminess with Baathists, and his support for dictatorships (Hitchens, to his discredit, as he knew the allegation to be untrue, regurgitated the lie that GG had been expelled from the Labour Party for “publicly advocating jihad against British troops”, something, probably fearing a libel writ, he does not repeat too strongly in his Sunday Telegraph article about the clash). Actually, this was hypocrisy at its zenith. At a recent public lecture, Hitchens reminded the audience that in 1991 he ached to see US soldiers massacred in the Arabian sands. (What he actually said was that he wanted President Bush Snr get a “bloody nose”; something that could not occur without American soldiers being blown to bits by the Baathist “fascist” dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.)

 

The motion to be discussed was barely touched upon by Hitchens - he had a personal score to settle. Galloway struck back with the kind of razing verbal artillery which made Hitchens’s look lame in comparison. Like Hitchens, “Gorgeous” descended more often to abuse than anything else, although he, unlike “The Hitch”, was more willing to debate the motion. When Hitchens was occasionally forced to discuss the motion, he made such a fool of himself that I feared for his sanity. I half expected Hitchens to regale the crowd with how “he had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers” or having incontrovertible proof that “stars are God’s daisy chain”. When all else failed, “The Hitch” relied on the great lie: Saddam would still be in power had it not been for our courageous action. Hitchens was lucky that GG did not specifically ask about, and Hitchens, naturally enough, ducked any directed shots concerning, the building of permanent military bases in Iraq, the Bremer laws proposing the privatisation of Iraq’s economy and the institution of a flat tax, the US-led war on Iraqi trade unions, or that over 80% of Arab Iraqis want the occupation to end immediately (and as Arab Iraqis are over 80% of the population, this translates as about 70% of Iraqis as a whole; the desperate Kurds have, unfortunately, not learnt the lesson of past US betrayals and have allied themselves with a power that will, as night follows day, double-cross them when US interests dictate, leaving them to a bloody fate). Should all these things not be for a sovereign Iraq to decide? Hitchens is never cornered and thus, wisely, says nothing about them. Really, what would he say? How to defend and justify them? He escapes. Galloway unlocks Hitchens’s fetters and gives him safe passage.

 

The foolishness starts right away. Take, for example, Hitchens’s insistence that the US-led invasion was a blessing - at least a necessity - to stave off the imminent invasion of Iraq by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran. That the Lancet’s report on the number of Iraqi deaths are “politicised fabrications”. And “we’re fortunate, as are the Iraqi people, that there is a coalition to hold the ring and to prevent another Rwanda or another Congo, another vortex of violence and cruelty and destabilisation and war.” Yes, how fortunate the Iraqis are to be blessed with a “coalition” that has thwarted the nightmare vision of a “vortex of violence and cruelty and destabilisation and war”! And that “we” are “fortunate”, too, but not half as “fortunate” as the Iraqis who have been prevented this nightmare vision of hell by a “coalition to hold the ring”. Moreover, “and this, I think, again, is a point to take pride in. It was the only responsible course.” That’s right, no other “responsible course” was possible. That Hitchens can feel no shame in making this stuff up as he goes along is a measure of far he has fallen. But this was the least of Hitchens’s stupidities and fabrications, ones we shall return to.

 

It is rumoured that Hitchens spent his time before the debate giving out flyers detailing GG’s alleged outrageous record of pro-fascist sympathies. He would have been better off spending some time doing some research on Galloway, not regurgitating the libels that has seen “Gorgeous” take newspapers to the cleaners. That his colleagues, friends and sympathisers did not inform him of Galloway’s extraordinary comments on very recent programmes of Newsnight is surprising. Had Hitchens merely repeated what Galloway had said, “The Hitch” would not only have been assured victory, as I thought he would, but it would have stopped Galloway dead and turned the audience against Galloway. Indeed, I was surprised that Hitchens did not pick up on the fact that, given the opportunity to do so, Galloway did not actually distance himself from or repudiate those same vile comments he made on Newsnight.

 

Concerning Hitchens’s rather weird evolution, Galloway coined what will almost certainly be an inclusion in all future books of quotations: “What we have witnessed is something unique in natural history. It’s the first metamorphosis of a butterfly back into a slug.” The zoologically-challenged Hitchens, for once, had no clever comeback and was reduced to graciously muttering “not bad” to this biological impossibility, not least because caterpillars are wormlike larva, not slugs, though very rarely, so it is said, slugs can be larva, but not in this particular case (of course I looked this bit up!). This putdown reminded me of Galloway’s exquisite characterisation of his fellow MPs cowardice in not facing down Blair’s bellicosity in Afghanistan and Iraq: “where often a shiver runs along the green benches looking for a spine to run up.” (Someone has told me that this was borrowed from Churchill.) Realising that he was less convincing than Galloway, Hitchens turned on the assembled audience for their “zoo-like” behaviour. Not the silver-tongued cavalier of yesteryear. Actually, he reminded me somewhat of Kingsley Amis’s Roger Micheldene.

 

Galloway again stabs Hitchens in the eye when he brings up Hitchens’s 1991 antiwar commentary - something Hitchens would now call, apropos Orwell, “objective pro-fascism” and “support” for “genocidal” Baathist tyranny. “The Hitch” replied that he was at a loss why anyone would bring this up as it is “tolerably well known that I was mistaken” about having been objectively pro-fascism and having had a yearning to see American soldiers come home in body bags. Galloway was watering the seed Norman Finkelstein had planted so well: if Hitchens is admitting to having been an idiot in the past, how does he know that he is still not an idiot. After all, an idiot or a madman is incapable of knowing that he is no longer so disposed. Hitchens was piqued at this for very good reason. He knows only too well, and does not want publicised, the Left’s “dirt” on him. Why bring up Galloway’s alleged support for tyranny but not his own admission to having been pro-fascism? Because no one will take anything Hitchens has to say seriously if he had to admit to having had a fanatical desire to see Americans mutilated, his defence of one of the most reprehensible despots of the twentieth century and asking what it is the US did to bring 9/11 on itself soon after the terrorist attacks. Which US network would invite him to cosy Sunday morning chats? When Galloway asked this same 9/11 question before the congregated New Yorkers, Hitchens replied that this was “masochism” brought to you by a “sadist”, and that this was the wrong city and the wrong month to say something so outrageous.  By definition, we have done nothing to reap this whirlwind.

 

But let us return to the more extravagant Hitchens absurdities. Incidentally, I am “picking” on Hitchens not because I am antiwar but because he uttered, almost without exception, the most outrageously stupid things, while Galloway, strangely, made relatively few stupid remarks, reserving them for Newsnight. My favourite absurdity was the non sequitur: “We [the US and its allies] will not allow to be repeated in Iraq the failures of Rwanda and in Bosnia and in Afghanistan and elsewhere.” No mere slip of the tongue to bring up twice the prevention of another Rwanda. Now, given that Hitchens is on record as saying that the tragedy of Rwanda was part of US policy to allow France to yet again “carve up” Africa for imperial gain, how can Hitchens claim that the countries involved in this “failure” will not allow to be repeated what they considered a success? It’s a contradictory argument. It’s a bit like Jack the Ripper saying he will no longer allow violence against women to go unchallenged. The once great Christopher Hitchens has completely lost the plot.

 

As for Bosnia, US and EU policy (the Great Powers were looking for a piece of the imperial pie; of the Europeans, Germany was particularly culpable) inflamed the war in Bosnia and exacerbated ethnic hostilities. The US aided what would later be referred to as Al Qaeda fighters and other jihadis to aggravate the tensions and block any compromise (this Afghan strategy was to be deployed again in Kosovo). Repeated compromise solutions were blocked by the US and Bosnia’s President Izetbegovic, and Serbia was (as it would later be provoked in Kosovo by US-backed Islamists) subjected to the most extreme provocation by Izetbegovic and extremists within the Bosnian camp. And that when the US intervened militarily against the Serbs, it was not to pressure the Serbs, as is commonly accepted, who were willing to sign a compromise deal, but as an attempt to demonstrate US support to the obscurantist Izetbegovic. Bosnia was no “failure”; it was a success in that everything that happened was meant to happen.

 

Hitchens’s  obsession with “Greater Serbia” (something more accurately described as halting the US-EU-backed disintegration of Yugoslavia and ensuring the safety of Serb minorities, though the Serbs did commit serious crimes against humanity and war crimes and Milosevic, like other Balkan criminals, was an opportunist and a cynical manipulator of the Balkan tragedy) is, however, not nearly as interesting as “Greater Croatia”. The US actively aided the Croats in ethnically cleansing the non-Croat population to create a “Greater Croatia”. That Milosevic’s Serbia was involved in serious human rights abuse is not in doubt, yet far less than that attributable to Croatia. But the idea that Serbia was uniquely to blame for what transpired in the Balkans is a tragedy of the truth. Indeed, Milosevic is less culpable than the repugnant President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, a name to be mentioned in the same breath as those other godly figures of the twentieth century: JFK, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul, Anwar Sadat and Princess Diana. Nevertheless, what did US-EU-Tudjman-Izetbegovic policy achieve? It was an unmitigated disaster: Bosnia is no more; it has been carved up and incorporated into “Greater Croatia” and, yes, “Greater Serbia”, the very thing Hitchens is horrified by! But for Hitchens, and many others, the “failure of Bosnia” is not that we perpetuated a conflict, armed jihadis and have created further problems in a region eyed by various irresponsible powers - the EU, US, Russia, Turkey, etc - but something else entirely. And since we are reproducing on a far greater scale in Iraq what was policy in Bosnia, that, by definition, is not a failure but a great success.   

 

Hitchens’s final example, Afghanistan, is a particularly perverse example of Western “failure” and a neologism of the highest order. Let us allow Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Adviser and the “brains” behind organising global jihadism against the USSR, to explain. He accepts that the organisation (he refers to it as “that secret operation”) of these fanatics took place long before the Soviet invasion. Speaking in 1998: “That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the break-up of the Soviet empire.” Brzezinski fails to mention, however, that the aid was not to free Afghanistan from Soviet domination; the plan was to keep a guerrilla war going, using the most extreme foreign Islamists as a proxy, to give the USSR its own “Vietnam” (a double plus here, they would hasten the destruction of the USSR, and would no longer pose an immediate menace to the West’s favoured dictators in the Arab and Islamic world). Moreover, Brzezinski scoffs at the very idea that these US-organised fanatics may pose a danger:  “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?” No word here of the destruction of a moderate and fairly liberal Afghanistan, the misery, the innumerable deaths and maimed, or the destabilisation of Central Asia. No need to worry, though, only “some stirred-up Muslims” scurrying around massacring people by the hundreds of thousands in many a US-organised bloodletting, before turning their gaze to New York and crashing planes full of innocent people into thousands of other innocent people.

 

The US State Department understood that the populist and forward-looking Afghan government it was about to depose and replace with fundamentalist crazies, thus luring in the USSR into its “Afghan trap”, was one holding commendable ideals (the USSR fearing an Islamist regime would export fundamentalism to its Muslim southern republics stupidly invaded and levelled a whole country): The United States’ larger interest...would be served by the demise of the [progressive] Taraki-Amin regime, despite whatever set backs this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan. The overthrow of the DRA [Democratic Republic of Afghanistan] would show the rest of the world, particularly the Third World, that the Soviets’ view of the socialist course of history being inevitable is not accurate.” The “set backs” for “future social and economic reforms” are too hideous to recount here and one need only use ones eyes to see what the US brought upon Afghanistan. Again, a double plus here: bleed the USSR to death and ensure that the “economic and social reforms” do not infect anyone else with the kind of “social and economic reforms” which would help a Third World country and its poor people, or what the State Department prefers to call the “socialist course of history”. But the “United States’ larger interest” was the issue - no matter how many Afghans had to die. Between them, the US and USSR did a really fine job. So reassuring to know that these terror states are at the vanguard of fighting “terrorism”.

 

Hitchens knows all of this only too well. But chooses to claim - neologisms spewing out at every opportunity - that these were “failures”. These were not “failures”; they were, according to those he now supports, magnificent triumphs. Here is the interesting thing. Appalled by what happened in Rwanda, Bosnia and Afghanistan, Hitchens entrusts to the very countries that engineered these catastrophes the license to do so again, though they believe that these policies were a success, not a failure. If only they considered them a failure would Hitchens have a leg to stand on. That they do not is instructive. For instance, appalled by the “failure” to protect one’s own children from the local paedophile, does one entrust the same child molester to look after one’s own children in future, especially when the criminal brazenly opines that his criminality was a praiseworthy act? If the audiences he rants to knew the sordid truth, one very much doubts they would agree with any of Hitchens’s warmongering. The diabolical collaboration, organisation and co-ordination of murder and mayhem is considered a success by US policy makers. Yet things are different now because the US has learnt its lesson, he twitters. Hitchens says he has incontrovertible proof of this but can’t say what it is (because the world would die laughing?). He laughs off the US coup against the democratically elected government of Venezuela as an irrelevance. In this matter, Hitchens has said that “consistency is not undermined by inconsistency”. This is all, of course, more than anyone can or should stomach.

 

When Hitchens poaches the line from Flaubert’s Sentimental Education to describe President Chirac, I am reminded as much of his own “corruption” as that of Chirac’s. He reminds us, very humorously and with cutting pertinence, of the portrayal of a man “so corrupt that he would willingly pay for the pleasure of selling himself.” Well said and all too true of Chirac. A different version may be coined (my sincerest apologies, Gustave) for Hitchens’s descent into imaginative and self-defeating fabrications: “A man so mendacious that he is regularly paid to confound himself.” Henry Ford is Hitchens’s mentor: “History is bunk”, and that is what Hitchens promulgates. Indeed, recourse to history is “masochism” brought to you by “sadists”: the jihadis we organised are not our fault; the countries destroyed and people murdered by our jihadi associates are not our fault; the despots we arm and prop up are not our fault; nothing is our fault; everything is the fault of mad-eyed Muslims, who are so repelled by our freedom to fly kites that they are impelled to crash jumbo jets into skyscrapers so as to plunge the world into a “clash of civilisations”.

 

Even when his own side says otherwise, Hitchens stays resolute. He is adamant that the only forces attacking the coalition forces in Iraq are the forces of foreign jihadis and Baathist remnants (with the stupidly titled “Saddam loyalists” having a very wide definition). That the White House, US military and a leading neoconservative think tank, Brookings, accept that these gruesome twosome make up at most five, six or perhaps seven percent of those involved in fighting the US-led occupation (this is easily adduced, for instance, by determining the nature of those arrested by the occupying forces) has been lost on “The Hitch”. His Sisyphean struggle continues. The rest are Iraqi nationalists. Presumably the White House is succumbing to “masochism” brought to you by “sadists”? Is Hitchens the only voice of reason left? That the Iraqis themselves refer to the non-Baathist and non-jihadi forces as the “honourable resistance” is presumably another “politicised fabrication”. As for the elections, there were elections because the US was incapable of delaying them any further - the pressure brought to bear on the US by leading Shiites, like Grand Ayatollah Al Sistani, was intolerable. Naturally, the US took credit for the elections it tried to ensure would not take place, and the media lapped it up. The parties making up the government are collaborating (as have all others in the past) so that they may engineer an Iraq beneficial to their own sectional interests. While these interests are concordant with US interests, everything is hunky dory and just dandy. When these interests clash, the collaborators will join the “honourable resistance”. Lest we forget, the US has its own “interests” in Iraq, and “democracy” and “freedom” are not what the US is intending to get out of Iraq. If that was all the US desired then it would leave right away. The longer the US occupies and resorts to a divide and rule policy, which is backfiring (for example, the Shiite parties the US has allied itself are almost Iranian fronts), the more the US pushes Iraq towards civil war and enhances the chances that the violence will seep out of Iraq’s borders to engulf the region. 

 

The misleadingly titled “war on terror”, even within its own terms, is self-defeating. Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, blasts how counterproductive it is: “I think the Islamists are winning hands down.” Professor Michael Clarke, another expert on these matters, says: “If I was bin Laden, I would think I was winning.” Moreover, having probably held it himself until disabused of the imbecility of it, Scheuer is contemptuous of the Hitchens-like “they hate our values” argument: “As long as our people, our president, your prime minister [Blair], keep saying that these people are attacking us for who we are and what we believe in rather than what we do, we’re never going to form a strategy with which they [the jihadis] can be defeated.” That is not to say that there aren’t jihadis with visions of world domination. They are irrelevant - in the same way that atomised white supremacists fantasise about the global eradication of “lesser races”. What you don’t do, if one has any interest in fighting a true “war on terror”, is allow jihadis to organise an almost limitless supply of susceptible individuals and direct terrorist attacks using the absolutely legitimate grievances of people and nations which have been the pawns, and remain the pawns, in sordid superpower power politics. After all, very few jihadis are themselves recruited without having legitimate grievances. Or as Salman Rushdie recently put it: “I find it perfectly easy to understand” why people turn to terrorism. One waits with anticipation for Hitchens to verbally assault his friend for this “masochism”.     

 

Say what you like about the war, blabs “The Hitch”, but at the very least it has exposed AQ Khan’s nuclear activities. Is this the same AQ Khan everyone with a passing interest in these affairs already knew about? Yeah, one and the same. The US knew and turned a blind eye to - and, indeed, “collaborated” in this proliferation by protecting these roguish shipments - Pakistan’s export of nuclear technology. To uncover what is common knowledge is, according to Hitchens, an achievement. Say what you like about the invasion of Iraq, gloats “The Hitch”, but at the very least it brought an end to Libya’s WMD. Except Libya did not have any WMD and had been negotiating with the US and UK for about a decade to end their fanatical campaign of hatred against it. As to be expected, though the invasion of Iraq coincided with Libya’s “disarmament”, the whole thing was spun so as to seem that one had a causal effect on the other. Libya had an embryonic WMD programme any decent university could have matched. Ah, but Gaddafi chose to come to pledge fealty to the White House and “did not go to Kofi Annan” at the ineffectual UN. There you have it, ladies and gentlemen, the proof that invading Iraq was beneficial. Let’s see. The fact that a thug like Gaddafi understands the realities of power politics in a world with one superpower has been lost on Hitchens. Does a criminal who double-crosses the Mafia godfather hand himself in to the authorities? Or does he beg the Mafiosi to give him one more chance, even more so when it is in front of a watching audience of other recalcitrant criminals who refuse to prostrate themselves before the real authority? If ever there was a case of “Pirates and Emperors”, this is it.

 

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s explanation as to Libya’s new reasonable behaviour regarding WMD is one to be admired. Interviewed on the Today Programme (24 March 2004), Straw says: “And what the removal of Saddam did was to remove a threat not just to the West but a threat to Iran and Libya, and therefore gave the leaders of those two rather different countries proper space in which they could start to negotiate with the international community as they have done.” By the way, Straw refers to WMD “capability”, not to WMD. The reason being that such WMD did not exist. Now for the fun: Straw asks us to believe that Libya disarmed its non-existent WMD because it is now, thanks to US and UK military action, safe from the threat of Saddam Hussein. Straw got his April Fools’ Day prank in eight days early. Does Straw believe that the public are morons, imbeciles or idiots? Ditto Hitchens.

 

Oona King wrote that Galloway had convincingly beaten Hitchens, although, she claims, he bungled things near the end by asking New Yorkers what they had done to bring 9/11 upon themselves. I’m not sure that’s quite how Galloway phrased it, but that, at least, was the gist as she saw it. One imagines that Ms King was actually quite relieved to see Galloway get the better of Hitchens. She can continue to wallow in self-pity and point an accusing finger at Galloway’s alleged electoral dirty tactics. How else could she have lost one of the safest parliamentary seats in the country, had it not been for an “anti-semitic campaign” directed against her in a predominantly Muslim constituency? Well, one does sympathise with her plight: a well-known Jewish lady had been elected in previous elections by “anti-semites” - Muslim “anti-Semites”, no less - realising their error, however, they eventually decide to change their vote because a mysterious campaign informs them of what they already knew when they previously voted for her - that Ms Oona King is Jewish!

 

Ms King has two options, both of which say much about her. One, since there was no “anti-semitic campaign” directed at a predominantly Muslim constituency, she is a liar. Two, because she has courted and been previously elected on the back of an “anti-semitic” Muslim vote, she is a “self-hating” Jew. How on earth could there be such a “campaign“? To remind people of what they already knew? Perhaps Ms King was unseated because of her refusal to represent her constituents antiwar views? Perhaps it was her refusal to pay any attention to the opinions of her constituents, or the sickening sight of her obsequious acceptance of every obscene New Labour policy, all in the desperate hope that her ambition for ministerial office would be rewarded, which infuriated her disillusioned constituency? No, there was an “anti-semitic campaign”. I’m not sure whether the “honesty” of a liar/fool is of any consolation to Mr Galloway. Nonetheless, it reveals clearly what New Labour is all about and what the constituents of Bethnal Green & Bow no longer have to endure.

 

“The Hitch” ended as he had started - nauseatingly. He started with a revolting appeal for a moment’s silence to remember the murder of over a hundred innocent Iraqis that day at the hands of the jihadi terrorists US policy is strengthening (see the remarks above of Scheuer and Clarke). This was, to use Hitchens’s description of a Galloway argument, a “squalid manoeuvre”. This was no heartfelt mourning; it was a despicable strategy to curry favour with an audience he was desperate to win over in an attempt to settle a personal score. How low can one go? He ended with an appeal to aid the embattled women’s organisations courageously fighting insufferable odds in Iraq. What these organisations have to say will not be to Hitchens’s liking. Houzan Mahmoud, UK representative of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, says that the US-backed Iraqi government offers “no hope” to Iraqi women, that there are “fewer rights than under Saddam” and that, although “it’s very sad to compare these two examples [women’s rights in Iraq before and after the invasion]”, the situation of women is “worse” since the invasion. Furthermore, the Iraqi government is “subordinating women to religious rules”, while the US, seeing its original plans for Iraq unravel, scrambles to make deals with “Islamist groups”.  As for the extraordinary blossoming of freedom in Kurdish north Iraq, which Hitchens is so proud of, the Kurdish nationalist parties are regular violators of women’s rights and “suppress progressive women’s organisations”. The Kurds have nonetheless made real progress, but Hitchens overstates them. They are ones the Kurds and all Iraqis would have achieved had it not been for numerous US interventions in support of Baathism and insuring the annihilation of Iraqs progressive forces. Indeed, this limited progress would have been surpassed long ago by the considerable freedoms Iraqis would have instituted had it not been for repeated US intervention on behalf of Baathist tyranny.

 

Like the rest of the people of planet Earth, Hitchens has witnessed the Iraq disaster unfold before his very eyes. The least one would have expected from Hitchens would be his demanding of the resignation of those behind this sorry mess. Even if one supported the war, how can you dignify, as Hitchens has, the continued holding of office by such unbelievably incompetent men and women? An occupation which should have been a walk in the park has turned into an international catastrophe threatening the wider Middle East. And why? Take the example of Fallujah. Even if one supposes that Fallujah was a haven run by Baathists and jihadis, which the US military knew to be untrue (that is not to say, however, that there there was not a presence in a city mainly, as with all others in the Sunni triangle, home to nationalists), does one flatten a whole city and kill large numbers of innocent people to rout out the undesirables (Chris Patten quite accurately called it “Groznyisation”)? You do, if you are the US military. The US’s bloodthirsty and stupid tactics have predictably set the whole Arab population against them, and nothing the US says or does will now dissuade Iraqis from the common belief that they are facing a malevolent and diabolical superpower. The Shiites have only been held back from joining the resistance by such figures as the Grand Ayatollah Al Sistani. The sceptical people of Iraq never welcomed the US with “sweets and flowers”, as the propaganda campaign endeavoured to suggest they would, but neither did they expect anything as monstrous as the Saddam-like aerial bombardment of Fallujah. They waited to see what the US would bring to Iraq. The answer was not long in coming - it was murder and mayhem. On top of the US military’s sadism - and masochism, for that matter - there is the extraordinary disinterest by the occupying powers to restore water, electricity and other absolutely basic necessities. Hardly a way to engender support.  

 

I am more convinced than ever that my remark that an Alexander Cockburn or a Noam Chomsky would have humiliated and run rings around Hitchens is an accurate one. They would have done an infinitely better job than Galloway, who nevertheless equipped himself not too badly. At the very least, Cockburn or Chomsky would have ended this despicable farce by thrashing Hitchens so convincingly that he would have had to disappear permanently from the public’s gaze. It must be said, too, that with the same ammunition as Galloway had before him, the Hitchens of old would have massacred the counterfeit before us today. Perhaps it is only pity that has thus far restricted a Cockburn or a Chomsky from trouncing once and for all the pathetic figure of a self-described “Marxist” who supports neoconservative imperialism (a situation so preposterous that it is second only to Salman Rushdie becoming a “born again” Muslim). Or, maybe, it’s that, like an evolutionary biologist who refuses to debate a creationist or a racial supremacist (as merely sharing a stage with such manifest nonsense gives credence to it), Hitchens’s former comrades refuse to degrade themselves or their beliefs by doing so.

 

If Hitchens has any sense he will restrict his future jousting contests to clowns like Michael Moore. But then, as is so often, a crass media, which has so little knowledge of the world and US foreign policy in particular, sees Hitchens as the wise guru who has achieved enlightenment. In fact, he is the once great but now embarrassing ageing fighter. The merciless referee has refused to stop the fight. The sight is horrible - the gloves are down, the mouth shield is lying on the ring floor, lesser fighters are knocking seven bells out of the once graceful warrior, yet the ageing chump staggers around arms aloft in victory. After the debate, Hitchens boasted that, since it was an impossibility that his arguments could be defeated, he had, of course, been the victor. Oh dear. When not contradicting himself, Hitchens reverts to employing circular and unfalsifiable arguments. Now, this really  is sadism and masochism. He is happy to refer to himself as a popinjay and he is quite right to do so (using his preferred definition of a target, not a conceited person). Popinjays, by definition, however, can’t win or be victors: they are defenceless targets to be hit at will; they are elegant targets that with time have the stuffing knocked out of them. And he has had the stuffing knocked out of him. Once elegant, but now, with arrows piercing ever deeper and more damagingly, a disfigured wreck. He, like the chump who refers to himself as champ, doesn’t know it. Though he once delighted us no end with his lacerating polemics and scathing wit, this farce has gone on for far too long. Political commentary, even that which passes for informed debate in the mainstream circus, can do without his grotesque contortions and perfidious acrobatics. Literary journalism, however, can not do without him. It would be cowardly for the Left to hit someone so pathetic, but, then, as Hitchens gives no quarter, no quarter should be afforded to him.  

 

In a desperate bid to win more viewers, a struggling television show will devise an audience-grabbing plot, something known in the business as “Jumping the Shark”. The strange phrase comes from the American television series “Happy Days”. To halt the rapid decline of this once popular series, the writers devised a plot requiring a water-skiing “Fonzie” to literally jump over a shark. When something as outlandish as this occurs, people start switching off. This desperation ends when someone has the foresight to close the shop and bid you farewell. That time has come for Hitchens. His own “Jumping the Shark” involves claiming that the US is stopping Iraq from descending into violence, claiming that UK intervention in Sierra Leone hindered the takeover of the said Christian African country by associates of Al Qaeda, delight at Libya handing over non-existent WMD, claiming that WMD were found in Iraq, claiming that religious fundamentalism is a result of the existence of fascist and totalitarian components in the brain, expressing joyous cheer in the expectation that American soldiers would be slaughtered in 1991, claiming that the jihadi terrorism the world faces is worse than Nazism, befriending and defending those who made a fortune from Baathist tyranny, claims that “consistency is not undermined by inconsistency”, defended the US-aided coup against a secular and progressive government in Venezuela (the Hitchens who wrote with such zeal about US crimes in Chile is no more), congratulates the US for its destruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, rewrites the tragedy of Indonesia and the Balkans… the list is almost endless. 

 

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a water-skiing slug jumping over a shark

 

September 2005

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