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Christopher Hitchens

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Christopher Hitchens


Christopher Hitchens, 2007
Born: April 13, 1949 (1949-04-13) (age58)
Portsmouth, England
Occupation: author, journalist, pundit
Nationality: Flag of the United KingdomUnited Kingdom
Flag of the United StatesUnited States

Christopher Eric Hitchens (born April 13, 1949) is a British-American author, journalist and literary critic. Currently living in Washington, D.C., he has been a columnist at Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, The Nation, Slate and Free Inquiry; additionally, he is an occasional contributor to other publications and has appeared regularly in the Wall Street Journal. His brother is fellow journalist Peter Hitchens.

Hitchens is known for his atheism, and antitheism. He is also noted for his acerbic wit and his noisy departure from the Anglo-American political left. He was formerly a Trotskyist and a fixture in the left wing publications of Britain and America.[1] But a series of disagreements beginning in the early 1990s led to his resignation from The Nation shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks.[2] He is also known for his ardent admiration of George Orwell[3] and Thomas Jefferson,[4] and his criticism of Mother Teresa[5], Henry Kissinger and Bill Clinton.

While Hitchens' idiosyncratic ideas and positions preclude easy classification, he is a vociferous critic of what he describes as "fascism with an Islamic face," and his critics have been known to describe him as a "neoconservative". Hitchens, however, refuses to embrace this designation.[6] In 2004, Hitchens stated that neoconservative support for US intervention in Bosnia and Iraq convinced him that he was "on the same side as the neo-conservatives" when it came to contemporary foreign policy issues.[7] He has also been known to refer to his association with "temporary neocon allies".[8]

In a Slate article published in 2004, Christopher Hitchens wrote that "George Bush may subjectively be a Christian, but he — and the US armed forces — have objectively done more for secularism than the whole of the American agnostic community combined and doubled."[9]

Hitchens no longer considers himself a Trotskyist or a socialist.[10] He says that, throughout his career, he has been both an atheist and an antitheist,[11] and that he has always remained a believer in the Enlightenment values of secularism, humanism and reason.[12] Hitchens has launched a detailed criticism of religion in his book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. He has also stated that, while he "was very much in rebellion against the state" during his youth, he is now "much more inclined to stress […] issues of individual liberty."[10]

Throughout his career, Hitchens has been the subject of considerable praise as well as severe criticism.

Hitchens became a United States citizen on his fifty-eighth birthday, April 13, 2007.[13]

Contents

Education and early career

Hitchens was educated at The Leys School, Cambridge (his mother arguing that 'If there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it.') [14], and Balliol College, Oxford, where he read philosophy, politics, and economics. During his years as a student at Oxford, he was tutored by Steven Lukes.

Hitchens joined the Labour Party as soon as he was eligible, in 1965, but was expelled in 1967 along with the majority of the Labour students' organization, because of what Hitchens called "Prime Minister Harold Wilson's contemptible support for the war in Vietnam."[15] Shortly thereafter, Hitchens joined a "a small but growing post-Trotskyite Luxemburgist sect."[16] He became a correspondent for the magazine International Socialism,[17] which was published by the International Socialists, the forerunners of today's British Socialist Workers Party. This group was broadly Trotskyist, but differed from more orthodox Trotskyist groups in its refusal to defend communist states as "workers' states". This was symbolized in their slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow but International Socialism".

Hitchens left Oxford with a third class degree[18] and in the 1970s went on to work for the New Statesman, where he became friends with, amongst others, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan. At the New Statesman he became known as an aggressive left-winger, stridently attacking targets such as Henry Kissinger, the Vietnam War and the Roman Catholic Church. After emigrating to the United States in 1981, Hitchens wrote for The Nation. While at The Nation he penned vociferous critiques of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and American foreign policy in South and Central America.[18]

Hitchens criticized the first Gulf War, claiming — in an essay reprinted in For the Sake of Argument— that the George H.W. Bush administration lured Saddam Hussein into the war. This position was called into question years later, during a debate in September 2005, as being inconsistent with Hitchens' later condemnations of Saddam. Hitchens answered that during the post-war period, when he spent time among the largely pro-American Iraqi Kurds, he came to believe that the responsibility for the crisis lay primarily with Saddam Hussein.

Political views

"Theocratic fascism" and early disagreements with the Left

Hitchens was deeply shocked by the February 14, 1989, fatwa against his longtime friend Salman Rushdie. [citation needed] He became increasingly critical of what he called "theocratic fascism" or "fascism with an Islamic face": radical Islamists who supported the fatwa against Rushdie and sought the recreation of the medieval caliphate. Hitchens is often credited with coining the term "Islamofascism", but this appears not to be the case, and Hitchens himself denies it. (Malise Ruthven appears to be the first to have used the term in an article in The Independent on September 8, 1990.[19])

Hitchens did use the term "Islamic Fascism" for an article he wrote for The Nation, shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks, but this phrase also had an earlier history. For example, it was used in The Washington Post on January 13, 1979; it also appears to have been used by secularists in Turkey and Afghanistan to describe their opponents. [citation needed]

Hitchens also became increasingly disenchanted by the presidency of Bill Clinton, whom he had known at Oxford, accusing him of being a rapist and a liar.[20][21] Hitchens also claimed that the missile attacks by Clinton on Sudan constituted a war crime. [citation needed]

The years after the Rushdie fatwa also saw him looking for allies and friends. In the United States he became increasingly critical of what he called "excuse making" on the left. At the same time, he was attracted to the foreign policy ideas of some on the Republican right, especially the neoconservative group that included Paul Wolfowitz, whom he befriended. [citation needed]Around this time, he also befriended the Iraqi dissident and businessman Ahmed Chalabi.[citation needed] During a debate with George Galloway, Hitchens revealed he is a supporter of Irish reunification. [22]

Post-9/11

Hitchens has strongly supported US military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly in his "Fighting Words" columns in Slate. Hitchens had been a long term contributor to The Nation, where bi-weekly he wrote his "Minority Report" column.

Following the 9/11 attacks, Hitchens and Noam Chomsky debated the nature of radical Islam and of the proper response to it. On September 24 and October 8, 2001, Hitchens wrote criticisms of Chomsky in The Nation.[23][24] Chomsky responded [25] and Hitchens issued a rebuttal to Chomsky[26] to which Chomsky again responded.[27] Approximately a year after the 9/11 attacks and his exchanges with Chomsky, Hitchens left The Nation, claiming that its editors, readers and contributors considered John Ashcroft a bigger threat than Osama bin Laden,[28] and were making excuses on behalf of Islamist terrorism; in the following months he wrote articles increasingly at odds with his colleagues. This highly charged exchange of letters involved Katha Pollitt and Alexander Cockburn, as well as Hitchens and Chomsky.

Political stance

Hitchens has said he no longer feels a part of the Left. He does not object to being called a "former" Trotskyist, his affection for Trotsky remains strong, and he says that his political and historical view of the world is still shaped by Marxist categories. However, in 2004, Hitchens regarded himself as a "single-issue voter," speaking primarily about a "battle" between secular democracy and theocratic fascism.[29]

Hitchens is seen as part of the "pro-liberation left" or "liberal hawks" comprising left-leaning commentators who supported the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. [30] [31] This informal grouping includes Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, Norman Geras, Julie Burchill, and Michael Ignatieff (see Euston Manifesto).[citation needed] Neoconservatives of the last decade are hesitant to embrace Hitchens as one of their own, in part because of his harsh criticisms of Ronald Reagan[32], [33]. He similarly refuses to define himself as a member of the neoconservative movement.[6]

Despite his many articles supporting the US invasion of Iraq, Hitchens made a brief return to The Nation just before the US presidential election and wrote that he was "slightly" for George W. Bush; shortly afterwards, Slate polled its staff on their positions on the candidates and mistakenly printed Hitchens' vote as pro-Kerry. Hitchens shifted his opinion to neutral, saying: "It's absurd for liberals to talk as if Kristallnacht is impending with Bush, and it's unwise and indecent for Republicans to equate Kerry with capitulation. There's no one to whom he can surrender, is there? I think that the nature of the jihadist enemy will decide things in the end". [34]

In the interview with journalist Johann Hari in 2004, in which Hitchens described himself as "on the same side as the neo-conservatives," he also states that he does not support George Bush per se (still less Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld) but rather allies himself with "pure" neo-conservatives, especially Paul Wolfowitz. Although Hitchens defends Bush’s foreign policy, he has criticized Bush's support of intelligent design.[citation needed]

In contributions to Vanity Fair, Hitchens criticised the Bush administration for its continued protection of Henry Kissinger, whom he called complicit in the human rights abuses of Southern Cone military dictatorships during the 1970s. In 2001, he had published a book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, on Kissinger's alleged role in the crimes of regimes in South America and Asia. In that book Hitchens accused Kissinger, first as National Security Advisor to President Richard Nixon, and then as Secretary of State to the same president, of either actively participating in or tacitly condoning decisions that would lead to the massacre of Bengali civilians within East Pakistan.[35] He also asserts that Henry Kissinger, and by extension, the Ford administration, bore direct responsibility for the invasion of East Timor. Hitchens also asserted Kissinger and the Nixon administration's responsibility for the coup that resulted in the overthrow of the Allende government, and installation of Augusto Pinochet as president of Chile.

In a book on the subject, Hitchens contends that,

above all, we are in need of a renewed Enlightenment, which will base itself on the proposition that the proper study of mankind is man, and woman. This Enlightenment will not need to depend, like its predecessors, on the heroic breakthroughs of a few gifted and exceptionally courageous people. It is within the compass of the average person. The study of literature and poetry, both for its own sake and for the eternal ethical questions with which it deals, can now easily depose the scrutiny of sacred texts that have been found to be corrupt and confected. The pursuit of unfettered scientific inquiry, and the availability of new findings to masses of people by electronic means, will revolutionize our concepts of research and development. Very importantly, the divorce between the sexual life and fear, and the sexual life and disease, and the sexual life and tyranny, can now at last be attempted, on the sole condition that we banish all religions from the discourse. And all this and more is, for the first time in our history, within the reach if not the grasp of everyone.[36]

Opinions

Cyprus

Hitchens' first book focused on the partition of Cyprus. While Hitchens did not unilaterally support either the Greek or Turkish side of the conflict, he severely criticized Western governments and the Western media for ignoring the Greek Military junta's active support of the EOKA-B — a nationalist, pro-Enosis, Greek Cypriot terrorist organization[37][38] which ultimately overthrew Greek Cypriot President Archbishop Makarios III. Hitchens argued that this coup d'tat, and the political machinations of Nikos Sampson, the new dictator of Cyprus, instigated the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.

Nuclear weapons

Hitchens regarded the employment of nuclear weapons as the compulsory enlistment of civilians in a war and, as such, a violation of individual sovereignty.[citation needed]

Vietnam

Hitchens regarded America's intervention (and that of its allies) in Vietnam as a continuation of European colonialism, betraying the Enlightenment principles of liberal democracy and human emancipation. Today, he also views it as a betrayal of the principles of the American Revolution.[citation needed]

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Hitchens regards the complete occupation of Palestine as an example of colonialism and an unjustifiable subjugation of another people. He has described Zionism as being based on "the initial demagogic lie (actually two lies) that a land without a people needs a people without a land."[39] Hitchens supports Israel's right to exist, but has argued that

Israel doesn't "give up" anything by abandoning religious expansionism in the West Bank and Gaza. It does itself a favor, because it confronts the internal clerical and chauvinist forces which want to instate a theocracy for Jews, and because it abandons a scheme which is doomed to fail in the worst possible way. The so-called "security" question operates in reverse, because as I may have said already, only a moral and political idiot would place Jews in a settlement in Gaza in the wild belief that this would make them more safe. Of course this hard-headed and self-interested solution of withdrawal would not satisfy the jihadists. But one isn't seeking to placate them. One is seeking to destroy and discredit them. At the present moment, they operate among an occupied and dispossessed and humiliated people, who are forced by Sharon's logic to live in a close yet ghettoised relationship to the Jewish centers of population. Try and design a more lethal and rotten solution than that, and see what you come up with.[39]

On November 14, 2004, Hitchens noted that

Edward Said asked many times, in public and private, where the Mandela of Palestine could be. In rather bold contrast to this decent imagination, Arafat managed to be both a killer and a compromiser (Mandela was neither), both a Swiss bank-account artist and a populist ranter (Mandela was neither), both an Islamic "martyrdom" blow-hard and a servile opportunist, and a man who managed to establish a dictatorship over his own people before they even had a state (here one simply refuses to mention Mandela in the same breath).[40]

[edit] Milošević and the demise of Yugoslavia

Hitchens argued that the choice in Yugoslavia was between what he perceived as a multi-ethnic plural democracy in Bosnia and a fascistic, religiously inspired ethnic cleansing state driven by Slobodan Milošević. Hitchens argued that defending multi-ethnic democracy was morally essential and of far greater importance than any leftist concerns about a "new imperialism".[citation needed]

Historic views on Saddam Hussein

In July 2007, the New Statesman (a left-of-centre political magazine) printed selected portions of a 1976 piece by Hitchens which they claimed "took a more admiring view of the Iraqi dictator" than his later strong support for ousting Saddam.[41]

"An Arab country with the second largest proven oil reserves, a fierce revolutionary ideology, a large and recently-blooded army, and a leadership composed almost entirely of men in their thirties is obviously a force to be reckoned with. Iraq, which has this dynamic combination and much else besides, has not until recently been very much regarded as a power. But with the new discussions in Opec, the ending of the Kurdistan war and the new round of fighting in Lebanon, its political voice is being heard more and more. The Baghdad regime is the first oil-producing government to opt for 100-per-cent nationalisation, a process completed with the acquisition of foreign assets in Basrah last December. It was the first to call for the use of oil as a political weapon against Israel and her backers. It gives strong economic and political support to the ‘Rejection Front’ Palestinians who oppose Arafat’s conciliation and are currently trying to outface the Syrians in Beirut. And it has a leader — Saddam Hussein — who has sprung from being an underground revolutionary gunman to perhaps the first visionary Arab statesman since Nasser."

He also described the means through which the Baathist regime rose to power as similar to that of Iran; having crushed any political dissent and notions of an independent Kurdish state.

"In their different crusades, both Iraq and Iran take a distinctly unsentimental line on internal opposition. Ba’ath party spokesmen, when questioned about the lack of public dissent, will point to efforts made by the party press to stimulate criticism of revolutionary shortcomings. True enough, there are such efforts, but they fall rather short of permitting any organised opposition. The argument then moves to the claim, which is often made in Iraq, that the country is surrounded by enemies and attacked by imperialist intrigue. Somewhere in the collision between Baghdad and Teheran on this point, the Kurdish nationalists met a very painful end."

The quality of American and British Intelligence before the 2003 Iraq War

In a variety of articles and interviews, Hitchens has asserted that British intelligence was correct in claiming that Saddam had attempted to buy uranium from Niger,[42] and that US envoy Joseph Wilson had been dishonest in his public denials of it.[43] He has also pointed to discovered munitions in Iraq that violated U.N. Security Council Resolutions 686 and 687, the cease-fire agreements ending the 1991 Iraq-Kuwait conflict.

On March 19, 2007, Hitchens asked himself whether Western intelligence sources should have known that Iraq had "no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction." In his response, Hitchens stated that

[t]he entire record of UNSCOM until that date had shown a determination on the part of the Iraqi dictatorship to build dummy facilities to deceive inspectors, to refuse to allow scientists to be interviewed without coercion, to conceal chemical and biological deposits, and to search the black market for material that would breach the sanctions. The defection of Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law, the Kamel brothers, had shown that this policy was even more systematic than had even been suspected. Moreover, Iraq did not account for — has in fact never accounted for — a number of the items that it admitted under pressure to possessing after the Kamel defection. We still do not know what happened to this weaponry. This is partly why all Western intelligence agencies, including French and German ones quite uninfluenced by Ahmad Chalabi, believed that Iraq had actual or latent programs for the production of WMD. Would it have been preferable to accept Saddam Hussein's word for it and to allow him the chance to re-equip once more once the sanctions had further decayed?[44]

Abu Ghraib and Haditha

In a September 2005 article, he stated "Prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of Coalition troops in Baghdad."[45] Hitchens continued by stating that he

could undertake to defend that statement against any member of Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, and I know in advance that none of them could challenge it, let alone negate it. Before March 2003, Abu Ghraib was an abattoir, a torture chamber, and a concentration camp. Now, and not without reason, it is an international byword for Yankee imperialism and sadism. Yet the improvement is still, unarguably, the difference between night and day.[46]

In a June 5, 2006 article on the alleged killings of Iraqi civilians by US Marines in Haditha, he stated that

all the glib talk about My Lai is so much propaganda and hot air. In Vietnam, the rules of engagement were such as to make an atrocity — the slaughter of the My Lai villagers took almost a day rather than a white-hot few minutes — overwhelmingly probable. The ghastliness was only stopped by a brave officer who prepared his chopper-gunner to fire. In those days there were no precision-guided missiles, but there were "free-fire zones," and "body counts," and other virtual incitements to psycho officers such as Capt. Medina and Lt. Calley. As a consequence, a training film about My Lai — "if anything like this happens, you have really, truly screwed up" — has been in use for U.S. soldiers for some time.[47]

Regarding civil liberties

In March 2005, Hitchens supported further investigation into alleged voting irregularities in Ohio during the 2004 presidential election.

In January 2006, Hitchens joined with four other individuals and four organizations, including the ACLU and Greenpeace, as plaintiffs in a lawsuit, ACLU v. NSA; challenging Bush's warrantless domestic spying program; the lawsuit was filed by the ACLU.[48][49]

In February 2006, Hitchens helped organize a pro-Denmark rally outside the Danish Embassy in Washington, DC in response to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.[50]

Regarding specific individuals

Main article: Christopher Hitchens' critiques of specific individuals

Over the years, Hitchens has become famous for his scathing critiques of public figures. Three figures — Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, and Mother Teresa — were the targets of three separate full length texts, No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, and The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Hitchens has also written biographical essays about Thomas Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson: Author of America), George Orwell (Why Orwell Matters) and Thomas Paine (Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man": A Biography). However, the vast majority of Hitchens' critiques take the form of short opinion pieces, some of the more notable being his critiques of: Jerry Falwell,[51] George Galloway,[52] Mel Gibson,[53] Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama,[54] Michael Moore,[55] Daniel Pipes,[56] Ronald Reagan,[57] and Cindy Sheehan.[58]

International journalism

Hitchens spent part of his early career as a foreign correspondent in Cyprus. In the past several years, he has continued journeying to and writing essay-style correspondence pieces from a variety of locales, including Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Chad, Uganda and the Darfur region of Sudan. His work has taken him to over 60 different countries.[59]

Literary review

Hitchens regularly contributes literary reviews to the Atlantic Monthly and The New York Times Book Review. One of his books, Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere, is a collection of such works. Works he has recently reviewed include Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie; Saturday by Ian McEwan; the D. J. Enright translation of In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust; the Alfred Appel Jr. annotated version of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (whom he named as on a par with James Joyce); John Updike's Terrorist; and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.


Praise for and criticism of Hitchens