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Arts and Culture

Putting Christopher Hitchens on Trial

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Posted on Jan 23, 2013
rubenerd (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Some of Hitchens’ books and an article about his cancer diagnosis.

The dead, God-bashing, celebrity litterateur is the target of a new book that seeks to yank him down from the vaunted heights from which he shilled for the American empire and defamed its opponents, writes Gregory Shupak at In These Times.

With “Unhitched,” British political analyst Richard Seymour attempts a clear-eyed view of a man whose elegant, incisive wit won him the admiration of his enemies and the worship of many of today’s young journalists.

In dealing with Hitchens’ inaccuracies, his alleged plagiarism and the pursuit of favor and approval from the political and media establishment, Seymour’s book offers an exciting counterbalance to the often uncritical praise that has flowed heavily since Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in June 2010.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Gregory Shupak at In These Times:

Accuracy, Seymour demonstrates, was not a major hang-up for Hitchens. Hitchens referred to Hugo Chávez as “the General” even though the Venezuelan never held that rank; said that Muammar Gaddafi turned over a “stockpile of WMD” although Libya never possessed even one such weapon; claimed in February 2003 that an invasion of Iraq would be justified because Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s presence in that country demonstrated a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda even though Zarqawi was an opponent of al-Qaeda at the time and it wasn’t clear that he was in Iraq at all; and asserted that Tunisians revolted against the Ben Ali regime because they did not have to fear violent repression on the same scale that Iranian protestors face despite the fact that 224 Tunisians were killed in their uprising as compared to the 72 killed in the Iranian dictatorship’s crushing of the Green Movement in 2009.

What emerges is a picture of Hitchens as an intellectually lazy poseur and a huffy racist—a man who, despite the remarkable breadth of his reading, “often lacked depth” and was “either unable or unwilling to cope with the sorts of complex ideas that he occasionally attempted to criticize.” Here Seymour adduces Hitchens’ gross misreading of Edward Said’s Orientalism, his travestying of Marx’s view of history, and his crude theological discussions: for example, Hitchens interprets the biblical Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac as divine endorsement for the murder of children, an unpersuasive claim given that the story had precisely the opposite function in the historical context in which it was written and received.

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