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Arts and Culture

Christopher Hitchens: A Jingo in Every Essential Way

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Posted on Jan 24, 2013
Verso Books

(Page 4)

There has been ample refutation of this nonsensical conspiracy theory, of which we might mention the fact that Zarqawi’s supposed presence in Baghdad was speculation, an “inferential leap” in the first place; that both British and German intelligence cast doubt on the story at the time; that even George Tenet, when testifying to a Senate Committee that Zarqawi had been in Baghdad, nevertheless said that he was neither under the control of Al Qaeda nor Saddam Hussein; that Zarqawi was an opponent of Al Qaeda at this time; that Ansar al-Islam leader Mullah Krekar denied having ever met Zarqawi and that his group was opposed to Hussein and did not associate with Al Qaeda; and that, according to the International Crisis Group, the potency of Ansar al-Islam was drastically inflated by the PUK for its own reasons. Intelligence told a quite different story to that recounted by Hitchens, but he had by this point dropped all pretence at serious journalism. In the end, Nick Davies exposed the whole Zarqawi myth and how it was spread by intelligence through the media, in his whistle-blowing account of the press.

Almost everything Hitchens predicted about the war, vaunting his ‘Twenty-Twenty Foresight’, turned out to be conclusively, catastrophically wrong. For example: “Will an Iraq war make our Al Qaeda problem worse? Not likely.” ? a point of view not even shared by the governments making war. In the end, the mounting threat to his credibility was so severe that the man who said “ha ha ha, and yah boo” to the antiwar movement, and serially slandered the likes of Cindy Sheehan and Naomi Klein, could not take “the taunting” any more.

book cover


Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens

By Richard Seymour


Verso, 160 pages


Buy the book

But his more arresting response to the crisis of the occupation was to turn extraordinarily sanguinary. Following the November 2004 siege of Fallujah, Hitchens remarked that ‘the death toll is not nearly high enough … too many [jihadists] have escaped’. That the insurgency arose primarily as an Al Qaeda-Ba’athist conspiracy, and not as an utterly predictable response to the occupation of Iraq, the destruction of its infrastructure, the murder of protesters and the empowerment of sectarian political forces, could thus serve to justify a quite shrill display of blood-lust. And when pressed, Hitchens did not hesitate to suggest that the Islamists should be wiped out:

We can’t live on the same planet as them and I’m glad because I don’t want to. I don’t want to breathe the same air as these psychopaths and murders [sic] and rapists and torturers and child abusers. It’s them or me. I’m very happy about this because I know it will be them. It’s a duty and a responsibility to defeat them. But it’s also a pleasure. I don’t regard it as a grim task at all.

He later told those present at the christening of the David Horowitz Freedom Center that “it’s sort of a pleasure as well as a duty to kill these people”. Years later, when Hitchens was speaking in Madison, Wisconsin, he was asked a question about Iran. His answer shocked even the conservatives in the audience: “As for that benighted country, I wouldn’t shed a tear if it was wiped off the face of this earth.” That these barbaric vocables were uttered by someone ostensibly interested in the advancement of humanity, in solidarity and civilization, is by no means novel. It was a common response to the affront of anti-colonial rebels, particularly those deemed under the influence of “Mohammedan fanaticism”. As Dickens had put it, on hearing of the Indian rebellion of 1857, and reading the atrocity stories circulated in the British newspapers:

I would address that oriental character which must be powerfully spoken to, in something like the following placard . . . ‘I, the Inimitable, holding this office of mine . . . have the honour to inform you Hindoo gentry that it is my intention, with all possible avoidance of unnecessary cruelty and with all merciful swiftness of execution, to exterminate the Race from the face of the earth, which disfigured the earth with abominable atrocities’.

In this respect, also, Hitchens was a highly typical, if not stereotypical, figure.

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