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September 28, 2004

The Mystic Power of the Left (updated)

Johann Hari writes in "In enemy territory? An interview with Christopher Hitchens:"

This encapsulates how many of Hitchens' old allies - a roll-call of the left's most distinguished intellectuals, from Edward Said to Noam Chomsky - now view him.
This was written yesterday, September 23, 2004. I knew the left was powerful and wielded tremendous influence in high places, but this leaps far beyond what I expected. On September 25, 2003, New York Times said Edward Said was dead. I suppose the above means he is actually above and looking down on Hitchens. Or maybe it's just that leftists and facts do not cohere; where you find one the other is invariably absent? Or maybe the New York Times got its facts wrong. Again. No, I checked, there's a consensus that Said is dead.

Okay, I'm being snarky. But it's entirely appropriate to the tone of Hari's post, which while not quite snarky, does have a certain wry irony in the opening. The article is worth reading. I came to it by way of "Hitch 'n' Hari" at Daimnation!, via
someone, when I figure out whom I'll add the link.

The Independant's version is "Christopher Hitchens: In Enemy Territory."

In the article Hari interview's Hitchens about his conversion experience. To Hitch the burning towers and Pentagon wing provided the light to allow him to see:

"The United States was attacked by theocratic fascists who represents all the most reactionary elements on earth. They stand for liquidating everything the left has fought for: women's rights, democracy? And how did much of the left respond? By affecting a kind of neutrality between America and the theocratic fascists."
But when the goal of the attacker is to consume the world, there is no room for neutrality. That same light also permitted greater depth perception. The surface similarities often pointed to by the moral relativists shrank to insignificance when the full depth of the picture became visible:
"However bad the American Empire has been, it is not as bad as this. It is not the Taliban, and anybody - any movement - that cannot see the difference has lost all moral bearings."

Hitchens - who has just returned from Afghanistan - says, "The world these [al-Quadea and Taliban] fascists want to create is one of constant submission and servility. The individual only has value to them if they enter into a life of constant reaffirmation and prayer. It is pure totalitarianism, and one of the ugliest totalitarianisms we've seen. It's the irrational combined with the idea of a completely closed society. To stand equidistant between that and a war to remove it is?" He shakes his head. I have never seen Hitch grasping for words before.

Hitch goes on, and it really requires no commentary. This is as clear and lucid as analysis gets:
Some people on the left tried to understand the origins of al-Quadea as really being about inequalities in wealth, or Israel's brutality towards the Palestinians, or other legitimate grievances. "Look: inequalities in wealth had nothing to do with Beslan or Bali or Madrid," Hitchens says. "The case for redistributing wealth is either good or it isn't - I think it is - but it's a different argument. If you care about wealth distribution, please understand, the Taliban and the al Quaeda murderers have less to say on this than even the most cold-hearted person on Wall Street. These jihadists actually prefer people to live in utter, dire poverty because they say it is purifying. Nor is it anti-imperialist: they explictly want to recreate the lost Caliphate, which was an Empire itself."

He continues, "I just reject the whole mentality that says, we need to consider this phenomenon in light of current grievances. It's an insult to the people who care about the real grievances of the Palestinians and the Chechens and all the others. It's not just the wrong interpretation of those causes; it's their negation." And this goes for the grievances of the Palestinians, who he has dedicated a great deal of energy to documenting and supporting. "Does anybody really think that if every Jew was driven from Palestine, these guys would go back to their caves? Nobody is blowing themselves up for a two-state solution. They openly say, ?We want a Jew-free Palestine, and a Christian-free Palestine.' And that would very quickly become, ?Don't be a Shia Muslim around here, baby.'" He supports a two-state solution - but he doesn't think it will solve the jihadist problem at all.

And it just keeps coming:
He is appalled that some people on the left are prepared to do almost nothing to defeat Islamofascism. "When I see some people who claim to be on the left abusing that tradition, making excuses for the most reactionary force in the world, I do feel pain that a great tradition is being defamed. So in that sense I still consider myself to be on the left." A few months ago, when Bush went to Ireland for the G8 meeting, Hitchens was on a TV debate with the leader of a small socialist party in the Irish dail. "He said these Islamic fascists are doing this because they have deep-seated grievances. And I said, 'Ah yes, they have many grievances. They are aggrieved when they see unveiled woman. And they are aggrieved that we tolerate homosexuals and Jews and free speech and the reading of literature.'"

"And this man - who had presumably never met a jihadist in his life - said, ?No, it's about their economic grievances.' Well, of course, because the Taliban provided great healthcare and redistribution of wealth, didn't they? After the debate was over, I said, ?If James Connolly [the Irish socialist leader of the Easter Risings] could hear you defending these theocratic fascist barbarians, you would know you had been in a fight. Do you know what you are saying? Do you know who you are pissing on?"

Hari proceeds to question whether Hitchens can't support the war without supporting Bush. He cannot. Hitch explains how he came to find himself aligned with the neo-Conservatives he had thought he abhorred. From there he moved to his current position, which Hari describes as:

He has replaced a belief in Marxist revolution with a belief in spreading the American revolution. Thomas Jefferson has displaced Karl Marx.
Hitch goes on to distinguish between a Cheney camp and a Wolfowitz camp in the adminitration. The latter are what he considers the pure strain of neo-Conservativism:
"The thing that would most surprise people about Wolfowitz if they met him is that he's a real bleeding heart. He's from a Polish-Jewish immigrant family. You know the drill - Kennedy Democrats, some of the family got out of Poland in time and some didn't make it, civil rights marchers? He impressed me when he was speaking at a pro-Israel rally in Washington a few years ago and he made a point of talking about Palestinian suffering. He didn't have to do it - at all - and he was booed. He knew he would be booed, and he got it."

Hari ends it with a plea, "Come home, Hitch - we need you." But Hitch believes that he is home. What we need is for Hari and other rational thinkers on the left to learn to feel at home in the same place.

Read it all.

Hari has also added "Late thoughts on the Hitchens interview."
In this Hari sets out all the other issues that matter to him beyond the "single issue" that now drives Hitchens:

Like Hitch, I believe that Islamic fundamentalism is a depraved threat to human rights, on a par both morally and intellectually with fascism.
What's interesting is that I agree with about half of Hari's positions on the issues, and disagree vehemently with him on the other half. He also believes that the current administration is on the wrong side of every one of these additional issues except that of ending tyranny. He exaggerates. Bush is on the opposing side of many, but not as many as he believes. I suspect the issue is the manner in which Bush aims to address those issues, not any disagreement that they must be addressed.

But it is an interesting and considered list of issues that matter to the left. Hari makes the point of segregating the first two "because unless they are dealt with, there might not be any human beings left to deal with all the other issues." Those two are:

- The fight against climate change
- The fight against the continuing existence and potential use of nuclear weapons
Hitchens clearly considers his "single issue" to be superior to both or, at least, intertwined with the latter. Hari doesn't see the irony in saying those two stand apart, while apparently not seeing the Hitch feels the same way about the threat of Islamofacism. Everything else comes second to that.

Posted by dan at September 28, 2004 01:55 PM | TrackBack


I too, noticed the clumsy reference to Said.


Hari is blind to his own blindness, sadly.

The same is to be said of all those who believe they are "home" in their parallel-but-inverted truth universe.


Posted by: MeTooThen at October 9, 2004 09:57 PM