Wednesday, September 14, 2005

# Posted 6:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

OH, WHAT THE HECK, I'LL LIVE BLOG IT: 6:57 pm Eastern Time: My enthusiasm about the Hitchens-Galloway grudge match is perhaps best reflected in the fact that it's 1 am where I am, and I'm up blogging. I'm watching this courtesy of the Democracy Now website, which is quite nobly broadcasting the debate online. You can't actually see their pregame commentators, who seem to be vaguely off below and to the left. Instead, we're looking at some young techie with a goatie, which makes him look oddly dispatched from central casting.

Pregame commentators mostly are complimenting lefties for their courage in taking on righties, or dwelling on the astonishing fact both debaters this evening are Brits. They're also quite chuffed that the Beeb are plugging into their sound board.

We're told the aphoristic and witty title of the debate is The 2003 War in Iraq: Was it just and necessary? Amy Goodman of Democracy Now is moderator; sponsoring organisations include an ideologically broad-based coalition of The New Press, International Socialist Review, Nation Books, the National Conference of Arab-Americans, and the Centre for Economic Research and Social Change.

7:07 pm: All my new friends have just gone away. The feed seems to be down, possibly because of bandwidth, which I throw out as an explanation because I once heard someone refer to bandwidth in a similar situation and it sounded very convincing.

7:11 They're back. They're mostly talking about how lefties need to take advantage of Hurricane Katrina. Because if they don't, no one will notice that the administration massively flubbed the relief effort. Also some grousing about how Hitch is writing for the NY Post, because the pay there is better than at the Nation.

7:13 Real live Brits are here! And they're from the BBC and everything.

Otis from the BBC obliges by going online and saying 'queue.'

7:17 They run the tape of the Paxman v Galloway post-election interview. Presumably this is meant to serve as one of the minor bouts preceding the main events. Maybe Paxman will surprise us by appearing during the tag-team bit of the fight?

They all agree that Paxman is a very, very bad man.

7:20 Shaking their heads, my new friends lament that they had to install metal detectors to screen the audience, after looking at real life right wing websites and finding that they were encouraging their readers to come. Probably that whole second-amendment thing, you know.

7:23 Military recruiters are preying on our colleges and communities. They're all harassing and preying on high school students, and harassing and preying on immigrants by trying to give them jobs and free educations! Metal detectors will also cunningly keep out military recruiters.

7:29 The start is being delayed, mostly by resources needed to kill poor ugly underbellies being diverted to kill Iraqis instead. It's possible the feed is missing a word here and there.

7:35 The pregame announcer's voice and cadences sound faintly familiar, particularly her tendency to make repeated use of first and last names. I expect her at any minute to inform us that 'George Galloway served his country as a soldier and is ready to serve his country now. For more on George Galloway, go to George Galloway's website at www.johnkerry.com.'

7:37 Amy Goodman makes a joke. My new friends briefly stop plugging www.stopthewar.com and journeyradio.org, streaming all over the world, the known world, to gloat at how Goodman is a great comedian. They then briefly make jokes about Christopher Hitchens's mum, in keeping with the whole theme of the evening as far too rare an instance of high-level, heady modern renditions of classical debate style. A winking comment about who do you think inspires the heavy security, the fans of George Galloway or the fans of Christopher Hitchens? Obligatory references to Rupert Murdoch, New York Post, diamond-studded boxers, boo.

7:41 And they're off! Brilliant and witty laugh lines by the introducing speaker include the fact someone in the audience is named 'Ms Wrigley Field', but she's never been there. Ha ha h.

7:45 Hitch opens by calling for a moment of respect for the 216 people sadistically murdered by terrorists in Baghdad this morning. A few warm-up jokes including a nostalgic reference to his misspent Trotskyite youth. If anti-war counsel over the past decade and a half had been listened to, Saddam Hussein would be owner and occupier of Kuwait, in meantime, Slobo would've made Bosnia part of greater Serbia and annexed and cleansed Kosovo, the Taliban would still be hosting Al Qa'eda in Afghanistan, Saddam would still be ruling over a concentration state above ground and a mass grave below it. Advances international legal argument that states lose sovereignty by violating its neighbours', fooling around promiscuously with weapons of mass destruction, violating the genocide convention, or playing host to international gangsters, nihilists, or jihadists. An imploded state would have made things worse, and then Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia would have intervened. In fact, all these three powers are trying to meddle, but we're fortunate that there's a coalition there to hold the ring and prevent it from being another Rwanda or Congo. On these main points, it seems to me there's very little room for debate. (applause) Oh, thank you. (he says, doing his best to sound delightedly surprised that someone out there likes him).

7:53 Saddam will follow Slobo and Pinochet into the dock quite soon; I know there are some people here who don't take delight in this, but I'll say that I do. A federal democratic constitution is being debated now on six television channels and perhaps as many as a hundred newspapers in a country whree three years ago it was death, not only for you but your family, and not a quick one either, to attempt to distribute a leaflet or own a satellite dish. The largest stateless minority in the Middle East, the people of Kurdistan, have begun to scramble to their feet to assume something like their full height as a people. Slows speaking pace dramatically to describe chemical wounds of Kurdish women, which burn for years. Speeds up to point out this is an extraordinary and unambiguous gain. Nukes-r-us joke. Notable that when Qadaffi wanted to capitulate he didn't go to Kofi, Chirac (who will quite happily pay for the privilege of selling himself), or Schroeder, he went to Blair and Bush.

7:58 I think it is worse than a disgrace that a member of Parliament goes before a committee of the United States Senate and declines to testify, and generally behaves badly. some jeers if you knew how you looked and sounded when you did that, comrades..... Not content with it, he turns up in Damascus - the man's search for a tyrannical fatherland never ends, Saddam has been overthrown and his criminal comnections with him have been exposed - to tell the Syrian people they're fortunate to have such a leader. Far beyond me, and I hope, ladies and gentlemen, far beyond you and far beneath your contempt.

8:01 Galloway steps into the ring: Slobbering was the note Mr Hitchens chose to end on, perhaps unwisely. 'Bring it on' from CH. Wants to begin by praising Mr Hitchens (long pause), made speech in mezoic age praising me for brave act in 1980 in twinning Dundee with Nablus. I didn't interrupt you so perhaps you won't slobber over my remarks. Oooh, Christopher Hitchens used to be a Trotskyite. Say anything but that....

8:04 GG: Hitchens was against first Iraq War. Bravely, fanatically, stood up to Charlton Heston and a President named Bush and other nasties. What you have witnessed here, ladies and gentlemen, is a first in natural history, the first ever metamorphosis from a butterfly back to a slug (applause, CH - Hitch, not Heston - says 'well done.') You are covered, Mr Hitchens, with the stuff you like to smear onto others. kinky. People like Cindy Sheehan. hey, this is a family blog.

8:08 People like Hitchens are content to fight to the last drop of other peoples' blood. (applause) Parliamentarians should have been wisely against American independence because the country one day would be ruled by Pat Robertson and John Ashcroft and didn't pick up dead bodies in New Orleans (because the few competent people there were trying too hard to find living ones). Galloway was for Irish independence. Hitchens was apparently in Bloomsbury and slobbering in opposition to it. Funny, neither of them looked quite that old. So he should also be for the right of the Iraqi people to be free and against the foreign people who invaded them. my God, this man should've been a logic professor. Fallujah! (crazed applause)

8:14 Oh how he wishes Hitch would put on a tin hat and go and fight. Then he wouldn't have to debate him No weapons of mass destruction. Hitchens and Bush and Cheney and neo-cons ooo put lots of young men in wheelchairs and morgues. There is scarcely a sentient human being on the planet who believes the war in Iraq was necessary or just or a good idea.

8:16 Our two countries are the biggest rogue states in the world today. um, hello? perspective? It is therefore vitally important that those who oppose the crimes of our governments link hands and rid the world of George W. Bush and Anthony Blair. but what about the neo-cons? will we still have to put up with neo-cons in wheelchairs?

8:17 Hitch's turn. Hitchens takes controversial stance in favour of Irish independence. whew. CH: Rhetorical trick, to hear Mr Galloway speak, you would think he was a pacifist, some sort of opponent of war. But standing next to Syria's president, Galloway referred to 145 heroic operations of Syrians every day against Iraq. These people are not pacifists, or anti-imperialists, but call for restoration of caliphate. (Syrians trying to restore the caliphate? Somebody call Juan Cole, we've got two middle east scholars here tonight...) Of course it's funny that the author of the Vagina Monologues puts George Galloway on tour with Jane Fonda. Calls Assad a human toothbrush (?) and George's new pal. Rebuts 100,000 deaths Lancet comment with reference to Kaplan in Slate. President Talabani isn't occupying Iraq, but is from Iraq and a member of a party which belongs to the Socialist International. We take, on this side of this House, without exception the side of the secular Iraqi left against neo-fascists and jihadists.

Amy Goodman calls for windscreens for microphones. I don't think it was a laugh-line.

8:27 George's turn. Do you think the editors of the Lancet and academics at Johns Hopkins are crazed fabricators? (Rhetorical mistake: gives Hitch supporters in crowd lots of chances to shout 'yes'.) Hitch used to be a Trotskyite!

8:29 Islamists are descending like spores of anthrax on the gaping wounds of Iraq caused by neo-cons oh no, anything but neo-cons! give us anthrax instead!

8:32 You may think that those two planes that attacked this city descended out of a clear blue sky. I think they came out of a sea of hatred created by us. oops, mistake. jeers. that line would've worked in England, though. Created by Sharon's crimes against the Palestinian people hmm, does George Galloway know anything about New York?

8:34 If you live next to a swamp, no amount of fly swats will protect you against things that come out of that swamp. You have to drain that swamp by getting rid of Mr Sharon's apartheid genocidal wall. None of these apartheid regimes would last for a minute unless propped up by the financial support of Rupert Murdoch.

He's really convincing them.

8:35 Hitch's turn. If anything ignited the hatred and violence of the Muslim world, the invasion and annexation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union and documented genocide of many Afghans is probably a better candidate than the holding of a free and fair election in Iraq. And if you're opposed to Sharon's wall, obviously the intuitive response is to fly planes into the Twin Towers, why didn't I think of that. May I notice, Mr Galloway, that you picked the wrong city to say that in. much applause and arguably the wrong month, as well, because some of us are still mourning. How dare you say that the Bush administration supports the Assad regime in Syria; we've succeeded, in concert on this one occasion with the French, in securing some measure of freedom for the Lebanese against the illegal occupation of Syria. I think you also say that these Islamist chaps wouldn't be this way if we weren't so mean to them. laughter I think that some of these people came to Iraq after we threw them out of Afghanistan. Obviously the answer is to leave them in control of Afghanistan; don't make them angry. This is masochism, and it's being offered you by a sadist.

8:41 George's turn. It's lies, lies, all lies. Read my book. Don't read his leaflets. He's an idiot. He's supporting more dictatorships than me.

8:42 I'll now recite the names of Bush administration members. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld. Hey, you forgot to mention Vulfovitz! Exact quote from George: 'You were a butterfly but now you're a slug! Damn you and all your works!'

8:45 Second round: q&a, moderator having the questions. She asks Hitch where he would differ from Bush administration. Answer: it should have educated and enlightened, rather than scared, the public.

8:51moderator: and your response to Powell saying that his speech before the UNSC was a stain on his public record? Answer: I don't give a damn what Powell says about anything.

8:52 Moderator asks George if Saddam commited crimes. George: yes, mostly when the friend of the U.S. and Britain.

9:03 Shall I mention this man's friends! Haliburton! Robber capitalists! CH: grunted agreement a repeated, effective, trick in CH's rhetorical quiver

The most foreign fighters in Iraq are wearing British and American uniforms! Exclamation points a repeated, ineffective, trick in GG's

9:08 I'd like to thank Mr Galloway for providing us with a clear and unequivocal declaration of support for the terrorists who destroyed with explosion (&c) GG (repeated): Are there no depths to which you willl not sink? CH: You're shouting me down, so I can't answer the question. Are you unclear on the concept... .

CH: I don't think it's denied even by the egregious Professor Cole, who's never set foot in the region but claims to speak Arabic and Farsi, that the forces that favour the transition to a democratic government are favoured by the latent majority of the Iraqi people. I think it's a very eloquent campaign by Mr Galloway's friends to prevent the chances of elections; there is a liberation movement in Iraq, it fights on the side of the Kurds, and fights on our side; and thankfully we finally fight on its; shame on the people who call this [the insurgency] a liberation movement.

moderator: Katrina. What makes you think the U.S. is any better in Iraq than New Orleans?

CH: I would caution against making a zero-sum relationship between the two. More than enough soldiers to hand; but the president couldn't order troops into a state without the request of the governor; unless you want to invoke the Insurrection Act, which hasn't been invoked since the Civil War. GG has accused me of bordering on racism, which I consider opprobious and must ask him to withdraw. But I would have first to add, that for people to atttempt to score rhetorical points about people whose bodies haven't yet been identified yet, and to say they would be alive if our money weren't wasted on Arabs, that is an appeal to the most racist, base, and provincial mentality.

GG: Hmm. Repeat earlier line about 'mouthpiece and apologist for the miserable incompetents who can't even pick up bodies of their own citizens in New Orleans'. Bushes! 'You know, Hitchens, you're a court jester.' (His best line yet. Which says something.)

moderator: CH, as you change your views over time, do you feel the media is friendlier to you?

CH: Frankly, I think that's rather a waste of a question.

Both disputants agree (!) that this debate is running out of steam.

Concluding statements: GG's is attempted to be an impassionate close that the Iraq war is a blunder and CH a popinjay, but fails somewhat to build up the necessary steam. CH notes he still has solidarity with his left-secular comrades in Iraq; it is GG who has deserted his comrades because Michael Moore says so, or because someone has offered him some oil for food money, and he's not going to do it. (a hit, a palpable hit). He calls on audience to do something as true internationalists to help the secular leftists of the New Iraq build a civil society. Everyone then seems fairly happy that the debates's over. Not least me, as it's now 3:36 am where I am.

A concluding thought: This match-up proved perhaps slightly less satisfying than I'd hoped, partially because the two were playing rather different rhetorical games. There's a marked difference in the two contenders' rhetorical styles. Galloway's is more shouted, accustomed perhaps to a larger hall or a rally of party faithful. Hitch's is conversational and detached, and paired together in this environment, Hitchens's wins - it permits him to interject an occasional 'yes, of course' or 'please do, i'm waiting for it' in the midst of a slow-building shouted attack, thereby deflating it. Contests generally make more edifying viewing if the two sides are playing at the same sport. Still, as interesting as was the juxtaposition of Galloway's broguish union-hall rhetoric with Hitchens's drawled sophistication, Hitchens's ability to deflate Galloway's points, and his greater variety and command of argument, made it rather more one-sided a contest to my mind than I would have hoped it to have been.
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