Sunday, October 29, 2006

# Posted 6:36 PM by Patrick Porter  


A few weeks ago at the London-Paris Festival, Patrick Belton and I interviewed the British pundit and contrarian Christopher Hitchens.

Here is the first part of the interview, we'll post the second part shortly.

London, 8 October 2006
Oxblog's Patrick Porter and Patrick Belton with Christopher Hitchens

PP: Today is the anniversary of the Cable Street riots in London’s East End, and also of Kim Jong-Il's ascent to leadership of the North Korean Workers’ Party. Fascism is a word that has been used a lot today. So what is fascism?

CH: Fascism? First of all, it has to meet two or three conditions. One is ethnic, national, even religious paranoia - either that the group itself is in danger, or has special privileges, or both. Almost inevitably, that means anti-semitism-the idea there is a secret government out there, responsible for your woes.

Second, an alliance between the oligarchy and the lumpen. You couldn't have it better than the Saudi sponsorship of madrassas.

Another is its irrationality. With the Soviet Union there was a degree of predictability, it was essentially rational. There were certain things we knew they weren’t going to do. It was containable. But fascism tends to irrationality. It is not an accident that suicide - the death cult - is a part of this. Attacking New York in broad daylight on 9/11, for example, when they could have taken over Pakistan, and had a nuclear-armed state in their hands, if they were just willing to do it quietly. On the other hand the elaborateness of the display meant battle is joined, which excited some of their constituents.

It both hates and envies modernism. It doesn't want to do science, but it wants what science produces, to seize and pervert it. The Nazis could have had the nuclear bomb, but they got rid of all Jewish scientists. In this, you can look at A. Q. Khan, and his work to exploit science, and turn it against modernism.

The leaders of the Soviet Union were even if bastard children of the Enlightenment, were its children nonetheless. It was nothing like the totalitarian principle: one book, one leader, one principle, the book is infallible - you don't need any other.

PP: Is this rhetoric of a war against fascism actually counter-productive, as some have argued? Just to act as a devil's advocate, is there the danger that in referring to disparate phenomena as Islamo-Fascism, itself reaching back to a semiotic from 60 years ago, you encourage different groups to identify with each other as a worldwide cause, helping to call into being the very thing you're trying to oppose?

CH: No, I don't think so. Before 9/11, only myself and a few others who were trying to call attention to it would have known the name of Al Qa'ida. They've been at it for ages, not only trying to detract Kashmir from India, create a Muslim state in the Philipines, Jamat Islami in Indonesia, in the Philippines the Al Sayef, which was directly financially supported by Iraq. These groups are not the product of western overreaction, they are the products if anything of being underreacted to. We should resist this idea that we are the author of this problem.

You could make an exception, I think, for Palestine. Palestinians did not choose the government under which they have been living for a generation, they did not take to Islam until recently and some did not even then, it's different. The Israelis respond to Iraq with the answer ‘now you know what it's like’ - I don't believe that, we don't try to govern an Arab people against its will, because our right to do so is in our holy book.

PP: What do you think of news that your bete noir, Henry Kissinger, is advising the White House on Iraq?

CH: Well, I've just filed an article on just that for Slate. The Kurds were horrified when Bremer was appointed in Iraq, because the name Kissinger makes them pee green. Bush did ask Kissinger to be head of the 9/11 Commission, for which I can claim to have made him not do that – for the simple reason he was a war criminal, terrorist, couldn't travel to all other countries because he is under indictment in many of them, which would have been a significant impairment in his ability to do the job, and he couldn't declare his interests. I know he hates me because I have had an impact on his life.

PP: In today’s foreign policy debates over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is the the traditional left-right distinction now unviable? Doesn’t both isolationism and interventionism now cut across the political divide? Is neoconservatism revolutionary?

CH: The main enemies I have had, have always been on the right - Kissingerian realists, old State Department Arabists, nativist isolationists who are not always particularly philosemitic, who have their counterpart on the left in Gore Vidal.

In the debate with Scott Ritter there was a man of the Reaganite right with a very insular concept of the American national interest.

On neoconservatives, the term is coined by Michael Harrington, and like the Tories and Suffragettes, they eventually agreed to adopt it in an example of word circulation. The New York Times author got it right on this point.

As a term used in the mainstream, neo-conservative has its confusing elements. The conservative position is that the dangers of change are greater than the dangers of the status quo- in this, they and I could not be more un-con. George Packer's Assassin's Gate gives the best account I've read about how the conflict between prolongation of the status quo and overdue change plays out in Iraq. Innuendo is there in the term too, as its ethnic implication is not always well concealed. The first time I had a look at them was during Bosnia, when they were defending Muslims while others opposed their right of return - if not for that precursor, I couldn't trust its moral credibility on Iraq.

PP: What do you think of Nick Cohen’s analysis, that when it comes to foreign policy there is a distinction between those who think of themselves as anti-imperialist, and view America as the imperial threat, and those who think of themselves as anti-fascists?

CH: That is actually an older theory dating back at least to Gulf War One, though I don’t like to call it Gulf War One, I see both conflicts in the Gulf as part of the same war. Fred Halliday posed the need for the left to choose between fascism and imperialism. He argued that the left could be anti-imperialist about American intervention, as long as it accepted the abolition of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. I was hostile to the war of George Bush senior, and at the time I argued that the outcome of that war proved that you could have both ­ Saddam Hussein as a fascistic ruler who was confirmed in power by the USA. But that was avoiding the essential truth of Halliday’s argument.

(15) opinions -- Add your opinion

PP is so nice to Hitch.

It's probably an analytical mistake to think of terrorists, in general, as irrational. If irrationality is a necessary condition of "fascism", then fascist is probably not an apt nomer.

The fact that al-qa'ida grew while no one was taking notice of it doesn't mean that it cannot move along faster if we take the wrong notice of it now.

Islamo-fascism is probably too facile a conceptual label (Tony Judt was probably right to point that out).

Here is a recent look that shows a more nuanced appraoch to understanding what is at work and possibly what types of counterterror strategies are key at various stages of this kind of violence's political development:

A leading scholar on terrorism in Southeast Asia, warns that the threat posed by al-Qa'ida affiliate Jemaah Islamiah is rising

"The General Guidelines for Al-Jemaah Islamiah Struggle - otherwise known as the PUPJI - outlines the three phases of jihad: iman (faith of individuals), hijrah (building a base of operations) and then jihad qital (fighting the enemies of Islam). Right now, JI is focusing on the iman and hijrah until it has the capability for jihad qital. To that end, it is employing a three-tined strategy: recruitment and proliferation of cells, engaging in sectarian conflict and engaging in social welfare."
Interesting questions - eg does Hitch believe that Neo-Conservatism is revolutionary - but rather boilerplate answers.
"Almost inevitably, that means anti-semitism" - but it didn't for the original Fascists, who had a disproportionately large number of Jews among them. Why didn't he mention the Socialist backgound of Mussolini, Hitler and Mosley? All very odd.
Like so many of I tended to look to Hitchens as an oracle of the intellectual resistance against the tide of irrationalism that's been washing through American culture for decades now, not just in the Christo-fascism spreading from the South, but in the soft "sprirituality" of the holistic/vegan set. And while poetry still spills from his mouth when he opens it, despite or maybe because of his legendary insobriety--he seems to have now embraced his role as angry prophet, and come to rely way too much on that poetic flare.

It's all but undeniable that the term that Bush finally introduced into the public dialogue recently, Islamo-fascism, was popularized and embraced by the "neo-con" movement, which--and if Mearsheimer is right I risk my career in saying it--sprouted among urban, Jewish politicos as they, and their support base, moved up into tax brackets from which their grandparents were largely excluded, and drifted right. What better way for those for whom the Holocaust was a real and living memory to demonize the Muslim enemy, than tie them to Hitler. Happily, the Christian Right--anticipating the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem that will signal Jesus's return--are also strongly predisposed to literally demonize Islam. Add generalized American nationalism, post-9/11, and you have the perfect politico-cultural storm to pit the "Judeo-Christian" "modern" Us, against the irrational, demonic, reactionary "them."

I'm betting that Hitchens suffers from some cognitive dissonance trying to rationalize to himself that Palestine is the exception rather than rule. Kashmir's Sheik Abdullah was accused throughout his career of being a Stalinist, and no amount of Indian rhetoric can change that conflict from a nationalist/ secessionist one into a state rivalry with Pakistan, anymore than Papal bull can flatten the earth. Qut'b's Islamism emerged in Egypt as a mutation of the Ikhwan only after they suffered decades of torture in Nasr's prisons--not unlike the trajectory of the African National Congress. With apologies for presuming, I just can't understand why it is not self- evident that Islamism is a resistance movement, not so different from the people's movements of the secular cold-war decades, apart from some more inspiring rhetoric and still more desperate tactics. Of course it's dangerous, but let's be honest about "our" part in conjuring it.
so you get to spray the word fascism around but chide others for using it?

personally I have few problems identifying the extreme militant form of Islam as both Islamic and fascist. I know its intellectually lowbrow, as is refusing to blame its victims.
I tried to explain Islamofascism to my mother. She said, "oh, you mean Saudi Arabia." She's right.
Hitch is trying to squeeze all the juice out of the term "fascism" so that everytime we are shown a picture of a bearded man in a turban we borrow the knee-jerk emotional response we've been conditioned to exhibit when confronted by pictures of Hitler and his Stormtroopers.

Orwell has taught him well, but Hitch is not an anti-authoritarian yet.
Oh, stop, Islam itself is irrational.It is fascism...at times. It is nihilistic...at times. It is always deadly.Don't give me this gobbldygook about fanatical Islamists,all of Islam ,since the pederastic mass murderer began hearing his inner schizoid voice, has been one unending series of murder,rape, devastation.You can sit and ruminate,cogitate,wrinkle yer brows,look earnest,cross yer legs ad nauseum yet the truth will remain ....the entire planet is at war, not with new Mandelas,new Daniel Ortegas,Allendes,Sakharovs...no, their lives are no worse than what blacks in South Africa lived through.These are the possessed,Russell called Bolshevism the new Islam, Islam is the new Bolshevism...there are choices.
I love the Hitch, but I'm troubled by his double standard regarding "Palestine". America didn't author it's problem, but Israel did? Both sentiments are overly simplistic, of course, and neither holds up to scrutiny.

It's painfully obvious that Hitchen's anti-Israel / pro-Palestinian bias is a vestige of his Leftist past. He's slow to shake this remnant, like an aging rock star who refuses to cut his long yet thinning hair. He wears his support for "Palestine" like an old, tattered t-shirt that's several sizes too small.

One hopes any day he'll snap out of it, but one can also imagine him taking this distorted view to the grave. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan. I even went to his debate with George Galloway. It was there that I experienced first hand the peculiar hate of Israel among the Left (the crowd roared its loudest when Galloway criticized Israel). I felt like Herzl at the Dreyfus Trial. I also admired Hitchens' ability to stand firm in the face of that rather intimidating crowd.

Hitchens is right to recognize the threat of militant Islam ("fascism" is a nebulous, useless word). If only he'd stop making excuses for the Palestinians, who are ultimately responsible for their own dysfunctional society .
-what Jonathon W. said...

Actually well said on all points except
the Palestinian blamegame. I don't accept
that Israel is blameless. I think they
could've done better than they did over
the last half century to cool the heat
between themselves and the Palestinians.
For example, they could've resisted
expansionist settlements. They could've
sought compromise on the Jeruselem issue.
However, given the overt hostility
towards Israel in the region and the world,
including the U.N., I give Israel less than the man's
share of the blame. The Palestinian
problem is one of a people who is not
only been subjugated by the Ottoman
Empire going back centuries, and so they
have no history of self government, but
also of their resentment of many of them
to have been displaced by the formation
of Israel. Add to this, outside influence,
both from Arab and Persian sources,
lucrative support and reward for organized
militias aimed at the downfall of Israel.
So, I am unable to say that the Palestinians
are solely responsible. They are a pawn
in a larger game that they cannot out trump.

Imagine how relieved and happy we would have been in 1986 if someone had convinced us that the worst threat to civilization and the world economy 20 years on would be a couple of thousand theocratic nitwits armed with with personal computers and homemade bombs, that wipe the user out when set off, no less. In fact, we are not so lucky: the greatest present threat to civilization and the world economy is not "islamo-fascism" but America's fiscal profligacy and the fragility of its "Bretton Woods II" trade / debt arrangements.
It never ceases to amaze me that so many people are inclined to attribute thoughts, "hidden" agendas and assumptions to Christopher Hitchens that he has never expressed in actual words. Why do these individuals believe they can read his mind? Hitchens' intellectual value lies in the fact that he is not a dogmatist. He is routinely accused, by many on the Left, of "selling out" . . . simply because he no longer marches in lock-step with the ideological idiocies of reactionary Marxist socialism. He is resented and rebuked by the opposing reactionaries of the Right for his hostility to the mind-numbing influence of religion.
Why is it that so many Leftists are incapable of taking Islamic extremists at their own word? In the tunnel-vision world view of those on the Left, every crime, atrocity and act of repression by genocidal factions or regimes is somehow blamed on American "imperialism" . . . which is almost never defined with any specificity. Everything "they" do is, inevitably, rationalized as simply a reaction to something "we" did to them, even if there was no specific provocation by "us" which ignited "their" specific attack in a given instance, as if "they" never have any aggressive agenda and/or corrupt ambitions of their own outside of a reaction to "our" policies. It's like trying to rationalize the conspiracies of the Nazis during the aftermath of the first World War, by claiming that they were simply "reacting" to the injustice of the Versailles Treaty, and would not exist otherwise. Osama bin Laden and his ideological comrades were publicly declaring that war with the U.S. was inevitable, even while they were still getting support from the CIA to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.
One of the other comments implied that Qutb's fanaticism emerged only as a reaction to torture. That is nonsense. Qutb was building his political agenda long before he was ever imprisoned. His torture, however repugnant, was a reaction to HIS known radical Islamist agenda, which went beyond mere "defensive" Jihad . . . it advocated naked OFFENSIVE Jihad for Islamic conquest and the restoration of the ancient Caliphate. It is no secret that bin Laden was directly inspired by reading the works of Qutb.
It is perfectly legitimate to dissent against U.S. government policies, but please, let's not insult each other's intelligence by pretending that Jihadists are "anti-imperialist". Their ideology is explicity imperialist. They pretend to be anti-imperialist only when another's alleged imperialism is directed against the Jihadists themselves. Then they take on the role of "victim".
Christopher Hitchens does not deny that Israel is a fait accompli, and that, being the home of at least three generations of native-born Israelis who have established democratic institutions, it has the right to exist. That fact, however, does not absolve the Zionist Movement of the wrongs that were imposed on the indigenous Arab inhabitants of Palestine since the late 1800's . . . even long before the establishment of the state of Israel, or the creation of the PLO. There can be no reasonable doubt that Israel, like the United States, is a nation that was, at least in part, created by the successful use of terrorism. There have been at least three Israeli prime ministers who were former terrorists . . . in the Irgun, the Stern organization, and even the Palmach. The late Mr. Begin even bragged about his terrorist activities against Arab civilians and villages.
Let's not split hairs over definitions. If someone, in practice, talks like a totalitarian fascist, walks like a totalitarian fascist and behaves like a totalitarian fascist -- regardless of their professed ideology or theology -- then they probably are a totalitarian fascist. Let's stop pretending that Jihadist terrorists
are just national independence partisans like the Viet Cong, or local "peoples' heroes" like the fictional Robin Hood. They are not true liberationists or egalitarians by any stretch of a rational imagination. They represent a nightmare that believes it has God's permission to enslave others. There are Muslims who claim to be "moderate", but the Quran which they believe is the literal word of God is NOT moderate in any meaningful sense of the term. Its passages discussing mercy and compassion are constantly revealed as exercises in opportunism and hypocrisy by its contradictions. It is inconceivable how anyone can read the entire Quran, as I have, and still come away believing that it teaches equal treatment for all peoples and all religions. The Islamists have made no secret of their agenda, and they don't care if takes 200 years to bring it to fruition. Yet, how many others are listening?
To Anonymous, it's not politically correct to listen.
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