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I got to see him on his Hitch-22 book tour at the New York Public Library (what author, by the way, ever gets several hundred people to show up for a book tour stop?), just a few days, it now turns out, after he learned that he had cancer. Knowing that now adds a slightly lachrymose aspect to the moments where he was speaking of the suicide of his mother, and the last days of his father.
This news must have been heavily on his mind, but he didn’t betray any of it then.
What was most surprising about that Anderson Cooper interview was that I expected Cooper to generate the usual phony “cable news” empathy, but he actually communicated just enough from his own experience to make some of the avenues of discussion not feel forced from the perspective of the interviewer.
I don’t like to see Hitch like this either. I have had a lot of disagreements with him in the last few years (which prompted some playful but extremely regretful comments on my part re: his drinking), but I have never taken his intellect for granted. He has published some rather important stuff in his career; the first I heard of him was when I read his story which essentially broke the news that Bush Sr. had negotiated with Iran to keep the hostages in captivity until after he and Reagan’s election. He has had a big influence on me.
He had access to the best oncologists, listened to their language and the possible outcomes of their recommended treatments and then did his own thing…very witty/personal account. He still is a lecturer at Oxford.
I’ve had my differences with Christopher Hitchens over the years, but I’m saddened by his suffering condition. I will keep him in my thoughts, in the hope that as he continues his journey toward life’s sunset, he will find tranquility and peace at its conclusion.
Hitch appeared at the Huntington Library at the beginning of the last decade as a panelist on the state of the novel in the UK. He walked around with his tumbler of water and I had the good fortune to sit at his table. Of course, he had to go outside for breaks pretty often.
I just buried my partner seven months after a lung cancer diagnosis. We made sure he had the best care in Southern California. Survival rates for stage IV lung cancer, small-cell and non-small-cell types, are available for review at reputable sites.
It probably won’t surprise anyone to read that I did not watch the video. The headline about it in the LA Observed blog where he is quoted as saying “I’m dying”, and knowing his intelligence and integrity, means that he’s not fooling himself about his situation. I don’t want to dig deeper than that. I wish him and his family great joy in the next months and him to find peace or rage against the disease – whatever suits him. Mostly I hope that they don’t over-treat him and make him feel worse.
If any readers think that I am overstepping my bounds on this post, my apologies. I want to assure you that my partner fought as long as he felt like fighting, and I fought with him for what he needed. When he was finished fighting, I stopped as well. It was his call, as it is Hitch’s. If he reads this, I’d like to thank him for every contribution he’s made and every opinion he’s expressed, even if I disagreed with them. He makes me think, and he makes me care.
John M., I’ve had the same recent life experience you describe; I also have the same regard for Christopher Hitchens’ intellect and writing. I’d have given a lot to be at your table at the Huntington, too.
I say this because the title of the post, the quote “I’m dying”, is misleading in my opinion. I watched the Atlantic interview the other day, and what Hitch said in fact is [apologies-I paraphrase slightly from memory]“I’m dying-everyone is dying, but I am doing it at an accelerated rate”.
To take those two words out of the context for the LA Observed header botherd me this morning. It was I thought not exactly kosher re: what he really said and especially how he said it. I’m trying to say you needn’t avoid the interview for the reasons I’m pretty sure you are-that I would have. Hitch certainly knows the lousy, most likely prognosis but he still lives in hopes of at least prolonging his life. He’s much more about living than final words or anything of that nature.
Most of those close to me who have passed on have gone suddenly: heart attacks, accidents, etc.
My parents had long protracted passings: dad from complications from Parkinsons and mom from congestive heart failure. While I’ve had disagreements with Hitchens recently, I have to admire the strength and poise he is showing in this interview.
I am no fan of Jeffrey Goldberg’s (although I do appreciate his breaking with Foxman and the insane bigot crowd over the muslim center to be built at the tip of Manhattan, near the WTC site), but I have to say I was actually surprised at how stuffy and banal he is in person. On the other hand, Anderson Cooper seemed much better than usual in dialogue with Hitchents – I felt his earnestness was real rather than forced, as it almost always is on my TeeVee.
I wasn’t going to buy Hitchens memoir, but listening to these interviews I realized that while I didn’t want to put in my stack of books to be read, I would enjoy hearing him tell it – so I bought the audio version to listen to on the treadmill, running errands, etc. There is something riveting about his manner and speech – he can be maddening, but at his best I can’t think of any writer I’d rather listen to.
Christopher Hitchens was the most ruthless media partisan in
arguing for Iraq War, (after he had declared Bush the winner in 2000), and Marc Cooper is a moral coward for trying to scrub the record clean. YOU PEOPLE ARE NUTS.
I listen to Hitchens because I can’t always be sure how he is going to come down on any given issue. He paraphrased Lincoln and said if waterboarding isn’t torture nothing is torture so I will hold him dear for that alone.
We may be nuts but we don’t use a fake name when using someone’s real name to call him a coward.
Oh I dont know reg why not read the book. I made my way through it in about two days. While its no doubt grating in many places, the writing is vintage Hitch, as he takes us on a fascinating intellectual journey, with all sorts of interesting references and tributes (I loved the anecdote and exploration of CLR James) the personal intertertwined with the political. He has a fascinating mind and has no doubt lived a an interesting life. I dont want to lie about my opinion about the man. I do see him as very much an opportunist, someone who sees themselves as at the center of every political drama, a kind of political romantic, whose ego and ambition has seriously paralysed his poltical analysis. DD Guttenplan, a long time friend, and author of a very good book about Izzy Stone, has a sorrowful, honest, and perceptive review of Hitch-22. Its a must read
# 4th Time Around (22) Says:
August 10th, 2010 at 1:46 pm
“Christopher Hitchens was the most ruthless media partisan in
arguing for Iraq War, (after he had declared Bush the winner in 2000), and Marc Cooper is a moral coward for trying to scrub the record clean. YOU PEOPLE ARE NUTS.”
Who in the hell are you to call Marc a moral coward? You’re just upset he is not a blind, callous ideologue. That is what you would have to be in order to remain unmoved by Hitchens plight.
Hitchens stands by his decisions, and does not need or want anybody to scrub the record clean.
I’d hate to think of a world without Hitchens. Just re- reading any of his literary essays is enough to make my day.
Note this from The Nation profile of Hitchens that Ahmed posted:
“…In recent years, however, his confrontational manner, once best described as an abrupt withdrawal of charm, has at times seemed positively crude. In May 2002 I attended a debate in London on the “war on terror.” Though the audience was largely hostile, Hitchens, who appeared somewhat the worse for wear, more than held his own—until the Q&A period, when he repeatedly baited a dark-skinned questioner, referring to him as “the subcontinental gentleman” even after the man made it clear he’d been born in Britain.”
I’m already into a pile…and I have to say that I started listening to the audioV yesterday while taking a long walk and I enjoyed hearing it told in his voice. It’s not a “must read” book in any general sense, but one that one might find pleasure and insight in, and Hitchens’ voice adds a layer. I generally don’t do audio books because they take more time and you can’t skim, but right now I have more free time walking than sitting and if one is looking for a good audio version of a book read by the author, I would highly recommend this one.
His forte. I can’t think of anyone who currently is better. Frankly, reading Hitchens on politics (or religion, for that matter) is a waste of time – there is so much better writing (certainly better informed) current on the issues he contends over – although there is a perverse entertainment factor in anything he writes. He’s also (and this isn’t a back-handed compliment because there aren’t a lot who are) very good at churning out the ephemeral magazine piece on “whatever.” His road trip across the “heartland”- he of all people! – for Vanity Fair was fun.
Ahmed – “someone who sees themselves as at the center of every political drama, a kind of political romantic”
I took the harsher edges off of that sentence, but I think Ahmed hits at what is ultimately Hitchens’ failue as a self-styled political man. I called it “moral vanity” in another thread, but I think Ahmed states it better. This is not really to knock him as a human being – because his intentions are noble. But that’s part of the problem and what makes him tiresome and little more than a scold in much of his political writing. He’s not as different from, say, a hectoring moralist like Phyllis Schlafly in his approach to poilticial discourse as he believes himself.
reg…Hitchens graduated with the lowest degree from Oxford. I know someone who was there same time– not the same college–but graduating with a 3rd or whatever its called is barely passing. Soooo, though he has a fly blown sort of erudition–as least to a lot of susceptible American ears–he is not particularly well regarded in the UK. His brother very Right wing as well. You have rightly noted that his arguments lack substance and he is more notable for being a prolific and entertaining highbrow sounding hack.
The Nation article reveals that he was one of those creepy sorts caught up in the crass class battle. That alone would be responsible for a lot of his pretzel complex.
Example of how poisonous the class issue was/more was than is:
Few years ago Martin Amis the literary darling. I was thumbing through one of books– some sort of a memoir– it fell open to a page upon which this sentence glared: (young Amis to his father, Kingsley) “…daddy, are we middle class”? At that point I slapped the book closed.
Anna is never serious. Never. She thinks she’s serious, but she’s not well regarded in the USA. She says a lot of high-blown and grandiose things that sound good in certain quarters, most of which she gleaned from some documentary she just watched, but which, upon the slightest touch of reason fall apart like so much wet tissue paper.
I guess Hitchens at least has the virtue of being a better stylist than Anna, who thinks that sentences “glare.”
This thread about Hitchens is taking on a curious aspect, that I have to say I disagree with.
The charge seems to be that Hitchens has great things to say about novels, but that he’s hopelessly out of his depth on politics, and that it’s some combination of moral vanity and hubris that has led him to be so stubbornly wrong in his political assessments.
But most of us were cheering him on when he was with the Nation and the New Statesman, and the dismissals all seem to come post Iraq. I can understand differing with him here, and I can understand being downright angry about it, but the conclusions don’t follow from this disagreement.
But let’s talk about the politics you think he’s so wrong about. Is it his consistent criticism of the Israeli occupation of Palestine? Is it his consistent opposition to the death penalty? Is it his unrelenting and consistent anti-fascism? Is it his taxonomy of the dismal North Korean regime? Was it his defacing of the SSNP swastika in Lebanon? Was it his dogged condemnation of Kissinger and the Viet Nam war? Was it his defense of the Kosovar Muslims in the face of genocide? Was it his slamming of Palin’s ignorance with regard to science and promotion of creationism? Was it his conclusion that McCain was utterly compromised by the Palin choice? Was it his consistent opposition to the religious right? Was it his opposition to the larger and smaller hypocrisies of the Catholic church? Was it when he went after the lunacies of Falwell and Buchanan? Was it when he supported a special prosecutor for Iran-Contra? Was it when he called for the Sandanistas to let La Prensa operate freely?
I could go on in this vein for a long, long time. I think the assessment that he’s bad at politics because he egotistically sees himself at the center of everything is badly wide of the mark. I suspect that those leveling the charge probably agree with Hitchens on 90% of the above list scratched together from my memory and a few minutes on the interwebs. The implication of how easy that list was to compile, of course, is that there’s a lot more where that came from.
Whatever one thinks of his position on the Iraq war and his supposed turn to the neo-con right, I’ll maintain what I’ve said here before: If you’ve been paying attention to his writing over the years, there is a remarkable consistency to his positions.
Those positions are anti-fascist, liberationist, for free press, on the side of the oppressed, and against hypocrisy.
He wrote some cringe-worthy things during the run-up to Iraq, I’ll admit, but even if you utterly reject his position on Iraq, I think you will have to admit that he’s been a tireless defender of the principles I just mentioned, and that while his political assessments aren’t always right, neither are they horribly broken as is being claimed here.
“Is it his consistent criticism of the Israeli occupation of Palestine?”
From the Nation peice that I just posted:”If Hitchens has lately seemed to waste his great gifts on projects like getting his “back, sack and crack” waxed for the entertainment of Vanity Fair, that has been our loss as well as his. In 1995 he wrote, “I had the privilege of meeting Justice Richard Goldstone, the man who has done more than perhaps any other to save the remnants of South Africa’s legal system from degradation.” Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza in 2008–09, provoked from Hitchens only a single, feeble “plague on both your houses” column in Slate. In 2010, when Goldstone was vilified for his damning report on Israel’s conduct in Gaza, Hitchens had nothing to say.”
I’d be intetested in your thoughts about the nation review, which could be accurately described as warm and full of sorrow. DD Guttenplan mentions, too, that when Hitchens was in his prime, he blazed though characters such as Norman B. Podhoretz, Jeane kirkpatrick, and Connor Cruise O’Brian yet from how they’re blandly rendered in Hitch-22, a reader would never know. I’ve always found it odd too that lifelong allies such Chomsky are furiously disavowed by Hitch who then has no problem getting down and busy, breaking bread, signing petitons with those often responsible for providing intellectual support to the barbarties he so acutely exposed.
I think my problem with post-9/11 Hitchens is his attraction to polemical position pieces. His Iraq position looms, but there are others — I don’t need more justifications for atheism, or denunciations of fundamentalists (or Henry Kissinger, or Bill Clinton). In most cases, I share the feeling (if not the intensity). These polemics need to be leavened with more open-ended work.
I think part of the problem is my own — seeing his work in Slate but not VF.
Well, I think we start to tread in dangerous waters when we begin to use what wasn’t written as evidence for something.
I can’t say why Hitchens didn’t more thoroughly defend Goldstone. But three weeks ago in an interview he said this about the occupation:
“In order for Israel to become part of the alliance against whatever we want to call it, religious barbarism, theocratic, possibly thermonuclear theocratic or nuclear theocratic aggression, it can’t, it’ll have to dispense with the occupation. It’s as simple as that.
It can be, you can think of it as a kind of European style, Western style country if you want, but it can’t govern other people against their will. It can’t continue to steal their land in the way that it does every day. And it’s unbelievably irresponsible of Israelis, knowing the position of the United States and its allies are in around the world, to continue to behave in this unconscionable way.
And I’m afraid I know too much about the history of the conflict to think of Israel as just a tiny, little island surrounded by a sea of ravening wolves and so on. I mean, I know quite a lot about how that state was founded, and the amount of violence and dispossession that involved. And I’m a prisoner of that knowledge. I can’t un-know it.”
As far as I know, that’s been his position for decades, and whether he criticized operation Cast Lead sufficiently to your preference or not, I think the position on this issue is solid.
I hope the aethiests in this thread doesn’t hold it against hitchens if he does have a conversion. I expect they will, though.
As for me, i pray to our heavenly father that his suffering will be minimal during this, most likely, terminal illness.
That all we mortals can hope for, isn’t it? That our end will be as mercifully short and painless as possible. Medical science can only do so much, and all of us, even we here, will one day lay down our burdens by the riverside before we cross over.
Deliver us from the gathering storm,
unworthy though we are.
“He wrote some cringe-worthy things during the run-up to Iraq, I’ll admit, but even if you utterly reject his position on Iraq, I think you will have to admit that he’s been a tireless defender of the principles I just mentioned, and that while his political assessments aren’t always right, neither are they horribly broken as is being claimed here.”
In addition, smart people grow mentally from experiences as they get older. They get wiser to the ways of the world. Reality has bitten them often enough common sense finally develops as their immunity to the faults human nature…..and idealist leftist university madrassas, saddled them with.
Hitch grew up to understand evil people do actually exist and are actually capable of exacting their evil onto millions of others, and progressively billions if not stopped with by good people willing to exact another lesser evil on them, war.
Saddam was just another in a long string of aggressive tyrants and evil Hitch was forced to grow up with. Stalin and Communism were others George Orwell so abstractly pointed out in “Animal Farm” and “1984″, and had big influences on his journey to adulthood.
Some seem never to escape the idealism and ignorance of youth, unable to understand and differentiate the greater evil that is being fought from the temporary evil sometimes required to defeat it. Truman was a war criminal……and so was Bush.
this rehashing of ONE man’s squibs about politics is being hashed over as if they had just been found in an urn…in the desert.
Get real. Nothing he wrote about politics was earth shattering nor did anything he do change anything. He just wrote loud. Despite the antipathy between all of you and myself –from what I have gleaned of personal experiences some of you have shared I suspect there are posters here who have done far more than Hitchens ever did.
From my point of view and from seeing two of his recent interviews I would say his “nobility” (to use reg’s word) is in the way he is conducting his passing. Its brave, moving and disturbing…and eloquent.
TUrmon…Htichens’ twisty bendy pretzel political burbles are so contaminated by his personal battle with class warfare that it makes so much of what he writes laughable. The Nation piece and the Decca whatshername–in the Guardian–pretty much deflate his— conflations.
Don’t be so rash to think his coming out of Oxford with a not very usual lowest degree–as unimportant.
His thinking is muddied by his own psychic rumblings despite his convincing most of you how rational he is. … me thinks he doth protest too much.
His battle for objectivity and bravery is only just now showing itself.
Dan O – I have to say that I never paid much attention to Hitchens – nor Cockburn for that matter, who I saw as a pea in the same pod – before 9/11. Of course, I agreed with this or that I came across, but I didn’t read him with any particular interest. And I thought his criticisms of Clinton smacked of vendetta. I was no fan of Clinton’s, frankly, UNTIL the wolves descended on him and Hitchens joined the pack. His pissing match with Blumenthal left him more than “moist” IMHO. And his pushing for Nader in 2000 was a disgrace, again IMHO. To see someone shift from Nader in 2000 to promoting the PNAC front group, Committee for Liberation of Iraq in the company of an entire gang of reactionaries and neo-(barely) imperialists was nauseating. I did agree with Hitchens when he criticized much of the Left as regards Afghanistan, and frankly I took more note of him when he left the Nation noisily than when he was there. I picked up a book of his literary essays, which were much better than I anticipated. Heard him debate Iraq and wasn’t convinced at all. Picked up his book on Orwell and found it a good read but forgettable and a bad substitute for reading Orwell. His brief against Kissinger was fun, but it didn’t tell me much of anything I hadn’t known for decades. The whole enterprise struck me as a J’Accuse with an emphasis on the “J”. And that’s his mode. Which is why I put him in the same category I put Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal as political writers. Their moral sentiments are at the center of any critique that claims to be political and their analysis is full of quirks, romanticism and imagined alternative histories. This can be enjoyable stuff and has its uses, but I’m careful how much I imbibe. I can’t really agree with the idea that there’s a consistency in his positions, so much as a remarkable assertion of consistency that, frankly, I find suspect. I won’t repeat the cliche about consistency, but I will say that sometimes an admission of inconsistency can be more credible in my view than seeing someone swing wildly on something such as a ginned up rationalies for invasion by the United States and claim it’s consistent with decades of “anti-imperialism.” That’s bullshit. And Hitchens proved himself a master at it. I don’t want to trash the guy, but I honestly think his political efforts were over-rated, even when he was still a scribe at The Nation. Although I’d rather listen to Hitchens being wrong in a live debate, I think the smug and dull Eric Alterman is a better observer and analyst of the political landscape than Hitchens – an aggressive moralist – ever was.
“Hitch grew up to understand evil people do actually exist”
Jim R – I have to say that your analysis of Hitchens is about as silly as it gets. Hitchens father fought in the British Navy in WWII. Anyone born even in the years just after the war in England surely understood that “evil people actually do exist.” He was steeped in the story of the war. And when he was a leftist at the “madrassa” he was part of a group that was near-obsessed with Stalinism as its enemy. I think that’s a vastly over-simplified version of why Hitchens supported the disastrously wrong-headed Iraq war. In fact, IMHO based on hearing him tell the tale, his support of the Iraq war was a bizarre re-iteration of his Trotskyist “internationalism” and a kind of perverse idealism run amok. It was his illusions, not sober realism, that made him think that the US could blithely “liberate” Iraq without unintended consequences. Self-styled “revolutionaries” are always willing to enforce “liberation” no matter what the cost to innocent bystanders.
Incidentally, as to Hitchen’s consistent anti-fascism, here’s a long quote from a piece he wrote for New Stateseman in 1976 when Saddam Hussein was becoming the strong man within Baath circles in Baghdad:
“An Arab country with the second largest proven oil reserves, a fierce revolutionary ideology, a large and recently-blooded army, and a leadership composed almost entirely of men in their thirties is obviously a force to be reckoned with. Iraq, which has this dynamic combination and much else besides, has not until recently been very much regarded as a power. But with the new discussions in OPEC, the ending of the Kurdistan war and the new round of fighting in Lebanon, its political voice is being heard more and more. The Baghdad regime is the first oil-producing government to opt for 100-per-cent nationalisation, a process completed with the acquisition of foreign assets in Basrah last December. It was the first to call for the use of oil as a political weapon against Israel and her backers. It gives strong economic and political support to the ‘Rejection Front’ Palestinians who oppose Arafat’s conciliation and are currently trying to outface the Syrians in Beirut. And it has a leader — Saddam Hussein — who has sprung from being an underground revolutionary gunman to perhaps the first visionary Arab statesman since Nasser.”
Yeah…”perhaps!” It is not controversial to note that the Baath party was an effective modernizing elite, but they were also indistinquishable in their methods and politics at their best from, say, a Mussolini and fit almost a dictionary definition of “fascism.” Saddam went downhill from there, of course. But I would be hard pressed to find cause not to consider the Baathist’s military regime a classic fascist operation. Saddam’s authoritarian “excesses” and regional hegemonism that Hitchens ultimately rejected had “honest” roots in a “consistent” ideology. See below: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism#Ba.27athism
Here’s a link to Hitchens’ article, which reads a lot worse – when you compare the actual records of the subjects on such basics as even rudimentary elections or political opposition – than most of the stuff Marc rails against coming from folks who visit HugoLand and come back singing Hosannahs :
I think Dan O hits closest to the mark among all these comments. Hitch got a lot of things right for a very long time, got a couple of things very badly wrong, and has been doing a course correction the past few years. I find myself agreeing with most of what he has written lately. Not many can claim a better record than his.
I don’t make a fetish of consistency by any means, just the opposite in fact. I just happen to find it grating to have him described as a Republican and a right-winger, when I think he’s been an internationalist, solidarity-oriented and quasi-interventionist leftist since the start.
Clearly he turned loudly from his obvious identification with the left over what he thought was its moral cowardice over Kosovo and Afghanistan, but that doesn’t make him a Republican.
To me it seems that he took a turn towards accepting beneficent intervention at the time of the Yugoslav breakup. It worked in that case, and in my view it was right. I feel a lot more ambivalence about Iraq, and he was wrong to be so trusting of the expected competence of the Bush administration, something he’s later admitted. I thought for a while it was possible to make common cause with the putrid Bush regime in the interest of liberation, but that turns out to not have been so wise. I also once loudly trumpeted the “not a dime’s worth of difference” line on our two main parties, but 2001 and later harshly disabused me of that notion, which I am likely never to repeat.
On the Hussein quote. Yeah, you’re totally right, he screwed the pooch on that one, but he admits as much in Hitch-22.
Here is a quote pulled from a whole chapter on the subject: “So the article which I eventually wrote attempted to be fair on these points. Iraq was investing in its people; its constitution at least formally defined it as an Arab and Kurdish state (which was more than its NATO neighbor Turkey had ever done for its largest minority)’ it was modernizing and non-Islamic in its rhetoric. Yet I still grimaced when I re-read the piece, because what I left out was the most important thing of all … what I omitted was the sheerly irrational. … I should have registered the way that people almost automatically flinched at the mention of the name Saddam Hussein. …”
He goes on at some length about what he should have noticed, and how debased the regime became. He blew it, but none of us expect 100% perfection do we? I just think more often than not, he’s been on the right side of political issues, whether any one person finds that they are interesting or not.
It’s a nice coincidence that you mention political romanticism in this context, because I was thinking before you mentioned him that Vidal, a guy I greatly admire, is less grounded than Hitchens politically. He strikes me as the more quixotic of the two with his pronouncements, for over four decades now, that the US is bankrupt, and that the republic is dead. Which are mere oddities compared to his claims that FDR knew Perl Harbor was coming, that Unocal was going to build a pipeline in Afghanistan (thus the war), and his dark suggestion that Bush knew about 9/11 in advance. That stuff just borders on the loony.
Finally, on the Nader Iraq liberation shift, he makes all of that clear, I think, whether anyone agrees or not. He talks about how the attack of 9/11 brought all of the old disparate enemies into focus. I happen to agree with him.
If there is a real criticism to be made in my view, it’s that his zeal to prosecute the war against fascism with an Islamic face as he put it, led him to be much less careful in his political analysis in the immediate years that followed. So for a while he was pushing the lame Niger yellow cake story, and he was extolling the virtues of Bush, and so on. I think for a time he succumbed to a Manichean world view, where the old left was on the wrong side, and the Bushies were on the right side. It made him say some stupid things, even as I believe he was right on the principles. If anything he’s guilty of over zealousness, which I suppose is your point about political moralism.
Side note: Mailer’s political pronouncements aside from not having aged well, are usually just incomprehensible. There was a guy who imagined himself at the center all the time.
“The whole enterprise struck me as a J’Accuse with an emphasis on the “J”. And that’s his mode. Which is why I put him in the same category I put Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal as political writers”
reg nails it. I like Hitchens, and I’d never even heard of him until the latest war in Iraq, so count me among those who don’t fit this silly “resentful lefty” narrative. He’s not my go-to guy on any political issue (or even in the ballpark), and regarding the Iraq War he always seemed oddly (and distractingly, for the reader) tickled by his seeing himself as finally on the side of the tough guys, like a troubled adolescent who finally gets to identify with daddy. Whatever, dude.
I’m always entertained by his anti-religion rants, however–he’s consistent, scathingly tearing into Christianity, Judaism, and Islam alike. Also, he has a smart and nuanced (and again, consistent) take on the Ground Zero controversy in his most recent Slate article.
Perhaps it is the insatiable demands imposed by the much shortened news cycle, coupled with the unique pablum in the form of a sound bite for public consumption now demands that eulogy proceeds mortality.
Almost all of posts above describe the human condition and fallibility.
Yet cannot even a life lived with passion and conviction be respected on its own terms?
Dan O thinks Gore Vidal is loony to say what TOMES have been written about validating the veracity of this his perceptions:
“t’s a nice coincidence that you mention political romanticism in this context, because I was thinking before you mentioned him that Vidal, a guy I greatly admire, is less grounded than Hitchens politically. He strikes me as the more quixotic of the two with his pronouncements, for over four decades now, that the US is bankrupt, and that the republic is dead. Which are mere oddities compared to his claims that FDR knew Perl Harbor was coming, that Unocal was going to build a pipeline in Afghanistan (thus the war), and his dark suggestion that Bush knew about 9/11 in advance. That stuff just borders on the loony.”
The Pearl Harbor issue has been openly discussed since years ago–much about diplomatic messages going back and forth and intercepted and the knowledge that without a catalyst the public would not want to go to war…not to mention anti semitism was RIFE…
EX CIA analyst Chalmers Johnson has written a trilogy on the death of the American “republic” and this issue has also had heavy analysis and press by ACADEMICS and political theorists FOR AGES
THe pipeline issue was part of a huge scandal with some judicial proceedings against Hunt Oil. Much complicated dirty doings about securing exploration rights; Halliburton implicated and something to do with a pipeline needed to move oil from Russia??? etc. Very complex–can’t remember all the details but THAT issue is much written about as well…
And…a Frontline segment just weeks ago pretty much validated that the overblown (again a recent expose all over the news) intelligence apparatus further bloated and infused with billions post 9-11–was tracking a burgeoning plot and some of the players who then hatched it. WHether or not Bush “knew” is a contentious point…but certainly those who are privy to what information is gathered and then making decisions about how to act on that information…they “knew”.
But, of course, because Dan O says its “loony” it must be true.
Yeah, Pablo. Pretty much everything I wrote in the thread above I did because I’m driven by Rachel Maddow’s insatiable demands. As for the question, “Cannot a life lived with passion and conviction be respected on its own terms?” Absolutely not. I doubt that there’s a person commenting here other than yourself who would ever assert such.
There may be competing narratives however among the parochial there can be but one truth.
For the ascendant, history is explained in terms of conventional wisdom; while for the dispossessed historical truth comes in the form of morality. The latter must overcome the presumption of conventional wisdom.
Objectivity is not measured in terms of its ralationship to truth;
instead objectivity is properly evaluated in terms of how well it panders to conventional wisdom.
Vanity Fair, The Nation, are examples of shaping liberal conventional wisdom. Gore Vidal does not frequent these publications so anything he propounds outside the conventional wisdom is, by definition, loony; moreover is threatening if it competes with a narrative purporting to be truth.
Among the dispossessed is a narrative which argues that the empire is strangling the republic.
I think that an objective case in support of that proposition can be affirmativly made.
However among the ascendant, there is no empire and the american republic is a true one-of..an exception in history.
In such an instance the obvious crumbling facts surrounding us are of no evidentiary merit: the premise flys in the face of conventional wisdom and so one not seek truth in Vidal’s assertion.
There is another pablo. This one was played by the late french actor Philippe Noiret in the film “Il Postino”.
Reading your last two posts I am reminded of that long last five minutes in the film whereby the other pablo (the one played by the frenchman) comes to the painful realisation that words and poetry are powerful instruments of life and death.
I cannot back off from my observations, I stand by them. The words mean what they say.
You were not mentioned by name nor an intended target.
I’m not going to sully what’s been a high-minded and I think interesting conversation with a long answer to the towering bullshit you post here.
I will say this, though, your wingnut web page doesn’t cut it, and as usual you don’t have the slightest idea about how logic works, or what constitutes acceptable evidence.
I didn’t claim that a pipeline was not planned, that was common knowledge and involved many countries who were interested. What I intimated was that the dark suggestions by Vidal that an invasion had been in the works for many years was the loony stuff. (oh by the way. Since we invaded to build a pipeline, where is it?)
I know, you think it’s all true, and it never rises to your attention that the collection of BBC articles don’t conclude what your wacky web page (with a 9/11 truther ad on it no less), claims it does.
Anna, you are exactly the left Hitchens is complaining about. You think we should give food and water to the Afghans in the face of 9/11. Moral cowardice of the highest order. You think this is all about poverty, when its really about politics, and the messianic dreams of a criminal shielded by, yes, that’s right, the then government of Afghanistan.
“messianic dreams of a criminal shielded by, yes, that’s right, the then government of Afghanistan.”
And these messianic dreamers were themselves previously shielded, armed and nurtured by our government, who, along with the Pakistan ISI, heralded the men schooled in darkness as great anti communist freedom fighters. And many of the same political actors in the US who once cheered on these proxy armies (see Hitchens co signers onto the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, um the ones Hitchens fails to mention in the book) then became the most ardent war mongerers of the war in terror era. And it might be worth mentioning that the growth of Wahhabite Islam across the oil lands and elsewhere is a result of the Saudi attempt to export its form of social conservatism to decimate Nasserite (or radical nationalist) and Communist opposition. And dictatorial imperial aligned West friendly so called “secular” regimes, in the post colonial age, whether it be the Shah’s Iran or Mubarek’s Egypt, hasn’t created a love fest for western backed perceived forms of political liberalism.
This isn’t to say that all of this is the United States fault. Or that religious nasty-ness doesn’t find fertile roots in aspects of those societies which are fairly independent of the West. But it suggests that the world is a complicated place. And the battles Hitchens urges, between the all good righteous forces of Enlightenment and those who would negate all he loves, are based on a dangerous form of political romanticism and entirely false premises. The sort of stuff his old chum Edward Said talked about. Hitchens knows all of this well but somewhere along the line he casts his lot with a nasty crew whose desires to remake the middle east had little to with secularism or human rights.
ps I’ve got a nicer comment on reflection on Hitch which seems to have gotten lost. What’s up, Cooper?
I’m not a huge fan of Anna but bombastically accusing your debating opponent of “moral cowardice” seems a bit much. Whatever ones opinions are, we’re all banging away at the keyboard at the moment, in a comment section, for god-sake, with little personally on the line. There’s neither much personal cowardice or bravery happening here. Myself included
You think we should give food and water to the Afghans in the face of 9/11–DAN O
I do too. In the same way I would not withhold food and water to Oklahomans in the wake of an attack by christian fascists…. but please, no churches in the blocks immediatly surrounding the Murrow Building.
P.S. I found Guttenplan’s review of Hitch 22 condescending and off point.
Hitchens has been wrong on some pretty big issues. For sure. Can someone provide me with a list of someone who hasn’t?
One thing I will say in his defense, I DO find a consistency in his politics. His motivation on Kosovo and Iraq were the same he had for the Kurds or the FSLN 20 yrs ago… he saw the war in Iraq as supporting a war of liberation from fascist and islamic-tinged tyranny. He was wrong.
Is this a greater sin than those who are unflinching leftists and who support tyrannical regimes from Cuba to Zimbabwe?
As to whether Hitchens “flipped” politically or not… I would say, as I come from a very similar place he did in the 60′s, that to NOT realize at this point that Socialist Master Plans have totally failed and that freedom, how ever one defines it, trumps dogma, would be like stumbling around blind.
You choose: Christopher Hitchens consistency? or Amy Goodman’s? I’ll take Hitch, with all his flaws, thanks.
I guess I’d disagree with your comment about Guttenplan’s review particularly the issue of tone. He captured better than most what is so remarkable about Hitchens as a writer, defining much of Hitchens work as nothing short of brilliant. It didn’t read much like a naming of ideological sins to me nor did his article lack nuance. I’d call it a respectful, sorrowful cry from the heart and a sincere grappling with the forces-political, social, personal-that have been at play with Hitchens and led him to get things so wrong. There’s a brilliant section about Edward Said on top of many other thoughtful observations. A great read
Dan O it was a random GOogle with links to as legit sources as any that get quoted here…this whole thread is arguing over whether a mere mortals OPINIONS about politics were valuable or not. Get real.
There are endless references to the pipeline issue. And the pipeline was built in only 2002. SEE THE BBC LINK
Your dismissiveness about issues raised by far better minds than yours just makes you a talking tower of bullshit.
Especially your loony rant about moral cowardice and feeding the AFghans which doesn’t link to anything I have said. I see you somehow have become one of the loony right that thinks the Afghans (or Iraqis) were responsible for 9-11
This quote of yours proves you have hash for brains:
You think we should give food and water to the Afghans in the face of 9/11. Moral cowardice of the highest order. You think this is all about poverty, when its really about politics, and the messianic dreams of a criminal shielded by, yes, that’s right, the then government of Afghanistan.
THat is a completely hysterical piece of twisted thinking– if ever.
You have made up your own idea about what I have been saying– as usual. Then spun it into Dan O land where vigilantes and CLint Eastwood live. You remind me of Eastwood’s turn on the big Red Cross Telethon broadcast round the world right after 9-11. ( the one where they hustled millions that everyone thought was going to the victims’ families– that didn’t) (but thats another story) Eastwood steps up to the camera and snarls trying to affect his spaghetti western/Dirty Harry persona as if it were going to smite the heathens. God it was awful.
Ahmed, The Nation piece, as I read it, is a thorough invisceration of the man. He goes after his psychology/sexuality/status seeking and inherent bigotry and racism shaped by his class conscious mother. A far less nuanced and detailed raking over the coals was the interview with Decca Aikenfield. But essentially she says the same.
What is humorous, to me, is how many posts here wail about what he DIDN’t say or failed to take issue with. Very bizarre. This post reads like some yeshiva group arguing over what Rebbe Hitchens meant or said or didn’t say and citing all the contexts around his opinions.
The funniest is most all conclude he was more a failure and far more have written far more incisive commentary than he ever did.
He was an entertainer– reg got that right. He was vain/is vain. And his class consciousness was something he never shed and it colored (haa haaa) all he did. And showed him up for what he is.
Note again the very carefully drawn dredging up by the Nation piece of Hitchen’s utterly foul and atavisitic piece of colonial style race baiting.
Please. Get over him.
And a current Wa Po piece by a guy whose pOV I have no references for but the piece goes on and on about everyone licking their chops over the HUB of access Afghanistan will be and notes Iran and China etc have already put in millions build roads.
it is a moral failing that I respond to you at all anna, but two quick points.
1. You don’t get to both say that his opinions don’t matter and say that he’s to be vilified for his stance on the war.
2. In a previous thread you said that in response to 9/11 we should have sent aid. That’s the worst political analysis ever.
ahmed re moral cowardice. I’m talking about the position. It is unacceptable to do nothing in the face of that attack. That’s my belief. And I call moral cowardice on those who can’t make those distinctions. There is a lot of overlap between those people and the ones who would have left the muslims meet their deaths in kosovo over some pathetic notion of anti imperialism, which was not germane.
I’m assuming that means “whenever it happens” rather than “soon.”
Here’s a piece from the current New Yorker that takes on the manichean anti-Islamism of Hirsyn Ali and, mostly, Paul Berman. I think it touches on some issues of reactionary over-reach that apply to Hitchens in recent years as well.
…takes on the manichean anti-Islamism of Hirsyn Ali and, mostly, Paul Berman.”
I would think that having your genitals mutilated in the course of a repulsive religious practice and having one of your professional friends murdered by extremists allows one to see the world a bit black and white.
“…apply to Hitchens…”
Of course. Why not?
“…a real tour de force.” “Stunningly brilliant”
Pankaj Mishra is a timid observer and never lands a punch. He’s got a number of gotcha historical quirks to edify Ramadan’s complicated evolution. He comes to the underwhelming conclusion that intellectuals from Brooklyn and Egypt are going to have differing perspectives (who knew?) and then hides behind Leszek Kolakowski.
Much of the animus against Hitch on the left comes from the feeling of betrayal when a member of the congregation departs for another church. More proof that much of the left is a cult, or at least is cultist in nature. Otherwise why all the hurt feelings? Many people supported the war in Iraq for similar reasons to Hitch’s. They were wrong, dead wrong, but it’s the turncoat who takes the most heat.
I don’t know that the New Yorker piece is a “tour de force” so much as a rational examination of some very – to me – disturbing “black and white” polemicists against the Islamic world. I put it in the same category I’d put Niebuhr’s cautionaries during the Cold War – once you start looking at the enemy as blanket “evil” and yourself as a shining knight, delusional decision-making isn’t far behind. We’ve seen this run its course in the past decade with disastrous results. I wouldn’t necessarily take the advice of Hirsyn Ali on how the US should deal with the Muslim world – or Muslim citizens who are in our midst – than I would, say, a survivor of the Bataan Death March on whether it was wise to bomb Nagasaki. If the advice is sound, fine. But if it’s clearly emotional hysteria – which I believe Ali certainly is in her bullshit about banning minarets as a “vote for tolerance.” I have empathy for her personal pain, but as a rank shill for the American Enterprise Intstitute, in league with dishonest and bigoted creeps like Newt Gingrich she is welcome to shove her advice on “tolerance” where the sun don’t shine. It’s nuts. And I don’t think Paul Berman knows what he’s talking about. Also agree with Randy that the “animus” was coming from Hitchens in “my” direction as much as from anyone. Andrew Sullivan has apologized for some of the vile things he said about anti-Iraq war folks back when he was a raver, but I’m not sure that Hitchens has. Haven’t seen it. Hitchens engaged in full-blown McCarthyism against unnamed “Democrats.” It was not his finest hour and the fact that they were coming from a former “Nationite” added a layer of resentment I wouldn’t have if it was Dick Cheney making the charge. So yes, I do hold him – based on his past assertions of “solidarity” with this and “anti” that – to a higher standard than I hold rancid pricks like Richard Perle and William Kristol.
Michael is essentially correct… I am not in the journalism biz however months before the buildup to the Iraq War I did take judicial notice of the crowds out on the streets in opposition, especially in London where to date it was marked as the largest human gathering the city has seen.
I didn’t think that that Powell’s presentation at the UN (made in front of the shrouded Guernica) fooled anyone that didn’t want to be fooled. Thus I conclude that Hitchens wasn’t fooled by the sales pitch either.
Then the stormy exit from The Nation smacked as much more than a tiff over fascism… it was more of one of those’ pick Hitch over Amy Goodman moments’ whereby anything beyond the conventional wisdom as propounded left of Progressive Democrats smacked of Cuba, Zimbabwe or Neville Chamberlain. One of those ‘if you can’t stand up in the face of the existential threat of fascism then fuck you and everything you stand for’!
It was nuts precisely because (as we see here frequently on Dissonance) it was the product of emotionalism and not intellect…
as fruity then, especially from one whose currency is rationalism, as it is now from another whose currency in youth was rooted in peoples struggles in foreign lands…. more a cult of romanticism and evocative
emotion rather than the church of empiricism..
The ‘hot turncoat’ theory intrigues because there is probably more than kernal or truth in the observation: Hitchens Horowitz moment.
For the less daring of the emotional journalists..one who see Zimbabwe in issues like universal healthcare or on Democracy Now…comes the sprint to the Center… the phenomona of the turnjacket replete with mixed feelings of annimus and semi-betrayal.
…Hitchens shows himself as a man temperamentally driven to test his own opinions. He reasons instead of proselytizing. He exists as that most daring of writers, a freelance intellectual. He’s a good speaker, can be funny, has bad teeth, is passably good-looking, and is at no pains to be a charmer. He’s popular because he’s smart. He says nothing merely to be politic, although in some situations he may keep his meaning coiled well within. Some years ago when I met him at the Telluride Film Festival, I was unaware of his fairly recent defection from the Left. I told him I read him in the Nation, which he’d by then severed his ties with. His reply was a masterpiece of irony, masked as egotism: “How clever of you.”…
Rob G has demonstrated above all else that he hasn’t even read or bothered to comprehend the article in question. You’re mangling up the prose. Here’s the New Yorker writer
“in light of these alternative histories, “The Flight of the Intellectuals” seems to be laboring merely to underline the obvious: that a Muslim with a political subjectivity shaped by decades of imperial conquest, humiliation, and postcolonial failure does not share the world view of a liberal from Brooklyn. Yet there has long been such a chasm between Western intellectuals and their counterparts in formerly subordinate countries, an incompatibility of historical memories”
A crucial underlying point which I think helps to explain why someone such like Berman ends up getting things so wrong. The man is clearly has no idea what he is talking about and is wedded to a project which can only described as vain. ‘The Betrayal of Intellectuals” is, after all, a rather old fashioned, dry book length attack on two writers, Baruma and Ash, both of whom show much more historical awareness and nuance than Berman. In the end what’s weird about Berman’s project is that it feels like an extended exercise in self projection. Ramadan family lineage is excoriated while Berman’s Zionism goes unexamined. I’d argue that the latter provides the lens through which he the Middle East and Islam, leading him to favour “liberation” at gunpoint type policies which have brought untold havoc and distrust.
That New Yorker piece is really unfair to Berman. In The Flight of the Intellectuals, Berman actually takes a very long, winding, almost tangential stroll around Ramadan, his (political) relatives, and his political influences.
While talking about the muslim brotherhood’s and the grand mufti’s ties to the Nazis (and their plans to help exterminate the Jews), Berman is very circumspect about drawing specific connections between al-Banna, al-Husseini, and Ramadan. He says specifically that their collusion with the Einstazgruppe Agypten was a perversion and betrayal of Islam; he says it was a betrayal of “Islam’s larger principles of tolerance and civility.” These aren’t the words of an Islam hating merchant in Manichean ideas. This sort of hedging and gentleness and careful commentary pervades the book.
In any case, Berman’s books is really a long and careful inquiry on whether Ramadan is engaging in a “double discourse” where he attempts to appear like a moderate secularist to Western audiences, but has a very different and religious view of politics.
Berman makes much of a television interview where Ramadan refused to condemn the practice of stoning women for adultery, but instead called for a moratorium to discuss and debate the issue, with the eventual goal of ending the practice. But it seems that Ramadan, wanted to maintain his credibility in certain parts of the Islamist world, and to this day (2009) still calls for debate, admittedly within the context of the moratorium.
I defy anyone to read that New Yorker article and as well as this little slice of his book as I reported it, and still call the article a “tour de force.”
If this seems to you that this is wild eyed claim, usually forwarded by arch Israeli right or wrong types as way to justify denying self determination to Palestinians, you’re right. Hussein Ibish who actually had some kind comments on other sections of what I thought was an awfully tedious and silly book (Berman on Ramadan) takes Berman to school. Its nothing short of a demolition
“I defy anyone to read that New Yorker article and as well as this little slice of his book as I reported it, and still call the article a “tour de force.”
I spent a day a few months back reading Berman’s latest offerings and was singularly unimpressed. Also made my way twice through the New Yorker review and I maintain its a tour de force. Much smarter, more cosmopolitan, historically literate and self aware than the slice of the book. Berman also took it on the chin from David Rieff, Philip Weiss and others. The book is terrible and pretty much useless.
I have my own criticisms of Ramadan. Mostly I find him a figure who has been made to seem much more interesting than he actually is. He is filling a particular in a world where “Islam” as discourse and politics is occupying a central role. He should be engaged and critiqued. Berman who emerged post 9/11 as some kind of self described expert on the “muslim mind” and is working to repair his reputation is definitely not the man to mount the critique. His introduction is unintentionally funny. He dedicates the book to two loving decades long comrades in arms who he goes on and on about. Who are they? The increasingly bitter Marty Peretz and Leon Wieseltier. Berman needs to get out more. This trio has sullied the reputation of the New Republic while in recent years lobbying ineffective smears against Sullivan, Beinart, and the late Judt.
I don’t know who the hell Paul Berman is other than a guy who used to write for the Village Voice. I just don’t understand why I need to pay any attention to him. He’s not a scholar IMHO – he’s an obsessive and his judgement is terrible. Last person in the world I need scolding me.
“respect (Hitchens) for…his principled unpopular stands on things like the Iraq war…”
Uh – the unpopular position was to oppose the war – overwhelmingly so. Many liberals who had strong reservations were cowed by the post-9/11 hysteria and some deeply dishonest reporting and “intelligence” into making a public show of supporting the war. Hitchens was not one of these – he was a true believer. But Hitchens career, his media face time and his national popularity across most opinion sectors bloomed when he went into pro-war mode. Not saying that was his intent, but it happens to be the truth.
I want to add that I think that Berman’s differences with the Bush administration don’t rescue him from being considered a fool. In fact, if one believed that Saddam was intent on building nuclear weapons to attack the US…or somebody…and would engage in some regional war, despite the fact that he’d pretty much destroyed his own military and isolated/impoverished his country taking on Iran and then the US via his Kuwait invasion, or that he was somehow in league with al Qaeda, no matter how nutty and baseless those fears would be, if one actually believed them it would not be as crackpot as believing that the US could invade Iraq and establish a “liberal democracy”, which was Berman’s central preoccupation. That is insane.
It’s also a fact that the numbers Berman ascribes to Saddam in terms of deaths of innocents have been equaled by the most likely numbers of Iraqi civilian deaths in the wake of the US invasion. I just don’t know why a guy like this is taken seriously at all as anything but a hysteric. I’d have to say the same of Hitchens on any discourse related to the Iraq war. The moral grandiosity of these guys in the run-up to the war was very creepy at the time, but in retrospect it’s nothing but disgusting. All of their crap about the “unseriousness” of anti-war liberals suggests these characters need to spend some face time in the mirror – and develop at least a grain of humility regarding their presumptions.
“it would not be as crackpot a rationale for pre-emptive war as believing that the US could invade Iraq and establish a liberal democracy”.
Worked in Japan, a much more radicalized populace, and it is beginning to work in Iraq reg.
You need to get over it already. You lost and Bush, Berman, Hitchens, and Iraq won. If it were Obama’s war, you would have rationalized it to death…..and you damn well know it….maybe not.
Sure it took alot of money away from more liberal social programs here in the states. And sure Bush failed to pay for the costs long after the economy had recovered from 9/11. But that’s what f–king blindly biased capitalist do. What f–king blindly biased liberals do is instituted hugely expensive and irrevocable bankrupting give-away social programs that outlive the cost of wars by generations.
Which is more dangerous to the survival of a nation? We are beginning to find out. Let’s hope the moderately sane independent voters are able to save us once again, in the next election by, at a minimum, stalemating the current liberal regime with a conservative House or Senate. Gridlock in Washington DC is GOOD.
Jim R – Japan and Iraq aren’t even close to analagous. And even General Odierno admits that the war is far from “won” in terms of a stable government. The Iraqi government such as it is has closer ties to Iran than to the US – as will the largest segment of the country no matter how the politics shake out in Baghdad and nearly a million people died. You are a fool. And your moral center is apparently in your ass.
And exactly what “bankrupt social progams” are you talking about Jim ? Social security. If you believe social security is “bankrupt” you have been listening to too many crazy people like Sharron Angle and not actual data on the funding. To the extent that SS needs a “fix” in a quarter century or so, it’s an easy one. The biggest problem with Social Security funding is that much of the money paid into the fund was borrowed by Reagan, et al to fund tax cuts for the wealthy and military spending. That will have to be paid back, like any debt – and the money should come from where it went. The “tax cuts” double-talk is what has fueled deficits – Republican deficits – even as the government has grown while they made dishonest noises. Republicans have tried to wreck this country and they get crazier by the minute. A cancer within…phony “conservatism.”
I love how the guys claiming civility come off with perverted shit like death wishes and “child molester” when the simple truth that they are morons gets referenced. Nice. I’ll take my foul-but-honest mouth over that rancid retreat to the lowest end of the gutter any day.
On a note more on topic, I really don’t understand an obsession with an Oxford professor who subscribes to a slippery but obviously moderte-by-the-standards-of-orthodoxy Muslim theology. If Berman wants to interrogate contemporary politics in the context of the “war on terror” – which is an idiotic formulation in the first place (with “WMDs” as a catch-all category, inclusive of the gas Reagan’s military intelligence helped Saddam launch on the Iranians and nuclear weapons, running a close second) – Berman should dig at least as deeply into the hubris and deceptions that drove the policies he supported, as George Packer has. Berman is like a lot of old leftists – obsesessed with obscure ideological debate and the tracing and re-tracing of sectarian legacies that has little or no bearing on the real world. And taking contemporary Islamist fundamentalist violent and terroristic zealotry as analagous in any meaningful sense to Stalin’s empire or to Hitler’s armies is irrational fear-mongering of the highest order. It truly shows an absolute lack of faith in what are commonly called “Western values” and the dynamic social and economic orders that sprang from these. To suggest that we are in existential danger from a proposed caliphate is nonsensical, childish and an apparently weak bladder being traded off as “political analysis.” Also, to argue as Berman does that the root of anti-Zionism is anti-semitism is slander of the worst sort – anti-Zionism has been prevalent among Jews, initially the vast majority and still a significant minority, since the day the Zionist project was first proposed.
DanO…the issue of creating a sort of Marshall Plan as antidote now to having destroyed the infrastructure of 2 countries is a point that has been considered SANE and much talked about in many different quarters including the central fucking command. It has become the overriding opinion of those who have been on the ground and who have the intellectual and moral chops to now agree that rebuilding infrastructure and education is the only sane thing to do.
The damage done in Iraq by Bremner et al….and the knowledge that arming the mujahideen against the Russians then dropping the ball to bakc that up with education and infrastructure was allowed the Taliban/Al Queda to fill the void.
Do your fucking homework Dan.
And that wonderful army consultant– last year was it– who quit because he said our methods were so counterproductive now…Petraeus and the generals finally talking to that civilian who started building schools for girls and lets us not forget the FACT that part of the argument about our currenst so called mission there as part of ‘counter-insurgency’ strategy IS now to do something constructive. They are just too fucking late…
And why no discussion (except briefly) about Assange.
There was a long profile of him in the New Yorker.
This guy is doing something ground breaking and is being driven by a very powerful moral force. He is breaking all the rules and has set up a highly complex technological network that also depends on a band of loyal and skilled partisans and donors to keep this enterprise going. You guys are arguing over a bunch of pointless blather trying to rationalize one way or another the run away forces that are in control–while this other guy is actually trying to DO something about the forces that have ensared us.
He is far more interesting and important that some fuckwit named Berman or the dozens of other oooooooh ‘columnists’ who are just filling up cyberspace.
– Berman should dig at least as deeply into the hubris and deceptions that drove the policies he supported, as George Packer has. Berman is like a lot of old leftists – obsesessed with obscure ideological debate and the tracing and re-tracing of sectarian legacies that has little or no bearing on the real world. –REG
According to the NRYB, Bermen’s terror isn’t his flawed analysis as much as it is the slander of Buruma and Ash…
One need not subscribe to the liberal “real world” view- unzipped in front of MSNBC – to appreciate what real terrorism is.. using the ideology of conventional wisdom as an ad-hominem attack of another for the sole reason that the intended victim seeks to challenge the ideology of the Center.
Here is an example of the Bermanesque on Dissonance. It is called false dichotomy:
“As to whether Hitchens “flipped” politically or not… I would say, as I come from a very similar place he did in the 60’s, that to NOT realize at this point that Socialist Master Plans have totally failed and that freedom, how ever one defines it, trumps dogma, would be like stumbling around blind.
You choose: Christopher Hitchens consistency? or Amy Goodman’s? I’ll take Hitch, with all his flaws, thanks.”
In Mondo-Lib world the currency of the argument rests not in its objective reality. Hitchens or Bermen cannot be appraised on their own terms and must be placed in relationship to the stereotype.
Thus centrist-Berman is seen as “like a lot of old leftists” while Hitchens flaws must be appraised against those who choose Democracy Now over Freedom.
There was an interesting conversation going about Berman and The Flight of the Intellectuals, which has descended into a bunch of people who seemingly haven’t read the book ripping Berman apart like he’s the anti-christ. holy shit. I don’t really get it. As far as I can tell the only person on here who is commenting and has read the book is Ahmed (and me). Please correct me if I’m wrong.
The rest of you are either talking about other aspects of his work (which, of course, is totally fine), or you’re venting spleen based on second and third hand accounts, which, if I may say so, is fucking dumb.
As always the worst offender is Anna, who can never avoid utterly mangling what another person has said so she can construct a satan to take down. It must be fun in the fun house.
Anna, We all know that Islamist fighters in Afghanistan are at least in part (if not wholly), the result of unintended consequences frvm arming the resistance to the Soviets. You’re repeated that several times, as if it has weight on the question of what to do in Afghanistan. It’s a fact. That’s over, and nothing is to be done about it. It’s like you’ve come across a boy in a well, and rather then figure out what to do with the boy, you’re over yelling about why the well was built.
Anyway, Ahmed, that Ibish article is very interesting. I don’t know enough about the real (but perhaps minor) connections between mid-east figures and the Nazis to say anything very useful about it in the face of Ibish’s claim. It may be that Berman badly overclaims. But notice that Ibish, while in part downplaying the Nazi connection, really levels his charge that Berman has the wrong man, even while noting that al-Husseini was the most popular politcal figure in that place and time. This is at least a contested claim, but Ibish may well know more about it that Berman does. Based on thee two sources it’s hard to say that Berman’s been demolished. I think it would be better to say that there may be questions that need more investigation before you can accept Berman’s take. (Or at least that I would need to investigate it more–you may know more about this already).
Still, I don’t think the Nazi connection is the main point of Berman’s book, but it does occupy a whole chapter, and isn’t inconsequential. The main point, as I mentioned earlier, is whether Ramadan talks one way for an Arab audience, but talks another way for a Western audience, one designed to make him look (mainly) secular and democratic when he may be precisely not that.
In any case, the real point I wanted to make, and did make before, is that the tone of Berman’s Flight, is not nearly as nasty and snarly as it’s made out to be, at least in this thread. Ibish himself makes the point nicely when he says, “I don’t think either Berman or Achcar set out to write anti-Palestinian or anti-Israeli books intentionally and if read with sensitivity both books are capable of avoiding giving that impression. However, both of them also contain enough material for a biased reader to get very much of the wrong impression.”
Agree or disagree with Berman, find fault or not, I do think it is more than fair to say that the book has a pretty gentle, roundabout, and questioning tone, as I said before.
“Ibish may well know more about it that Berman does”
Yeah I’m pretty sure that he does. And that Berman views these debates through the political lens that Reg has illuminated absolutely leads him to folly. You’re right that this has become an absurd forum but since it no longer can be salvaged why not have a little fun?
Mr. Berman is that terrible nightmare of the New York Jewish intellectual: the luftmensch, the man who eats and drinks ideas and lives bereft of life. For in the end, Mr. Berman’s idea-besotted ignorance of the fate of other people has given his own ideas-such as they are-a rotten aspect. For years, he beat the drums of war like a misanthrope on amphetamines, and even now, seven years into the war in Iraq, after the deaths of thousands of Americans and the crippling of many thousands more Americans, and the death and maiming of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, this self-infatuated, foolish man is still beating the drums of war, without apology, and arguing like a medieval scholiast over “the expansive puddle of footnoted documentation that lies at the bottom of Fourest’s pages.”
I am much less inclined to read Berman based on the review in NYRB which exposes the intellectual dishonesty of his major thesis and the slander of Buruma & Ash.
The review alludes to an agenda which I have little interest is pursuing: that of ascribing nazi ideology to Islam and Ramadan.
As I have stated in my last post on the subject, the Bermanesque style is to establish a self-referential sympatico with the reader by appealing to conventional wisdom rather than empirical analysis:
the result being shoddy scholarship and defamation…and is excused solely on the basis that Berman reinforces conventional post-911 partisanship.
Simply put, like here on Dissonance, not only is his premise deeply flawed Berman cannot propound it on the merits. Instead he launches ad-hominem tirades against scholars who have concluded that engaging moderate Islam as a rational strategy for coexistence.
These issues raised by NYRB concern Berman’s books but not required to have read the corpus to form an opinion.
“Mr. Berman is so taken with himself that he introduces the book with a solemn “letter” to Marty Peretz and Leon Wieseltier, the editor in chief and literary editor, respectively, of The New Republic magazine, where the essay that led to this book first appeared. No other acknowledgments are there: no loved ones, no beloved friends, no dedicated editor, no loyal agent. Just the intellectual comrades in arms, the Ones Who Share My Abstract Principles. Mr. Berman ends his quivering missive like this: “And now I press the book, printed and bound, into your hands, inscribed to you.” You can imagine the moist eyes, the trembling hands, as the Prophet of Boerum Hill, moved by his monumental achievement, inscribed his sacred book. The sacred book of Paul Berman’s agon with his fellow intellectuals, who have turned on reason and Western civilization.”
Dan – I think your points about Berman are fair, because I know you are fair. But I don’t think it’s incumbent on one to read all of Berman’s books to seriously question his judgement and credibility. I’ve read enough of Berman’s shorter POVs and interviews to know that I don’t want to put his books in my (already too long) list of “must reads.” Berman has said and supported a lot of stupid things that I’m aware of, have read, etc. I think he’s jousting with some of his own demons. I’m sure he’s smart enough to do nuance in long form, but he’s also comes off as hubristic in his critique of “the intellectuals.” He’s strikes me, as Ramadan does frankly, as a guy who would like to have it “both ways.” But his main thrust has been IMHO wide of the mark and as helpful in our current predicament regarding the threat of Islamic terrorism as the folks protesting mosque building. He’s not that nuts around the edges, but his primary argument is just as counter-productive to dealing with the real problem. That guys like Berman and Hitchens get a hearing these days that they never had when they were simply “left” is a testament to the degree they have become “useful fools” for some very bad actors on the neocon Right. Neither one was a compass for me on the Left, so I don’t have any personal stake in their “apostasies.” I just don’t regard their arguments or their research on Islamism as trustworthy or insightful. They seem to be grinding axes that are rooted in their own personal histories and associations. I was an Iraq war opponent who hoped something might be rescued from the misadventure. I do think the war served the Iraqi political exile class well, because it removed Saddam without them doing any of the lifting. But it was a gift that came at the expense of, so far as I can tell, hundreds of thousands of civilian dead, millioins displaced and was a major blow to any rational US response to 9/11 – not to mention that it strengthened Iran’s hand in the region enormously, cost thousands of American lives and tens of thousands of wounded, disabled and damaged US servicepeople, and what? A trillion or so added to our deficits? “Worse than a crime – a blunder!” But Berman continues on with his “keyboard commando” crusading – by his own admission a perch he relishes. I just think that the guy is a creep. I really can’t muster any verdict on Berman beyond that. Hitchens is a more interesting figure with a broader canvas. Berman isn’t even entertaining from what I’ve seen. I’m not going to pick through his entire writiings trying to find some reason to respect him. I just don’t get what he’s on about.
Also – I should have said that Ramadan is “moderate by the standards of Muslim fundamentalism” not “orthodoxy.” I’m not even close to expert on this, but I’m guessing that like most religions there are plenty of folks who subscribe to Islam who consider themselves “orthodox” but aren’t “Fundamentalist.” Ramadan clearly is trying to soften the edges of Islamist extremism. Beyond that, I can’t say and don’t much care. Given that Islam seems more than a bit behind Judaism and Christianity in reformiing their worst tendencies historically, Ramadan is probably fairly judged as a useful figure. The effort to isolate him and tag him with guilt by paternal associations strikes me as wrong-headed and counter-productive. I find Ramadan unsavory, but I feel the same way about Martin Luther. Not my cup of tea, but I don’t deny that he added some leaven to a very problematic institution. From what I read about Ramadan, I cut him about the same slack.
Dan, you make a great effort (@ 1:01 pm) to try to refocus this thing. Yes, the long forensic investigation of Tariq Ramadan is the engine of the book. But you’ve left out something that’s very important. What about the kick at end? How does Berman come to meet Ibn Warraq, Bassam Tibi, Magdi Allam, Fiamma Nirenstein, Caroline Fourest, Robert Redeker, Flemming Rose, Kurt Westergaard and Boualem Sansal (you know, last chapter…)? The commonality of their plight?…
Also, from Ramadan’s “wikipedia” – “As of 2009, Tariq Ramadan was persona non grata in Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya or Syria because of his ‘criticism of these undemocratic regimes that deny the most basic human rights.’ ”
I would judge that this fact alone makes Ramadan – for all of his slippery strategems and avoidance of meeting what I see as fundamentally abhorrent practices head on – a more significant figure in orthodox Islam’s internal reformist discourse than Berman could ever dream of being. In retrospect, I’m assuming that the Jesuitical perspective of Notre Dame – which wanted to bring Ramadan to campus – is more canny regarding the rhetoric and historical process involved in these intramural theological debates than either the State Department, which joined Saudi Arabia in banning his entry, or Paul Berman. What’s the upside of isolating Ramadan, when he’s clearly pissing off a bunch of the “right people” in his world?
These are all liberals, writers, scholars, thinkers, along with Hirshi Ali, that are met in the final chapter by Berman while under death treats. They are forced to exist 24-7 with full contingencies of bodyguards. They have committed the ‘crime’ of offending Islam, certain imams, or had the nerve to defend Israel.
At the very moment that the likes of Garton Ash or Ian Buruma find it worthwhile to praise the supposed fusion of Ramadan’s ‘moderation’ on Islam, these liberals have to fear for their lives. And these are just a small set of intellectuals just within Europe. To that list there are hundreds of liberal minded Muslim writers, activists, and especially feminists in Arab countries that are also under some fatwa or threat of death for having upset orthodox or political Islam. It’s Berman who shows how the Garton Ashes and Burumas have almost flippant distain for these people. It’s Berman who shows how some intellectuals have apparently traded in their very Western liberal values to criticize and offend. How they have fled.
What we have now — unprecedented in Western Europe since WWII — is a “metastasized” social class of Salman Rushdies. But it’s not the new Rushdies that are being defended nor are the illiberal reactionaries that are being condemned. It’s the Hirsi Ali’s that draw the ire. Theological censorship combined with intellectual timidity.
Ron Rosenbaum over at Slate summed it up very well a couple months ago: http://www.slate.com/id/2248809/
There is a much better chance of a better outcome if moderate voices within Islam are given oxygen.
There is zero chance of destroying Islam or reforming it from without.
It really comes down to that.
Reg has provided ample evidence as does the NYRB of Berman and his agenda. Berman is a neo-conservative and is so invested in his own sanctity (see Ahmed’s remarks) that his prescription can only lead to conflagration.
Spare me the crocodile tears along with the overblown fascist analogies. This fantasy that Berman- his intellectual cohorts Marty Peretz (with his history of anti arab blabber) and Wieseltier- from the pages of the New Republic is leading a brave struggle akin to anti faccist struggles of an earlier time is a fucking despicable joke. Blind to both history and proportion. Where was Berman’s “courage” children- 10 from the Samouri family-were buried in the rubble of Israeli bombardment in a brazen assault mapped out in Judge Goldstone’s detailed account. Berman was then busy writing mealy mouthed apologetics. Not much in terms of a profile in courage.
Exactly Amhed. Evade and counter-accuse.
That someone has the audacity to argue the context in which so many writers, activists, and especially woman are under threat of death from violent Islam, it must mean it is time to change the subject. Move the goal posts. Back to the never ending death dance of Hamas and the stupid godly reactionaries on the Israeli side. If one hasn’t penned enough frosty condemnation of Israeli actions in Gaza, then well, of course Berman is obviously doomed.
rob – I have to say first that the “question” of Ian Buruma and Garton Asche is beyond irrelevant IMHO. Second, unless Ramadan has endorsed death threats against these people, I don’t see the connection. It’s guilt by association…or worse.
Here is Ramadan’s POV on the cartoons, as an example, from his website. It’s more rationally considered and strikes me as less a danger to Western Civilization than Sarah Palin’s tweets. Hirsan Ali is, in fact, worse in wanting to outlaw minarets in Switzerland in the name of “tolerance.” Ramadan asks that nothing be outlawed, as I read this piece, but is open about asking for more civility as regards his own religion. Sort of like that guy who runs the Catholic League who they seem to adore on FOX News, or Bill O’Reilly. Except that Ramadan speaks for a minority – often embattled and despised in Western countries as we are seeing with the “Jihad” against mosque construction across our own country – which makes him more sympathetic IMHO. I think he needs to just tell Muslims to suck it up – he does mention the culture of satire and blasphemy, which is actually an indisputable observation – “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” Unless he’s got an alternate website in Arabic that takes the view that Danish cartoonists deserve death, I think that Berman is engaging in the kind of ginned up bigotry against Arabs and Muslims that his mentor Marty Peretz routinely indulges in.
I will add that I can’t speak for the situation in Denmark or France – I do know that the Van Gogh killing was a major event in Holland – but all I see in the US right now in the public square is a wave of bigotry against Muslims that I, frankly, thought I wouldn’t see. George W. Bush, to his credit, warned against the shit being stirred by one of the major parties and major public figures in “conservatism”, but it looks like it’s being unleashed with no shame. It is precisely what bin Laden would like to see, vis. moderate Muslims in the US, and this kind of counter-productive hysteria damages our civic and democratic life and contributes to wrong-headed responses to Islamic terrorism like the Iraq invasion. It also pushes American Muslims out of the mainstream and into a feeling of isolation that feeds exactly the wrong messages and resentments.
I’ll add to my prior comment that Ramadan’s advice about not pushing the envelope and rubbing Muslim’s face in contempt for their religion on the part of cartoonists or crusaders of various stripes isn’t really bad advice if the point is to promote assimiliation rather than alienation. Satirists do what they do, but satire against cultural or religious minorities isn’t exactly the most noble calling, in the larger scheme of things. Given the crazed reaction, it seems warranted and I defend the satirists or other critics, but that approach is not my prescription for bringing European Muslims more into the fold, if one has any such concern.
There’s a fundamental problem when there is a whole wing of intelligentsia under threat of death and the promoters of these threats are shielded, often, by religious moderates who unwittingly enable it. And again, it is precisely from illiberal and reactionary states that this problem becomes most acute. Exactly how can one reach out to Palestinian liberals who would reject the crazies of Hamas? Or Iranians for that matter. Or in Pakistan. This is what happens when so many leaders and intellectuals have surrendered the traditions of rationality and secularism of the Enlightenment to the guilts of colonialism and then allow these values and traditions to be reduced to a mere selection of multiculturalism and identity politics. Buruma and Garton Ash become especially relevant here. They’ve used their clout — much as you would accuse Hitchens of using his in the service of neocon designs — to make accommodations with this illiberal force. It takes real courage to stand up to threat. Some simply can not do it. Which is understandable. One does not want to end up like Theo Van Gogh. This is an alarming retreat in the face of a real threat. Two things are driving this threat (Berman says) — the growth of the Islamist movement and terrorism.
“If one hasn’t penned enough frosty condemnation of Israeli actions in Gaza, then well, of course Berman is obviously doomed.
What about just a humane condemnation of an assault targetted the human and physical infrustructure of Gaza, while killing 1400 people, including 400 children? That’s too much? No words from this brave man of courage for the children whose skin was burnt off by white phosphorus? Instead Berman rationalized what, Im sorry if it hurts your feelings, was state inflicted terror, while sharper often younger voices, began to dissent from Israeli policy for the first time. Why is this relevant? I think that Berman’s obsession with Tariq Ramandan, is, in a sense, a kind of self projection. The idea, following from Phillip Weiss, that Berman can eviscerate Ramadan’s family lineage as anti progressive without without opening the door to an examination of the neocons’ Zionism is curious. We don’t hear many interviewrs ask Berman about ask him about his own Zionism, or his family’s–or about neoconservative dynastic Zionism? The relevance here is that Israel IMHO provides a framework for the ways in which Berman explores the Middle East and at least partly must account for why he trips over himself, as aptly demonstrated by Ibish, with regards overplaying the Mufti
“Exactly how can one reach out to Palestinian liberals who would reject the crazies of Hamas?”
Do you not even have any sense of fucking proportion. Presumably you live in the United States hence the country that routinely bankrolls the very dipossesion experienced by generations of Plaestinians while its shields the country that brually and systematically occupies these people from the full bearing of international law-whether that be in the form of the Goldstone report or the ICJ decision ruling the wall to be illegal. If you want to “reach out” to “liberal Palestinians” perhaps you can begin by making some noise about our dismal state of affairs in the United States, in which our political discourse serves to silence, punish, and marginalize anyone who steps outside the script. That would help
That Hirsi Ali is a women who has withstood a lot and shown immense courage ends up telling us little about her actual policy priscriptions or politics. For example, Rob, what do you think about her support for banning minarets? Or here demand that muslim immigrants, in particular, above others be subjected to specific loyalty oaths? What about the fact that in Holland she connected with a virulently right wing anti immigrant party and hot nobs with a similar crazed crew in the US. Is it possible to respect her courage while viewing her politics, and elevation by neo cons and liberal hawks, a suspect?
I have a similar take as reg on Ramadan. I find Tariq Ramadan somewhat interesting, but not very convincing–his discourse is far too focused on religion (understandable, given his background) and he hardly ever mentions economic or social factors when he discusses the geographical region that falls loosely under the tag of ‘Islam.’ In some way, I think he contributes to an essentialist view of the region, to the same extent that Ayaan Hirsi Ali does, even though her views are diametrically opposed to his. Still he is a figure to be engaged with.
“the promoters of these threats are shielded, often, by religious moderates who unwittingly enable it”
“unwittingly enable it” is a subjective judgement – frankly, there’s more evidence that Paul Berman “unwittingly enables” irrational hatred of Muslims. HIs mentor Marty Peretz wittingly enables such. Berman’s stock goes lower IMHO if that’s the substance of his argument. It would be like Noam Chomsky writing a book attacking Bernie Sanders for not haviing a staunch enough critique of American imperialism. A measure of individual obsessions, but totally self-indulgent and irrelevant. I have seen no evidence presented that Ramadan has defended these death threats or any such thing. Frankly, I think that Hirsi Ali is a much more dangerous figure in the context of representation of Western values than Ramadan, based on their public positions. She goes beyond the essential issue of protecting women from Islamic medievalism or disfigurement and advocates a policy of blanket discrimination against Muslims in return. She’s trading on her story to give credibility to a politics that put her somewhere to the right of Tom Tancredo and the Arizona legislature on the question of respecting rights of minorities. John McCain showed personal courage as well under adverse conditions, but I don’t respect him as a spokesman for anything at this point in his career. Ali has gone into the zone of people who need to be repudiated as policy advocates, not defended. She’s an embittered extremist.
I can’t speak for Berman. He has a right to write about what he wants to explore. That there’s a topic you prefer him to address, you’ll have to take that up with him.
This long view of FLIGHT started when you suggested the review of Pankaj Mishra was a critic that extended to Hitchens. A couple of us disagreed.
I was pretty confident you’d find that “religious moderates” sentence objectionable. Which is exactly why I typed it out. There’s quite a bit in the book that people are going to be uncomfortable with and find objectionable. Which is exactly why its a worthy read. The polemic of FLIGHT does relishes in the right to raise the question of what role or responsibility religious moderates have in masking the violent extremes of the godly. Of course it’s subjective. Though I totally respect your view that it’s not a problem, I remain in disagreement.
I cannot defend everything Hirsi Ali has said. But an embittered extremist? When one have to maintain a security detail in order to stay alive, imho, one has a right to be embittered. However, in point of fact, I too, disagree with many of her points. Yet the personal journey she’s travelled compels me to give her some slack.
So, there. I’ve said my bit in defense of Berman. You and Ahmed are welcome to have the last words. I’ll place my ‘faith’ in that other readers here will check it out.
Marc — thanks for hosting this. Hope your buddy Hitch hangs in there.
Okay – I tried reading Berman’s TNR piece that was the basis for the book referenced here and I quit at about here:
“(T)he family ties between Tariq Ramadan and Sayyid Qutb offer an analytic opportunity. Ramadan’s reputation for less-than-frankness raises a bit of a problem for anyone who cares to figure him out. If you wanted to know the beliefs and opinions of any number of public figures, you could go ask them, and you could publish their replies with a reasonable certainty that you were getting the real poop. Not so Ramadan. He poses a difficulty—the constant possibility of an esoteric meaning. Still, there is a way to put his doctrines into some kind of historical and intellectual perspective, and this is to stand Ramadan next to Qutb—the father’s son next to the father’s author, the Islamic Foundation’s book-writer next to the Islamic Foundation’s book-writer, salafi reformist next to salafi reformist.”
Earlier I learned this about the true target of Berman’s book repudiating a New York Times Magazine article (yes a BOOK inspired by his disappointment with a Times Magazine cover story, Ian Buruma:
“…the Times magazine assigned its profile to the well-known journalist Ian Buruma, and this was an impeccable choice. Buruma published a book last year called Murder in Amsterdam, on the assassination of the Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh by an Islamist fanatic—and the book testified to Buruma’s expertise on Islamist dangers in Europe. Three years ago, Buruma and the Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit joined forces to write a book called Occidentalism, on the historical appeal of European fascist and other anti-liberal doctrines to people outside Europe, and this book testified to Buruma’s expertise on wayward and totalitarian ideologies as well:”
Apparently books about Ramadan – who as I said strikes me as a slippery character but hardly a threat to the West, or someone who is beyond the bounds of engaging in civil discourse – are a cottage industry for European intellectuals I’d never heard of (which is a large category that I am perfectly comfortable to see grow much larger.) After reading several thousand words of Berman in TNR – and finally giving up when I started feeling like Robert Ryan digging for those elusive nuggets in God’s Little Acre which I recently in one of those rare moments when I switch the channel from MSNBC to TMC because “Lockup” has displaced Rachel Maddow and Keith Olberman reruns – I wish I had never heard of Berman. It’s probably unfair, since I didn’t even finish his TNR opus – but the man strikes me as a crank who is more obsessed with the small differences he discerns in the analysis offered by his former comrades than he is with serious issues related to national security and assimilation of immigrants from Muslim countries. I also have become convinced – not just by this article, but it’s re-affirmed a hunch – that using the term “Islamofascism” isn’t just inaccurate, it’s a deliberate attempt to magnify the specter of a caliphate as a substantive threat to “the West.” Not useful – aside from the damage done the best efforts of political science to assign some categories and distinctions within its subject. Fascism, whatever one else might say about it, has been an identifiable political system. Saddam Hussein, who used “Islamism” opportunistically much the way Hitler tried to bend a state-sanctioned version of Lutheranism into his coalition of embittered proletarians, anti-semites, German nationalists and industrialists, was a fascist. Saudi Arabia is not, repugnant as their society happens to be. Personally, I’d rather live in Franco’s Spain than Saudi Arabia, but thankfully that’s speculative hair-splitting for me. In any event, I just don’t get what Berman thinks he’s adding to anyone’s insight by tacking “fascism” onto “Islam.” There are plenty of examples of theocratic totalitarianism that pre-date fascism – which was a distinctly 20th century ideology. For that blatantly false analogy – and attempt to gin up the emotional quotient and invoke the specter of Hitler, like some bozo at a Worker’s World Party demonstration attacking Bush, to give his (weak, as it relates to Ramadan) case more urgency.
Which brings me to the final question. Why am I still writing about this ???
“I can’t speak for Berman. He has a right to write about what he wants to explore. That there’s a topic you prefer him to address, you’ll have to take that up with him.”
I’ll give this discussion a rest but you’ve responded to exactly nothing that I’ve actually written and this is after I’ve tried, valiantly, in detail, to engage you on specifics. I’m not even sure what the above quote means or what relation it has, if any, to my critique. My point was that if Berman’s project seems ham fisted, obsessesive and frankly bizarre; if his romanticsation of Hirsi Ali ,to the point where people who laud her personal courage while questioning her frankly perverse political judgement become “traitors” and enemies of freedom- there’s a reason for all of this. And that Berman’s inablity to engage in self criticisms frames the way his views all the issues in question. This obtuse wild unawareness means that Berman fails to be self aware, in any way, whether iits his wholescale support of the war on terror and invading Iraq, his choice of embiterred intellectual mentors (Mart Peretz who describes Arabs routinely as deceptive and has thrown his lot with the bigots on the Ground Zero mosque “debate”), his attachment to a view, whether ethnocentric or just unspoken ideological, which sees Israeli subjugation of Palestinians as “defensive”, always. If you think Im exageratting think about Beinart’s shape shifting piece about the Israeli Lobby and the rigid ethnocentrism displayed bu its representatives. Its clear that for Beinart a way of thinking through his earlier mistakes and errors meant confronting head on the delusions of his fomer emplyers and mentors at the New Republic. Reg’s riff, btw, at 7:52 am is brilliant. Good stuff
“Yet the personal journey she’s travelled compels me to give her some slack.”
Agreed, until she becomes a celebrated public advocate of positions that serve totally wrong-headed ends. If the woman who is currently under sentence of death by stoning in Iran harbors fantasies of dropping a nuclear bomb directly on Ahmedinajad’s head, I cut her slack. If she is (hopefully) allowed to emigrate into the custody of the Brazilians and makes her way to the US and is offered (at this point unfortunately) an endowed fellowship at the Heritage Foundation from which she starts loudly pestering Obama to nuke Iran, the slack runs out.
“So, there. I’ve said my bit in defense of Berman”
Something about Hirsi Ali having courage and a vague allusion to you disagreeing with some of her views, which ones a putative reader may wonder, well conveniently enough you avoid spelling them out. Then there was the part about me taking up my issue with Berman myself even though I was addressing you and spelt out my point in detail. And some jive related to the idea that the book is”subjective” (was this in doubt?) , “moderates” (never defined) needing to take on extremists, and the like. It turns out that your defence wasn’t much of a defence or even argument at all.
Please give her a chance to make her case by listening to her, and I think you will find a highly articulate liberal atheist feminist black women, who of all people should a classic darling of the left and women’s rights, but for one unforgivable fault, she has become ‘intolerant’ of Islam from personal experience.
Why the hell should Hirsi Ali be a “darling of the left” – that’s your bullshit stereotype. She doesn’t defend the prinicples of the First Amendment the US Constitution. I don’t give a goddam if you’re a “feminist”, “black”, a proponent of nationalizing basic industry or handing out free milk and cookies to children, that’s a deal-breaker.
August 16th, 2010 at 9:46 am
Why the hell should Hirsi Ali be a “darling of the left” – that’s your bullshit stereotype. She doesn’t defend the prinicples of the First Amendment the US Constitution. I don’t give a goddam if you’re a “feminist”, “black”, a proponent of nationalizing basic industry or handing out free milk and cookies to children, that’s a deal-breaker”
Another deal breaker is she doesn’t recognize who are the heirs of the Enlightenment… and thus must be someone else’s darling… perhaps yours Jim R.