Hitchens Had it Right Then, and Now
In the days that followed September 11th, 2001, most of us had dizzying question marks hovering in our minds in the hazy chaos of this tragedy, as the dust was still falling, both literally and figuratively. Who did it? Why did they do it? What does it mean for the future? The world was going to change, that would be certain, but the view ahead was foggy.
But not for one person.
Christopher Hitchens was already rigorously scanning the facts and forging insights, as he poured down to the page his biting, take-no-prisoners analysis in his usual profilic ouput. Only one day after the towers came down, Hitchens' pen was cutting through the fog, as well as predicting what would come next, from the hassles in airport security to the "great deal of pugnacious talk to be endured in the next few days." On September 12, 2001, in a moving and respectful reflection he wrote in the Evening Standard,
Much of what is said by the cable bombardiers will be worthless, or bluff. But the overused words "civilized world" seem to me appropriate. You could see the civilized world in the streets of Manhattan yesterday, as people of all faiths and shades kept calm, kept moving, kept in touch and kept up their solidarity. This is a strength that the sadists and fanatics do not possess and cannot emulate.
In the days and months to come, he would write a multitude of articles, with predictions that would turn out to be astoundingly accurate months or years later, and with insights that are as relevant today as they were in those early post-9/11 days, if not more so now. As we continue to wade through the complexities of the post-9/11 world while more than 30 nations fight and die together in Afghanistan, and as Hitchens wages his own personal battle against cancer, I thought it timely and valuable to bring back to life excerpts from some of the best of his polemics from that winter of 2001/2002.
While commentators like Noam Chomsky, Sam Husseini, and Michael Moore quickly started sounding out the "the US brought this upon itself" line, Hitchens poignantly slaughtered their apologism-riddled arguments and reminded us in his lucid, merciless prose who the actual enemies were. In the October 8, 2001 edition of The Nation, Hitchens wrote,
The Taliban and its surrogates are not content to immiserate their own societies in beggary and serfdom. They are condemned, and they deludedly believe that they are commanded, to spread the contagion and to visit hell upon the unrighteous. The very first step that we must take, therefore, is the acquisition of enough self-respect and self-confidence to say that we have met an enemy and that he is not us, but someone else. Someone with whom coexistence is, fortunately I think, not possible.
...the under-reaction to the Taliban by three successive United States administrations is one of the great resounding disgraces of our time. There is good reason to think that a Taliban defeat would fill the streets of Kabul with joy. But for the moment, the Bush Administration seems a hostage to the Pakistani and Saudi clients who are the sponsors and "harborers" the President claims publicly to be looking for! Yet the mainstream left, ever shuffling its feet, fears only the discomfort that might result from repudiating such an indefensible and humiliating posture. Very well then, comrades. Do not pretend that you wish to make up for America's past crimes in the region. Here is one such crime that can be admitted and undone--the sponsorship of the Taliban could be redeemed by the demolition of its regime and the liberation of its victims. But I detect no stomach for any such project
And as for Noam Chomsky and Sam Hussaini, he wrote of them: "It no longer matters what they think."
As the stoppists' chorus of 2010 continues to belt out its pacifism-at-any-cost tune and demands the abandonment of an Afghanistan that is unequivocally better off now that it was a decade ago, Hitchens' point from the December 17, 2001 edition of The Nation that nothing could be worse than the Taliban running a country still stands solid as ever:
No possible future government in Kabul can be worse than the Taliban, and no thinkable future government would allow the level of Al Qaeda gangsterism to recur. So the outcome is proportionate and congruent with international principles of self-defense.
On September 20th, 2001, Hitchens was at the fore of fighting the euphemisms, relativism and apologism that was creeping further and further into the reaches of the left-leaning in the West:
...the bombers of Manhattan represent fasicm with an Islamic face, and there's no point in any euphemism about it. What they abominate about "The West," to put it in a phrase, is not what Western liberals don't like and can't defend about their own systerm, but what they do like about it and must defend: its emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, its separation of religion from the state. Loose talk about chickens coming home to roost is the moral equivalent of the hateful garbage emitted by Falwell and Robertson, and exhibits about the same intellectual content.
On October 15, 2001, Hitchens was ardently pulling the masks off the faces of appeasers and Taliban defenders disguised as "peace activists":
If there is now an international intervention, whether intelligent and humane, or brutal and stupid, against the Taliban, some people will take to the streets, or at least mount some "Candle in the Wind" or "Strawberry Fields" peace vigils. They did not take to the streets, or even go moist and muscial, when the administration supported the Taliban. But that was, surely, just as much intervention? An intervention, moreover, that could not even pretend to be humane or democratic? I had the same concern about those who did not object when the United States safeguarded Milosevic, but did protest when it finally turned against him. Am I supposed not to notice that these two groups of "anti-interventionists" are in fact the same people?
Similarly, today the "peace activists" calling for troops out of Afghanistan are awfully quiet about the murderous regime of Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan, about the epidemic of sexual violence in the Congo, or the suffocation of the people of Iran under a regime that daily persecutes, tortures, and stones to death innocent civilians. They are carefully selective of the "causes" they embrace, and get particularly excited by any transgression to which they can attach the word 'empire'.
And finally, as the calls grow louder for negotiating with the modern day's most fascist, death-cult, hateful and tyrannical band of thugs, the Taliban, in January 2002 in Vanity Fair, Hitchens was already remarking on the ridiculous notion that there are "moderate Taliban" leaders, and indeed provides us with the Taliban's own guffawing at such a suggestion:
At a later Taliban embassy press conference, their ambassador, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, was at pains to ridicule Seretary of State Colin Powell's mention of "broad-based" and "moderate" Taliban elements. There were, said this sneering envoy, no broad-based people in his party's ranks.
And still, there aren't.
Hitchens' points are as salient on September 12, 2010 as they were nine years ago.
Rock on Hitchens. You're still the best.
Lauryn Oates is a Contributing Writer for The Propagandist