Sunday, December 04, 2011

Christopher Hitchens a good example of a bad liberal

Christopher Hitchens' Árguably' (Atlantic Books; 2011; Rs 599 at Bahri Sons; about Rs 1200 at, a collection of his occasional pieces, is brought together to defend the idea of the United States of America as a liberal place. Not that Hitchens hesitates to state the barbarity of the US as he does in the piece, 'The Vietnam Syndrome' where he speaks of Agent Orange, the chemical spray used to destroy the thick jungle undergrowth which was serving as a camouflage for the Vietcong, and how it has not just killed the vegetation but also affected the lives of at least three generations of people, including Americans. He writes: 'The full inventory of this historic atrocity is still being compiled: It's no exaggeration to say that about 12 million gallons of lethal toxin, in Orange form alone, were sprayed on Vietnam, on the Vietnamese, and on the American forces who were fighting in the same jungles."
Then he goes on to confess: Ï am not an epidemiologist. And there are professionals who will tell you that there is no absolutely no proven connection between the spraying of this poison and the incidence of terrifying illnesses in one generation, or the persistence of appalling birth defects in the next one or the next one. Let us submit this to the arbitration of evidence and reason: What else can possibly explain the systematic convergence?" This was a piece he wrote for Vanity Fair in 2006.

In the essay Óverstating Jewish Power' (Hitchens referring to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt essay in the London Review of Books as to how the Jewish lobby shapes American foreign policy, he says, "Ëverybody knows that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other Jewish organizations exert a vast influence over Middle East politics, especially on Capitol Hill. The influence is not as total, perhaps, as that exerted by the Cuban exiles over Cuba policy, but it is an impressive demonstration of strength by an ethnic minority." And now comes the ignorant proposition. Saying that like Israel, Turkey and Pakistan were American allies of the Cold War, Hitchens argues: "But here's the thing: There is no Turkish or Pakistani ethnic "lobby"in America. And here's another thing: There is no call for "disinvestment"in Turkey or Pakistan."It is amazing that Hitchens refuses to see the fact that the Jewish ethnic minority unlike that of Ukrainians, Polish and Germans, and even Turks and Pakistanis, has powerful stakes in the American economy and in American culture. The Jews in American are an integral and influential section of America. Anyone who cannot see this is childish.
And here comes a rather funny confession from Hitchens: Ï have been both a Marxist and a journalist, and in some eclectic ways still am both of these things, and I can't decide which is the most interesting fork in the road to follow at this point."This is from his piece, "Marx's Journalism"written for The Guardian (London) on June 16, 2007.

Though Hitchens writes knowingly about Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell, P.G.Wodehouse, Graham Greene, Nabokov and Falubert, there is neither subtlety nor insight. He packs in quite a bit of information without too much understanding. His talent for spotting the literary turn is limited by what he seems to have trained himself to be -- an Orwellian observer of the simple truths of life and letters.

Like his hero Orwell who has written a rather chilling piece about hanging, Hitchens almost manages to pull off a similar piece of objective writing about 'water-boarding'the torture device that the American forces used against the jihadist prisoners in "Believe Me, It's Torture" written for Vanity Fair in August 2008.

The fact that Hitchens professes to be a liberal and a Marxist and a secularist, and he does prove his credentials by his narrow view of the world and his barely concealed Islamophobia, makes him a typical Westerner, who is fighting his demons and that of his civilisation by projecting those demons on to the Muslim world. It is not that there are no cruelties -- unutterable -- cruelties in the so-called Muslim world. But each civilisation has to bear the burden of its own evils. It is this that Hitchens easily forgets in his enthusiasm to be a Western liberal.

The essays are readable, just.


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