June 06, 2007

More doublespeak from Christopher Hitchens

Hitchens' latest in his weekly column on Slate.com is ludicrous even by his usual low standards.

First there is his amateurish attempt to compare U.N. missions in East Timor and Lebanon with the post-invasion mandate given to coalition troops in Iraq. In Lebanon and East Timor, the U.N. authorised intervention BEFORE the troops were on the ground. Is 2003 really that far back in time? How fast can you say "unilateralism"? How fast can you forget it? Oh, and there are no U.N. troops in Gaza, just U.N. staff. Frankly, I feel stupid even writing stuff this obvious...

Then there is his attempt to show that all violence against coalition troops in Iraq are religion-inspired, an attempt not without its couterpart in Bangladesh:

"You could read acres of news from that country as it undergoes everything that the death squads of the parties of God can inflict on a society"

Followed by this gem: "The assaults by the Baathists and the Bin Ladenists on the U.N. presence have been especially vicious"

Take a fucking introductory course to modern Arab politics for God's humanity's sakes! Everyone knows the Baathists were pretty fucking secular. After all, it was founded on principles of Arab unity regardless of religion. By a Muslim and a Christian Arab. Doesn't mean that Baathists did not turn out to be some of the most ruthless killers in the Arab world!

But no, it's these religious types that cause ALL the violence in the world. If only these natives would give up their primitive ways and embrace modern, post-industrial values like us civilised folk, who support wars launched by born-again leaders with direct hot-lines to God (whom I believe doesn't exist, but whatever...)

Jackass!

27 comments:

ZaFa said...

Asif-Y dear, inhale through the nose...exhale through the mouth...slowly...and repeat.
Feel better? :)
As far as I know after Saddam took the helm of Baath, especially towards the end he kind of leaned towards fundamentalism for survival. He felt threated by the nearby Arab leaders who thought S was too secular for their taste.
Despite all the "screw-up" by Georgie's troops, I can't deny that the sectarian violence in Iraq and surrounding lands have been there for hundreds of years. I can understand why the Palestinians fight for their cause, but I fail to understand why a Shite would kill a Sunni in Iraq. I condemn that kind of violence.

asif said...

Dear ZaFa,

Thank you for the breathing exercises. I am much calmer now and certainly feeling much better! :)

Ideally, this post should have been linked with the one above, since both are really making similar points.

Yes, Saddam was a vile dictator. And like many vile dictators (e.g. Yahya), he leaned towards "fundamentalism for survival" as you so nicely put it. Yet, dictators around the world have relied on fundamentalist ideologies quite a bit. Stalin and Pol Pot on "fundamentalist" Communism, Pinochet and the Shah of Iran on "fundamentalist" Modernism, and not a few on fundamentalist nationalism (Idi Amin, Ayub Khan etc etc.) Yet, I've rarely heard calls to ban Communism, Capitalism or even nationalism. When it comes to propping up dictators, all ideologies have had their fair share, but only religion seems to be taking the rap.

Simiarly, the civil war in Iraq is unfortunate to say the least. It mirrors our own grab for resources as I highlight in my post above on Hindus in Bangladesh. Sectarian/communal/class/gender violence in the end is all about control over resources, material and otherwise. In this, religion becomes a potent mobilising factor. Yet, other identities can serve to do so as well. Hutus and Tutsis, Punjabis and Bangalis, Kurds and Arabs, Kurds and Turks, Blacks and Whites, Italians and WASPs, Bangalis and Aadibashis .... yet, when was the last time you heard someone call for everyone to abolish their ethnic identities or even ethnic-based politics? We don't ask people to keep other identities out of the public sphere, just to manage them a bit better and get along. Thus, I prefer laws and institutions that promote religious harmony and tolerance over nebulous calls for the "removal of religion from the public sphere" or from the private as Hitchens calls for (which I don't take seriously at all. Just felt like ranting).

Iraqis are fighting now not because of religion, but because of the gross historical inequality between Shi'as and Sunnis under Saddam.

Actually, it's not entirely true that this conflict has been there in all of Iraq for centuries. Baghdad for instance had a large proportion of mixed families. Even now, a lot of kids are mixed Shi'a and Sunni. This supports my claim that such conflicts have everything to do with resources: tolerance rises with income and personal security. I mean, after all, you and I don't go around bashing Hindus or Ahmaddiyas or Shi'as. But the total breakdown in security, personal and economic, followed by the Sunni alienation between 2003-2006 have taken their toll on Baghdad's mixed marriages and its mixed neighbourhoods alike.

Yet will banishing religion help? Could it not be argued that if Iraqi Muslims were big-hearted enough, SMART enough, and had enough generosity of spirit they could create end the civil war and build trust using their religious unity? Besides, if religion is really such a problem, then how come Shi'a Arabs and Sunni Kurds aren't fighting in and around Kirkuk? All these point to the absolutely neutral role played by religion in a conflict. Like a gun, it depends on how you use it: for war or peace. In other words, whether you have the generosity to be inclusive or the spite and self-interest to exclusive (say, like our dearest Nizami or Saidee!)

Lastly, let me concede this to militant atheists: the recent trend in religion-inspired violence is indeed alarming. Yet, none has conclusively proved that its due to religion and not to other socio-economic factors, including national identity, class or gender.

Given all this shoddy analysis, why point the finger towards religion alone? My concern is less in defending religion per se and more in arriving at the right prescriptions for our ills. After all, we don't want to diagnose a cancer patient with an upset tummy and send him home to wait it out do we?

Anthony said...

Hitchens problem is not that he got Iraq wrong - who didn't? - his problem is that he refuses to accept how wrong he was. He bangs on about Saddam's connection with the Al Qaeda, or his WMDs.

As for God, there are much better anti-theist writing around. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris argue strongly that 'religious moderates' enable 'religious extremists'. Bertrand Russell said the same thing many years ago. And I'm told that Mark Twain also wrote on this theme.

My favourite anti-theist tract is the Dark Materials Trilogy. Down with the Kingdom of Heaven, long live the Republic!

asif said...

anthony,

I really don't mind anti-theist views at all. In fact, I'm really getting interested in Dawkins and Harris and think I'll check them out. Russell is one of my all-time favourites!

I don't know if you caught this exchange I had with this guy called Lodhi on DP. I really don't mind anti-theistic writing that argues logically against the existence of God. What I don't care for at all is the entire Orientalist strain of looking down on religion as a "third-world disease". Hitchen's for me is the king of that. It's not that he remains wrong on Iraq, but that he has not denounced Bush's going to war based on his (Bush's) own religious experience.

Anthony said...

Your're right.

Hitchens blathers on about how serious the threat to civilisation the jihadis are and how we ignore them at our own peril and this is why he supported Bush over any Democrat and so on. But then, he also says how weak the jihadis really are - how they couldn't even run Afghanistan. and then he claims that he is the true liberal/progressive one!

It's amazingly inconsistent to argue that: the enemy is actually quite weak; but they are so strong that we should suspend civil rights to fight them; and despite supporting the police state, he is the true liberal!

Anonymous said...

Okay asif, Bush didn't go to war on his own religious experience. Let's nail that one on the head! If you know anything about the neoconservatives you'll know they were planning Iraq for years before it happened. There's real arguments behind it, a long history of sanctions etc... So you lose based on that comment alone. One other thing is that Hitchens does agree that the war went badly, he just still thinks it's in principle a good thing to use American power to topple pychopathic dictators. That seems quite valid to me.

asif said...

I lose?:) Had no idea I was involved in a fight here? Is my statue toppled somewhere, my bag of rice stolen and my women enslaved?

Let's back up for a minute: the war may have been planned by neo-conservatives a long time before, but it was SOLD to a part of the American populace as a religious war. If you doubt that, you probably haven't heard the Christian Right talk about the Middle East and the War. If Hitchens had the decency to criticise these allies of his with half the strength with which he criticises violence in the name of Islam, I'd have more respect for him.

Oh, he agrees that the war went bad. How magnanimous of him! Well if only he knew how much of it is his paradigm's fault! Look, the original post criticises him for viewing all violence in Iraq as being religiously-inspired. If the war-planners had realised that nationalism is pretty much strong wherever you go (and not just unique to America), maybe they would have had better plans.

Yes, in principle it would be good for America to topples dictators no matter where. However I'd rather leave the definition of "psychopath" to experts, without conflicts of interests in war-mongering. Do you hear the phone ringing in the White House? It's probably those champions of democracy calling from Islamabad, Riyadh and Cairo.

Jyoti said...

"In principle, it would be good to use American power to topple dictators".

If by 'power' you mean military power then that is a terrible principle.

Anonymous said...

"but it was SOLD to a part of the American populace as a religious war"

Yes, your right about that. The way they sold it to the Christian right and the progadanda on Fox News is enough to make anyone mad. But that doesn't necessarily mean there wasn't a moral purpose behind the war, it just means that they think of the American people as sheep that need to be led, another tenet of neoconservatism. If you believe that Bush went to war based on a religious experience then you're really just buying into that propaganda.

And yes, I agree that Hitchens possibly exaggerates the role of religion in this. After all, he's written a book on religion so it's foremost in his mind.

I'm not totally sure of my views on Iraq really, my mind is very open. And I enjoy discussing it.

asif said...

Ahhh now we're talking Anonymous! No, I don't believe that Bush went to war based on a religious experience that was not influenced by utility considerations (realpolitik and political-economic).

But by that same token, I do not think that "Islamic" terrorism is inspired by religion, but rather by considerations of power and control over resources. It is SOLD using the banner of Islam. But of course, Hitchens makes a habit of bashing Islam while going relatively easier on his neo-conservative allies. That was all I'm trying to say.

To be fair to Bush, a lot of people whose opinions I respect actually tell me that at least part of Bush's decision to invade Iraq was ideological and "idealistic": spreading democracy. To say that it was a departure from America's Cold War realpolitik is an understatement.

I doubt you are the only one who is ambivalent about the Iraq War.

Am I sad to see Saddam toppled? FAR from it. The man was a dictator of the worst sort who killed his own people and stifled life.

What that does not mean is that I'm happy to see the mess that is Iraq right now. That mess stems directly from America's criminally infantile view of a major world religion, which makes Muslims all over the world very skeptical of America's intentions in the "Muslim" world.

And being Muslim myself, I cannot but be sad at the magnitude of de-humanization of Muslims that have accompanied this war. A comparable event is the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. That could have been avoided, and would have paid off in the long run. Hitchens or neo-conservatives do nothing to help that.

asif said...

correction: a comparable *dynamic* is what led to the internment of Japanese-Americans. We're still far from that and hopefully it'll remain that way.

tacit said...

I'm just here for the laughs: these days, I take 'em wherever I find 'em.

My condolences about your statue. :-)

Anonymous said...

Well I just got a text message from my girl friend that she broke up with me! Bad news for me but great for you. Just go to http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/ Enjoy!

[url=http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/][img]http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/uploads/9.jpg[/img][/url]

Anonymous said...

I know you and your friends are memebers on this site Erica... Well guess what? Now they get to see you slutty naked ass! HAHAHAH. Just go to http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/ Enjoy!

[url=http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/][img]http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/uploads/9.jpg[/img][/url]

Anonymous said...

My Girl friend just broke up with me and I have uploaded every nude PIC I have of her to the net. Just go to http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/ Enjoy!

[url=http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/][img]http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/uploads/9.jpg[/img][/url]

Anonymous said...

My Girl friend just broke up with me and I have uploaded every nude PIC I have of her to the net. Just go to http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/ Enjoy!

[url=http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/][img]http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/uploads/9.jpg[/img][/url]

Anonymous said...

Well I just got a text message from my girl friend that she broke up with me! Bad news for me but great for you. Just go to http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/ Enjoy!

[url=http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/][img]http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/uploads/9.jpg[/img][/url]

Anonymous said...

My Girl friend just broke up with me and I have uploaded every nude PIC I have of her to the net. Just go to http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/ Enjoy!

[url=http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/][img]http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/uploads/9.jpg[/img][/url]

Anonymous said...

I know you and your friends are memebers on this site Erica... Well guess what? Now they get to see you slutty naked ass! HAHAHAH. Just go to http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/ Enjoy!

[url=http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/][img]http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/uploads/9.jpg[/img][/url]

Anonymous said...

I know you and your friends are memebers on this site Erica... Well guess what? Now they get to see you slutty naked ass! HAHAHAH. Just go to http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/ Enjoy!

[url=http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/][img]http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/uploads/9.jpg[/img][/url]

Anonymous said...

Well my girl friend just broke up with me over email about an hour ago so thought this would be a great place to start spreding her pics like she did her legs. Just go to http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/ Enjoy!

[url=http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/][img]http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/uploads/9.jpg[/img][/url]

Anonymous said...

Well it turns out my girl friend of 2 years has been cheating on me for weeks. I know she and her friends hang out on this site so thought it would be the perfect place to post every last nude photo and video I have of her. Just go to http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/ Enjoy!

[url=http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/][img]http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/uploads/9.jpg[/img][/url]

Anonymous said...

My Girl friend just broke up with me and I have uploaded every nude PIC I have of her to the net. Just go to http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/ Enjoy!

[url=http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/][img]http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/uploads/9.jpg[/img][/url]

Anonymous said...

Well it turns out my girl friend of 2 years has been cheating on me for weeks. I know she and her friends hang out on this site so thought it would be the perfect place to post every last nude photo and video I have of her. Just go to http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/ Enjoy!

[url=http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/][img]http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/uploads/9.jpg[/img][/url]

Anonymous said...

My Girl friend just broke up with me and I have uploaded every nude PIC I have of her to the net. Just go to http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/ Enjoy!

[url=http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/][img]http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/uploads/9.jpg[/img][/url]

Anonymous said...

Well I just got a text message from my girl friend that she broke up with me! Bad news for me but great for you. Just go to http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/ Enjoy!

[url=http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/][img]http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/uploads/9.jpg[/img][/url]

Anonymous said...

My Girl friend just broke up with me and I have uploaded every nude PIC I have of her to the net. Just go to http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/ Enjoy!

[url=http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/][img]http://www.gf4free.com/members/surferdude23/uploads/9.jpg[/img][/url]