Sunday, January 5, 2014

UNHITCHED: THE TRIAL OF CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS Book Review


Richard Seymour's indictment of the late Christopher Hitchens is an analytical deconstruction, from a secular view, of the 'New Atheist' author.  Seymour's analysis is rooted in his membership in the same political group Hitchens belonged to, the Socialist Workers Party, as well as a deep understanding of the same issues the late author dealt with in his published work.
Some have reacted negatively to its publication post mortem, going as far as to see it as a cheap attack on a dead man while failing to recall one of Seymour's major points, that Hitchens himself engaged in such behavior towards the mentor he betrayed, Edward W. Said.  In his final days, the great Columbia University scholar had re-issued his classic book on racism, ORIENTALISM, including a final Preface rebutting the invasion of Iraq and the Bush-Cheney administration.  "[Said] is a source of stern admonition to the uncritical, insulated Arab elites and intelligentsia. But for some reason—conceivably connected to his status as an exile—he cannot allow that direct Western engagement in the region is legitimate (emphasis added)", wrote Hitchens as the Palestinian-American Said was dying of leukemia.  The point is that Hitchens was not above such shenanigans regarding baiting those who cannot speak for themselves.
Beginning with his dalliances over Kosovo in the late 1990's, Chomsky, Said, Cockburn, and others saw Hitchens creep more and more to the Right, using 9/11 as a catalyst to become a sort of Evangelical Atheist Bush booster, rebuking his former Socialist politics in exchange for Joseph Schumpeter and the notion of Capital's 'Creative Destruction' powers.
In his final years of writing, it is impossible not to see the obvious racism and loathing he felt towards Muslim Arabs.  His book GOD IS NOT GREAT: HOW RELIGION POISONS EVERYTHING is filled with drivel and pornography about female circumcision, Muslim vice squads, and other nonsense.  Furthermore, his intentional mis-representation of the Israel-Palestine conflict are both galling and stupid.  The level of pure careerism and reductionism is so astounding that it leaves one baffled, but Seymour goes further in his research, to the earliest pieces written, seeing a trace of admiration for the Right in Thatcher's day, especially during the Falklands War.  From this perspective, it is possible to see something in Hitchens akin not to Tony Cliff but Enoch Powell, the British MP whose 1968 'Rivers of Blood' speech touched a hidden chord of racial resentment in post-War Britain:

A week or two ago I fell into conversation with a constituent, a middle-aged, quite ordinary working man employed in one of our nationalised industries.  After a sentence or two about the weather, he suddenly said:  "If I had the money to go, I wouldn't stay in this country." I made some deprecatory reply to the effect that even this government wouldn't last for ever;  but he took no notice, and continued:  "I have three children, all of them been through grammar school and two of them married now, with family.  I shan't be satisfied till I have seen them all settled overseas.  In this country in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man."
I can already hear the chorus of execration.  How dare I say such a horrible thing?  How dare I stir up trouble and inflame feelings by repeating such a conversation?  The answer is that I do not have the right not to do so.  Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that his country will not be worth living in for his children.  I simply do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think about something else.  What he is saying, thousands and hundreds of thousands are saying and thinking - not throughout Great Britain, perhaps, but in the areas that are already undergoing the total transformation to which there is no parallel in a thousand years of English history.  In 15 or 20 years, on present trends, there will be in this country three and a half million Commonwealth immigrants and their descendants.

Powell later went on to help lay the path for Margaret Thatcher's rise to power, and the baiting nature of this sort of diatribe, either with Powell's subtlety or the lack thereof with Hitchens, ultimately paints the image of multi-culturalism as not only toxic but a security risk.  The failure here is that Hitchens refuses to engage with the historical guilt Britain plays in creating such migration and dispossession for divested colonial subjects, such as Pakistanis and Indians who still face the repercussions of the bungled and callous British partition of the newly-independent colony.  The parallels between India and Palestine are noteworthy, and such considerations are vital when reflecting on Hitchens.
Below is an interview with the author:

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