While I’ve never been a big fan of Christopher Hitchens’ zealous atheism, his moral clarity regarding the threat of radical Islam – especially in the days following the attacks on 9/11 (highlighted by this essay in The Propagandist) – is indeed inspiring, and stands in stark contrast to the moral equivalencies advanced by some of his political co-religionists at the time, and in subsequent years. Put simply, he is in the very best tradition of the anti-totalitarian left, and there are not many people I’d like to spend time with in a foxhole fighting the ideological scourge of our time.
Hitchens had it right, then and now.
by Lauryn Oates
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 prolific output. 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.”