Attila the Pun
Thursday, April 14, 2005
Getting Hitched

Ever wonder why Christopher Hitchens has so many fans among libetarians and other members of the "Right", and such enemies among the modern "Left"? Well apart from being described as "vile replica" of his former self by Tariq Ali, which would be enough to endear him to many, he expresses certain views that strike a very deep chord with some, including myself. Some of these views are on show in an interview with Daniel Smith of the Atlantic Monthly.

On the smoking bans in New York:

Those policies demonstrate a mentality of insecurity and ambition and pseudo-zeal. But undoubtedly you're right. The thing that more than symbolizes Bloomberg for me is the ban on smoking. It's moved a sensible aim—namely, the protection of nonsmokers from smoke—into behavior modification.

Sounds like speed enforcement in Victoria...

A lesser objection I have is simply that it makes bar owners and bartenders and waiters into de facto enforcers of the law. The law inverts the relationship between host and guest. It's a small thing, but it has kind of spoiled New York for me. I went out to a restaurant recently in Union Square—it was a very cold day, but my friends and I decided we would sit outside anyway so that we could have a smoke and not bother anybody. They said, "You can't do that." Why not? "Because you're underneath an awning. We have a table that's completely unprotected from the weather, just outside the awning. You can sit there if you like." And this all occurred before they told us what the specials were! Now, if you can't put up a shingle that says, "This is McShane's Old Irish Lodge, and if you don't like cigarette smoke you can stay the fuck out of my bar," then something essential about the whole idea of New York is gone.

On the endless claims that Bush has seriously eroded civil rights in the name of fighting terrorism:

The antiwar left made a huge thing about saying that Bush ignored too many warnings before September 11. But from the way they've reacted since, one would presume that they would have protested if he had taken the steps necessary to forestall the problem. I think what everyone ought to do at the basic minimum here is admit that there are contradictions in their position.

On the repeated jibes by antiwar types about "why Iraq and not North Korea?":

North Korea has threatened the invasion of South Korea; it's starving its own people to death; it's repeatedly caught sponsoring international terrorism; and it's obviously violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But North Korea has us in a stranglehold that Saddam didn't. We've let things get to the point where North Korea can—and might, given what we know of the nature of its regime—destroy the capital city of South Korea if we make a move against it. If we were an imperialist state we wouldn't give a shit about that. We'd just say, It's in our interest if the North Korean regime ceases to exist—too bad if South Korea ends up getting blown up. But we can't do that.

The shot about the imperialist state is a nice one. Hitchens is well read, and knows what an empire looks like. The US aint it.

On the "Iraq is a distraction from Afghanistan" claims

I've simply never heard anyone say that the job in Afghanistan needs more people. And it doesn't look as if it does. I mean, the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan are totally negligible militarily. It's a police operation. Afghanistan is now run by NATO. It's the strongest military alliance in the history of the world.

And the people who are now trying to claim that they oppose invading Iraq, but of course supported Afghanistan:

I'm an old left-sectarian street fighter, I happen to remember that most of the people who are saying this are the same people who were not in favor of invading Afghanistan either. They said it would be a quagmire like Vietnam and a graveyard of ambition as it was for Russia and Britain. I remember thinking that was nonsense at the time. Everyone now says that of course they thought all along that military action in Afghanistan would be great. No, they didn't! They hope that people will forget. They hope in vain in my case. I will never let them forget what they said.

Tell us Hitch - what about people who say that invading Iraq has created a breeding ground for terror?

Well, that's based on the assumption that al-Qaeda is in itself a response to the sins of omission or commission by the West. That's not true. The Administration had to find a legal and international justification for kicking out a keystone regime in the Middle East in order to alter the balance of power in the Muslim world. It needed to be done. But one couldn't just say, "Well, after an attack like September 11 we're going to have to alter the balance of power in the region." I wouldn't have minded if they had said that, but if you're going to go to the UN, you have to phrase it as if you're talking about something else.

You are never going to see Hitchens embraced by the many members of the American Right however, due to his views on religion:

Well, first off, I'm not, as people sometimes claim me to be, an atheist. I'm an anti-theist. I think the influence of religious belief is horrible.


It's the root of my whole existence as a writer—to destroy the illusions that arise from faith. And only some of those illusions are religious, which means that I'll never be out of business. There'll always be work to do.

The rest of the interview touches on his writings about Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger. Well worth a read.

Your blog is well written and informative. I have a site on Aluminum Awnings maybe we could trade links?
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