Christopher Hitchens death is no reason to avoid criticism of him


by Kulvinder
16th December, 2011 at 11:03 pm    

The death of any prominent individual – let alone one who held controversial views – always results in a certain amount of aggravation as the skeins of supporters flock to various forms of media to have one final fight about the irreplaceable stature or utter irrelevance of the recently deceased. It’s the ‘real life’ equivalent of trying to have the last word BTL. To those involved its of upmost importance as the one who gets the final say ‘wins’; whilst to neutral observers it’s just a twattish waste of time.

So Christopher Hitchens is dead and we have to instantly *this second* decide what his legacy will be; because if we don’t the thread will be locked and imagine the utter horror if the other side got the last word! Those who held Hitchens in high regard have given their predictable eulogies on his importance but the dramallama appeared on twitter this afternoon when the World at One invited Tariq Ali to give his opinion on Hitchens life.

It’s fair to say his assessment of Hitchens wasn’t wholly sympathetic.

Cue twittermob. Bizarrely one of the most vocal was Richard Madeley who variously accused Ali of ‘patronising + attacking him (Hitchens) and hijacking the agenda’. I’m unsure what the agenda was exactly but Dick had a plan to counteract ‘the hijacking’ and it involved getting Caitlin Moran to not only call Ali an ‘ass hat’ (seemingly before she’d actually listened to the clip concerned) but to think about writing a column about it.

Oh Tariq. This is what happens when you spend decade upon decade merely ranting; the Dicks and Caits of the world eventually size you up to take you down. I bet you already miss Hitch.

Personally as someone who found both Hitchens and Ali to be wrong, thought provoking and interesting even though ninety per cent of the time they gave the impression of comparing penis sizes (‘no I’m right my argument and intellectualism is literally 4 inches bigger’): I don’t think Hitchens would have felt offended, attacked let alone patronised by those who hold true to their negative opinions of him in death as in life. Quite the opposite he almost certainly would have supported them against the veneer of agreement that we tend to apply once those we disagree with pass away.
This NY Times article about the death of Mother Teresa and criticism of ‘beloved figures’ when they die is especially pertinent now.

That kind of reticence was not shared by Christopher Hitchens, who quickly agreed to interviews in the aftermath of Mother Teresa’s death. He is the author of ”The Missionary Position,” which was first published in 1995 and is a critical examination of Mother Teresa that decried her association with Haiti’s Duvalier family and other dubious donors.
On his answering machine in Washington, Mr. Hitchens left a blunt statement about the famous nun. ”She believed we were all miserable sinners conceived in iniquity. She made no exception, I believe, for herself. She was a lifelong friend of the rich and powerful, a lifelong lecturer of morals to the poor. So the details may be found in my book, ‘The Missionary Position,’ available in paperback at fine bookstores everywhere.”
Following the nun’s death, Mr. Hitchens’s publisher, Verso, immediately ordered the printing of 5,000 more copies of the book, which until then had been fading away, according to Mr. Robinson.

He would have found those that advocate a false ‘niceness’ towards him simply because he has died to be the ones who were patronising. Those that don’t wish Tariq Ali to voice his opinions on Hitchens in the immediacy of his death simply have not read nor understood what Hitchens was all about.


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  1. Rachel McCormack

    Blogged: : Christopher Hitchens death is no reason to avoid criticism of him http://t.co/JZSoXMCQ


  2. Mike Lammiman

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  3. Hamid Sirhan

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  4. Graham Day

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  5. Tom Sawyer

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  6. daniella m

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  7. Junaid Alvi

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  8. Damian Thompson

    RT @sunny_hundal: Hitchens death is no reason to avoid criticism http://t.co/Rp4QtnUP <the Hitch would have winced at such terrible prose.


  9. Iain Hatfield

    RT @sunny_hundal: Hitchens death is no reason to avoid criticism http://t.co/Rp4QtnUP <the Hitch would have winced at such terrible prose.


  10. Wrldcup2022

    Blogged: : Christopher Hitchens death is no reason to avoid criticism of him http://t.co/JZSoXMCQ


  11. Viki

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  12. Ann

    RT @sunny_hundal: Hitchens death is no reason to avoid criticism http://t.co/Rp4QtnUP <the Hitch would have winced at such terrible prose.


  13. Peter D. Williams

    RT @sunny_hundal: Hitchens death is no reason to avoid criticism http://t.co/Rp4QtnUP <the Hitch would have winced at such terrible prose.




  1. Sunny — on 17th December, 2011 at 8:59 pm  

    good piece

  2. Don — on 17th December, 2011 at 10:05 pm  

    Fair point. I’m sure Hitchens would have valued fierce disagreement above meally-mouthed platitudes.

  3. SidneyPoitier — on 18th December, 2011 at 12:36 am  

    Hitchen supported the iraq war and backed george bush and tony blair all the way to Baghdad, with all that bloodshed and carnage he made every excuse in the book for americans. He should be criticized and deservedly so!

  4. Kulvinder — on 18th December, 2011 at 3:48 am  

    Ah the comments are fixed – i was worried i broke them.

    nb i still love caitlin moran

  5. Jim Denham — on 18th December, 2011 at 12:26 pm  

    I don’t know about the so-called “twittermob”but no serious person whoadmires Hitchens can possibly object to criticism – and sharp criticism at that – of his political record.I think he was badly wrong on Iran, and not just because it turned out badly.

    But I has to be said that most of the people who’ve taken the occasion of his death to gloat (if they didn’t know him personally) or to attaempt settle old scores (if they did)are not fit to polish his boots.

    Tariq Ali, for instance, is a far bigger “sell-out” to any kind of principled, secular, pro-feminist left, what with his appeasement of the nastiest kinds of clerical fascism and “diplomatic” silence on the activities of Islamists in Pakistan and elsewhere.

  6. KJB — on 18th December, 2011 at 6:34 pm  

    ‘skeins of supporters’?

    I take it you think Hitchens’s supporters are a close-knit community, then… *da-dum tish*

    The tendency to deify the dead is rather a religious one, I feel, and the irony of it in Hitchens’s case is rather amusing.

    Great metaphor – very appropriate. I’m trying to think of something else to say, but you have put it so well that there is nothing! Dammit Kulvinder, you should write more often.

  7. Dr Paul — on 19th December, 2011 at 1:22 am  

    I wouldn’t gloat over the unpleasant slow death of anyone, however awful he may have been, and that includes Hitchens. His death was nasty, brutish and long, as cancer so often is.

    Nonetheless, I feel no hesitation in saying that I feel he was existing for the last decade or so on a reputation that he no longer deserved. Whether his sorry literary decline was causally connected with his rightward political shift, or just accompanied it, I can’t tell, but I very much doubt if his last decade’s output will be seen in the years to come as anything but the product of a very reduced talent. A sad case.

  8. Jim Denham — on 19th December, 2011 at 3:33 am  

    OK, Doc: you’re not gloating. But this “sorry literary decline” – I don’t notice it at all. Rather the contrary, in fact.

    And what about the political “decline” of that apologist for Islamic clerical fascism, Tariq Ali?

  9. Ravi Naik — on 19th December, 2011 at 10:21 am  

    I never thought Christopher Hitchens was an accomplished writer or intellectual – his work was often meant to be controversial and sensationalist. His defense of Iraq and his badly researched book are proof of that.

    He found a niche in America, of the moderate well-spoken conservative – having an English accent I am sure helped cement his “intellectual” credentials.

    My respect for him came late. When he decided to be waterboarded, which I think provided the first real glimpse about this practice. I also found his writings about his cancer quite moving.

    I think he – and other conservatives like him – are thoroughly needed in a time where the right is being hijacked by wingnuts.

  10. KB Player — on 20th December, 2011 at 10:49 pm  

    The “sorry literary decline”? I haven’t read Arguably as yet but I’ve read quite a few of the essays that have been included in the collection and I can’t see any literary decline. His writings on his own cancer are brilliant.

  11. douglas clark — on 21st December, 2011 at 9:07 am  

    Kulvinder,

    Thanks for the article. Just to say it is human nature to – at the very least – gloss over the faults of the recently dead.

    Hitchins was a curates egg of a man. Whilst he was completely correct on his anti clericalism, he was completely wrong on everything else. Seems to me he’d have been good fun for a night out and the hangover would have been mega. We do not have to agree with everything someone says to find them engaging or interesting. Hitchins fullfilled that role to a ‘T’.

  12. fugstar — on 21st December, 2011 at 4:26 pm  

    There’s a song for this

    Come you masters of war
    You that build the big guns
    You that build the death planes
    You that build all the bombs
    You that hide behind walls
    You that hide behind desks
    I just want you to know
    I can see through your masks.

    You that never done nothin’
    But build to destroy
    You play with my world
    Like it’s your little toy
    You put a gun in my hand
    And you hide from my eyes
    And you turn and run farther
    When the fast bullets fly.

    Like Judas of old
    You lie and deceive
    A world war can be won
    You want me to believe
    But I see through your eyes
    And I see through your brain
    Like I see through the water
    That runs down my drain.

    You fasten all the triggers
    For the others to fire
    Then you set back and watch
    When the death count gets higher
    You hide in your mansion’
    As young people’s blood
    Flows out of their bodies
    And is buried in the mud.

    You’ve thrown the worst fear
    That can ever be hurled
    Fear to bring children
    Into the world
    For threatening my baby
    Unborn and unnamed
    You ain’t worth the blood
    That runs in your veins.

    How much do I know
    To talk out of turn
    You might say that I’m young
    You might say I’m unlearned
    But there’s one thing I know
    Though I’m younger than you
    That even Jesus would never
    Forgive what you do.

    Let me ask you one question
    Is your money that good
    Will it buy you forgiveness
    Do you think that it could
    I think you will find
    When your death takes its toll
    All the money you made
    Will never buy back your soul.

    And I hope that you die
    And your death’ll come soon
    I will follow your casket
    In the pale afternoon
    And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
    Down to your deathbed
    And I’ll stand over your grave
    ‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead.

  13. Refresh — on 21st December, 2011 at 8:21 pm  

    It is a shame his piece on waterboarding came across more of a jape than what it is. I would have been more impressed had he then gone on to experience white phosphorous.

    There was nothing particularly intellectual about his writing, he was more of a Julie Burchill. With friends like Amis that is not particularly surprising.

  14. Refresh — on 21st December, 2011 at 8:24 pm  

    ‘You’ve thrown the worst fear
    That can ever be hurled
    Fear to bring children
    Into the world
    For threatening my baby
    Unborn and unnamed
    You ain’t worth the blood
    That runs in your veins.’

    Very well put Fugstar.

  15. Refresh — on 21st December, 2011 at 10:26 pm  

    This one caught my eye, as I did a search for ‘drink soaked popinjay’:

    ‘For me, the biggest crime Hitchens made was support for the Iraq war, and to quote Richard Seymour’s book this amounted to “the liberal defence of murder”. Hitchens critique discounted the destruction of capitalism and imperialism and therefore his whole political appeal to the Left collapses. The apologist indulging in support of mindless brutality by arguing that the cause is greater and justified. Not much of a legacy to leave behind.’

    http://harpymarx.wordpress.com/2011/12/17/christopher-hitchens-a-drink-soaked-former-trotskyist-popinjay/

  16. Don — on 23rd December, 2011 at 7:13 pm  

    Refresh,

    Hitchens was IMO flat-out wrong on Iraq. Even his admirers don’t deny that he was a deeply flawed person, however fascinating.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/12/16/the-dark-side-of-hitchens/

    But I must admit that I didn’t quite understand; Hitchens critique discounted the destruction of capitalism and imperialism and therefore his whole political appeal to the Left collapses.

    To Hitchens the US was still (or could be again) the great Jeffersonian enlightenment programme and so he committed to it. I think he was wrong, but I mourn his death.

    ‘Drink soaked popinjay’ was, of course, Galloway’s pronouncement. That well-known Saddam fan and cat impersonator.

  17. Refresh — on 24th December, 2011 at 2:36 am  

    Don

    That is an odd juxtaposition.

    Galloway who clearly was prostrating himself in front of a dictator – something I am sure he will regret to the day he dies and then Hitchens who becomes a hero, an atheist genocidal maniac – and no regrets. A hero of the establishment. And who says religion is source of wars.

    It was an odd journey Hitchens took, condemning Kissinger for traits later in life he himself would adorn. Consider the late Hitchens transposed with the earlier one in Grosvenor Square, cheering on the virtues of Agent Orange and Napalm.

    Or you could view this journey to be a straight swap for that of Rev John Hale in The Crucible. And it was in that role he was addressed as a ‘drink soaked popinjay’ at the foot of Congress after a bravura performance by Galloway tearing into a most repulsive set of neocons.

    I therefore even challenge the view that he bought into Jeffersonian enlightenment. He bought into a lifestyle.

    If imperialism is not to be challenged then what hope is there? My biggest fear is that it again becomes the engine for our own economuc growth. And capitalism is a mad dog whose leash has frayed badly, at the expense of democratic will. We are again in thrall of the East India Company gone transglobal.

    Hitchens enthusiastically justified the potential death of millions. I cannot mourn his passing. It was after all a natural death. I do, however, regret that he didn’t see the folly of his maturity before leaving.

  18. KB Player — on 24th December, 2011 at 10:37 am  

    Galloway who clearly was prostrating himself in front of a dictator – something I am sure he will regret to the day he dies and then Hitchens who becomes a hero, an atheist genocidal maniac – and no regrets. A hero of the establishment. And who says religion is source of wars.

    Well Galloway keeps his regrets to himself. In fact the little dictator lover has the total f****** cheek to say that it was Hitchens who “adored” Saddam – which is both a lie and a piece of hypocrisy that I would have thought not even he was capable of.

    http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/i-fisk-you-a-merry-christmas/

  19. Panama law firm — on 26th December, 2011 at 7:47 am  

    Welcome news.

  20. Dr Paul — on 30th December, 2011 at 5:02 pm  

    Replying if a little late to Jim D, if Tariq Ali made concessions to what Jim calls ‘Islamic clerical fascism’, does that validate Hitchens in his latter-day support for US imperial adventures? Ali’s mistakes are neither nor there when we are discussing Hitchens’ gross errors of judgement. Stupidity on the part of one person doesn’t cancel out someone else’s idiocy. The same thing goes for George Galloway.

    Hitchens comes out of this looking very bad indeed. For here we are, this great opponent of organised religion and totalitarianism, in his eagerness to oppose a minor-league Middle Eastern tyrant, gives his great name to a crusade by the most inept US president in history that has resulted in the great strengthening of Islamist sentiments, both Sunni and Shia, in the Middle East, including a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, internecine slaughter between Sunni and Shia in Iraq and mass forced population transfers, Islamist persecution of Christians and Turkomen (and nationalist persecution of Turkomen and Arabs in the Kurdish region), an exit of much of the Iraqi intelligentsia, and the destruction of much of the country’s modern infrastructure. And of course allowing al Qaeda to establish its first national base and ability to treat the place as its playground, with murderous results. The cost to the USA of this disaster runs into trillions of dollars. The cost to the ordinary folk of Iraq has been immeasurable.

    This is an own-goal of epic proportion for the USA. Many of us saw the invasion of Iraq as a disaster in waiting, I certainly did. And yet someone who has been lionised in the liberal press as the World’s Greatest Intellectual not only went along with the Goebbels-style build-up to this war, and contributed his ten-bobs-worth to it, but refused to revise his estimations as the awful aftermath became ever clearer.

    Everyone can mistakes. The main thing is whether one can recognise making that mistake when the disastrous results of one’s chosen cause comes to light. To back Bush’s war was a bad enough blunder, one that many people managed to avoid. To refuse to see it in retrospect as a disaster of the first order is an act of either gross stupidity or remarkable arrogance. I am undecided which of those labels applies to Hitchens; perhaps they both apply in equal measure.

  21. Fugstar — on 5th January, 2012 at 11:37 am  

    nunu wavers

  22. Don — on 6th January, 2012 at 10:10 pm  

    Other than season’s greetings there has been no post on PP for the best part of three weeks. It’s been about a week since there was a substantial comment.

    Are we dead now?

  23. Refresh — on 7th January, 2012 at 7:37 pm  

    ‘Are we dead now?’

    I hope not.

  24. Don — on 7th January, 2012 at 8:09 pm  

    Looks like flat-lining to me. It’s a regret, but I think it has gone.

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