Skip to comments.BBC dinner was a fine idea - but there is a Hitch(ens)
Posted on 05/29/2003 8:04:35 PM PDT by Pokey78
On Tuesday, the BBC's Newsnight staged a dinner party for Left-liberal journalists in Hampstead. Nothing strange about that, of course, but this was a dinner party with a difference.
Rather than the usual mutually congratulatory, back-slapping love-in, this was the journalistic equivalent of a peace summit. A chance to heal a rift that has divided the Left since September 11 and, especially, the war on Iraq.
On the one side of the table were three leading lights of the journalistic Left who had argued vociferously against the war: the MP and pundit Diane Abbott, the comedian-cum-columnist Mark Steel and the editor of the New Statesman Peter Wilby. Facing them over bottles of chardonnay and cutlets of lamb were three voices from the pro-war camp: the Guardian columnist David Aaronovitch, Anne McElvoy of London's Evening Standard, and the New Statesman's former political editor - until he resigned over the magazine's stance on the war - John Lloyd.
But one name was glaringly absent. Christopher Hitchens, or Hitch as he likes to be known, Vanity Fair's contributing editor, Daily Mirror columnist and full-time contrarian, was missing. Invited to join in the Newsnight verbal fisticuffs he had - reluctantly - turned it down due to a prior engagement at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival.
It is the kind of occasion for which he was made. For not only was Hitchens the first (arguably) and most prominent (indisputably) Left-wing pundit to break ranks and support the war on terror, he is also journalism's reigning feudist supreme.
Over the years, Hitchens has quarrelled with everybody: from fellow journalists (Anthony Howard of the Times was "a pedant and a scorekeeper"), to presidents (Bill Clinton was "a scumbag").
He has taken pops at the sainted (Mother Teresa - "an anti-abortionist zealot"), blown raspberries at his best friend (Martin Amis) and rowed relentlessly with his younger brother, Peter, the Right-wing Mail on Sunday columnist.
And, when Hitch is not having arguments on his own account, he's starting them on behalf of others. (As he proudly told a newspaper recently: "I was the cause of the quarrel between Anthony Haden-Guest [an American-based British journalist] and Tom Wolfe.")
So it is hardly surprising that he regrets having missed out on the chance to go toe-to-toe with opponents of the war. For his endorsement of George W Bush's response to September 11 - based principally on opposition to what he termed "Islamic-fascism" - transformed Hitchens overnight into a pariah of the Left.
Now he is set further to antagonise his former comrades by publishing a book about the post-9/11 geo-politics called, provocatively, Regime Change. In it, Hitchens argues that not only was the war on terror morally defensible but that his one-time friends on the Left have taken leave of their senses - and principles - by opposing it. Nobody, then, seems better placed to explain why Iraq is - for the Left - the defining issue today and whether the rifts it has caused can ever be healed.
Hitchens, for one, hopes they can't. "I hope it proves to be irreconcilable," he says. "I don't take the view that one respectfully disagrees with the right honourable member from the other side. I don't respect their views at all."
As a rule, Hitchens says feuds should not be made personal. "Be sure in your own mind that you're not having a false flag argument for some minor vendetta," he says, and cites as an example his much publicised disagreement with Amis over the latter's book, Koba the Dread. In it Amis accused Hitchens - a former communist - of having ignored Stalin's genocidal crimes. Hitchens - naturally - fought his corner but maintains nonetheless that "there was no malice in what he wrote about me". "I thought what he wrote was stupid and ignorant," he says. "But we still talk. There was never any interruption in that."
Yet while feuds should, generally, be carried out in a civil manner, when it comes to the Left-wing anti-war commentators, Hitchens is prepared to make an exception. Tariq Ali's recent book, The Clash of Fundamentalisms, for example, is beyond the pale, he says. "It puts Bush and bin Laden on a par, as though there's nothing to choose between them. He's all for marching arm-in-arm with Islamic fascists. I don't forgive that."
Those journalists who campaigned against the war were guilty of advancing "some of the worst arguments I have encountered", he says. More than that, their arguments were offered in the "worst faith that I've ever seen, and disclosing some of the worst motives".
Those motives, says Hitchens, were two-fold. On the one hand, many of his former comrades were driven overwhelmingly by anti-Americanism - a charge that, ironically, Hitchens himself was accused of more than a decade ago by Conrad Black, proprietor of this newspaper.
Having lived for more than a decade in Washington DC, Hitchens now concedes that he may have been wrong. Following a "long-term reconsideration of what the American republic is", he has concluded that the US is largely a force for good.
"I'm working on a book about Thomas Jefferson," he says. "He thought that the democratic forces in the world needed a superpower. So did Thomas Payne. A superpower that the true imperialists and bullies in the world would be afraid of. Well, there's more and more to be said in favour of that."
The other motive he discerns in the critics of the pro-war Left is more sinister and has to do with ethnicity. Hitchens may have discovered only at the age of 38 that his mother was Jewish but insists he has developed a fine nose for sniffing out anti-Semitism.
I remember when I used to watch C-span, Hitch would tell Brian Lamb he was a communist.
Catch me before I fall over in a dead faint, but he is soooo right on this issue.
How irrelevent is the Left when one of their biggest soires of the year is written up about who was NOT there?
We've become even more fond of him since he's discovered the hipocracy of the left and discovered some on the right actually have principles.
It must have been a real shock to him when he discovered that the people who were consistantly taking his side were from the right. He's still something of a socialist, but that's okay, because at least he's honest about it and you know exactly where he stands, and he can change his mind if your arguement is strong enough.
Wow, I did not know this. A lot of famous people turn out to be part Jewish. I don't think it's so much that Jewish people are special as that Jewish people are harder to kill than Hitler might have thought. Genocide is not easy. People mix, people breed, people keep quiet about their ethnicity, and people survive.
Where was the great communist revolution? Who but the communist party ruled that country? Ah, yes the Union of Soviet SOCIALIST Republics.
I suppose the onetime communist leadership, later the socialists, later the progressives, then democrats, then democratics, now back to progressives are not communists.
Commies are always looking to soften the pariah stigma with a new euphemism for themselves. They ran out of them and are now back to "progressive".
It's an "in" thing. Hillary found out that her great great grandfathers wife had a half Jewish father (right). Madelein Nottoobright discovers at the age of 85 that her father was Jewish. John Kerry spends half his life supposedly denying (not) that he had Irish blood, only to discover, when he decides to run for president that somewhere back there is some Jewish blood. Gimme a break.
Ever notice that none of them found black blood dripping from the family tree?
Is that rule by people wearing sunglasses?