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FOR Rationalization–Of Imperial Violence


Apparently Christopher Hitchens cannot understand that attacking supposed rationalizations for X may be de facto rationalizing for Y, as in his "Against Rationalization" (The Nation, Oct. 8). Thus, his furious attack on Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, and their alleged leftist apologists, in this article, and his even more frenzied assault on these same villains in his Nation web page piece "Of Sin, the Left, and Islamic Fascism" (Sept. 24, but in response to criticisms of his Oct. 8 article), were a key part of his own arsenal of rationalizations for support of U.S. action to rid the world of these devils. In fact, in a remarkable new line of thought, Hitchens instructs the left that it should be regularly supporting U.S. and NATO cleansing actions when they are rectifying matters they screwed up in the past–if "we" did wrong earlier "does this not double or triple our responsibility to remove them from power?…Do ‘our’ past crimes and sins make it impossible to expiate the offense by determined action?" What leftist would express this faith in the imperial powers to straighten things out by violence? What person in command of common sense would suggest that those who have regularly committed crimes for self-interested motives are likely now to serve as proper instruments of humanitarian ends? But this tells us, along with other features of these latest effusions, that Hitchens has abandoned the left and is rushing toward the vital center, maybe further to the right, with termination point still to be determined.

 

Actually, this pair of articles on "Islamic fascism" and the left closely follows Hitchens’ performance in dealing with the Yugoslav wars, where his hatred of Milosevic and the Serbs caused him to support the NATO war and to be pleased with its results. In fact, the fanaticism he displayed there, with Milosevic his Great Satan, caused him to accept and apologize for methods and policies in combating his Satan–and results–very similar to those that enrage him with the killers of the World Trade Center. It also caused him to lose his grip on reality, and his writings on the Kosovo crisis and war have been a combination of anti-Great Satan rhetoric and a regurgitation of versions of history–sometimes false, sometimes only partial and misleading–that show the Great Satan to be responsible for all of Yugoslavia’s problems (for some evidence, Edward Herman and David Peterson, "Letter to the Editors of the Nation on Christopher Hitchens’ Minority Report ‘Body Count in Kosovo’," June 11, 2001.)

 

While he now waxes emotional about the coldbooded willingness to carry out actions that would kill civilians, he had not one critical word to say about the coldblooded NATO use of fragmentation bombs and depleted uranium in Yugoslavia, and most importantly, about NATO’s willingness to steadily extend the targeting of civilian facilities, with civilian fatalities as sure as those brought about by the bombing of the World Trade Center and Pentagon. He has never expressed the slightest sympathy or concern for the innocent Serb civilians killed in NATO bombings of literally scores of schools, hospitals, religious institutions, and factories. He now says of the "Islamic fascists" that "By their deeds shall we know them," but his favored killers are never known by their deeds that involve the death of civilians. In his two sentences coming close to this issue he stated "The NATO intervention repatriated all or most of the refugees and killed at least some of the cleansers. I find I have no problem with that." (Nation, Nov. 29, 2000). The Great Satan’s people are "unpeople" or deserving victims for Hitchens. So the coldblooded murder of some civilians is OK.

 

And in approving the NATO war’s results, it was enough for Hitchens that NATO repatriated all of those refugees. He has had a hard time acknowledging that most of them were produced by the NATO war itself, and the horrendous wartime destruction of Kosovo and Serbia, and the intensified mutual hatred and instability produced by the war, don’t bother him. Neither do the several thousand killings and massive ethnic cleansing in Kosovo under NATO occupation, mainly of the unpeople (Serbs) and others. Hitchens hasn’t been able to muster any sympathy for the thousands of Roma and other non-Serbs, that his idealized Kosovo Albanians and KLA have pushed out of Kosovo. He even uses the word Kosovar to apply only to Kosovo Albanians, in a nice racist touch. So, again, Hitchens’ fierce indignation at people who will coldbloodedly kill is surgically selective. The Satans clearly are guilty only of having killed the wrong people.

 

In his two recent articles Hitchens is indignant at Sam Husseini and others for the "thought" (Hitchens puts it in quote marks to indicate its absurdity) that the attack on the WTC and Pentagon was rooted in U.S. policy. He quotes Sam’s language that "The fascists like bin Laden could not get volunteers to stuff envelops if Israel had withdrawn from Jerusalem and…and the US stopped the sanctions and bombing of Iraq." This, Hitchens says, is not only "utterly rotten" but "rationalization" for the Islamic fascists. Actually, in an article written for the London Guardian in the immediate aftermath of the bombing (Sept. 13), and reprinted in In These Times, Hitchens himself wrote "It probably seems indecent to most people to ask if the United States has ever done anything to attract such awful hatred. Indeed, the very thought, for the present, is taboo" ("So This Is War," ITT, Oct. 15). In other words, asking such questions was not indecent and should not be taboo. But in the time between writing his Guardian/ITT piece and his Nation articles, Hitchens advanced to the view that even discussing such matters WAS "indecent," "taboo," and "utterly rotten."

 

Interestingly, Hitchens’ Guardian/ITT piece aroused the fury of historian Richard Wolin, who blasted him for doing what he now attacks Husseini for doing, namely, suggesting that the discussion of root causes is legitimate. Perhaps this attack alerted Hitchens to his vulnerability and the unsaleability of such rotten thoughts in a hyper-patriotic environment. His new perspective is likely to sell well, and the London Guardian gave him lots of space on September 26th to explain how he deals with leftists who talk about root causes and urge restraint. Hitchens stated there that "Every liberal twit talks about the danger of ‘over-reaction’ to the Taliban, when the actual danger is, and for some time has been one of under-reaction." Onward Christian soldiers!

 

Hitchens also savages Husseini by interpreting the quote with great literalness and denying that ending the occupation of Jerusalem, etc., would have prevented the bombing. Taken less literally, that U.S. policies in the Middle East are probably crucial environmental factors that produced the bombing, is not only eminently sensible, it is accepted by large numbers of mainstream experts. Hitchens’ former collaborator Edward Said has made Husseini’s point repeatedly, as have Pilger, Fisk, and dozens of others. Perhaps they also are utterly rotten folk rationalizing the WTC bombing.

 

Hitchens tries to make bin Laden and the Taliban pure haters of modernity, whose actions are therefore unrelated to U.S. policy (a claim in perfect accord with Bush’s and Blair’s claim that the bombing was solely an attack on our cultural values and freedom). But this is pure charlatanry, as bin Laden has repeatedly enumerated root causes for his hostility that relate to U.S. policy: among others, Robert Fisk’s description of an interview he had with bin Laden in which bin Laden specifically mentioned the U.S. occupation of Saudi Arabia as highly objectionable, Israeli actions as "international terrorism," among other matters, all right there in the The Nation magazine (Sept. 21, 1998); and in a  September 19th appearance on David Letterman’s show, ABC journalist John Miller stated that bin Laden had told him in an interview several years ago that his top three issues were: (1) the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia; (2) U.S. support for Israel; and (3) U.S. policy toward Iraq. Hitchens must know this, but it is convenient to his new ferocity, coordinate with that of Paul Wolfowitz and other hardliners, that bin Laden be simply a hater of Western freedom.

 

Hitchens then asks Husseini how he knows what is in the mind of bin Laden, and asserts that if he has solid information he should produce it (this is the clever method he describes in the Guardian of September 26 that he uses to put down foolish leftists). But as just noted, there is ample evidence of what drives bin Laden that Hitchens chooses to ignore. Furthermore, his pretentious rhetorical gimmick is remarkably hypocritical. In this very article Hitchens claims to know that Clinton ordered the bombing of the Sudanese pharmaceutical plant in 1998 in order "to avoid impeachment, a conclusion sedulously avoided by the Chomsky’s and Husseinis of the time)." This is a strong statement about what was in Clinton’s mind–and if Hitchens has solid information to prove it he should produce it, as he demands of Husseini. (And the remark about the Chomsky’s and Husseini’s "sedulously avoiding" this Clinton evil suggests that they were eagerly protecting Clinton’s reputation, which can only be generously described as moronic.) In one of his Nation articles on Kosovo, Hitchens asserted that NATO’s leaders went to war there "when the sheer exorbitance of the crimes in Kosovo became impossible to ignore," and in his Sept. 24 diatribe he repeats that NATO acted when "it was found that Milosevic was too much." In other words, Clinton and Blair were driven by a humanitarian motive. But Hitchens scrupulously avoids linking this motive directly to Clinton, who he now tells us had allowed something sordid to influence him in bombing the Sudan. Here again Hitchens has never told us how he knows what influenced our leaders to do what he so ardently desired (i.e., use violence against the Serb Great Satan). If he has the kind of information on this important point that he is pompously demanding of Sam Husseini, let him produce it.

 

And in his article "Against Rationalization" [sic] Hitchens says, about the embarrassing fact that many jihad Muslims joined his beloved Bosnian Muslims in the fight against the Bosnian Serbs, that these "had almost all been unwanted ‘volunteers’ from the Chechen, Afghan and Kashmiri fronts." How does Hitchens know they were "unwanted"? Who was it that didn’t want them? And why were they allowed to come and stay if unwanted? Did he get this information from Bosnian Muslim officials? If he has solid information on this point, let him produce this too.

 

In attacking Chomsky, Hitchens rages against Chomsky’s comparison of the WTC/Pentagon bombings with the U.S. bombing of the pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan. For him, the latter was in no way comparable to the WTC bombings because although it was a war crime, it was opposed by most of the military/intelligence establishment and was based on Clinton’s depraved desire to escape impeachment; it was "stupid" rather than cold-blooded murder. It is outrageous "to mention this banana-republic degradation of the United States in the same breath as a plan, deliberated for months, to inflict maximum horror," etc.

 

But why the internal opposition to the attack and its alleged basis in Clinton’s political needs makes it less outrageous is unclear. Is casual mass killing superior to that planned months in advance? Was it stupid? An apologist for the WTC/Pentagon bombings would say that those folks were "stupid" in not taking account of the bad repercussions on themselves and their cause for killing civilians. "Stupid" and "tragic error" is the language of apologetics. Notice also Hitchens’ reference to this incident as a "degradation" of the United States, presumably not up to the high standard it displayed in "degrading" Serbia, firebombing Tokyo and nuclear bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and destroying Vietnam in order to save it; and just as an apologist for bin Laden might say that the WTC/Pentagon bombing was a degradation of Islam. Hitchens misses the point that the loss of a major pharmaceutical plant in a poor country like Sudan has resulted in a very large number of deaths from lack of medicine. He fails to note that the United States not only blocked a UN inquiry into this event, it has not offered to replace the plant. A further degradation of the United States? It looks pretty cold-blooded, but not for Hitchens. Could there be an element of racism in this Hitchens dismissal of these African victims–unpeople like the Serb civilians and Roma?

 

It is interesting to note that while Hitchens focuses on this Sudan case, where his misrepresentations allow him to berate Chomsky, he fails to mention that in Iraq the United States has had a policy in place for a decade that has resulted in the death of many hundreds of thousands of civilians. This would not be a good one for him, because here the same NATO powers that did such good work in Yugoslavia and that he wants the left to depend on for humanitarian service in dealing with the coldblooded WTC killers have by calculated and coldblooded policy been responsible for the closest thing to genocide we have seen since these same NATO powers supported the Indonesian massacres in East Timor.

 

Hitchens used the word genocide freely for his Great Satan in Yugoslavia, but not for the Great Powers who he now urges the left to rely on to right their own wrongs of the past! This last is a reactionary and sick recommendation based on a puerile analysis. His "Against Rationalization" is itself a rationalization for the imminent U.S. attack on the little Satan and the demonized population that harbors him. In his mainstream writings Hitchens is now going further, telling readers already worked into a bloodthirsty state that the threat is not that the United States will do too much but that that the problem is "one of under- reaction" (Guardian [London], Sept. 26, 2001). This former leftist is now lined up with William Safire and the other goons of the far right in beating the drums of war.

 

George Monbiot points out that "Already the deployment has almost certainly killed more innocent people than the terrorist outrage in New York. The UN world food programme has pulled out of a country in which 5.5 million are at imminent risk of starvation" ("Collateral Repair," Guardian [London], Sept. 25, 2001). The numbers who would die in a protracted war there are huge. This will not bother Hitchens any more than the deaths in Iraq, or Serbia, or for that matter East Timor (where Hitchens complacently noted that the benevolent crusade in Yugoslavia had perhaps made the West call off their Indonesian client after only 6,000 had been killed and the majority made refugees; the 100,000 or more refugees left under Indonesian control in West Timor didn’t interest him in the slightest).

 

We on the left must sadly kiss Christopher Hitchens goodbye. He has joined the Swiss Guards, is now a U.S. and NATO cheerleader, and is on his way up the mainstream media ladder. It would be nice, if, unlike David Horowitz, he could spare his former allies ad hominem attacks and venom. This recent pair of articles is not encouraging in that regard. 

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