In memoriam: Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens was one of the earliest (serious) writers I ever read. It was an extract from his bitter critique of Mother Teresa, The Missionary Position. I was too young to fully comprehend his arguments, let alone appreciate them. What impressed me, even back then, was his willingness to take bold and different stands. I grew to appreciate this even more as I grew older. Truth be told, Hitchens wasn’t making too many people fond of himself in the last decade of his life. The 9/11 attacks changed him fundamentally. As George Galloway put it, and I sort of agree, he underwent a reverse metamorphosis-from a butterfly to a slug. His visceral hatred of Islam, his personal and venomous attacks on people, ranging from the truly detestable (like Kissinger), to the neutral (Clinton) and even to the genuinely nice guys (the Dalai Lama) made the work of his defenders very difficult indeed. But what really killed it was his support for the Iraq War and his rather casual explaining away of the immense cost in human lives as the price to be paid for freedom. Certainly, this could not have been the same man who was the posterboy of the Liberals and the Left for much of the last three decades.

Judging him solely on these would be missing the woods for the trees. Hitchens  never had a clear ideology. But he was very clear on one thing. He had a total distaste for popular positions. He loved taking on everything that was holy and respected and bringing it down to ground. So Mother Teresa was a fraud, Diana was a whore, Clinton was a rapist and the evangelicals were traitors. He may or may not have had substance to back it up. His attack on Diana for example had little reason behind it. He loved being a contrarian. That explains his support for the Iraq War and his rather wild ramblings about Islamo-fascism.

While I have gradually drifted towards social conservatism, that does not take away my admiration for Hitchens’ work. He was one of the masters of modern English prose. Bitingly sarcastic and taking no prisoners. All the same, his alcohol fuelled writing sessions tended to stray and he was also prone to a bit of name dropping. Excusable flaws I say. Where I can never agree with him is on his ambiguous moral position. He could claim the moral high ground when denouncing anti semitism or supporting the Palestinean cause but would diss the same when on one of his diatribes. If the pony his critics were on looked like a racehorse occasionally, it was because Hitchens refused to get off the chihuahua he was strutting about on.

So while he may have had an IQ of a 150, you are known by the company you keep. People like GW Bush Jr and other assorted neo cons were the wrong kind of folks to hang out with Christopher!


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