Hitchens: Not Even Half-Right

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Christopher Hitchens, who has had lots of important things to say about the war with the Islamofascists, recently wrote a rather puzzling column about Islamic sectarian brutality that brings up a very important aspect of the fight the Islamofascists are waging against civilization. To understand it, we must begin at the end, where he speaks against the multiculturalist/Islamofascist dogma that we "respect" the Moslems without reciprocity.

[N]o true secularist or even Christian has been involved in anything like the torching of a mosque. ... But where are the denunciations from centers of Sunni and Shiite authority of the daily murder and torture of Islamic co-religionists? Of the regular desecration of holy sites and holy books? Of the paranoid insults thrown so carelessly and callously by one Muslim group at another? This mounting ghastliness is a bit more worthy of condemnation, surely, than a few Danish cartoons or a false rumor about a profaned copy of the Quran in Guantanamo. The civilized world -- yes I do mean to say that -- should find its own voice and state firmly to Muslim leaders and citizens that respect is something to be earned and not demanded with menace. A short way of phrasing this would be to say, "See how the Muslims respect each other!" [bold added]
This last is true, but why? It certainly does not follow (or flow very smoothly) from the earlier part of his column, where he condemns indifference to the fact that some barbarians are exterminating others:
I have met a few very hard-line right-wingers who say: So what? If one lot of Islamists wants to slaughter another, who cares? It's very important to repudiate this kind of "thinking." Religious warfare is the worst thing that can happen to any society, and it now has the potential to spread to societies that are not directly involved. For the most part, official U.S. policy in Iraq has been sound in this respect, always working for a compromise and recently losing American lives to rescue the moderate Shiite leadership from a murder plot hatched by a messianic Shiite militia. Even where this policy fell short -- as in the appalling execution of Saddam Hussein -- the American Embassy urged the Maliki government not to conduct the hanging on the day of the Eid ul-Adha holiday that would most humiliate the Sunnis. We cannot flirt, either morally or politically, with divide and rule. [bold added]
Don't accuse me of being a "right-winger", but .... If family or friends of mine were about to be attacked by a pack of wolves and I saw the beasts starting to tear each other apart, I would be relieved to the extent that the wolves made themselves less able to harm my loved ones. So why is Hitchens so concerned that we repudiate applying the same kind of calculus to barbarians?

His answer, interestingly enough, is only somewhat apparent in the above passage, where he makes the common-enough error of supporting the American policy of nation-building in Iraq despite our disastrous failure to ban religion from its government. It is clearer in the first passage, in this parenthetical comment, which I removed from the excerpt:
The last time that such [religiously-motivated violence] did happen on any scale -- in Bosnia -- the United States and Britain intervened militarily to put a stop to it. We also overthrew the Taliban, which was slaughtering the Hazara Shiite minority in Afghanistan.
I have heard the invasion of Afghanistan justified in many ways, ranging from the valid (i.e., American self-defense) to the invalid (i.e., self-sacrificially providing freedom for others), but this is the first time I have heard it praised so explicitly in terms of American soldiers being used to protect Moslems from their own squabbling!

Hitchens ends sounding almost like he is defending individual rights, and yet he is clearly an altruist. The column, claiming moral justification in terms of self-sacrifice, ends, oddly, in a strange mixture of attempting to shame Moslems via altruism and demanding that they respect our rights. What is going on here?

I have frequently-enough argued here against the morality of altruism that my views on that matter are clear, and I will also not argue here again that one cannot defend individual rights on altruistic grounds. Instead, I will simply comment that Hitchens himself, like Western civilization as a whole, is influenced by two competing and antithetical intellectual traditions, the mystical, altruist-collectivist, Judeo-Christian tradition and the this-worldly Greco-Roman.

As an altruist, he feels that we must help the less fortunate, even if they are causing their own misfortune as the Moslems are. As a man of this world, he is rightly indignant that the Moslems do not respect individual rights, specifically ours. And as a man of mixed premises, I think that the fact that the concept of "rights" pertains to man's relationship with other men confuses Hitchens. (Ayn Rand once put it this way, "A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context," in "Man's Rights", Virtue of Selfishness, p.124) This disjointed column strikes me as the product of a man intellectually hobbled by (or perhaps grappling with) the inherent contradiction between altruism and individual rights.

Hitchens' inability to reconcile the desire to be treated like a human being with the moral premise of altruism (expressed most purely by the bald demand by the Moslems that we simply immolate ourselves) is not entirely philosophical. It is also, I am sure, rooted at least in some part in good will: He sees fellow human beings suffering and is moved to put a stop to it. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the suffering he describes in the Moslem world is largely a direct result of the beliefs -- and the actions that flow from those beliefs -- of these very human beings. And if, as he says, "[I]t now has the potential to spread to societies that are not directly involved," might that be due, not to our failure to put an end to the suffering, but to the fact that we are propping up a medieval society, shielding its residents and supporters from seeing the full consequences of following Islam?

It seems that I have been citing John Lewis in every other post lately, but when somebody is right about so many things....

Specifically, I am thinking of the how the lesson we taught the Japanese during World War II would apply today:
The bombings marked America's total victory over a militaristic culture that had murdered millions. To return an entire nation to morality, the Japanese had to be shown the literal meaning of the war they had waged against others. The abstraction "war," the propaganda of their leaders, their twisted samurai "honor," their desire to die for the emperor--all of it had to be given concrete form. This is what firebombing Japanese cities accomplished. It showed the Japanese that "this"--point to burning buildings, screaming children scarred unmercifully, piles of corpses, the promise of starvation--"this is what you have done to others. Now it has come for you. Give it up, or die." This was the only way to show them the true nature of their philosophy, and to beat the truth of the defeat into them. [bold added]
Lewis is, of course, speaking of the successful American military campaign against a more civilized and formidable foe. But in speaking against what he calls "this kind of 'thinking'", Hitchens is shrinking from this war's analogue.

The Islamic world is weak (so far), and yet there is no shortage of "holy" warriors or their supporters. Left without American aid, the likes of the "Palestinians" would reform -- or self-destruct in very short order. Without money from nationalized (i.e., stolen) petroleum assets, there would be no massive funding of madrassas by Saudi Arabia or nuclear bomb development by Iran. Indeed, without petrodollars, these nations would have had to advance by a significant degree culturally simply to become or remain as populous as they are today.

Indeed, as many on the left claim, much of this violence is the fault of the West -- but not in the way they claim. The Islamofascists are not justifyably reacting to American "imperialism", but are simply following the malevolent dictates of their poisonous faith while living parasitically on the material bounty of Western civilization. Perversely, it is people like Hitchens, who want us to protect the Moslems from themselves, who are acting to prolong the senseless religious bloodshed, by delaying or preventing a Western victory. In the latter case, this would be merely to forestall the human cataclysm that would be life "lived" fully in accordance with Islam. In putting off the inevitable, we only ensure that more people will live as slaves, suffer, or die because of Islam.

In fact, we should, for our own sakes, not only engage in what Hitchens dismisses as "this kind of 'thinking'" (i.e., permit the barbarians to do some our work for us), and wage war ruthlessly against state sponsors of terrorism, we should also remove every single form of material assistance that is propping up the Islamic world in order to hasten the consequences of its animating ideology for any who insist on practicing it.

-- CAV


2-21-07: Reworded penultimate paragraph. Corrected two typos.

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