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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Hitchens, Christopher Eric (1949- )
"Gullibility and credulity are considered undesirable qualities in every department of human life -- except religion.... Why are we praised by godly men for surrendering our "godly gift" of reason when we cross their mental thresholds? ... Atheism strikes me as morally superior, as well as intellectually superior, to religion. Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong. Does this leave us shorn of hope? Not a bit of it. Atheism. and the related conviction that we have just one life to live, is the only sure way to regard all our fellow creatures as brothers and sisters.... Even the compromise of agnosticism is better than faith. It minimizes the totalitarian temptation, the witless worship of the absolute and the surrender of reason."

-- Christopher Hitchens


Christopher Hitchens is among the best known and most controversial figures in contemporary media. He is a prolific author, journalist, literary critic, and public intellectual who is often described as a "contrarian". Born in England, Hitchens was educated at The Leys School Cambridge and Balliol College, Oxford, where he took a third in PPE. He now lives in Washington, D.C.

Hitchens has been a columnist at Vanity Fair, The Nation, Slate, and an occasional contributor to many other publications.

Hitchens is known for his iconoclasm, anti-clericalism and atheism, anti-fascism and anti-monarchism. He is also noted for his acidic wit and his noisy departure from the Anglo-American political left. He was formerly a socialist and a fixture in the leftist publications of Britain and America. But a series of disagreements beginning in the early 1990s led to his resignation from The Nation shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

He is a vociferous critic of what he describes as "fascism with an Islamic face," and is now sometimes described as a "neoconservative" or a "Liberal Hawk," though his idiosyncratic ideas and positions preclude easy classification. Hitchens no longer considers himself a socialist, but maintains that his political views have not changed significantly. He points out that, throughout his career, he has been both an atheist and an antitheist, and that he has always remained a believer in the Enlightenment values of secularism, humanism, and reason.

In an article in the Guardian Unlimited on April 14, 2002, Hitchens insists he is Jewish because Jewish descent goes through his mother. It happened when Hitchens' brother Peter took his new bride to meet their maternal grandmother, Dodo, who was then in her nineties, and Dodo said, 'She's Jewish, isn't she?' and then announced: 'Well, I've got something to tell you. So are you.' She said that her real surname was Levin, not Lynn, and that her ancestors were Blumenthals from Poland. Christopher was thrilled when Peter told him. By then he was living in Washington and most of his friends were Jewish. Moreover, he felt that he had somehow known all along.

In a column he wrote for the Los Angeles Times on February 9, 2006, Hitchens wrote, "my grandmother told me as an adult that both she and my mother were Jewish, and it sent me looking for my forebears on the German-Polish border." Hitchens's brother Peter disputes that the brothers have significant Jewish ancestry.

Political views

Early career
Hitchens became a Trotskyist during his years as a student at Oxford University, where he was tutored by Steven Lukes and was impressed by the example of Noam Chomsky (Hitchens 1985). He wrote for the magazine International Socialism, which was published by the International Socialists, the forerunners of today's British Socialist Workers Party. This group was broadly Trotskyist but differed from more orthodox Trotskyist groups in its refusal to defend communist states as "workers' states". This was symbolized in their slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow but International Socialism".

Hitchens left Oxford with a third class degree and in the 1970s went on to work for the New Statesman, where he became friends with, amongst others, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan. At the New Statesman he became known as an aggressive left-winger, stridently attacking targets such as Henry Kissinger, the Vietnam War, and the Catholic Church. After moving to the United States in the 1980s, Hitchens wrote for The Nation. While at The Nation he penned vociferous critiques of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and American foreign policy in South and Central America. Hitchens criticized the first Gulf War, claiming—in an essay reprinted in For the Sake of Argument—that the Bush administration lured Saddam Hussein into the war.


"Theocratic fascism" and early disagreements with the Left
Hitchens was deeply shocked by the fatwa (February 14, 1989) against his longtime friend Salman Rushdie, and he became increasingly concerned by the dangers of what he called "theocratic fascism" or "fascism with an Islamic face": radical Islamists who supported the fatwa against Rushdie and sought the recreation of the medieval Caliphate. Hitchens is sometimes credited with coining the term Islamofascism, but he denies inventing or using this term. Malise Ruthven appears to be the first to have used it in an article in The Independent on 8 September 1990.

Hitchens did use the term "Islamic Fascism" for an article he wrote for The Nation shortly after 9/11 (although again the phrase is used earlier than that, for example in the Washington Post on 13 January 1979, and it also seems to have been used by secularists in Turkey and Afghanistan to describe their opponents).

Hitchens also became increasingly disenchanted by the presidency of Bill Clinton, accusing him of being a rapist and a serial liar. Hitchens also claimed that the missile attacks by Clinton on Sudan were a major war crime. The support of some on the left for Clinton alienated him further from the "soft left" in the United States. On the other hand, he became increasingly distanced from the "hard left" by their lack of support for Western intervention in Kosovo.

The years after the Rushdie fatwa also saw him looking for allies and friends, and in the United States he became increasingly frustrated by what he saw as the "excuse making" of the multiculturalist left. At the same time, he was attracted to the foreign policy ideas of some on the Republican right, especially the neoconservative group that included Paul Wolfowitz, with whom he became friends. Around this time he also befriended the Iraqi dissident and businessman Ahmed Chalabi.


Post-9/11
After 9/11 his stance hardened, and he has strongly supported US military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly in his "Fighting Words" columns in Slate. Hitchens had been a longterm contributor to the left-wing The Nation weekly, where he wrote his "Minority Report" column. After 9/11 he decided the paper was making excuses on behalf of Islamist terrorism, and in the following months he wrote articles increasingly at odds with his colleagues.

Following the 9/11 attacks, Hitchens and Noam Chomsky debated the nature of the threat of radical Islam and of the proper response to it. On September 24 and October 8, 2001, Hitchens wrote criticisms of Chomsky in The Nation. Chomsky responded. Hitchens issued a rebuttal to Chomsky, to which Chomsky again responded. Approximately a year after the 9/11 attacks and his exchanges with Chomsky, Hitchens left The Nation in part because he believed its editors, its readers, and contributors such as Chomsky considered John Ashcroft a bigger threat than Osama bin Laden. This was one of the most highly-charged exchanges of letters in American journalism, involving Hitchens and Chomsky, as well as Katha Pollitt and Alexander Cockburn.

Where he stands now
Hitchens has said he no longer feels a part of the Left and does not object to being called a "former" Trotskyist. However, his affection for Trotsky remains strong, and he says that his political and historical view of the world is still shaped by Marxist categories. In June 2004, Hitchens wrote a blistering attack on Michael Moore in a review of Moore's latest film, Fahrenheit 9/11; this review was so widely discussed that three major publications offered rebuttals.

Despite his many articles supporting the US invasion of Iraq, Hitchens made a brief return to The Nation just before the US presidential election and wrote that he was "slightly" for George W. Bush, but shortly afterwards when Slate polled its staff on their positions on the candidates, and mistakenly printed Hitchens's vote as pro-Kerry, Hitchens shifted his opinion to neutral, saying: "It's absurd for liberals to talk as if Kristallnacht is impending with Bush, and it's unwise and indecent for Republicans to equate Kerry with capitulation. There's no one to whom he can surrender, is there? I think that the nature of the jihadist enemy will decide things in the end.".

In an interview with the journalist Johann Hari in 2004, Hitchens described himself as "on the same side as the neo-conservatives". In that interview, Hitchens made clear that he supports not George Bush per se (still less Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld), but rather those whom he sees as the "pure" neo-conservatives, especially Paul Wolfowitz. Although Hitchens finds himself defending Bush’s foreign policy, he has little admiration for the man himself, and has criticized Bush's support of 'intelligent design.' As an anti-theist intellectual with a penchant for drinking, Hitchens was unimpressed by Bush's claim to have been "saved from drink by Jesus."

In March 2005 Hitchens supported further investigation into alleged voting irregularities in Ohio during the US presidential election, 2004.

In contributions to Vanity Fair, Hitchens offered overt criticism of the Bush administration for its continued protection of Henry Kissinger, whom he views as complicit in the human rights abuses of Southern Cone military dictatorships during the 1970s. In 2001 he had published a book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, on Kissinger's alleged role in the crimes of regimes in South America and Asia. An even more iconoclastic work was his 1995 book on Mother Teresa, The Missionary Position, which was highly controversial.

In May 2005, George Galloway MP got into an argument with Hitchens before giving evidence to the US Senate. Galloway called Hitchens a "drink-sodden former Trotskyist popinjay". "Some of which," Hitchens subsequently wrote in a newspaper column, "was unfair." A few days later, Hitchens wrote an article that attacked Galloway's political record, criticized his Senate testimony, and made a case for Galloway's complicity in the Oil-for-Food scandal. Hitchens debated with Galloway in New York at Baruch College on 14 September 2005. Both Galloway and Hitchens appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher on September 23, 2005.

In January 2006, Hitchens joined with four other individuals and four organizations, including the ACLU and Greenpeace, as plaintiffs in a lawsuit, ACLU v. NSA, filed by the ACLU challenging President Bush's warrantless domestic spying program.

In February 2006, Hitchens helped organize a pro-Denmark rally outside the Danish Embassy in Washington, DC in response to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.

Key points
Hitchens has taken a stance on many issues throughout his career as a contrarian. Whilst he may not deliberately court controversy, he finds contention agreeable nonetheless. Listed below are some of the key stances he has taken throughout his career, and his reasons for these stances. Unless stated otherwise, his views on these issues have remained consistent throughout his career.

Trotsky
Favored Trotsky and Trotskyism as a broadside against Stalinism and the capitalist West, in particular both sides' support for nuclear weapons. Hitchens regarded this as the compulsory enlistment of civilians in a nuclear war, and as such a violation of individual sovereignty.

Vietnam
He regarded America’s intervention (and that of its allies) in Vietnam as a shameful continuation of European colonialism, betraying the enlightenment principles of liberal democracy and human emancipation. Today, he also regards it as a betrayal of the American Revolution.

Israel-Palestine
Hitchens regards the occupation of Palestine as an example of colonialism and an unjustifiable subjugation of another people. He has described Zionism as being based on "lies," but does support Israel's right to exist.

Mother Teresa
In 1992, Hitchens wrote an article for the US left-wing journal, The Nation, in which he called Mother Teresa "The Ghoul of Calcutta". He later produced a television documentary on the subject and expanded his criticism in a 1995 book, The Missionary Position. He despised the unquestioning adoration of the vast majority of Western commentators, which he felt judged her actions by her reputation, and not her reputation by her actions. His particular qualms were with her lack of treatment for people—particularly children—placed in her care; her strong religious views on contraception, abortion (which she described as "the biggest threat to world peace"); and her "acceptance" of poverty (which took the form of encouraging the poor to embrace their poverty).

He has also criticized her for what he considers to be less-than-honorable financial dealings: the pursuit and acceptance of donations from third world dictators, large donations accepted from Charles Keating, who was later convicted of fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy, and the allocation of these donations away from treatment and towards furthering what Hitchens considered "fundamentalist" views. Hitchens's writings have earned him the ire of conservative Roman Catholics—Brent Bozell, for example, called Hitchens a "notoriously vicious anti-Catholic."

During Mother Teresa's beatification process, Hitchens was called by the Vatican to argue the case against her. This role was previously known as the devil's advocate, but the position was abolished under John Paul II. Hitchens has satirically referred to his work in the case as "representing the devil pro bono."

Yugoslavia
Hitchens argued that the choice in Yugoslavia was between what he perceived as multi-ethnic plural democracy in Bosnia (which at the time of the conflict was ruled by an exclusively Muslim government) and fascistic, religiously inspired ethno-cleansing driven by Slobodan Miloševic. He argued that defending multi-ethnic democracy was morally essential and of far greater importance than any leftish concerns about a ‘new imperialism’.

Iraq
Hitchens has regarded Operation Iraqi Freedom as a critical front in the conflict between secular democracy and theocratic fascism. He also argued that it was a moral necessity to support Iraqi and Kurdish left-wing secularists. He drew parallels with the left's response to the Spanish Civil War and argued that neutrality was not an option. In his view, the anti-war left has abandoned the principles of secularism, liberal democracy, and feminism; in some cases by favoring isolationism, and in others by allying themselves with the ‘insurgents’ who despise these key principles. Hitchens has written a number of articles praising the secular Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi.

Today, Hitchens regards himself as a 'single-issue voter', concerning himself almost exclusively with what he sees as the battle between the forces of secular democracy and those of theocratic fascism. He comments only infrequently on domestic affairs in the United States, and when he does so it is usually to criticize religion.

Despite his flirtation with neoconservatism, Hitchens is sometimes seen as part of the self-styled "pro-liberation left", comprising left wingers who supported Operation Iraqi Freedom. This informal grouping includes Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, Francis Wheen, and Julie Burchill. Neoconservatives stylized in the last decade are hesitant to embrace Hitchens as one of their own, in part because of his torrid blasts of Ronald Reagan, one of the standard-bearers of that movement.

International journalism
Hitchens spent part of his early career as a foreign correspondent in Cyprus. In the past several years, he has continued journeying to and writing essay-style correspondence pieces from a variety of locales, including Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Chad and the Darfur region of Sudan, and Uganda.

Literary review
Hitchens actively continues to write literary reviews. One of his books, Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere, is a collection of such works. Works he has recently reviewed include Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie; Saturday by Ian McEwan; the D. J. Enright translation of In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust; and the Alfred Appel Jr. annotated version of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (whom he named as on par with James Joyce among the greatest writers).

Praise for and criticism of Hitchens
Appropriately for a self-described "contrarian" who deliberately seeks to provoke, Hitchens is the subject of considerable praise and admiration, as well as of severe criticism. Among his admirers are The Observer writer Lynn Barber, who wrote a glowing profile of him in 2002 and the editors, including David Horowitz, at FrontPageMag.com who appreciate his support for the Iraq war and his criticisms of the Left. In September 2005, Hitchens was named as one of the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Britain's Prospect magazine. Prior to Hitchens ideological shift, the American writer Gore Vidal had declared Hitchens his "dauphin".

Some criticize Hitchens for his frequent television appearances, and claim that he is egotistic and has changed his political views for personal gain. Among his most severe critics is one-time colleague and friend Alexander Cockburn. Cockburn has frequently alluded to Hitchens's tendency to tipple. In a column for August 20, 2005, Cockburn wrote:

"What a truly disgusting sack of shit Hitchens is. A guy who called Sid Blumenthal one of his best friends and then tried to have him thrown into prison for perjury; a guy who waited till his friend Edward Said was on his death bed before attacking him in the Atlantic Monthly; a guy who knows perfectly well the role Israel plays in US policy but who does not scruple to flail Cindy Sheehan as a LaRouchie and anti-Semite because, maybe, she dared mention the word Israel."

There is speculation that Hitchens was the inspiration for Tom Wolfe's character Peter Fallow in the 1987 novel 'The Bonfire of the Vanities'.

Relationship with brother, Peter
Hitchens's younger brother by two-and-a-half years, Peter Hitchens, is also a journalist, author and critic. The brothers had a protracted falling-out after Peter wrote that Christopher had once joked that he "didn't care if the Red Army watered its horses at Hendon" (a suburb of London). Christopher denied having ever said this and broke off contact with his brother. He then referred to his brother as "an idiot" in a letter to Commentary Magazine, and the dispute spilled into other publications as well. However, after the birth of Peter's third child, and after some secret diplomacy by Peter, Christopher expressed a willingness to reconcile and to meet his new nephew, and shortly thereafter Christopher and Peter gave several interviews together in which they said their personal disagreements had been resolved.

From a profile of Hitchens in the Washington Post on February 12, 1999:

She gives him his ticket and he scurries toward the plane, wheezing under the weight of two pieces of luggage. "In addition to being a socialist and an atheist, I'm a libertarian," he says. It was these absurd airline security procedures that made him a libertarian, he explains: Why should you have to show a photo ID to get on a plane? A terrorist can get a photo ID. It's a topic he aired at some comic length in his column in Vanity Fair. "The penalty for getting mugged in an American city and losing your ID," he grumbles, "is that you can't fly home."

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Besides writing the Minority Report column in The Nation, Hitchens is "Critic at Large" for Vanity Fair. In addition to this he has written a book The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in Theory and Practice (Verso, 1995) which debunks the uncritical sanctification of Mother Theresa. He has produced a TV documentary based on the book which was broadcast in Britain on Channel Four.

In the Fall 1996 issue of Free Inquiry Hitchens is interviewed by Matt Cherry and says: "I'm an atheist. I'm not neutral about religion, I'm hostile to it. I think it is a positively bad idea, not just a false one. And I mean not just organized religion, but religious belief itself."

 
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