Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens has always shown an amazing courage: the courage to be different, to question cherished icons and beliefs, to define his life as he chose to thinking freely. The best thing about Hitchens was that it was impossible to agree with everything he wrote so he forced you to think. The left or right argument is a bit basic he was more concerned with supporting what helped those at risk and criticising that causing most damage. Also smart enough to change his mind.

An intellectual and moral giant. Because of my admiration for his insight, learning, erudition and courage I thought it impossible that I should be able to think any higher of Hitchens, yet the man's dignity in dealing with his illness has proven inspirational. For many on the far-Left Hitchens was an apostate for supporting the war in Iraq, they say he moved to the right, but he always believed in revolutionary change and in confronting fascism. I would say it was the Left that changed, not Hitchens. For them white liberal guilt meant strict isolationism and embracing the status quo.

The most admirable thing about Christopher is that he has been consistent in his opposition to totalitarianism. He is not a literary giant like Orwell certainly. Not even as great as his friends and contemporaries Rushdie, Amis and McEwan. Hitchens knows this. But when he speaks, people pay attention even when he is rumbling and slurring.

I will never forget two friends of mine, who haven't read three books between them in their lives, looking captivated by Hitchens on TV and then asking me "who's that English guy? "He speaks beautifully". Hitch certainly deserved Orwell's legacy. Hitch's conversion from a complacent leftist to an ardent anti-fascist did not begin on September 11, 2001 or in March, 2003. It began when he visited Iraqi Kurdistan for the National Geographic magazine in 1991. There, he learned about the Kurdish people, befriended them and became the greatest champion of their struggle.

The first crack between him and the old comrades (Chomsky, Ali, Said) appeared during the Balkan Wars, and it grew through the 1990s. When the old Left began agitating for the removal of sanctions and the no-fly zones imposed on Saddam's regime, Hitchens called for the removal of the man and his regime.

I read -or tried to read- "the Struggle of Kurds" article in the National Geographic in mid-90s when I was still learning English, so the name of the author didn't make it to my permanent memory. I re-discovered him in 2002 when I was searching in utter despair for a single principled soul within the international left movement, which used to champion Kurdish people's right for self-determination in 1980s but turned coats and began demanding the reinstatement of Saddam's sovereignty over Kurdistan in the 90s.

"As I age, I wonder about the people in this time who might one day be preserved in statue on university campuses a hundred years from now. We live in a cynical and highly documented world: we must remember many so-called 'great men' lived in, shall we say, less demanding times: Isaac Newton was an alchemist, and George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were - for all their achievements - rank hypocrites on the question of equality of men amongst the slaves. If we were truly pedantic, we could say Nelson Mandela or Albert Einstein were poor husbands, neglecting their loves ones in pursuit of their careers. No!

Let's please have statues on university campuses in the decades to come of the people in this article; most notably Christopher Hitchens. Regardless of whether you agreed with everything he said or did, let's preserve their best work and make it so cherished, because the world needs people of thought, spirit and intellectual rigor, even if we do live in an age where every wart and wild claim in a debate is preserved forever. No one is perfect, but many people are inspiring. Christopher Hitchens is one of them.

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