The Freedom Center presents “An Evening with Christopher Hitchens.” Union League Club, New York, May 1, 2007
David Horowitz: Welcome to what’s bound to be a stimulating and unpredictable event.
Actually, this is two events. It is, first of all, an evening with the redoubtable Christopher Hitchens. But in case no one has told you, it’s also a fund raiser for the Center -- the Freedom Center , which is unique among conservative think tanks, in that it has no fellows, it does no policy-wonking, and it has nothing interesting or new to say about the American founding. It is in fact not a think tank, but a battle tank.
To understand the discussion that we’re going to have this evening, and to understand the mission of the Center, you have to understand that the Left is in fact a secular religion. It is two Catholic heresies -- the Pelagian and the Manichean. Pelagius believed that human beings could do the work of God; that they could create God’s kingdom on earth. The Left called this Kingdom of Heaven socialism, or now they call it social justice. What it means is the end of poverty, suffering, war, and all the ills that have beset mankind since the fateful apple was eaten.
The Manicheans believe that the world is divided into light and darkness, good and evil; and again that mere mortals can redeem it. The Left calls the evil principle that rules the world private property or profit, which is the root cause of all planetary suffering. The Left’s utopia is the world’s redemption.
But in 200 years, the Left hasn’t got a practical clue how to get there. Yet the hunger for redemption persists and will not be denied. And redemption begins with a war against evil.
As Marx put it, everything that exists deserves to perish. The Left is nihilism. Its goal is the destruction of the system on which all our liberties and our prosperity is based. For more than 200 years, the political Left has been at war with the democracies of the West. In the Twentieth Century, it was and aligned itself with totalitarian communism, the most oppressive empire in human history. Now it has joined with Islamic reactionaries in a global jihad against the Great Satan.
The Center’s mission is to defend the free societies that are under attack against this onslaught. And I won’t mention a lot of things we do. But one of the things that we’ve done this year, which was a little bit drowned out by the tragedy at Virginia Tech involves a film called “Obsession.” Some of you may have seen it on Fox News Channel, where I think they showed it four times. It just shows Hassan Nasrallah leading a crowd of hundreds of thousands, chanting, “Death to America.” And it has interviews with people like Nonie Darwish about Islamofascism.
A student, a Michael Abdurakhmanov, at Pace University, who is from a family of Jewish refugees from Tajikistan, tried to show this at Pace. And the administration shut the film down after Muslim Students Association, which is a pro-Hamas Saudi-funded operation, complained that it was insensitive to their religion.
And when I heard that, I said we’re going to show “Obsession” on a hundred college campuses on April 19th. And we’re going to call it Islamofascism Awareness Day. And if you had asked me 10 years ago if this could be done with conservative students, I would have said absolutely not. But we actually did it.
And in the fall is we’re going to have 200 showings. Then we’re going to have Islamofascism Awareness Weeks on campuses across the country. That’s basically what we do.
The two gentlemen -- you will notice immediately that there are a couple of funny people on this platform, and witty ones, and it’s not me -- who will run tonight’s entertainment, I’ve known for more than 40 years. Peter Collier has been my coauthor and closest friend for most of these years. He is now the Program Director of the Center.
Christopher is also a dear friend of mine, although our relationship has been somewhat checkered by political events. I met Christopher in England when we were both leftists of a Trotskyist persuasion. On the bright side, this meant that we were both anti-Stalinists. On the other hand –
Christopher Hitchens: It’s a start.
David Horowitz: -- a start. On the other hand, it meant we both had the illusion that the Left could change its spots, and that a better world was still waiting in the wings. I fear that Christopher still retains a bit of this dream.
In 1984, Peter and I did the unthinkable, and we voted for Ronald Reagan and became second-thoughters. Three years later, we held a conference in Washington of second-thoughters. And the criteria we set for inviting people to be on the panels was you had to be anti-Communist. And in particular, you had to be anti-Sandinista. In other words, you had to oppose the totalitarian Left on its battlefront and not just the Stalinist past.
As a Trotskyist, Christopher was willing to fight the Communists. But he was not about to fight the Left. He came to the conference to fight us. He came with Sidney Blumenthal, then –
Christopher Hitchens: Oh, Jesus.
David Horowitz: -- an attack dog for the Washington Post and later for Bill Clinton. And he came with a pack from The Nation; they attacked us, and we attacked them back.
Peter and I then wrote a book called, “Destructive Generation,” about the Left we had left. In the eyes of Christopher and his flock, we had committed many sins in that book. The one that ended our literary careers, by setting the entire cultural universe -- which is centered in New York -- against us, was a little quip we made at the end of the book about Susan Sontag.
Susan Sontag had gained an undeserved reputation for integrity and courage by making one famous jab at the hypocrisy of the Left, calling Communism “fascism with a human face.” At a Miami book fair, Peter and I asked her why, then, had she continued her own political hypocrisy by allowing an atrocious propaganda book she had written about the Vietnamese Communists to remain in print?
I was rewarded for this episode when I appeared on a television book show hosted by Louis Lapham, who had invited Christopher to comment on the book. Christopher brought along to the studio the writer David Rieff, who was Susan Sontag’s son. Rieff, who was over six feet tall, spit at me. But he couldn’t manage the shot, which went over my head.
How did Christopher get here from there? Because now it is Christopher who gets spat at, in a manner of speaking, whenever he does an event like this to help me out. How did he go from being one of the comrades to walking even part of the way with renegades like Peter and me?
The answer is this. Christopher is, first of all, a moralist. He hated Bill Clinton from his first day in office, not for political reasons, but because Clinton is an amoralist.
He broke with his friend Sidney Blumenthal because Blumenthal had taken on the task of destroying the reputations of the women who accused Clinton of abusing them. The Left shunned Christopher for this transgression. I recognized a kindred spirit and defended him. A beautiful friendship was born.
Christopher came home on 9/11 because, in addition to being a moralist, Christopher is also a son of the Enlightenment. When America, also a child of the enlightenment, was attacked by Islamofascists, Christopher rallied to her cause. When the Left joined in solidarity with the fascists, he knew which side he had to be on. In a beautiful essay he wrote for Vanity Fair about 9/11, he came to the view he had so long resisted -- that pluralistic America was really mankind’s last best hope.
Christopher remains, however, an incomplete second-thoughter and has not left behind all of the positions he held on the left. This makes all the more remarkable his presence here tonight at this dinner, held by what some of his friends surely regard as the party of Satan.
In addition to being a moralist and a son of the enlightenment -- and a sometimes maddening curmudgeon -- Christopher Hitchens is a man of true integrity and authentic political courage.
Unidentified Audience Member: Hear, hear.
David Horowitz: I’m going to retire for a bit here, so that Peter can get across -- setup of him sitting in the middle would be too close, so -- turn it over to Peter here.
Christopher Hitchens: Thank you, David.
Peter Collier: I think Christopher probably will respond to some of the things you said in segmented form, as we unfold this narrative. I’m going to try to channel Brian Lamb tonight.
And one of the things that Brian used to ask, as Christopher has written -- would ask him regularly when he came on the show-- is, “Are you a socialist? Are you still a socialist?” And Christopher would, in his inevitable manner, pleasantly stonewall him, I think. But in various places over the past few years, you’ve said no.
And in your current book that we’re going to talk about -- and I think everybody needs to buy, and get an invaluable inscription on tonight of “God Is Not Great” -- for instance, you say of your Marxism lost, “There are days when I miss my old convictions as if they were an amputated limb.”
You’re probably bored to death by what has become a kind of parlor game in the literary industrial complex, which is, Where is Hitchens now? How did he get there? What does he think? Did he leave the Left? Did the Left leave him?
Christopher Hitchens: Yadda-yadda.
Peter Collier: But -- I know you’re bored, but –
Christopher Hitchens: No, no, no –
Peter Collier: -- if you wouldn’t mind kind of just trying to situate yourself for the people in this room a little bit –
Christopher Hitchens: Surely. I would like to just say one thing that I’ve been wanting to say for a long time -- my fellow Americans. (Applause) You clap, but how do I know that you don’t think I’m just trying to please you?
Peter Collier: Because we know you’ve become a citizen.
Christopher Hitchens: On the 13th of April last, I took my oath at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. The 13th of April is my birthday; it’s also Mr. Jefferson’s birthday. I’m his biographer in a small way. Was a very, very proud moment in my life. I didn’t have to do it. I had a green card -- actually platinum green card, of the kind that never ran out. I had a European Union passport. I didn’t need it, but I decided after the 11th of September, 2001 that not to do it was sort of cheating on my dues. And I’m very proud indeed to have done this. And my witness and friend at the event was Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose book, “Infidel,” you should buy long before you buy mine. And I see you know who I’m talking about.
And I think -- I thought, as she stood by my side, under the cherry blossoms at that memorial, that she must be the first political refugee from Western democratic Europe to the United States since 1945. I don’t think there’s been another one who’s needed our asylum and our protection since that time. And of course while it’s a great honor that she’s chosen the United States to live in, it’s a great disgrace to European democracy that they were too cowardly to protect her. It’s part of my answer, as I hope you’ll see.
And I now can’t tell you where I live, which I would normally be happy to do. I’d tell you my home address; I’d tell you my home phone number, if you like. But I can’t claim that she’s my neighbor, as she knows, without putting her in danger by doing that.
And I didn’t come to the United States to keep my mouth shut or to live in fear. And I curse -- really curse, and really hate -- anyone who would try and make me do that. I know who my enemies are, and now who my friends are, too. So that’s by way of preface.
Peter Collier: Very good answer.
Christopher Hitchens: And I’m very proud of the friends. And I really, really, really don’t like the enemies.
Peter Collier: Well, that’s like the Marine slogan, No better friend, no worse enemy --
Christopher Hitchens: There you go. But I was dodging your question. Or it must seem as if -- I just really felt I wanted to -- that really is now where I am. I think that that’s all one has -- the minimum one can say is a democratic pluralism has to be guarded against barbarians of all stripes. The reluctance of liberal society to do this I find contemptible and shameful. The sniggering at people who guard us while we sleep I find insufferable and intolerable.
And to say that some of the values that I feel we’re defending are those that once animated me to be on the left could either be common ground or not, just as we decide. But we should be very clear on what the main line is. And the main line is there can be no compromise on this point -- none -- and that those who are looking for one are not our friends, and are potentially our deadly enemies. So --
Peter Collier: Well, implicated in this, this slow-motion transition or this evolution, and aside from the present crisis that we find ourselves in, there were other events along the way; the Clintons are part of it. And you suffered -- David kind of alluded to it-- but you really suffered extraordinary abuse by your former -- and probably in some cases, continuing -- friends. You were “Snitchens” because of to House investigators about Sidney Blumenthal. You were “Hitch the Snitch”; all that stuff.
Christopher Hitchens: Right.
Peter Collier: And it was pretty bad. I mean, one of the things that is commonly said is that when you finally published your book about the Clintons, “No One Left To Lie To” -- one wag observed that when he went to the launch party it was first book party he’d ever been to where the author got booed.
And with that in mind, how do you -- how do you look at the prospect of another Clinton, Hillary, and her soon-to-be perhaps co-President, Bill?
Christopher Hitchens: Well, to reverse-engineer it, then, your question -- I once said that the Clinton years should be considered as a nasty interlude between the Bushes. Take it or leave it. It worked at the time. The idea that the Bush years would be a wasted Republican opportunity between the Clintons is a far more sobering thought to me. So I should start just by making you think about that.
As to myself -- please, no one should feel sorry for me. I’d volunteered for all this. I have a very thick skin and a very broad back. I knew what I was doing. I don’t -- abuse doesn’t bother me at all. Stupidity bothers me a lot, and wickedness does. And to find that my friend, Sidney Blumenthal, had been paid by the President to trash and libel and slander women who were telling the truth about the most disgusting person ever to occupy the Oval Office, was to me a shock. And to find that he had told me this without intending to, and that therefore I was in possession of, if you like, guilty knowledge -- that I had to unburden myself of it to a House Committee -- was the work of a moment.
And that’s -- and I have letters from some of those -- several of those women, thanking me for doing it; women -- two of whom had been brutally raped by the President, I might add.
This is not nothing. And I ask you to think about it for a second. The feminist movement didn’t care there was a rapist in the Oval Office? The women’s movement didn’t mind there was a serial abuser, someone who was always hitting on the help, in the Oval Office? They didn’t mind this?
Well, I don’t think I’m being too judgmental in saying, well, I do. I’m not going to have a rapist as President. It’s not brave at all to come out and say that. It would just be cowardly not to do it; let’s be clear. It was sickening to find that friends of mine were involved in covering up for this psychopath.
Was that where we -- have I left anything out? I could say --
Peter Collier: Just --
Christopher Hitchens: -- a lot more -- I could say a lot worse, I’ve found out since, about the guy, I must say.
But that was, for me, a real -- I have to say it was a revelation. Because to see how so many on the cultural Left would essentially tolerate absolutely anything at all, as long as they had a candidate who they thought would allow them to have an abortion, was somehow too rich for my blood. And what’s shocking is how many people still think, as Mr. Clinton said, that what he was really doing was defending the Constitution.
Peter Collier: Well --
Christopher Hitchens: I’m only getting my trousers off, you understand.
Peter Collier: Yeah, I understand. Go to [inaudible] --
Christopher Hitchens: Ask me what I really think about these people.
Peter Collier: Get the other leg off.
Christopher Hitchens: When you’ve discovered what it’s really like, or the contempt you feel -- oh, yes, there was something -- I’m sorry. You said exactly -- the snitch business. This is very, very important. If you break with the Left -- you know this very well, as does David -- there will be, on any matter, however small it is -- there will be a lot of people who will think that if they can find the lowest motive for you to have done this, they will have found the correct one.
Hannah Arendt, actually, defined totalitarianism in the Stalin period as that. Said the great genius of Stalin was to have replaced all discussions of policy and all arguments about policy with discussions about motive. So whatever anyone might say about the fairly public shortcomings of, for example, Soviet agricultural policy, the question would not be, Is this comrade right in his criticism? It would be, Why has he said that? And why now? And who’s put him up to it? Who’s paying him? It’s one of the origins of totalitarianism is that replacement of an analysis with motive.
My old friend and comrade, Victor Navasky, a very decent and gentle man, invented the mad term “sexual McCarthyism” for those who thought that the life and morals of this rapist and thug and abuser in the Oval Office was to do with some kind of inquisitorial prurience. Staggering.
And of course, these are the same people who think that the word “McCarthyism” dissolves all questions about the existence of a cabal of people who were trying to sell the United States to the USSR.
Peter Collier: Right.
Christopher Hitchens: And they won’t quit. I know them well enough to know that. They will not quit. And they still think that jihad is some kind of liberation theology. If that doesn’t prove it, I don’t know what does. Okay? That’s treason. Okay? If it isn’t treason legally, it’s treason morally.
Peter Collier: Now, seems to me that nobody familiar with your work should be surprised that you were kind of with us when the deal went down on 9/11. You saw it in the starkest possible terms, as a war against everything I love and everything I hate -- a war between everything I love --
Christopher Hitchens: Yes.
Peter Collier: -- and everything I hate. And you shaped our national response almost immediately by identifying this as what it was -- Islamic fascism.
How did the events -- I’m coming back to this, because I want to kind of narrow it down, if I can -- how did the events of that fateful day kind of drive you out of what you have called elsewhere a kind of “post ideological slump” that you found yourself in in the 1990s?
Christopher Hitchens: Well, there was dress rehearsal for this in my life, which was Valentine’s Day, 14th of February, 1989, when my friend, Salman Rushdie, found himself simultaneously given a life sentence and a death sentence by being hit with a fatwa from the senile, demented, theocratic dictator of a foreign state, Iran, who offered money in his own name, publicly, a bounty to suborn the murder of a novelist who wasn’t an Iranian. I thought, Well, this is a pretty radical challenge to my First Amendment values. It’s not just a bad review. And I watched to see who said what.
And there were many people on the left -- people like John Berger, who probably only us specialists in arcane Marxism remember -- who say, Well, that’s what you can expect if you attack a religion of the poor and of the oppressed. But there wasn’t a single neocon at that time -- not a Charles Krauthammer, not a John -- or Norman-- Podhoretz, who would stick by Rushdie either. Because they thought he was a leftist and a third-worldist. And this was a quarrel between him and his mates; they didn’t get it.
And there were a lot of liberal Tories like Lord Trevor Roper who took the same view -- he’d been ill-mannered by attacking a religion. And of course, moving -- warming to a theme that I’m going to stress, whether you -- I know you’re going to ask me sooner or later or not -- but --
Peter Collier: About God?
Christopher Hitchens: Yeah.
Peter Collier: Yeah. We’ll get there in due time.
Christopher Hitchens: The --
Peter Collier: It’s on the agenda.
Christopher Hitchens: The question that was then at issue -- well, what’s the problem here? A theocratic boss offering money for murder to kill a novelist, or blasphemy, which is the worst sin? His Holiness the Pope, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, O’Connor; Chief Rabbi of Israel, the Archbishop of Canterbury all said blasphemy’s the problem. Rushdie is the problem here, not the offer of money for murder.
Taught me a lot, which I’ve not forgotten. And I remember everyone’s position on it. And I’m keeping score and keeping names.
But it helped me to prepare -- on the morning of 9/11, I was on the West Coast, so it was early for me. I knew exactly -- and I wrote a column that I knew wouldn’t be disproved. I said, I know what’s going to be said now by Chomsky. I know what’s going to be said by Norman Finkelstein. I know what’s going to be said by Howard Zinn. I know what’s going to be said by all these people. And I’m not willing to listen to one bar of that song. I won’t have it. This is really a quarrel between everything we have to defend and everything we have to repudiate.
Well, many people have had to take back things that they said around that time, but I haven’t had to.
And it’s not because of my courage, I might add. There’s no bravery involved in this at all. It would have been cowardly not to say it. It’s not brave to say it.
Peter Collier: Of all the public intellectuals that kind of snapped to attention on 9/11, only you and a few others -- Victor Davis Hanson comes to mind -- still seem to be on a war footing. Do you feel embattled? You feel chastened by the stuttering incompetence of the War on Terror? Has it become a chore to defend the war in Iraq?
Christopher Hitchens: Well, when you say I feel embattled, it would be as if, if I said yes, that would be in some way to be morose, or to feel self-pity. You picked the crucial word. I should come right out and say it. I mean, for me, it’s enough to be at war. The crucial thing is to be at war, and to know what side you’re on in it.
As with Victor Hanson, who I didn’t know before this, though I’d once reviewed one of his books on classical studies -- if you haven’t read his book on the Peloponnesian War, you must.
Peter Collier: It’s great.
Christopher Hitchens: Very modest and decent guy. If you like the Cincinnatus of our struggle -- and he was a farmer. He wanted to be left alone, teaching classics to Spanish-speaking immigrants in the valley around Fresno, and traveling up every now and then to Stanford to teach classics at a higher level, and be a great historian. And his only real work on warfare had been a sort of memoir of those of his family [who fought] at Iwo Jima.
A man literally -- like Cincinnatus -- taken from the plough to say, All right, now it’s war. Now everyone must be involved. Very proud to have met him this way. He and I agree.
The worst is over. What’s the worst? How could it be worse than 9/11? Oh, God, it could be much worse. What about the years when they knew they were at war, and we didn’t? What about the years when the fatwa could be defended by stupid American intellectuals? What about the years when the USS Cole could be blown up and people thought it was some episode? What about our embassies being torn apart? What about Afghanistan being reduced to slavery? What about Iraq becoming the incubator of a terrifying nihilism -- all of this ignored by those in search of a quiet life? No, no, that’s over. Good. We’re at war now. Excellent.
And those who guard us while we sleep -- and who are fighting in Anbar province now, and in the southern provinces of Afghanistan; and taking down these people -- need every atom of support we can give them. And to be involved in this, frankly, just makes me happy.
Peter Collier: Well, you mention Anbar. And over the weekend, there was this grudgingly upbeat article in the New York Times, indicating that, in a grim and somewhat dour, down-in-the-mouth way, that U.S. forces might just conceivably be making progress there.
Christopher Hitchens: Yeah.
Peter Collier: You think our political culture is capable of actually acknowledging success, if by some miracle, a concept that is, at least, you know --
Christopher Hitchens: Well, Peter --
Peter Collier: -- a contested concept in your mind, if it actually happens?
Christopher Hitchens: Well, Peter, as you implied, not without being grudging. I mean, I have been having an e-mail conversation with a young lieutenant of the Marines in Anbar province for, oh, a year and a half now. I guess I shouldn’t say his name. I don’t -- he doesn’t ask me to keep it a secret, but -- never mind. But he had been telling me -- he’s a very sober and brilliant young man. He signed up to do this. He’s been -- reading his e-mails has taught me five times as much as I can learn from any other of the major media every day.
And he’s been serving for a long time. “We are slaughtering these people here. The al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia wishes they had never taken us on.” He said, “Sometimes you may read that our marine detachments take more casualties in Anbar than anywhere else.” Said, “Don’t worry about it, I promise you, don’t worry. It’s because we go looking for fights. We don’t sit there waiting for us -- waiting to be hit. We go looking for them. If there’s nothing going on, we go out and make sure something’s going on. We don’t give them any peace.” That’s what I want to hear. That’s how I’d like to hear the President talk.
Let me put it like this. How often have you read that every time the United States does something -- in Afghanistan, for example -- a tough place to be; I’ve been there, too -- or in Anbar, or anywhere else -- every time we do this, we make enemies. We make recruits. You’ve read it, haven’t you? Have you not read it?
What about the marines, young marines, who joined up and wrote to me, “I watched a video the other day of them sawing off the head of a child. And it made me angry enough to join the marines.”
Why aren’t they scared of our recruits? Why aren’t they scared of the number of people their atrocities will bring into our ranks, to make sure that nothing they do goes unpunished? Why are we afraid of what they think of us? Why don’t we make sure that they are terrified of what we think of them? How do they dare to have us in thrall or in fear for one single second? Isn’t it contemptible that we wonder about their recruiting, and we don’t praise our own? This is insufferable.
And the young men and women of this country who, despite all the contempt and the sniggering, carry on signing up to do that.
And if I didn’t know better, I’d say they were doing God’s work.
Let them fear us. That’s the thing -- let them fear us.
Unidentified Audience Member: Yeah!
Unidentified Audience Member: Hear, hear!
Christopher Hitchens: Let them worry! I want to see it, I want to see it on the Taliban websites -- can we keep on taking these casualties? I want them to ask.
We lost 1,000 yesterday, and we only killed one marine. Can we keep on doing this? Can we take it? Can we take the contempt and rage the rest of the world feels for us, the scum of the earth as we are, who butcher people on video? Don’t we think that maybe European opinion might turn against us? Like to hear them ask that.
Maybe the UN even won’t like this. I’d like to hear -- they must ask these questions, not us. An end to masochism, an end to self-pity -- don’t get me going.
Peter Collier: I remember reading someplace that somebody -- one of the journalists who’s been at you --had asked you what you wanted your children to inherit from you. And you gave the one-word answer which was “struggle.” There followed upon that a very funny, I thought, anecdote about Valentine’s Day. But I think it concealed a more profound truth than that quotidian experience that you described.
So what is the --
Christopher Hitchens: What are you holding back on Valentine’s Day? I can’t remember now.
Peter Collier: Oh, it was a kind of P.C. anecdote about your children getting Valentines kind of compulsorily, not in --
Christopher Hitchens: Oh, right, yes.
Peter Collier: -- the sort of existential fear and dread that you had as a young boy --
Christopher Hitchens: That’s right.
Peter Collier: -- wondering whose Valentine you would get, and whether you would get them?
Christopher Hitchens: Yes. The cost-free Valentine’s Day.
Peter Collier: Yeah.
Christopher Hitchens: Every kid has to write a Valentine to every other kid in the class --
Peter Collier: Yeah. It’s a compulsory --
Christopher Hitchens: -- lest anyone feel left out.
Well, I know what you mean. And that’s why I also said “struggle,” because -- and this is why I’m not a believer in any form of faith or religion. Because the promise that it offers -- it seems to be not worth having. I’m told that if I could accept only a savior that I would be consigned to bliss, a world without anxiety. There would be no more pain, no more struggle, no more contest, no more -- it’s called by the Jains and some other Indian religions Nirvana. It’s called by the Muslims Paradise. No more pain, no more struggle.
I do not, in fact, believe that those offering this to me could supply it. Fact, I’m perfectly certain they couldn’t supply it to me. But I’m much more certain of another thing. If they could supply it, I don’t want it. I do not want to live without anxiety and conflict and struggle. These are everything to me. This is what life is to me. Keep your Nirvana, keep your bliss. Keep your life without the mind. Keep your 72 Virginians, or whatever it is that they want.
You know the joke, by the way -- the jihadist blows himself up, and he presents himself. His guide says, “Well, here’s Mr. Madison.” He says, “Hello, Mr. Madison.” “Like you to meet Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Monroe, Mr. Patrick Henry.” “Fine, this is all great. But what-what?” He said, “Well, you wanted 72 Virginians, and now you’ve got them.” Seventy-two Virginians I could stand, but not bliss. Not Nirvana. I don’t want it.
So yes, struggle. Sure. Yeah. As I say, it’s enough to be at war. It’s a privilege to be at war. It really is a privilege to be at war. We’re lucky to be in the fight. Those who have no stomach for it don’t have to take part.
Peter Collier: Well, you’ve made the transition --
Christopher Hitchens: I took my son for Christmas in Iraq. I was very proud that he came. I don’t know whether he wants to sign up or not. And I would have no say in it.
By the way, can I go on about this for a second?
Peter Collier: Please do.
Christopher Hitchens: You know this moronic way people talk now, “Would you send your own son,” as if --
Peter Collier: That’s the Michael Moore question. Yeah.
Peter Collier: -- fathers sent sons to the army. I couldn’t do it if I wanted to. All this garbage -- if you wanted to, I -- it’s entirely up to him. But if he wants to know what it is like to defend the secular democratic Kurdish republic that’s emerging in Northern Iraq from the barbarians and the theocrats he’s had a rough idea what it would be like to do. I can’t go any farther than that; I’m too old to shoulder a rifle in any meaningful sense myself.
But when I said, “Well, we have an offer to go to Baghdad, too, if you want, and I promised your mother that I wouldn’t take you there -- but do you fancy it? And it’s no shame if you say no,” and he said, “No, let’s do it,” then I did actually feel a twinge of pride, I have to say. I did.
Peter Collier: Good kid.
Christopher Hitchens: so, he’s a good American, too. Born in the USA.
Peter Collier: You’ve kind of made the transition already to your new book, “God Is Great.” And this is a book in which --
Christopher Hitchens: There’s just one word missing there, Peter, if you don’t mind.
Peter Collier: I’m so sorry.
Christopher Hitchens: Allahu [naha] Akbar.
Peter Collier: “God Is Not -- “ you know, I’m remembering the --
Christopher Hitchens: No, it’s an easy mistake to make, I know.
Peter Collier: -- famous blessing we said, you know, “God is great, God is good, and we thank You for this food.” Anyway, “God Is Not Great.” You know, it’s a book of which you kind of summoned all your assets, thedogged argumentation, the lapidary prose, the mastering of arcana -- in this case,a lot of scientific arcana. But you also write with deadly intent. The chapters have titles like, “Religion Kills,” “The Nightmare of the Old Testament,” “The New Testament Exceeds the Evil of the Old One,” et cetera.
I’m going to give a sort of representative segment, I think, of the book, a passage where you’re talking about how religion is irresistibly, gravitationally, pulled toward child abuse, literally and figuratively.
“By all means, let an observant Jewish adult male have his raw-cut penis placed in the mouth of a Rabbi. That would be legal, at least in New York. By all means, let grown women, who distrust their clitoris or their labia -- let them have them sawn away by some other wretched adult female. By all means, let Abraham offer to commit suicide to prove his devotion to the Lord or his belief in the voices he was hearing in his head. By all means, let devout parents deny themselves the succor of medicine when in acute pain and distress. By all means, for all I care, let a priest sworn to celibacy be a promiscuous homosexual. By all means, let a congregation that believes in whipping out the devil choose a new grownup sinner each week and lash him until he or she bleeds. By all means, let anyone who believes in creationism instruct his fellows during lunch breaks. But the conscription of the unprotected child for these purposes is something that even the most dedicated secularist can safely describe as a sin.”
It’s a kind of -- to give a taste of what this book is.
Now, you’ve said that this is a book that you’ve been writing all your life. What do you mean by that? This book really has a sort of jackhammer urgency about it; a kind of insistence. And it seems quite different in its style and approach than the book on Orwell; the book on Jefferson.
Christopher Hitchens: And you had to pick one of the most moderate sections, too.
Well, it’s because of this reason, I suppose. I mean, I’ve always had the view that to be taken seriously intellectually, one has to have contempt for religious consolation. And of course, the way to prove that religion is not just amoral but immoral is to show the way it practices on children. Anyone who’s read the sermon, for example, in “Portrait of the Artist” -- James Joyce gives an account of stupid, wicked, repressed, nasty old men trying to ruin the lives of children by telling them about hell, or who reads -- or sees any of what the mullahs are doing in that line now, or who can picture a rabbi taking the penis of a child and slicing it with a knife; to say nothing of what’s done to women this way.
So what -- do this to yourself if you want. Don’t do it to children. What is the most obvious teaching of morality? That children mustn’t suffer for the stupidity of their parents. And every day in every way, we allow religion to violate what anyone with ordinary ethics can see is wicked -- not to violate -- excuse me -- to practice what everyone with ordinary ethics can see, or ought to bloody see, is wicked, sinful, disgusting; and the product of the worst kinds of sexual repression and primitivism.
So that seems to me always to be common sense. Why do I do it now? Because since ‘89, and then much more since 2001, it’s become evident to me that it’s a fight, not just a disagreement, between civilization and theocracy, and religion -- it’s urgent. They mean to destroy our world, and we’re not going to have it.
People will say, “Ah yes, but I once met a priest who was raising charitable money for children,” and so on. I say, “Well, I’ve met them, too. But I could do that without a Godly permission.” My analogy for it is Camus’s novel, “La Peste,” “The Plague.” It goes into remission. The rats go back down into the sewer. But they’re always breeding. They’re always carrying the bacilli. And one day, one day they will again send up their corpses to die in a free city.
And any time you deal with this evil practice on children, or this evil derivation of sexual repression with this surrender of the mind to faith, or this emptying of the intellect, and the prostration in front of the supernatural -- even at its best, it’s always dangerous. And when it turns nasty, it’s nasty and dangerous like nothing else.
I can tell I’m not carrying the bulk of the faith-based with me. But --
Peter Collier: They’re waiting.
Christopher Hitchens: Well, they’d better have a lot of spare time, because this is becoming very important now.
Who said the following -- just to give you a random quotation -- “A nuclear war would involve nothing more than the transition of many millions of people into the love of God, only a few years before they were going to find it anyway.” Who said this? Want to guess? You would if you were asked to. If you were given it as a blank text, it would be Rafsanjani on a bad day. Right? Or Rabbi Kahane, perhaps, yearning for Armageddon.
It’s the Archbishop of Canterbury, in about 1965, the leader of the mildest and most mediocre and sheep-like Christian group of all, the Episcopalian. Rightly do they call themselves a flock; people who actually want to be called sheep. Well, they look like it, too.
But that’s what he said about nuclear war. Why not? What is the point of being religious if you have no eschatology? What is the point if you don’t want this world to pass away? What if you can’t wait? Because only then can your teachings become relevant.
I find it incompatible with any kind of intellectual honesty, any interest in real literature, morality; any serious interest in any texts, any hope for a human future.
Peter Collier: One of the chapters in his book is about intelligent design.
Christopher Hitchens: Yes.
Peter Collier: And in a sense, it’s already a dead concept walking, I think. It gets a final and not wholly undeserved working-over here. But I was reading, and I was wondering, you know -- really, particularly because it’s been beaten back -- is it any worse than, for instance, multiculturalism, which also poisons everything, and which has actually gotten inside the citadel and, you know, is spreading its poison --
Christopher Hitchens: Yes.
Peter Collier: -- through, racism in the form of Afro-centric texts, and that sort of thing -- is it worse?
Christopher Hitchens: No. It’s not -- sorry, I wanted to be sure I wasn’t disappointing the lady over there. So am I audible now to everyone? You were very polite, or perhaps very compassionate, to tune me out for so long -- if you couldn’t be hearing.
No, look -- the collusion between theocratic bullying and multiculturalism has become very, very evident to me for a long time now. When one defended, say, Salman Rushdie from this appalling violence and depravity, one was told by many people -- of course by the churches, as I said -- we were told his problem is he’s a blasphemer. That did happen. But by a lot of other people you were told, “No, no, no, that’s not the problem. He hasn’t offended against the canons of Islam. He’s offended against the Muslim community.” Very significant and suggestive change.
When I wrote my book on why Mother Teresa was a fanatic and a fraud and a fundamentalist and a fruit bat, I was not told I’d offended against the appalling teachings that were much more extreme than that [pre-Vatican II] that she was actually preaching. I was told, You may upset the Catholic community, which is often made up of poor people, some of them from Guatemala and impoverished backgrounds. Don’t do that. The community will be upset -- people who would never have dared to say to me, “You’ve upset the Church,” which would have been a point of honor.