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Christopher Hitchens

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Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Eric Hitchens (born April 13, 1949, England) is a journalist, author, critic, and bane of the working class. He currently lives in Washington, DC in the United States. Over the years he has written for a variety of different publications, including Vanity Fair, The Nation, Harper's, The New Yorker, The Daily Mirror, The Weekly Standard, The Wall Street Journal, Slate and The Atlantic Monthly.

Hitchens is well-known for his disheveled appearance and love of drink and cigarettes, as well as his iconoclastic political views. A prolific writer who deliberately courts controversy, he has written many books and articles over the years. One book, The Missionary Position, condemned Mother Teresa as a self-serving egotist; another, No One Left To Lie To, was a fierce denunciation of Bill Clinton. In more recent books, he put Henry Kissinger "on trial" as a major war criminal and argued passionately for the continuing relevance of George Orwell's political insights.

At one time Hitchens was considered a staunch member of the Anglo-American left. In recent years however, especially in the wake of September 11, 2001, his reputation has shifted, and is now regarded as a somewhat more conservative, hawkish liberal. Typical targets of his writing include totalitarianism and religion.

Contents

Political views

Background

Hitchens' earliest political convictions were very left-wing. He became a Trotskyist during his years at Balliol College, Oxford and was tutored by Steven Lukes. He wrote for the magazine International Socialism, whose publishers (the International Socialists) went on to be the nucleus of the British Socialist Workers Party. This group had a broad allegiance to Trotskyism but differed with more orthodox groups in refusing to defend Stalinist states as "workers' states". This was symbolized in their slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow but International Socialism". Hitchens went on to work for the New Statesman in the 1970s, where he became friends with, amongst others, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan. Here he became known as an aggressive left winger, stridently attacking such targets as Henry Kissinger, the Vietnam War, the Catholic Church and others. Moving to the United States in the 1980s, Hitchens remained on the left, writing for The Nation magazine. He attacked Ronald Reagan and George Bush (senior) and American foreign policy in South America and Central America. Hitchens vociferously attacked 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.

Islamic fascism and neoconservatism

Hitchens was deeply shocked by the fatwa (2/14/1989) 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 seemed to desire the recreation of the medieval Caliphate. Hitchens is sometimes credited with coining the term Islamofacism, a word which probably originated with either Khalid Duran or Stephen Schwartz (although political commentator Michael Savage claims he created the term). Hitchens did use the term Islamic Fascism for an article he wrote for the Nation shortly after 9/11.

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 attack by Clinton on the Sudan was 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 Kosova.

The years after the Rushdie Fatwa also saw him looking for allies and friends, and in the USA 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, and especially the neoconservative clique around Paul Wolfowitz, with whom he became friends. Around this time he also befriended the Iraqi businessman Ahmed Chalabi.

Post-9/11

After 9/11 his stance hardened, and he has strongly supported US military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hitchens had been a longterm contributor to the left-wing The Nation weekly, where he wrote his famous Minority Report column. After 9/11 he decided the paper was a mouthpiece for the kind of excuse-making on behalf of Islamic terror he was now arguing against, so 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. [1] (http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20011008&s=hitchens20010924)[2] (http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20011022&s=hitchens) Chomsky responded. [3] (http://www.zmag.org/chomskyhitchens.htm) Hitchens responded in rebuttal to Chomsky. [4] (http://humanities.psydeshow.org/political/hitchens-3.htm) 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 persons such as Chomsky considered John Ashcroft a bigger threat than Osama bin Laden.[5] (http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20021014&s=hitchens) This was one of the most highly-charged exchange of letters in American journalism, involving Hitchens and Chomsky, as well as Norman G. Finkelstein 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. His affection for Trotsky is still strong, and he still says that his political and historical view of the world is 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, so much so that three major publications offered rebuttals to Hitchens' review.

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 Bush, but shortly afterwards when Slate polled its staff on their positions on the candidates, 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."[6] (http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20041108&s=hitchens).

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 makes it clear that he supports not George Bush per se (still less "Paleo-Conservatives" like Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld) but only what he see as the "pure" neo-conservatives, especially, Paul Wolfowitz.

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

In contributions to Vanity Fair, he offered rare but overt criticism of the Bush administration's continued protection of Henry Kissinger, who he views as complicit in the human rights abuses of Southern Cone military dictatorships during the '70s. In 2001 he had published a book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, on Kissinger's alleged complicity with such regimes in South America and Asia. A similarly 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 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1486417,00.html) 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 (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/tm_objectid=15528737&method=full&siteid=94762&headline=mr-galloway-goes-to-washington--galloway-comes-out-fighting-but-the-yanks-fail-to-lay-a-glove-on-him-name_page.html), "was unfair."

Since May 2005, he has been a contributing blogger at The Huffington Post.

His Writing

Some have criticized Hitchens for egotism, for turning up everywhere on television to promote himself and his books, and for changing his political views if he perceives that a self-advantage can be derived from it. He has been criticized for his one-sided treatment of Mother Teresa (in his book, "The Missionary Position.")

Peter Hitchens

His younger brother by two-and-a-half years, Peter Hitchens, is also a journalist, author and critic. Peter was initially also a leftist but later came to hold radically different, conservative, political opinions after several years spent reporting on the British Labour movement and British politics, followed by many assignments in Communist Eastern Europe and a period as a resident correspondent in Moscow at the end of the Soviet era. Today Peter writes for a London newspaper, the Mail on Sunday, and is a radical, unpredictable conservative who opposed the invasion of Iraq, criticised elements of Thatcherism in his book The Abolition of Britain, is a leading critic of current plans to introduce a national identity card in Britain and has called for the replacement of Britain's Conservative Party by a new movement.

Bibliography

  • Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (Eminent Lives/HarperCollins: 2005) ISBN 0060598964
  • Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays (Thunder's Mouth, Nation Books; 2004) ISBN 1560255803
  • Blood, Class and Empire: The Enduring Anglo-American Relationship (Pub Group West, 2004)
  • Why Orwell Matters (Basic Books, 2002), also published as Orwell's Victory (Allen Lane, 2002)
  • A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq (Plume Books, 2003)
  • Letters to a Young Contrarian (Basic Books, 2001)
  • The Trial of Henry Kissinger (Verso, 2001)
  • Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere (Verso, 2000)
  • No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton (Verso, 2000)
  • The Elgin Marbles: Should they be returned to Greece? (with essays by Robert Browning and Graham Binns) (Verso, March 1998)
  • Hostage to History: Cyprus from the Ottomans to Kissinger with new Afterword (Verso, 1997)
  • The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (Verso, 1995)
  • For the Sake of Argument: Essays & Minority Reports (Verso, 1993)
  • Blood, Class, and Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990)
  • Imperial Spoils: The Curious Case of the Elgin Marbles (Hill & Wang, 1988)
  • Cyprus (Quartet, 1984)

External links

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Hitchens' work

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