Dead Men Left

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Pip pip, Gunga Din!

Both Lenin and Harry's Place link to the same piece by Michael J. Totten on his dinner-party conversations with the late Christopher Hitchens and a few Iraqi politicians.

David T, perhaps the sharpest amongst the blunt pencils to be found scribbling at Harry's Place, notes Hitchens' distaste for capital punishment. In summary:

Hitchens on indiscriminate slaughter of innocent civilians by US/UK: good (ad infinitum).

Hitchens on discriminate slaughter of guilty murderers: sudden outbreak of bleeding heart liberal fabric-of-society concern.

It's not that I disagree with him about capital punishment, it's just a little bit of consistency would be appreciated.

Of course, if you're looking for consistency amongst the pro-war, pre-neocon "left", the only place to find it is their irredeemably crass colonial worldview. Totten is just choice, following an argument placing himself and Hitchens against the Iraqis at their restaurant table:

Maybe they really didn’t (and don’t) completely understand how we differ from the colonialists and imperialists of the past. Perhaps their pride really is wounded, not just by Saddam but also by us. Maybe all these things are true at the same time. And surely there is more to it than that, things I might never be in a position to understand

Friendly Arabs are the easiest people to bond with I’ve ever met. It takes no time at all to forge friendship if they’re willing – and they so often are...

They are not servile people. They will never, ever, be anyone’s puppets. They are gentle and decent, and at the same time fierce and formidable. You really do not want to mess with them. And they’re great to have on your side.

If this was a parody, it would be judged a fine and amusing thing. Disturbingly, however, I think he's serious. Back to the Raj, and then some: like small children, the natives have to be carefully managed. Hitchens again:

“If the Iraqis were to elect either a Sunni or Shia Taliban, we would not let them take power.”

Leave aside the delirious ahistorical ignorance here. "Taliban" appears to be an approximate shorthand for uppity Muslims the world over; the actually existing, deeply parochial Taliban, as so well documented in Jason Burke's Al-Qaida, were the product of extraordinary circumstances, owing little to either modern political Islam or even the neo-reformist Wahhabism they otherwise resembled. But no: everything from the FIS to the Turkish Justice and Development Party to, one supposes, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq.

What matters is that not only is a blase Kiplingism apparently de la mode amongst Hitchens' acolytes; but that it accompanies the explicit denial of democracy and self-determination for the occupied peoples.

Here is the consistency: for all the prattle about Hitchens' "contrarian" views, or the clamouring after a "real left" at Harry's Place, the tie that binds them is their bottomless contempt for the natives. Contemplating their slaughter - for their own good, mind - and occupying their country become so much the easier when their fundamental humanity is overruled.