Wednesday, October 12

Christopher Hitchens speech at Illinois State University

Christopher Hitchens was invited to speak at Illinois State University Tuesday night (October 11) as part of the Hibbert R. Roberts Lecture in Public Policy series and the Sage Fund. I attended the event, having never heard Hitchens speak before but impressed with his knowledge and opinions regarding terrorism and the causes.

The question Hitchens was asked to address was, "Are we at war with terrorism?" He began answering that question by noting those things with which he agreed with Osama bin Laden:

1. We shouldn't call the country Saudi Arabia and thus name it after the royal family.

2. He agrees that no troops or bases should be in Saudi Arabia, and thinks it would be better to place them in Qatar. There, women may vote, run for office and be elected. Christianity and secularism are allowed. And it's the home base of Al Jazeera.

3. He agrees that, within the current framework of modern history, the critical dates are 1914 - 1918. In 1914, the Ottoman Empire, headquartered in Turkey, issued a jihad against the British Empire. But their mistake was was their allegiance with German imperialism. By 1918, the war had taken down many empires: Turkey's Ottoman, the Germans, and the British.

From here on, Hitchens pulled together a stream of facts from all over modern history to present his position: That the War on Terror is really us fighting a battle within the civil war between muslims.

He traced the creation of Iraq and Jordan from the promises made at the end of WWI and the divestment of the colonies into national states. Secularism amongst the former British and French colonies has clashed with the purist version of Islam, often Wahhabists playing that part. Al Quaida did not originate in the Middle East but in the Phillipines, Kashmir, and perhaps Chechnya. Even the attacks in Western countries are often focused against Muslims living in the West. The London bombs were focused on those train stations often populated with secular Muslims.

This civil war is not uniform or predictable, and neither is our response.

Several things stand out about his talk and the question and answer session afterwards. Hitchens is a staunch secularist and evolutionist; he wants secularism to fight Muslim fundamentalism more stringently.

Those who want to say that the bombers are desparate are themselves confused, in his mind. You won't allow Jerry Falwell to plant bombs; why should you allow these other folks to do it?

The Iraqi War had its roots in the first Iraqi conflict; both the UN and the US passed measures designed to oppose Saddam Hussein, and to ignore that and say the war is about oil is just ridiculous.

Regarding when to interfere in another country's sovereign affairs, Hitchens said there are four scenarios where this is reasonable:

(1)that country has invaded another state, perhaps more than once;

(2) that country has been a party to genocide;

(3) that country brakes its agreement to adhere to a nuclear nonproliferation treaty and/or WMD treaty; and

(4) that country supports terrorism. Iraq has done all of these things.

When told by a professor that the suicide killers have existed throughout history, Hitchens did not disagree. But when the speaker pointed to Sampson as the first recorded suicide killer, Hitchens said, "That's not recorded history. That's tribalism and myth." This generated huge audience applause and, to be honest, completely astounded me.

There were a few leftists in the audience, who were generally respectful for the majority of the speech. During the Q and A time, one gentleman stood up and said Hitchens was a suck-up and "the Annakin Skywalker of the Left." Hitchens had no idea what that meant, and said he doesn't keep up with cultural references. But this speaker said that Hitchens has become neo-McCarthyite and was only producing straw men in his arguments. Hitchens responded by saying that you couldn't avoid being in disagreeable company, but then he rounded on Richard Clark and complained vehemently that when the aspirin factory was bombed under Clinton's presidency, Clark said it was bombed becaused it was a meeting place for bin Laden and Hussein. Yet now Clark says that no connection existed, and it made Hitchens furious. "He just wants to get his new book advanced."

Hitchens is heading to Darfur next week but didn't say why.

All in all, it was a very involved speech that I fear went over the heads of many of the students attending. But for lizards who have kept up with things on LGF, little of this will be news.

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