February 25, 2009

Christopher Hitchens and the Battle of Beirut

Last week Christopher Hitchens and I were attacked in Beirut. Less than 24 hours after we landed at the international airport, a half dozen members of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party jumped us on Hamra Street when he defaced one of their signs.

He and I were traveling together because Lebanon's New Opinion Group invited us to meet Prime Minister Fouad Seniora, Future Movement party leader Saad Hariri, Druze chief Walid Jumblatt, and other leaders of the pro-independence

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 25, 2009 9:38 PM
Comments
Wow. Glad the Hitch is okay. It could have been a lot worse.
Posted by: anand at February 25, 2009 11:42 pm
I just contributed taxi fare for your next escape...
Christopher sounds a bit foolish to me. Bravado is all well and good, but getting killed for it isn't worth it. Folks I know who come from violent backgrounds are perfectly happy to escape through bathroom windows when the bullets start to fly. And they don't start fights when the odds are stacked against them, they know the consequences.
Posted by: chuck at February 26, 2009 12:00 am
Michael:
I just contributed to your site.
Nothing about this story is surprising, except for ONE thing: you wrote that the SSNP is comprised of Christians. As a Christian myself, I find that hard to believe. I have long thought that the Christians in Lebanon--and the Middle East in general--were on the right side and that they resisted terror in all its forms. I believed that the Christian, Hanan Ashrawi, was an anomaly. I believed that while the Jews were given land by the UN, they may have been too aggressive in clearing out the "Canaanites." I believed that the Canaanites have some legitimate grievances against the Israelis, because the Jews literally evacuated these first century Christians from their homelands.
Are the Christians in the SSNP representative of Christians in the middle east? Is there something that you believe about the Middle East conflict that differs from my characterization? I love Christopher Hitchens; I own "No One Left to Lie To". But I must admit that I'm concerned that you share Christopher's antipathy toward Christianity and that you would allow Christians to be painted as Nazis.
Any thoughts for a confused but interested party?
Posted by: jd at February 26, 2009 5:54 am
What I find interesting that the attack on Mr.Hitchens, a best selling author(I have his latest among others) has NOT been reported in the MSM. Why?
Posted by: dennisl59 at February 26, 2009 6:10 am
Being nominal Christians did not deter the Germans in the 1930s so I fail to understand why identification of these people is any sort of insult to Christianity. Certainly, telling the truth is not "antipathy." Christopher makes his atheism clear but his antipathy in this account was to Nazis with another name. "Allowing Christians to be painted as Nazis" is an odd way to characterize a true story. They painted themselves.
Posted by: Mike K at February 26, 2009 6:22 am
Michael:
I hope that you don't think that Mike K answered my question. I am not being defensive in my questions to you, nor do I doubt the veracity of your story. I am concerned that there might be people who, like me, are confused about nominal Christians siding with people like Arafat and the SSNP. Are they representative of Christians in the Middle East?
Posted by: jd at February 26, 2009 6:30 am
Very glad you're OK, and Jonathan and Hitch, too.
Thanks for a great post.
One of the reasons Catholic priests are celebate, is so that they can become martyrs without much irresponsibility.
Being unmarried and childless allows one a greater degree of freedom to act morally despite the risk of a beating or worse.
What does your wife think about the level of risk you choose? I can imagine accepting that risk level before marriage, but certainly not after marriage and kids. Marriage w/o kids is a border case (for me).
Your writing and pictures continue to be great. (of course, I know this means no book soon...)
Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at February 26, 2009 7:06 am
Thank Mr. Hitchens and his companions for being real men.
Tom Grey: I'd be proud as hell to be married to a mensch who's willing to fight for what he believes in. My husband was in the military, and that's one of the things I love about him-- he'll put his life on the line to defend liberty. If my husband ever did anything like what Mr. Hitchens did, nine months after he recovered I'd be bearing him another child.
Posted by: Wacky Hermit at February 26, 2009 7:39 am
I must say I am befuddled why Hitch didn't kick him in the nads BEFORE his friends arrived.
Posted by: pacwaters at February 26, 2009 7:50 am
"Nothing about this story is surprising, except for ONE thing: you wrote that the SSNP is comprised of Christians. As a Christian myself, I find that hard to believe."
I don't want to come across as bashing Christians, but it is surprising that anyone would find this hard to believe. Christians in Lebanon are extremely hostile to Jews and Israel. The Catholic and Orthodox folks commonly have beliefs that would be considered anti-Semitic in any civilized society. Christian guests on the U.S. Catholic TV station EWTN routinely mock Jewish religious beliefs while denouncing (in the most hysterical terms) Israel.
Hanan Ashrawi, the Christian apologist for Palestinian terror, holds beliefs that are not markedly different from Catholics all over the Holy Land, including the Catholic Latin-Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah. And the Ortho's are off-the-chart Jew haters.
"I believed that while the Jews were given land by the UN, they may have been too aggressive in clearing out the "Canaanites." I believed that the Canaanites have some legitimate grievances against the Israelis."
The Jews were attacked by Arabs after the Arabs rejected a two-state solution. Your summation is insulting to anyone with any knowledge of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Posted by: Don Kenner at February 26, 2009 9:05 am
jd said: "the Jews literally evacuated these first century Christians from their homelands"
Er... say what? Which first century Christians were evacuated by Jews?
Posted by: Simon Hawkin at February 26, 2009 9:37 am
Well, guys, this is not the way to do a street fight. If you do not know how to do it, do not start it.
Posted by: Simon Hawkin at February 26, 2009 9:38 am
I applaud Hitchens' stance and his courage.
I doubt anyone is silly or uninformed enough to believe that these thugs are Christians in any sense which Christ would recognize.
However, the irony is that the logical implication of Hitchens' atheistic view is that there are no rights, no obligations, no moralities that apply to all, only personal preferences. Survival of the fittest is the only law.
And it's Hitchens' worldview that created Hitler, the swastika's poster boy.
Hitler and his top staff were avowed atheists, although they used religious language to gain support. This is all well-documented, just not well-known.
"
Posted by: Grimmy at February 26, 2009 9:50 am
Hitchens is free to risk his own life but its another thing altogether to risk the lives of others. Foolhardy and inappropriate behavior given the circumstances.
How would Mr Hitchens handle the situation today? I'm curious, if given the opportunity would he react in the same manner?
Posted by: 13times at February 26, 2009 10:18 am
Nice propaganda piece, Michael.
You 3 amigos have turned the Syrian Social Nationalist Party into something it's not: a Nazi skinhead party. Thugs? YES. As a Lebanese, i know that they are from experience. But Nazis? I mean seriously. Why would you do that? But then as i scroll to my left i see that you're a regular contributor to commentary magazine. What a surprise. There's my answer. Bravo again.
Posted by: mobazz at February 26, 2009 10:46 am
JD: Nothing about this story is surprising, except for ONE thing: you wrote that the SSNP is comprised of Christians.
The SSNP is a miniscule party with hardly any support at all. No, it does not represent the Christians of Lebanon. It is comprised of around 3,000 members in total.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 26, 2009 11:12 am
Thugs? YES. As a Lebanese, i know that they are from experience. But Nazis?
The Brownshirts wore the swastika armband, employed its use on documents and flags and were street thugs as well, how do the SSNP differ?
mobazz, please enlighten us.
Posted by: 13times at February 26, 2009 11:18 am
Mobazz: You 3 amigos have turned the Syrian Social Nationalist Party into something it's not: a Nazi skinhead party.
Apparently you haven't read much about this party's origins and beliefs. Everything I wrote about them is true, and Commentary isn't my source for any of this.
I notice that you didn't object to a single sentence, only to the main point, which is no way to argue or win a debate.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 26, 2009 11:18 am
Er... say what? Which first century Christians were evacuated by Jews?
As I recall from reading "Blood Brothers", the Christians that were evacuated from their homes were descendants of the Maronite Christians. My memory is a little fuzzy on that part. However, you certainly aren't saying that many Palestinians were not taken from their homes against their will and that many of them were Christians; are you?
Posted by: jd at February 26, 2009 12:06 pm
Bravo Hitch, for doing what he did, and to you too, Michael, for standing up for him. I understand exactly what he means when he said, "...swastika posters are to be defaced or torn down." Yes. You never know what you'll do in a situation like that until you're living it, and I bet you're glad you now you'll do the right thing, regardless (or maybe partially because of) the adrenaline.
Perhaps it's a sign of my ever-increasing age, but I definitely find myself less and less able to suffer fool ideologies like theirs. The idea that certain leaders within the western world are issuing signals that they are more open to dialog with Syria is very sad.
Posted by: jasonholliston at February 26, 2009 12:30 pm
Nice article Michael. Those SSNP thugs need to be taught a lesson.
As a Lebanese, I'd like to add a bit more of info on the SSNP that you may or may not know. First of all, they are not a majority Orthodox Christian party. They were founded by a Greek Orthodox philosophist named Antun Saadeh, and while many supporters are Greek Orthodox, they have many supporters who are also Shi'ite Muslims, Druze, Sunni Muslims, and Maronite Catholics. Also, they are a secular organization that basically live Athiest lifestyles (they don't pray, don't follow religion, live a western lifestlye more than westerners do). That said, they have less than 5% of Lebanon in support of them, and they are actually split into quite a few organizations. One headed by Assaad Hardan, the leader of the thugs that attacked you and the leader of the SSNP in the parliament. But there are one or two SSNP organizations that just believe in the ideology, and try to keep themselves at distance from the way the SSNP has become - once a respectable party with an ideology and now a bunch of thugs. Unfortunately, there are not that numerous or that famous.
The SSNP assassinated Bachir Gemayel and many other great politicians who had a vision of a free Lebanon. I hate them more than I hate Hezbollah and other Opposition parties.
Posted by: Liason at February 26, 2009 1:07 pm
Michael, At the time of the attack, did you or Hitchens realize that this sign commemorates a legendary event during the Israeli invasion of Beirut?
For Americans, this would be akin to defacing a sign commemorating a Southern Civil War hero that happened to have a Confederate flag on it, sort of with the caveat that the Confederates were still running around preserving their honor and heritage in the fashion of the KKK.
There's a more-or-less complete translation of the sign based upon the picture you show here.
الحزب السوري القومي الاجتماعي
جبهة المقاومة الﻭنلنية الليناتية [? ?]
ساحة الشهيد
خالد علوان
[???]
==
Syrian Social Nationalist Party
Resistance Front [? ?]
Martyr's Square
Khalid Alwan
[???]
Do you know if Khalid Alwan was the shooter of an IDF soldier outside Wimpy in 1982? Was he SSNP?
Did you see the 5th c. Byzantine mosaic of two doves and a swastika on display at Beiteddine Palace after your attack?
Posted by: ??? ?????? at February 26, 2009 2:17 pm
Love Totten's war stories and glad everybody's aight. Though I'm frankly amazed that a seasoned traveller like Hitchens made such a rookie mistake. One thing I learned growing up as an expat in several countries is that you never openly take sides about internal matters like this. Not unless you're in the U.S. military! Civilians like yourself are basically naked when you're overseas and should act accordingly. You quietly walk the fence strictly as an observer. Dumb rookie mistake defacing that sign by Hitchens. Dumb, dumb, dumb. What was he thinking they'd do? It's frikin Beirut for crying out loud. But then you already know all this I'm sure.
Posted by: Carlos at February 26, 2009 3:09 pm
I can kind of sympathize with Hitchens, but the problem is that it's hard to see any positive change from the whole sequence. You rip down a sign - apparently of someone the Lebanese as a whole may approve of, reprehensibly or not - and the SSNP beats you up. Not exactly a message of inspiration to the locals. And, see above doubts, even if you had ripped it down - then what? The gesture is too small to be meaningful, but still large enough to hurt.
On the other hand, I figure that Hitch probably knew what was coming - if he did it entirely for his own symbolic self-actualization and is willing to face a beating for it - I don't see how I can criticize for that, except perhaps that he endangered his friends.
On the other hand, when you vandalize advertising, even non-fascists might come after your ass.
I'm kind of surprised none of you knew enough Arabic to get the point "American journalists" across. That might have made them think twice.
I must say I am befuddled why Hitch didn't kick him in the nads BEFORE his friends arrived.
Because if they arrived immediately afterwards, they might have thrown him in the trunk of a car and dissapeared him. I might have tried it anyway, but this middle-ground ending dissapears and you either get away clean or probably get hospitalized.
Posted by: glasnost at February 26, 2009 4:06 pm
Glasnost,
The SSNP's membership is only 3,000 people in Lebanon. That's small even in a small country.
And of course I know enough Arabic to identify myself as a sahafi, or journalist.
Pacwaters: I must say I am befuddled why Hitch didn't kick him in the nads BEFORE his friends arrived.
In hindsight we should have attacked the spotter and ran, but I thought we could get away, and by the time I realized we couldn't, attacking him might very well have gotten us killed. At the very least we all would have been much more severely injured. That's why I didn't do it even when I had the chance. We had waited too long. I expected his friends to show up with guns, and I'm a little surprised that they didn't. At least they didn't have rifles. Maybe they had pistols tucked into their pants. I don't know.
The problem with escalation is that you cannot de-escalate, and escalating a fight with a militia is a bit like Hamas lobbing crude rockets at Israel.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 26, 2009 4:31 pm
Ok, I have a bone to pick with this quote from Don Kenner:
The Catholic and Orthodox folks commonly have beliefs that would be considered anti-Semitic in any civilized society. Christian guests on the U.S. Catholic TV station EWTN routinely mock Jewish religious beliefs while denouncing (in the most hysterical terms) Israel.
The folks at EWTN are NOT your run of the mill Catholics. They are a small minority of ultra-conservatives who do NOT represent the rest of the Church by a long shot.
Posted by: Jeff Grace at February 26, 2009 5:48 pm
I'm glad you guys made it out of that situation okay. Those dudes sounded like real third world thugs. Thanks for the dispatch.
Posted by: David Lightman at February 26, 2009 7:40 pm
jd -- There were very roughly around 1 M Arabs - about 150K Christians -- and 650K Jews in the Palestinian Mandate when the British pulled out. Estimates are that about 35-40,000 Christian Palestinians (roughly 35% of the total population pre 1948) fled as refugees.
Interesting that about 40-50,000 Palestinian Jews were officially listed as refugees, at the same time -- people always forget that Jordan and Egypt won and held the West Bank and Gaza, respectively, both of which (esp WB) had very significant established Jewish communities. Jordanian maps from that era clearly demarcated land legally owned by Jews and confiscated in the war.
In any case, Israel is the only ME nation with an increasing Christian population.
Posted by: AZZenny at February 26, 2009 8:10 pm
Khaled Alwan, whose face was on the SSNP poster, is viewed as a national hero by many, including many residents of Hamra. His 1982 act at the wimpy cafe, where this poster stood, kicked off the Lebanese resistance to the Israeli occupation of Beirut. The SSNP today is a bunch of thugs who would probably hide in their holes if the IDF showed up. But writing "F***" on such a poster could have sparked a reaction from many others, including those who lived in Hamra in 1982 and who hate the current SSNP thuggery. I wonder if Hitchens knew what he was doing, or what he was trying to take down. It was a false and misguided battle he waged there.
And yes, the SSNP is composed mostly of Greek Orthodox Christians. Famous SSNP members included Ziad Rahbani, legendary singer Fairuz's son. The party underwent major ideological transformations since the 1940s, and the current faction that took part in the May 2007 Hizbullah invasion is basically an Assad regime proxy. Wikipedia has a brief history of the party, though I cannot vouch for the veracity of all the info.
Having said that, I'm glad you and your companions weren't harmed. Had a Lebanese done that, yes, they could have ended up in hospital. But then, they would also have known better.
Cheers.
Posted by: AK at February 26, 2009 8:11 pm
Michael,
I am glad you are all right.
Please, do your family and rest of us a favor, next time you and CH will take a trip together make sure he is correctly politically educated while still on the plane.
Grimmy: "And it's Hitchens' worldview that created Hitler, the swastika's poster boy.
Hitler and his top staff were avowed atheists, although they used religious language to gain support. This is all well-documented, just not well-known."

Ri-i-ight. Hitler might have been an atheist (btw, the statement you contradict by quoting Gebbels) but how do you explain all those tenth of millions kirkha going murderers?
Posted by: leo at February 26, 2009 8:20 pm
It's funny that Hitchens, who is normally vociferous in defence of freedom of speech, would object to that sign to the point of defacing it.
Posted by: Eliot at February 26, 2009 9:13 pm
"Once a respectable party with an ideology and now a bunch of thugs."
The SSNP was never a respectable party. They engaged in a failed coup attempt to overthrow the Lebanese government, and as a result were banned for many years. They have been a burden on Lebanon since they were founded.
Regarding that sign, it's funny all this fuss was about that, because I pass it many times and EVERY time I look at that specific one I tell myself that someone should cover it with spray paint.
The SSNP are traitors to Lebanon, and should be dealt with as all traitors are.
"Famous SSNP members included Ziad Rahbani, legendary singer Fairuz's son."
So what? Ziad Rahbani was also a coke head.
Posted by: lebanonfirst at February 27, 2009 2:58 am
I'm surprised (particularly after the release of "Waltzing with Bashir") that no one has pointed out that it was Christians who perpetrated the massacres at Sabra and Chatilla. And many more besides during the Lebanese Civil War. None of the sides there has any claim to moral superiority. Of course, throughout history people have flocked to religion as a matter of tribal identity, rather than out of any affinity for the moral precepts of religion.
For what it's worth, I think Hitchens' stunt was a piece of adolescent showboating. Surprising for a man who writes with such maturity.
Posted by: MarkC at February 27, 2009 4:36 am
JD -
Christian Palestinians were very much involved in terrorist activity, particularly during the seventies and eighties, when the Palestinian liberation movement was a political movement rather than one associated with Islamic fundamentalism. A notable example is George Habash, the founder of the communist PFLP terror group, but there are many others.
There are no maronites in Israel. This is strictly Lebanese. The Christians in Israel mostly belong to a splinter of Roman Catholicism called Malekite Christianity, and the rest are Greek orthodox.
I'd be very surprised if any of them can be traced back to the first century. Folks back then would have spoken Aramaic, and I really don't think there is any connection between them and the current Arab Christians, who only came in the eighth century, and converted during the crusades. Interestingly, the remains of a tiny Christian church dating back to around the first century, really just a prayer room in somebody's house, were recently found near Megiddo (the biblical Armeggedon).
During late antiquity a lot of Christians from the Byzantine empire colonized the holy land as monks and hermits, and were generally massacred by the invading Persians in the fifth century, and then later by the invading Muslims. In some of the ancient monasteries that still stand in the Judean desert you can see stacks of skulls and bones of these slaughtered monks. I don't know if any of the currently existing communities can be traced back to these early Greek Christians.
The subject is an interesting one. You should read Charles Dalyrmple's book "To the Sacred Mountain" which chronicles his journey among the ancient Christian communities of the Eastern Mediterranean.
And yes, some Christians, like other Arabs, were expelled during 1948, but the history is far too complex to be summed up in a single sentence. Some were expelled, some ran. In Haifa, a large part of the Arab population left by boat to Lebanon, even though the Jewish and British authorities urged them to stay. Their Muqtar, or leader, was afraid of being labelled a traitor if he stayed, and he took everybody with him into exile.
There was also a lot of internal displacement. Christians from small villages (the village of Baram near Lebanon is an example) were expelled to Lebanon, but then later allowed to return and live in Nazareth.
Read Benny Morris, the acknowledged expert on this complicated subject.
Posted by: MarkC at February 27, 2009 5:21 am
A great story if for nothing else than everyone lives for another day and that day doesn't become some haunting nightmare. Having enjoyed both you and Christopher's work, I'm glad it didn't turn into something far more serious.
Although I respect Christopher's feelings, I have to wonder if he'd feel and act similarly upon seeing the symbols of the Soviet communist emblems displayed? Would he feel equally compelled to deface such?
Although I sympathize with his feelings, I do feel that it was unwise as when in Rome...... This radical group may be a small isolated one in Lebanon as a whole but it seems that this poor nation is wrought with many such thugs of different sizes and they all will act with violence to protect where they urinate. Sadly, Lebanon has become the home to this.
So although I'm grateful that you guys made it out, I would hope that the political realities stay in the forefront in such situations. Clearly although Christopher has been to Lebanon over the years he failed to realize what he was creating in his protest.
In similar escalating situations where grabbing is the limited violence, grabbing the pinky and pulling back will cause the hand to follow.
As a former high school wrestler you would be surprised how effective that is so not to escalate the situation. And it will surprise the attacker as well.
Just relieved you guys are okay. Admire you guys and love your work.
Posted by: Sheva at February 27, 2009 6:37 am
MarkC:
Thanks for some answers to my questions. But basically, you have only reinforced my problem with the whole Middle East thing. After WWII the Jews needed a homeland. The United Nations gave them one, but it was at the expense of the people already living in Palestine, right?
The British have always had a bad reputation for splitting countries into arbitrary boundaries, but it appears that the United Nations was no better. I don't know if there was any better solution.
The terrorists are the worst human beings on earth, but conflict seems unavoidable in that region even if there was no such thing as a Muslim extremist. Certainly a peace brokered by anyone short of God Himself (in other words, some kind of divine intervention) has not and will not work. The peaceniks like Carter and Clinton are laughable.
Posted by: jd at February 27, 2009 6:42 am
jd - aboout 35-40% of the people living in Palestine in 1947 were Jews. A significant percentage of 'local' Arabs had in-migrated in the previous 50-75 years, just like the Jews. http://www.mideastweb.org/palpop.htm
Posted by: AZZenny at February 27, 2009 7:19 am
When I first saw the SSNP walking through the streets of Beirut, and when I saw the way most Lebanese looked at them, with a mixture of hate and fear, my own danger signals went haywire. The general rule seemed to be - treat this group with contempt, but keep your distance. I would have loved to deface or tear down those flags, but wouldn't actually do so unless I was holding the keys to an nearby armored Hummer and was covered by a hidden SWAT team.
Defacing the sign was a reckless thing to do, but since this story went web-viral, thousands of Western readers know about this dangerous group. They know about their fascist leanings, their involvement in car bombings and assassinations, their alliance with Syria and Hezbollah - and they know that the majority of Lebanese do not support them. So in the end, Hitch's stand was successful.
Posted by: maryatexitzero at February 27, 2009 7:59 am
Thanks for this excellent account, Michael. It's almost funny to read the comments from Christians who are shocked to find brutality among their co-religionists. Clearly, few Christians have looked closely enough at the Holocaust.
Defensively obsessed with the religious beliefs of Hitler himself (who contradicted himself more than once), such Christians overlook the fact that Hitler didn't try to carry out the Final Solution alone.
He had help from millions of ... wait for it: Christians. The gospel of Matthew and the writings of Martin Luther laid the groundwork. Their descendants carried it out.
Posted by: PaulTammina at February 27, 2009 8:48 am
These Syrians are absolute thugs. I think I can say with complete certainty that if a gang of foreigners--Arabs perhaps--were to start burning flags in the middle of Dallas or San Diego or a speedway on race day, you can be sure that no one--not a single American--would reply with force. If there's one thing I've learned about American patriots--the sort of people who read websites such as this one and Little Green Footballs and PJ media--it's that they respond to insults always with understanding, deference and Christian charity.
Posted by: mkdelucas at February 27, 2009 9:07 am
He had help from millions of ... wait for it: Christians. The gospel of Matthew and the writings of Martin Luther laid the groundwork. Their descendants carried it out
Why do people insist on dragging religion into discussions that have nothing to do with religion?
The descendants of Martin Luther also fought the Nazis. So did Atheists, Agnostics, Catholics, Buddhists, Atheists, Jews, Zoroastrians, Wiccans Wagner fans, Nietzsche scholars, vegetarians, landscape artists and animists. What does this prove? Nothing.
Posted by: maryatexitzero at February 27, 2009 9:19 am
The reason I drew attention to the fact that the SSNP comes from the Greek Orthodox community is because I saw scads of comments before I published this from people who assumed Hitchens was beat up (while drunk) by Islamists. I needed to make it clear who the SSNP really is. They aren't Christian fundamentalists -- they're secular. But they aren't Islamists or even secular Muslims. Most people who live in West Beirut -- the section of town taken over by the SSNP and Hezbollah -- mostly belong to the Sunni community. They also mostly belong to the "March 14" movement. It wouldn't be right for them to be blamed for what happened or even for the very existence of this ridiculous "party."
Anyone who thinks the Christians in Lebanon are the "good guys" while the Muslims are the "bad guys" doesn't know jack about what really goes on there.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 27, 2009 9:28 am
A bold move by Hitchens. I am not sure we all share the spirit of our convictions to that degree.
As for this:
"For Americans, this would be akin to defacing a sign commemorating a Southern Civil War hero that happened to have a Confederate flag on it, sort of with the caveat that the Confederates were still running around preserving their honor and heritage in the fashion of the KKK."
I'd be inclined to deface just such a sign, even if it commemorated my own great-great-grandfather. Perhaps especially then. Leave them their Horst Wessels and leave the Bluechers alone.
Cab fare also contributed.
Posted by: DrBrydon at February 27, 2009 1:42 pm
Well done, gentlemen. You upheld your White Man's Burden -- the necessity of doing for the natives those things that they are too smart to do for themselves. I remember striking my own blow for freedom last time I was in Beirut. On the way to the airport I stopped and spray painted "U Suck" across a giant picture of Sheikh Nasrallah. The local Hezbollah guys were pretty upset until I explained to them that knowledge was advanced only by the unhindered exchange of ideas. In that bold spirit we then went and painted a yarmulka on a picture of Hezbollah martyr Imad Mugniya -- how we laughed!
However, while I completely support the defamation of somewhat Nazi-like flags, I have to question the wisdom of writing about it afterward. Now, Mr. Hitchens, they know who you are. But at least that will give them the opportunity to enjoy your book, "God is not Great" (2007, New York: Hachette Book Group). If you're working on a sequel, may I recommend for the title either "My God is better than your God", or "I dare you to Fatwah me, you Bastards"? Also, you've blown it with all the SSNP chicks, which everyone knows are the hottest in Beirut.
Be well.
Posted by: The Wise Levantine at February 27, 2009 5:06 pm
Some may call Hitchens a fool for making his stand, but I will say to them that he is then the rare sort of fool I'd like to have on my side.
Posted by: Squires at February 27, 2009 6:21 pm
MJT and others, can you speak about how Palestinian are treated in Lebanon? How many are there? Can Palestinians freely work, invest, conduct business in, and own property in Lebanon? How about non Lebanese more generally. Can for example workers from China or South Korea freely work, invest, conduct business in, and own property in Lebanon?
Posted by: anand at February 27, 2009 7:06 pm
How much do Lebanese care about Palestinians? How much do they care about Palestine? {These are different things, perhaps.}
How are Fatah and Hamas regarded by Lebanese? {I think they are both thugs . . . but that is me.}
Posted by: anand at February 27, 2009 7:09 pm
So the lush was granstanding in Beirut. I'm bowled over by his heroism. What next, refusing to pay his bar bill?
Posted by: Peter Byrne at February 28, 2009 12:30 am
Ah, maryatexitzero, you're proving my point. You say "Why do people insist on dragging religion into discussions that have nothing to do with religion? The descendants of Martin Luther also fought the Nazis..."
Some. But without Martin Luther, without Christianity, there would have been no Holocaust at all -- and the SSNP would not today be waving a swastika, and the heroic Mr. Hitchens would have experienced a peaceful walk through Hamra.
I am not dragging religion in, but undoing the Western crime of obscuring Christianity's inspiration. When we speak of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis and their descendants, religion does not need to be "dragged in" -- merely acknowledged.
Posted by: PaulTammina at February 28, 2009 5:23 am
PaulTammina - so, you're saying that Martin Luther invented anti Semitism? That would have been news to the ancient Romans and the Egyptians.
Anti-Semitism is mostly the result of ethno-nationalist bias, which has always been a fact of life in Europe and in the Arab world. Europeans, Arabs, and Asians prefer to live with their own kind, within communities that are divided along religious and cultural lines. Americans, Canadians and other immigrant nations see this bias as a form of racism, but the old world just doesn't see it that way.
Like nearly every other society in the old world, Lebanon is divided according to cultural and religious groups. That's why it is necessary to point out their religious/cultural alliances - it's how they define themselves.
But, giving the violent history of ethno-nationalism in Europe and the Middle East, it's lunacy to blame one entire religious or cultural group for these problems, or to say that one group is bad (or good) because they're Christian, Islamic or Jewish. The ethno-nationalist tendency to blame all members of a cultural/religious group for the actions of a few individuals in that group is the cause of a some of the problems in the old world.
In the new world, we blame whole groups of people in entire ideological groups for the acts of a few individuals in that group, which is another problem.
Posted by: maryatexitzero at February 28, 2009 8:12 am
"you're saying that Martin Luther invented anti Semitism? That would have been news to the ancient Romans and the Egyptians."
No, Martin Luther did not invent anti-Semitism, but PaulTammina is not claiming that.
As to ancient Egyptians and Romans I think you are confusing hate of Jew the Enemy with hate of Jew the Jew.
Neither Egyptians (some say they might have at least 10 reasons) nor Romans ever claimed blood libel and all other crap like that.
Posted by: leo at February 28, 2009 8:31 am
"The SSNP was never a respectable party. They engaged in a failed coup attempt to overthrow the Lebanese government, and as a result were banned for many years. They have been a burden on Lebanon since they were founded."
But it's ideology is to be respected as their opinion. If we were to go after the SSNP, it would have to be because they're thugs and not because they don't believe in an independent Lebanese State.
"MJT and others, can you speak about how Palestinian are treated in Lebanon? How many are there? Can Palestinians freely work, invest, conduct business in, and own property in Lebanon? How about non Lebanese more generally. Can for example workers from China or South Korea freely work, invest, conduct business in, and own property in Lebanon?"
Palestinians live in their refugee camps. As tight as the restrictions against them are, we cannot ease them or else the USA and Israel would be one step closer to naturalizing them in Lebanon. And the only people in this country that want them to be naturalized are a small group of Sunnis.
Lebanese opinion on them varies. Most support their cause in getting their land back, as long as its not perpetrated off our soil and therefore bringing us into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A few believe that we as "Arabs" (whatever that means) must work with them to liberate their land. And then a very small minority of Lebanese are pro-Israel, mostly ultra-right-wing Christians who are more conservative than the Phalange and Lebanese Forces are.
"The reason I drew attention to the fact that the SSNP comes from the Greek Orthodox community is because I saw scads of comments before I published this from people who assumed Hitchens was beat up (while drunk) by Islamists. I needed to make it clear who the SSNP really is. They aren't Christian fundamentalists -- they're secular. But they aren't Islamists or even secular Muslims. Most people who live in West Beirut -- the section of town taken over by the SSNP and Hezbollah -- mostly belong to the Sunni community. They also mostly belong to the "March 14" movement. It wouldn't be right for them to be blamed for what happened or even for the very existence of this ridiculous "party."
True to some extent, Michael. The Greek Orthodox are the largest sect in the SSNP. But the Muslim membership in the SSNP is also pretty big. Those SSNPers wrecking havoc in Beirut in May 2008 were mostly Sunnis themselves. The secular nature of the SSNP doesn't change their minds. They weren't attacking fellow Sunnis as they saw it. They were attacking people who they thought were traitors to the "Resistance and Syrian cause."
The two respectable things about the SSNP is their secular mindsets and their democratic selection. They are secular in the sense that they see themselves as "Syrians first, Christian/Muslim second." Most don't pray. They're everything but Atheists. Usually, when a Muslim girl and a Christian guy or vice versa marry one another, its two members of the SSNP or the Communists or some leftist movement. That's because these groups are the only ones who don't hold religion to be of any importance. Also, the group votes for its leader rather than have one declare himself head, and the leader of the SSNP has been a Muslim plenty if not most of the time, most recently with the Shi'ite Ali Qanso.
"Anyone who thinks the Christians in Lebanon are the "good guys" while the Muslims are the "bad guys" doesn't know jack about what really goes on there."
This is true. ALL Lebanese are the good guys. And we're all played against each other by Iran, Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the USA. Maybe this country will learn what it unfortunately didn't during the civil war.
Posted by: Liason at February 28, 2009 8:44 am
Neither Egyptians (some say they might have at least 10 reasons) nor Romans ever claimed blood libel and all other crap like that
Like the SSNP, the Egyptians and the Romans were more action-oriented than the creators of blood libel. They were less likely than ideological types to use words to express their feelings. The motivation, like the need to dominate, or the need to eliminate dissenting views based on religion/culture/etc. remains the same.
Posted by: maryatexitzero at February 28, 2009 9:17 am
I applaud the action taken by Hitchens even though it could have ended very badly. Beirut is not Kansas.
On small or not so small point is the actual reason for the street sign - "Khaled Alwan shot two Israeli soldiers with a pistol in 1982 after they settled their bill at the now-defunct Wimpy caf
Posted by: AviL at March 1, 2009 2:06 am
"The Egyptians and Romans were more action-oriented than the creators of the blood libel..."
Oh, they were pretty gosh-darned active. Usually, they ended in massacres. What I think may have been the original blood libel, little Hugh of Lincoln, resulted in the expulsion of Jews from England in the eleventh century (amid massacres), who were not readmitted until the eighteenth century under Oliver Cromwell.
Posted by: MarkC at March 1, 2009 5:00 am
As a history buff, I'm a little perturbed by some of the comments above. I wonder perhaps if, sensitive to the wrongdoing of various religions when they held the reigns of civil power, some might be attempting to project the same sins onto the irreligious.
The Romans didn't persecute anyone for their religion as such, they were notoriously accepting of other religions and freely added foreign deities to their pantheon. Archaeologists are constantly finding evidence of the blending of faiths with the deities of conquered peoples showing up in Roman temples etc.
Of course Roman politics was distinctly Machiavellian in character, and part of that involves suppression of various political movements. Jews and Christians (who to the Romans were basically the same) were treated often brutally because of their opposition to Roman rule over Palestine, challenging the Pax Romana.
And it is an outrageous insult to claim that the Nazis were an atheistic movement in character, and that guys like Hitchens are somehow close to Nazi ideology because of that. This is the atheist equivalent of the blood libel, an outrageous and completely false accusation which religious bigots often use against atheists.
The fact was, the Nazis had quite a close official relationship with the Church. In Italy the Facists were overwhelmingly very pious Catholics, as were the various Nazi/Fascist movements of Eastern Europe such as the Arrow Cross movement. Many Catholic priests occupied high positions of power in the various puppet governments set up by the Nazis in conquered lands, including one head of state!
Hitler's birthday was celebrated every year by the German church right up until the end of the Reich, by order of the Vatican.
Also, the majority of the soldiers of the Wehrmacht considered themselves Christian, and saw themselves as the defenders of Christian European culture against the atheist Bolshevic hordes. Hitler opened his speeches with prayers, the German soldier's and officers oath invoked God, and the German soldier's belt buckle even included the motto "Gott Mit Uns" (God With Us)
Where did anti-semitism come from anyway? It was then, just as it always has been, primarily a religious phenomenon. The only people that get upset with the supposed killers of Christ are the Christians. The Christian church in Europe has always been neck deep in anti-semitism, officially. This was the driving force behind the ancient prejudices which the Nazis exploited.
And after the war, officials in the Catholic church provided sanctuary to war criminals, smuggling them out of Europe into South America.
And how many Nazis did the church excommunicate from the Church as a result of Nazi atrocities? None! Goebbels doesn't count, because he was only chucked out for marrying a protestant.
(No, these are not the words of an anti-Catholic bigot by the way. I'm not one of the "The Pope is the Antichrist" knuckleheads. I was raised Catholic, though I do not identify with any faith today.)
Now I'm not of course saying that the Nazis were by any means good Christians. It is likely that the top Nazis were in fact only using Christianity as a means of control. Most Germans considered themselves to be good Christians and the Nazis had to exploit this.
For sure, the SS was a neo-pagan movement who carried out various acts of church desecrations and the like, and Hitler and Himmler had ideas of returning the country to a more "German" religion based on old German folk beliefs.
Sometimes I wonder if it is pure ignorance, or just a disingenuous trick, when people make that old claim about the Germans going to war in the name of atheism.
Posted by: TravisM at March 1, 2009 6:30 am
I'm afraid you three guys acted like a bunch of metro sexual wimps. As soon as the little bastard grabbed Hitchens, the three of you should have beaten him up and left him on the street.
You don't reason with or show weakness to little f*ckers like that, especially if there is only one of them. Beat, beat, and still beat. Then leave. You would have saved yourselves a lot of trouble in the end and taught the little sh*t a good lesson.
Posted by: TerryW at March 1, 2009 8:12 am
TerryW: As soon as the little bastard grabbed Hitchens, the three of you should have beaten him up and left him on the street.
Yes, I agree. In hindsight, that's obvious. It wasn't at the time. It looked like we could have gotten away from the little bastard, and by the time I realized his stalling tactic was working, it was too late. Beating him up as his friends arrived could have gotten us killed.
If anyone tries something like that with me in the future, things will play out very differently.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 1, 2009 8:22 am
Here, here, that's the spirit.
Sorry about the metro sexual wimp comment.
Posted by: TerryW at March 1, 2009 8:39 am
"However, the irony is that the logical implication of Hitchens' atheistic view is that there are no rights, no obligations, no moralities that apply to all, only personal preferences. Survival of the fittest is the only law.
And it's Hitchens' worldview that created Hitler, the swastika's poster boy."
These are the kind of remarks I was referring to...
The atheistic view is just that there isn't any supernatural being who cares what we do.
That doesn't mean there aren't many natural beings who care what we do. If you were to come to the conclusion tomorrow that there was no god, you wouldn't immediately start killing and raping. You have family, friends, colleagues, you live in a society where that sort of thing is frowned on.
Since we don't wish to live in the kind of society where killings and rapings are common, we refrain from such behaviour. Others usually think as we do, so very few people rape and kill. Those that do such things are kept in check as much as possible through law enforcement and social stigma.
"Law of the jungle" is simply a reality of nature. It is not however an atheist prescription for an ideal society. What atheists generally believe in is the improvement of the human condition via science, social development and work. Law of the jungle is what we're striving to rise above and get away from.
Hitler's worldview was an assortment of racist crackpottery and megalomania.
It is hard to say for sure what his personal religious beliefs were, clearly the fact that he used to lead the masses at Nuremberg in prayer was not proof of anything other than him recognising that claiming to have god on one's side is politically a good thing.
However we do know that he saw himself as a messianic figure, told his closest associates that he believed himself chosen by "providence" and saw his military successes and survival of assassinations as evidence of divine favour.
That's not how an atheist thinks. Atheists generally dismiss that sort of thing as abnormal psychology. Hitler was clearly religious in some sense, some twisted perverted monotheism perhaps where he was convinced that Aryans (not the jews) were the true chosen people of a teutonic god.
Posted by: TravisM at March 1, 2009 10:15 am
The first thing that comes to mind is that Hitch needs some better friends. That's WEAK Totten. I'd have thought with all your travels that you would have learned to fight by now.
But I guess that's the modern man.
No wonder the world is going to Hell.
As for the wrangling on the comments about SSNP being Christian, anyone can claim a name, but that doesn't mean that they are what they claim to be.
The Nazi's were huge in the Middle East. The late 18th through the 20th Century saw the rise of a Volk (Folk) movement through out the world. Westerners can't find their own countries on an unmarked globe, so any understanding of the Middle East is out of the question, thus most only think of Muslims, and the Arab Wahabists are better known, but they have direct ties to the Baathists Persians, and groups like the SSNP in the Greek Orthodox community.
The bottom line is that they are terrorist punks who have hijacked the good name of their families, and the real men of the 20th century are now out of style, so these miscreants are allowed to run roughshod over the world.
My grandfathers are rolling over in their graves while metrosexuals ruin the world.
Posted by: StillWind at March 1, 2009 10:39 am
Stillwind: My grandfathers are rolling over in their graves while metrosexuals ruin the world.
Fuck you, and get off my blog.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 1, 2009 11:10 am
Sorry to harp on about an issue which is not entirely relevant to the blog, but I figured I'd submit this link on Hitler's religious beliefs. There are numerous passages in Mein Kampf where he talks about his divine mission to "do the Lord's work" by exterminating the jews.
http://www.ffrf.org/fttoday/back/hitler.html
Posted by: TravisM at March 1, 2009 10:14 pm
"Anyone who thinks the Christians in Lebanon are the "good guys" while the Muslims are the "bad guys" doesn't know jack about what really goes on there."
What do you mean? What is the point of this?
Posted by: lebanonfirst at March 2, 2009 4:27 am
Ah, yes, the world's surely going to Hell. After centuries of peace and prosperity, discovery and enlightenment, the spanish inquisition and the holocaust. It's all getting so much worse, isn't it just.
Bollocks.
i wonder what could possibly mean ... wind broken silently?
"I'd have thought with all your travels that you would have learned to fight by now.
But I guess that's the modern man.
No wonder the world is going to Hell."
What the f***?
Is that what the 'modern man' should learn from travel? To fight?
Thanks for putting him in his place.
One question remains, though, and i feel i would be letting down my muslim and jewish heritage if i didn't ask it:
Did you get around to buying some shoes, and, if yes, did you get a good bargain?
Posted by: ati at March 2, 2009 7:49 am
TravisM, I feel compelled to comment on your posts that propose the Third Reich as a fundamentally Christian nation. I have some issues with your analysis. First off, the antisemitism that was such a cornerstone of the worldview of Naziism was not fundamentally religious in nature. To be sure, historical antisemitism in Europe has had religion as its focal point, but beginning in the 1870's in Germany it began increasingly taking on a racial tone. By the 1920's the religious nature of Judaism was almost forgotten. The evils of the world were eventually projected onto the jew, and its not as if a Jew's conversion to another religion was enough to save him. Secondly, more generally, with regard to the relationship of Chritianity and Nazism, we should confine our analysis to the Third Reich itself: Frano and Mussolini were quite distinct from the Nazis and their fascism had different roots, conditions, and expressions. Just as the multifarous movements of the far right in Germany, Christianity was conquered by Nazism, and made to play its role in the state. Because Nazism was first and formost a populist movement, it appropriated the symbols of other movements that had mass appeal.
I agree that it is unfair to cavalierly label Nazism as some kind of inevitable consequence to atheism, but you overstate your case in trying to link Christianity to Nazism. If you have not already, I recommend Richard Evans' "The Coming of the Third reich" and "The Third Reich in Power" (alond with the forthcoming completion of the trilogy: "The Third Reich at War") for what may be now the definitive social history of the Third Reich.
Posted by: davidbwade at March 2, 2009 8:50 am
Lebanonfirst: What do you mean? What is the point of this?
Lots of people assumed, before I wrote this account, that the people who beat up Christopher were Muslims, as if only Muslims belong to thuggish groups in the Middle East.
There is an assumption among the not-very-well-informed that Jews and Christians are the good guys in the Middle East and that Muslims are the bad guys. I'm sure it's obvious to you that it's a lot more complicated than that.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 2, 2009 9:47 am
"Therefore, I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord's Work." - Hitler, Mein Kampf
"Christ was the greatest early fighter in the battle against the world enemy, the Jews ... The work that Christ started but could not finish, I -- Adolf Hitler -- will conclude." - Hitler, at a Nazi Christmas celebration in 1926
"I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews, I am fighting for the Lord's work." - Hitler, speech to Reichstag 1938
"I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so" - Hitler, speaking to General Gerhard Engel in 1941.
Antisemitism in Europe obviously started as religious, priests were for the most part ringleaders in the various pogroms against the Jews, certainly not any kind of positive moderating influence. Over time this morphed into racial ideas and came to be mixed in with ideas of German nationalism which came about as the old empires crumbled.
I don't doubt that Hitler's ideas were very much based on racist theories, but these have to be understood as a development of a religious meme.
However, a few points I think are beyond debate here:
a) Hitler claimed to be a good Christian and believed himself to be appointed by and protected by God, to execute the holy mission of freeing Germany from the Jews.
b) Most Germans considered themselves good Christians.
c) Most Germans considered Hitler also to be a good Christian, and wouldn't have supported him otherwise. Some even considered him a saint, a new messiah sent by God to redeem the German nation.
d) Nazis claimed to be fighting a good, Christian fight against the atheist Bolshevic hordes.
e) Members of Germany's fighting forces, with the exception of the SS, considered themselves to be Christian soldiers fighting a good fight.
f) Apart from the Swastika, the main German icon was the Iron Cross, a traditional German motif intended to reflect the heritage and chivalry of Christian Germanic knights.
g) In the rest of Europe, Nazi sympathising movements were intimately linked with the Catholic church and the Vatican was a friend to these regimes more often than it was a critic.
Yes, the Nazis perverted Christianity and twisted it into something decidedly dark and evil, but the German people at the time didn't think so. They didn't think they were the bad guys, at least until after the war when the populace learned about what the Nazis had done in their name.
The above at the very least ought to be enough to demonstrate just how asinine the common claim is that Hitler and genocide are what you get when societies embrace secular values and that the Nazis "fought in the name of atheism".
If you ever watch any YouTube debates between Christians and Atheists, at one point or another the atheist side always mention religiously inspired warfare and terrorism, and the Christian side counter with the argument about how the 20th century was as brutal as it was because of what the Axis sides did while fighting "in the name of atheism".
Fact, the Germans were a Christian nation led by a man who claimed to be a Catholic, the Italians were almost to the man devout Catholics (as were most of the countries that allied themselves with the Axis) and the Japanese had a god as their head of state.
Not one of the Axis powers even came close to being atheistic in nature, let alone openly embraced the kind of enlightenment values of free speech and free enquiry which is what most atheists actually stand for.
Posted by: TravisM at March 2, 2009 6:39 pm
thanks for this piece - glad to read that the worst was some scratches and bruises and frayed nerves.
In reading some of the other comments in regards to Nazism it seems that folks have commmitted the fallacy of equivalency in regards to National Socialism in its different forms and religion, Christianity specifically. I would encourage that folks don't rely on easily constructed "crutches" and dig a little deeper. TravisM's posts start at doing so but they ring of the "sonderweg" explanations of how Germany of 1933-1945 was inevitable which is tiresome in its deterministic sophistry.
Posted by: deadpool09 at March 3, 2009 6:00 am
No no, I'm not saying anything of the sort deadpool09. My claims were pretty much just that Nazi Germany was *not* an atheist state, that antisemitism was not abhorrent to German Christians, that the Nazis wrapped themselves in the cloak of Christianity (cynically, perhaps), that Hitler seems to have had some kind of belief that he was himself a Christian messiah of sorts and that the typical German soldier was fighting for a number of causes, but advancing atheism wasn't one of them.
This is a counterargument to the specific accusation made in one of the previous comments, repeated over and over in countless Christian vs Atheist debates (including many of the ones Hitchens himself gets into against various evangelicals) that Nazism was a movement in the name of atheism, that the death camps were the result of Germany embracing atheism, and that atheists ought to admire the Nazis because their "do whatever you like, its all survival of the fittest and there is no God so kill as many people as you want" ethos is somehow near and dear to what atheists want.
I am something of a Nazi history buff actually and if this was the time and the place I could write a long essay here on the socioeconomics of Germany during Hitler's youth and rise to power, the failure of post WW1 Democracy, the psychology behind Nazis telling people their petty prejudice was right and honourable and demanded by God etc.
I won't though. All I wish to do is smack down that stupid argument I keep seeing over and over, that atheists ought to love Hitler because he supposedly fought for values atheists hold dear.
Posted by: TravisM at March 3, 2009 7:27 am
I think "pagan" would be more correct than "atheist" for Hitler's vision of Nazi Germany. Wotan and all that rot, jungfraus shaking their moneymakers to breed up more future soldiers, Blut-und-Boden, Choosers of the Slain...much easier to use. Thor never said no to pulling a trigger.
Now if you want atheist tyranny, look to the USSR, PRC, Khmer Rouge, SLORC, like that. (though the USSR went back to dalliance with the Orthodox in WWII for a while, when they were losing really hard).
Whether Hitler in actuality believed in anything bigger than himself...? Napoleon famously "turned Turk" but it is unknown to me whether he actually took the required trimming.
Religion is used as much as using, you know.
Oh, and bugger SSNP, and maybe a taser next time, Mike? At least, you might smash his cell phone right off. That might be compatible with the safeties on your fight reflex that no doubt inhibited you from the timely infliction of harm in this case.
Also, if not combat salted and puzzled what to do, try falling bodily on the scrub and smashing his head into the pavement till he stops resisting - two or three times with gusto and he should be dazed enough. This requires little skill and I assume you fellows had mass on him.
Head butts also work quite well, esp. if you can bring the soccer-playing piece of your skull right down on the bridge of his nose. I admire the pinky-finger tactic, but once you let go, you're back to square one.
But the key is to deactivate that cellie. Who needs a gun when you have the wireless Internet in the palm of your hand? ;> Meanwhile you will have your own muscle on call - good idea - but ISTM you will likewise have to have a good signal and a half minute to talk or text. Perhaps there is a one-button iPhone app that would send out a blurt to your tag team, with GPS and googlemap street directions.
And next time you speak Chris, tell him this wicked Jew offers to drink a glass of wine with him, if he can bear it.
Posted by: Nichevo at March 3, 2009 9:50 am
"Now if you want atheist tyranny, look to the USSR, PRC, Khmer Rouge, SLORC, like that. (though the USSR went back to dalliance with the Orthodox in WWII for a while, when they were losing really hard)."
Fast forward to 3:20 in this talk by Sam Harris for an explanation of the difference between atrocities done BY a particular religious or irreligious group for reasons that aren't explicitly religious, and atrocities done by religious or irreligious groups EXPLICITLY FOR RELIGIOUS REASONS.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLIKAyzeIw4
I won't say any more because Harris' explanation is very clear and anyone with an interest in the subject can check it out.
Posted by: TravisM at March 3, 2009 3:04 pm
Nichevo,
I cannot talk about PRC, Khmer Rouge, SLORC, ... but I am somewhat familiar with life in former USSR.
It is true Soviets outlawed all known religions but only to kill competition to their own (call it pagan if you want) religion. You could say it was like Saudi Arabia, which bans all other religions except Islam. I think we can call this Soviet religion "Belief in The Bright Future". Quite natural of cause on personal level but this one was organized and controlled by a state. No deviation or else ...
Posted by: leo at March 3, 2009 5:38 pm
Yeah. Harris' point was that the various nasty regimes were just as religious as any theocracy, except they just had their own dogmas.
Cults of personality, miracles (i.e. ludicrously exaggerated Soviet production increase figures, three harvests a year etc), saints (Stakhanovites and top soviets) and faith that a new man could be created who would build a utopian society, despite clearly visible evidence that reality was not and likely never would match the hype.
Wreaking havok in the name of communist dogmas is not the same as wreaking havoc in the cause of a sceptic's atheism. I very much doubt that in all of history there has ever been a war started or terrorist atrocity by someone whose sole beef with the world was that he didn't believe in any deities and wanted to spread that concept around.
On the other hand I don't think any one of us would hesitate for even a second in naming a number of cases where someone did go out and start a war or perpetuate a terrorist atrocity because his religious beliefs compelled him to act against unbelievers.
Posted by: TravisM at March 3, 2009 7:18 pm
Seems that one could stretch the holding of any deeply held belief to religious proportions, and that includes atheism. Anyway, the 'skeptic's atheism' that you mention is fundamentally an elitist phenomenon, and it has never been a mass movement, hence it cannot be responsible for atrocities against the 'unbelievers' on any kind of scale like Communism or Nazism.
It is a mistake to put too much emphasis on religion in Nazi Germany. Nazism was a rabidly populist movement, not a religious one (though it sometimes had some of its trappings), not enirely an anti-religious one (though certainly some members, including Hitler, were indeed hostile towards Christianity), and certainly not an fundamentally Christian one (though many of the rank and file were Christians, and some Christian institutions collaberated).
You also misunderstand the nature of Nazi antisemitism. It was the very fact of its racialist view that made it so virulent: a Jew was transformed from a spiritual foe of the old antisemitism into a biological one, and a zero sum existential threat.
Frankly, Travis, I think that you may have watched one too many atheist / theist debates and its colored your historical judgement.
Posted by: davidbwade at March 3, 2009 8:43 pm
"Seems that one could stretch the holding of any deeply held belief to religious proportions, and that includes atheism."
Only if we could stretch not believing in unicorns into a deeply held belief of religious proportions.
My hair colour is bald, my favourite sport is not playing tennis, my favourite flavour is flavourless, my favourite colour is colourless, I spend hours each day not playing any chess, I'd die if someone denied me my not owning an iPod, my favourite shirt is going shirtless, all I want for Christmas is a big ol' vacuum.
The only common characteristic of atheists is that they don't believe in a god or gods. That's it.
Along with that you can add all sorts of things. Many atheists are strong rationalists who care very much about all sorts of "woo", not just the religious kind but also homeopathy, astrology and all that.
However since "Atheism" is simply an absence of belief in a god or gods, some forms of Buddhism for example fit the definition, and Buddhists do have their own dogmas which aren't necessarily the sort of thing that a hardened sceptical rationalist would go for.
What's this "elitist" bit though? That label is overused in American politics I think, and is horribly offensive when you think about it.
So not believing in homeopathy and demanding that you only be treated with medicines which have passed some form of clinical trial, thinking philosophically rather than religiously, using reason instead of feeling, these are all "elitist"? Only "the elite" use their brains?
The non elite just does what, hang around in their trailer homes eating, screwing and watching Jerry Springer?
And like it or not, the Nazis did claim they were good Christians, and good Christians believed them. The Nazis never claimed to be an explicitly religious party, but they did claim that God was on their side and sought the favour and endorsement of the Church, which they received in abundance. Hitler publicly and repeatedly claimed he'd been appointed by God to carry out the persecution of the jews, and that God was protecting him.
Claiming he wasn't a Christian, despite him obviously seeming to think he was, is a bit too "True Scotsman" for me. He said he was Roman Catholic. Yes, he was also a psychopath, but a Roman Catholic psychopath who had no trouble reconciling his deeds with Christianity.
Could we at least agree that of all the things Hitler claimed to be, all the banners the Germans fought under, fighting to bring atheism to the world was not one of them, and therefore the multitude of "the worst crimes in history were done in the name of atheism" arguments are just ridiculous?
If you think that's a bit of a straw man, that nobody is really claiming that Hitler went to war in order to spread atheism, just look up some videos at Youtube using "Hitler" and "atheism" as keywords. There are huge numbers of them posted by evangelicals, almost all of them with ratings disabled and comments censored, so they can delete any comments from "elites" and retain only the "amen"s.
Posted by: TravisM at March 3, 2009 9:44 pm
Well, this isn't really the venue for this topic, and Michael's been more than gracious to let us get this far into it. I didn't mean anything negative about the brand of pure atheism that you mention being elitist: just that being thus, it limits its appeal and thus the practical negative manifestations of it, unlike the great monotheistic religions. That does put it in good company, incidentally, as literature and art are also basically elitist. Anyway, I will go so far as to agree that the claim that the Nazis fought to bring the world under atheism is indeed ahistorical.
Posted by: davidbwade at March 5, 2009 5:13 am
Heh, Hitch is one of the world's most outspoken anti-theists (one beyond atheism, he goes beyond mere disbelief and indifference and goes as far as saying if there is a God, he's a shit and can go fuck himself. Of course, he's basing his opinions on the God of the bible, so I guess his POV is understandable!)
Where there is Christopher Hitchens, there is religious debate. Where there is religious debate some nut says the world's worst crimes were done in the name of atheism. When that happens, argumentative atheist types or those who simply don't like seeing historic truth get raped and misrepresented, step in and correct them.
So it shouldn't be too shocking that this has happened.
Posted by: TravisM at March 5, 2009 7:13 am
Dear Michael,
Congratulations on an excellent work of reportage - a fascinating, gripping read which taught me a great deal and, in addition, deepened my already strong admiration for Christopher Hitchens. "Everything I do is news": as hilarious as his inscription on the swastika. Regret that, as much I would like to, I can't contribute financially, seeing as I'm having a hard time staying out of the subways myself.
Posted by: Andre at March 7, 2009 4:02 am
A bit off topic, but Michael, I could use your help.
Salman Rushdie and Christopher Hitchens on the Bill Maher program both said to have seen mushroom cloud flags flying at a Hezbollah rally in Beirut. It could presumably have been during this trip.
I have no reason to doubt Rushdie and Hitchens. It's quite shocking, really, to see a group saying: We want the bomb, and we intend to use it once we have it.
That is madness. Theocratic apocalypticism. Can you vouch for what these two gentlemen said?
Posted by: Robert Kelly at March 28, 2009 11:31 pm
Robert,
I have never seen such a flag, nor have I heard of it. But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Christopher didn't say anything about it to me in Beirut, but I'm sure he isn't lying.
Let me see what I can find out about this. Maybe I can find a picture somewhere.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 29, 2009 12:05 am
Bravo Mr Hitchens! Great to see there's someone with some fucking balls in academia. It's so good to hear someone would confront such a standover culture. Glad it was you, love your work. I don't know if I'd have the guts (no pun intended ;) It's stunning to read people apologising for what is essentially a bunch of state sponsored Nazi thugs. Fuck them. Fuck all those religious groups who've hijacked Middle Eastern cultures.
I'm glad to hear you all got out ok.
Cheers Michael!
Posted by: Manaia at March 31, 2009 1:01 am
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