Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Hitchens does Ulysses

There's a post that we've meaning to get to for a long time if we weren't encumbered by jobs and stuff, and the best we can do here is a downpayment on that longer effort. But it would deal with the single most weaselish aspect of the writings of Christopher Hitchens -- and we know, there's a lot of competition there -- his refusal to explicitly state his position on the legitimacy of Israel, but articles nonetheless containing sly dog-whistles about what that position is. Specifically, our thesis is that Hitch does not believe that Israel is a legitimate state, but also that he has chosen to conceal this position given its awkward conjunction between his GWOT friends and the enemies thereof.

There've been a few times when, reading one of his personal attacks disguised as political analysis, we see what looks like an incidental comment that of itself, communicates very little, but over time start to form a pattern. And notwithstanding his gin-soaked reputation, there are certain things that display too much effort to be accidental. We noted before his odd description of Hamas as "anti-Zionist." Then there's his latest piece for Slate, which is the work of a weasel for so many reasons.

Hitch now tells us that the three-way summary description of Iraqi ethnicities as Sunni/Shia/Kurd is simplistic and even wrong, but he might want to tell that not to his readers, who are probably familiar with the supposed subtleties he describes, but to his friends at the Pentagon and White House who have been using the tripartite Iraq model to understand the place since about, oh, 18 March 2003 -- the same people who would have ridiculed such statements of complexities before then as nuanced or French.

Hitch also presents as a revelation to us all the information that:

the spiritual leader of the Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, is an ethnic Persian

Well, yes. This has been grist for the mill for anyone like us who's wondered for a long time why Iran has such a hold over Republican presidents, mostly recently manifested in the demonisation of Iraqi nationalist Moqtada al-Sadr while the head of something called The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq receives pleading phone calls from George W. Bush.

Anyway, mention of Iran and Republican presidents brings us back to Israel. Here's the little side observation that will work its way into our essay-length piece on Hitch and Israel:

bear in mind that in 1947 there were more Jews in Baghdad than in Jerusalem (many of the former of whom had been there longer),

Now as we said above, the trick with Hitch is that as a stand-alone comment, this is harmless, but there's a subtext: Jews lived in all sorts of places. What's so special about Israel? Where they hadn't even lived for that long? And while arguing for all the complexities of Iraq's history, Hitch displays zero interest in thinking about why the Jews might not have been in Jerusalem in large numbers, up to and including the policy of the British mandate to keep them out, culminating in the brilliantly timed 1939 White Paper that proposed quantitative limits on Jewish immigration to Palestine.

So in trying to pitch old Baghdad as more Jewish than Jerusalem, Hitch reprises the old exchange from Ulysses:

I just wanted to say, he said. Ireland, they say, has the honour of being the only country which never persecuted the jews. Do you know that? No. And do you know why?

He frowned sternly on the bright air.

—Why, sir? Stephen asked, beginning to smile.

—Because she never let them in, Mr Deasy said solemnly.

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