Thursday, September 28, 2006

The "Creeping Threat of Jihadism"

Mr. Hitchens in the house again. He's is one of the few western journalists willing to fight the zealots, be they dixie Xtians, mafioso-like Catolicos, or wild-eyed muslim fanatics. Hitchens takes some getting used to, but he's generally correct, and the representative of a moderate secularism based , one might say, on Enlightenment principles. And he's the possessor of a fairly wicked Swiftian prose style as well.

"As a journalist Mr. Hitchens extensively covered the Bosnian war and the Gulf War, yet describes 9/11 as "an exhilarating moment" because it crystallized his views. "Everything I hate is on one side, and everything I love is on the other. I'm never going to get bored with this."

What does he hate?

"Religion. I quite simply identify it with barbarism and backwardness and human stupidity. The methods of theocracy in action are a cult of death." The jihadists, he says, "say they love death more than we love life, and we have to prove that wrong. They're right on the first; they love murder, in which they exult, and suicide, in which they take pride." Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, he says, want to turn the Islamic world back to the seventh century and take the West with them. "Opposed to these and hated by them is scientific inquiry and philosophical inquiry, the emancipation of women, the secular state, and other very hard-won achievements of civilization. And it's good to be reminded they are fragile, they can be destroyed. We can be pushed back into the childhood of our species again."

Turning back clocks doesn't interest Mr. Hitchens, who began his political life as a member of the British Labor Party and joined a Marxist faction even before arriving at Oxford to push revolution in the turmoil of 1968. "The promises of the '60s came true in 1989—in exactly the way we would not have imagined," he notes. The Cold War and leftist politics left him drained, he says, by the mid-'70s, and by the fall of the Berlin Wall he was ready for something "kind of banal, like how to bring together a market economy and democratic society." When the Cold War ended, he wanted to go back to writing about literature, not dreaming that the so-called peace dividend, by his calculation, was to last "only about 150 days."

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and Slobodan Milosevic tried to annex all of Yugoslavia into a greater Serbia, Mr. Hitchens says, "I found myself in Sarajevo. And I found myself in northern Iraq in Kurdistan. Seeing people who'd been gassed, people who were still dying from Saddam's brutality . . . some I met were old comrades, but it was a pretty plain new enemy we had." The reality that totalitarian dictatorships like those in Iraq and Serbia could continue into the post--Cold War era hit him hard. "You may think you can give up politics but you can't, it won't give you up. Politics will come and find you." And the trials, at the same time, of his close friend, author Salman Rushdie, made him aware of the creeping threat of jihadism."

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