The Arab Revolutions are a unique moment in the history of the world for a number of reasons. Chief amongst these important reasons is the shattering of age old Orientalist myths that Arabs and Muslims are impervious to Democracy, the language of rights, etc. These talking points are usually further essentialized by the view that what is holding Arabs and Muslims back is the retrograde force of Islam.
Yet, there are attempts to steal these revolutions. Attempts to deny the indigenous, organic nature of the transformation happening before our eyes. “How could the natives rise against their dictatorships without our help,” the thinking goes.
Christopher Hitchens comes to mind. The militant atheist, morose humorist, man of letters, convert from the ranks of International Socialism to neo-Conservatism, who, terming the revolutions “Arab uprisings” believes they would never have happened if it weren’t for the Iraq War.
Hitchens was an early skeptic of the revolutions, he wrote that he “won’t be surprised” if the “exemplary courage and initiative of the citizens of Tahrir Square slowly ebb away.” The revolutions put him and others like him in a tough spot, he supported the Iraq War, claiming that Iraqis could only be freed from Saddam through Western intervention. He denied that the war was ever only about the threat of WMD’s, but rather about overthrowing a ruthless dictator.
He didn’t believe in the ability of Iraqi people, which is surprising considering the frequency with which Hitchens extols the founding fathers who wrote a document based on natural law that made the bold claim that liberty was an unalienable right for all mankind,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Either we believe that all mankind is equal and thirsts to realize its unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness or we don’t. Either we believe that all mankind has the ability to throw off the shackles of oppression without dubious intervention, unending occupation or we don’t.
Can anyone imagine how the Arab spring would have played out if a keystone Arab state, oil-rich and heavily armed with a track record of intervention in its neighbors’ affairs and a history of all-out mass repression against its own civilians, were still the private property of a sadistic crime family? As it is, to have had Iraq on the other scale from the outset has been an unnoticed and unacknowledged benefit whose extent is impossible to compute.
It is pitiful to see Hitchens try to cover his ass now. Such a great man of letters, reduced to writing like some glorified assistant to Donald Rumsfeld, justifying the unjustifiable.
Hundreds of thousands of people have died due to the conflict in Iraq. Many more lives have been upended, destroyed and ravaged, including the lives of many American soldiers.
Now, beaming onto our television and computer screens are the inspirational, brave, victorious people of Tunisia and Egypt, who proudly let it be known that they toppled their despots.
Instead of worrying about his legacy or what the obituary in the New York Times will read, can Hitchens overcome his hubris and polemical nature, and give credit where credit is due?