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Haroon Mughal: Why Christopher Hitchens Writes About Things He Doesn’t Understand: Tunisia, Islam, and Sources

Christopher Hitchens is a much loved public figure, his hard hitting and biting humor have made many of us laugh and he is great to watch in debate. Unfortunately, his image at times precedes actual facts and Haroon Moghul really slams him in a recent piece about Hitchens article on Tunisia and Islam.

Hitchens took a professor’s word that she had been sentenced to death by an Islamist by the name of Rachid Ghannouchi. He didn’t do his homework of course because if he did he would realize that Rachid Ghannouchi is one of the most liberal “Islamists” out there, akin to the AKP in Turkey.

Why Christopher Hitchens Writes About Things He Doesn’t Understand: Tunisia, Islam, and Sources

by Haroon Mughal

I’m not a fan of Christopher Hitchens. I found this absurdly decontextualized piece by Hitchens, written for Vanity Fair in 2007, all but fawning over the dictatorial delights of Tunisia–people can hold hands, so it’s okay if they can’t vote–and was especially amused by this passage:

Mongia Souaihi cheerfully explained to me the many reasons why the veil is not authorized by the Koran and why she is in danger for drawing this conclusion in print. “The fundamentalists from overseas have declared me to be kuffar—an unbeliever.” This I know to be dangerous, because a Muslim who has once been declared to be an apostate is also a person who can be sentenced to death. “Which fundamentalists? And from where overseas?” “Rachid Ghannouchi, from London.” Oh no, not again. If you saw my “Londonistan” essay, in the June Vanity Fair, you will know that fanatics who are unwelcome in Africa and Arabia are allowed an astonishing freedom in the United Kingdom.

Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance Party) has long been symbolized by Rachid Ghannouchi, among the most liberal Islamists in the world. His opinions would certainly not jive with those of hardline Islamists in places like Pakistan. Yet here is Hitchens, taking at face value the word of a professor who certainly serves at the pleasure of one of the most politically oppressive states in the world, talking smack about a religious figure who is identified as an enemy of the state.

Wouldn’t a good journalist at least try to investigate? I mean, why would you, for example, swallow, hook, line and sinker, the words of a hardline Iranian cleric about a dissident Iranian religious thinker in London? Isn’t it odd that she says the fundamentalists (plural) are after her, but then names only one, who might also be opposed to her because she is giving religious cover to tyranny?

But Hitchens is more concerned with satisfying his bias than with actually figuring out what’s going on. Or maybe we should believe everything Vladimir Putin’s appointees have to say about Putin’s enemies. All the more pathetic because Ben Ali came to power, in 1987, in part over regional concerns over Islamic parties, specifically including Ennahda. The extent of Hitchens’ effort is a pathetic, ‘Oh no, not again,’ which brings to mind the TV news journalist I heard a few days ago who, on hearing that 49 of 50 states were covered by snow for the first time ever, said, ‘Go figure.’

What does he get paid to do?

Hitchens also gets the causality wrong:

To the west lay the enormous country of Algeria, again artificially prosperous through oil and natural gas, but recently the scene of a heinous Islamist insurgency that—along with harsh and vigorous state repression—had killed perhaps 150,000 people.

The Islamist violence started after the state canceled elections. Why mention the Islamist violence as if it preceded, or precipitated, the state violence? The state didn’t repress the insurgency; the state was repressive, repressed the results of elections, which in turn led to a civil war, in which the state didn’t just repress an insurgency, but actively contributed to its prolonging by refusing to create any political space for dissent and debate.

The audacity of ideology.

Oh, and the word isn’t “kuffar,” it’s kafir. Kuffar is a plural form. I certainly hope Hitchens screwed that up. At least, I wouldn’t be surprised. (In his silly book ‘God is not Great,’ Hitchens proudly boasts how he knows the Arabic world ‘Al-‘ means ‘The’).

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  • James Cates

    “His opinions would certainly not jive with those of hardline Islamists”
    The word is “jibe”, not “jive”. And can we all just take a moment to guffaw at the term “liberal Islamist”?

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  • Hamza

    i must say double standards really do come to bite you in the a** see women are forced not to wear hijab in Tunisia during Ben ali’s reign indeed if a women decides to wear one she would be persecuted and like many relatives of mine denied jobs i mean for god sake they used to put undercover cops in front of mosques to count how many people were religious yep this isnt oppressive at all jeez i mean it goes without saying that freedom to not wear a hijab is accompanied by freedom to wear one and im talking out of personnel experience and do u know whats commen between all these islamophobes that is Robert Spencer,Pam Geller and Christopher kitchens is they never set foot in the middle east they never lived nor had a decent conversation with a muslim and most importantly they dont have a degree in ISLAMIC STUDIES

  • Revert in SE Asia

    Nur Alia / Jack Cope- nice to read you.

    I’ve been in KL Malaysia for years and was traveling back to the US when I saw the book ‘god is not great’ (astagfirullah)by that faux intellectual drunken navel gazer Hitchens.

    Wracked with cancer I wonder if he’s secretly acknowledging their is a god and if he now has the new sin of hypocrite. Unrepentant slug. So proud of his brain static. Wait till he wakes up.

    *DrM- i loved your succinct reply. (if you Doc Mahathir fess up!)
    Wasalaam~

  • pat

    The 32nd anniversary of the Iranian Revolution will be on April 1. The Shah was a dictator and the people wanted more freedom, more liberty and more democracy. The Ayatollah Khomeini was all for this progression until he gained power and, immediately, turned Iran into an Islamic Republic. Lucky for us, we get to watch this piece of ugly history unfold before our eyes as the Iranian people continue to fight for the freedom robbed from them over 30 years ago. I hope the Tunisian people fare better.

    Also, Do you think the Ayatollah chose April Fools Day on purpose?

  • Whitney

    #

    The 32nd anniversary of the Iranian Revolution will be on April 1. The Shah was a dictator and the people wanted more freedom, more liberty and more democracy. The Ayatollah Khomeini was all for this progression until he gained power and, immediately, turned Iran into an Islamic Republic. Lucky for us, we get to watch this piece of ugly history unfold before our eyes as the Iranian people continue to fight for the freedom robbed from them over 30 years ago. I hope the Tunisian people fare better.

    Also, Do you think the Ayatollah chose April Fools Day on purpose?

  • Sam Seed

    And slightly off topic, has anyone seen the documentary 7/7 Ripple Effect? It’s quite an eye opener I must say.

  • Sam Seed

    Christopher Hitchens is, as George Galloway put it ‘A butterfly that metamorphasised into a slug’. Watch this debate between Galloway and Hitchens:-

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZnUIeKOIgc

    And as DrM put it “Hitchens is a neocon scumbag who lost credibility several years ago…”, you gotta watch the debate.

  • Because places like Malaysia and Indonesia don’t fit with their world view Nur 🙂 . The only time I saw Malaysia mentioned was over that ‘Church bombings’ farce and even then, they couldn’t report the facts of the case, they twisted it and bellowed stuff about 200 Churches being burned down. When I tell people I live in Malaysia, I get that thrown at me as I’m sure you do too (I’m assuming from your style of dress that you’re in Malaysia or Singapore). They just can’t get the idea that there is *gasp* a Muslim country out there *not* like Saudi! It leads to does not compute errors and they go into meltdown and then, often, they start to question the junk on these websites. So one of the things my new website is trying to do is get people to talk about what really happens in Muslim countries, rather than all the junk. Let me know if you can help ya? My email address is on my blog… (so sorry to keep pushing that Loonwatch but you are one of the best sites out there for getting the word out due to your diverse readership, consider it a sign of your success).

  • DrM

    @Anthony,

    Amen.

    @Mosizzle,

    Hitchens WAS friendly with Edward Said but turned on him after 9/11.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/brandabur09192003.html

  • Whitney

    The 32nd anniversary of the Iranian Revolution will be on April 1. The Shah was a dictator and the people wanted more freedom, more liberty and more democracy. The Ayatollah Khomeini was all for this progression until he gained power and, immediately, turned Iran into an Islamic Republic. Lucky for us, we get to watch this piece of ugly history unfold before our eyes as the Iranian people continue to fight for the freedom robbed from them over 30 years ago. I hope the Tunisian people fare better.

    Also, Do you think the Ayatollah chose April Fools Day on purpose?

  • Nur Alia

    Gee…

    I can wear my tudong (malay style of hijab) and drive, vote, go by myself…and everything.

    All of those things within the context of a progressive, modern, majority Muslim (even the offical religion is Islam) nation.

    Why dont the ‘enlightened’ in your western nations ever report on nations that are not run by a dictator supported by a western power, supported by a western power, or occupied by a western power?

  • Mosizzle

    I can understand the others but Hitchens was clearly against Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank. He was also very friendly with famous Palestinian historian Edward Said.

    Bill Maher is a total loon. Even if Israel systematically executed every Palestinian, he would find some way to defend it. “They were all terrorists!”

  • Anthony

    so called Liberal athiests like Hitchens, Maher, Sam Harris are all useful idiots for the Israeli Likud cause.

  • DrM

    I believe you’re being too polite, Haroon. Hitchens is a neocon scumbag who lost credibility several years ago(he got scared after 9/11 and became a Bush waterboy, WMD lies and all). The only people who take him seriously are hardcore anti-religion nuts on the extreme left. In a fair and civil debate on the topic of religion and theology, Hitchens wouldn’t last five minutes against a qualified opponent even if his friends Dawkins and Dennett were propping up his drunken carcass from either side. The dirty secret that trotskyist popinjays like Hitchens have long been supporters of secular Anglophone/Francophone dictatorships in many a Muslim nation.
    And stop using “islamist” nonsense please. Islamist is up there with jihadist and now wahhabist in my book. Totally stupid meaningless word that attempts to Anglicize an Arabic word, advertise it as intellectual and with deep meaning while actually only superficially pretending to bypass the connotations that are invariably associated with it by its religious context. In reality, it’s those connotations and the religious context which are being manipulated to put the religion of Islam in new, hateful, bigoted, misrepresented terminology.

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  • ‘Gee, they can’t vote but they don’t have to wear hijab so they aren’t oppressed.’ *rolls eyes* All this week I’ve been amazed at how western reporters have been fawning over President Hu’s visit, praising him on not wearing a Mao jacket, as if somehow wearing western clothing makes him ‘modern’ and ‘democratic.’ China is still a Communist dictatorship, while India, where many men and women still wear traditional clothing, is a democracy. Honestly, with the degree of unabashed prejudice towards anything perceived as ‘non-western’ in the popular media, I’m not surprised by anything anymore.

    Ben Ali was an authoritarian ruler. Just because he doesn’t require people to wear hijab or allows them to hold hands doesn’t change that fact. In fact, quite a few dictators have been concerned with ‘westernizing,’ often forcibly making their populations adopt western clothing, customs and other habits. The former Shah in Iran embarked on a notoriously aggressive ‘modernization’ campaign that was very unpopular in the rural parts of the country. China’s Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward would be another example. The result? Tens of millions dead and thousands of years of Chinese art destroyed.

    For all their talk of ‘equality’ and ‘multi-culturalism,’ I’ve found that far too many of the west’s so-called ‘liberals’ are interested in nothing more than the preservation of western norms. As long as western dress, cinema and customs maintain a privileged position, many in the US and Europe would be willing to allow the masses in Africa or Asia to exist under brutal dictatorships. You never hear about the six million or so who died in the Congo Civil War over the last decade, but there are no shortage of shrill voices criticizing Iran for not allowing Protestant missionaries….

  • Well, that means that the Tienanmen Square protests, the Redshirt uprising in Thailand and the French Revolution to name three at random were all due to Islamist resurgence if that’s true. Let’s throw in, dare I say it, the Boston Tea Party as well for good measure 🙂

  • Dawood

    Yet Spencer and his ilk remain convinced that the events in Tunisia are because of an Islamist resurgence, revolution and the triumph of sharia etc. Recent postings on their site reflect this. It’s rather sad.

  • Averroe’s Ghost

    Syed,

    Hitchens made a similar remark in a recent op-ed for Slate.

  • FXG

    The only reason Hitchens is popular because of the way he expresses English.

  • FXG

    The only reason hitchens is popular because of his expression of English.

  • Syed

    Hitchins wrote that article in 2007. I am sure that current events have led him to revise his opinions 😉

  • Tom Thumb

    There are many who wouldn’t rate Christopher Hitchens very highly as a philosopher. IMHO, Christopher is as popular as he is mostly because of how brilliantly he expresses his ideas. There is no doubt he dazzles with the King’s English.

  • Narrated Jarir bin ‘Abdullah: Allah’s Messenger said, “Allah will not be merciful to those who are not merciful to mankind.”

    [Sahih Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 473]

    عَنْ جَرِيرِ بْنِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لَا يَرْحَمُ اللَّهُ مَنْ لَا يَرْحَمُ النَّاسَ

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