Nat Belz for WORLD

The world according to Hitch

Exclusive | What's a pro-war, anti-abortion, religion-hating Darwinist doing in the Bush camp, or any camp? Commentator and contrarian Christopher Hitchens talks to WORLD

Issue: "Houses divided," June 3, 2006

On a weekly basis Christopher Hitchens sits down to a keyboard in Washington to write 1,000 words or so in support of the president's war on terror. He has debated the topic with film director Oliver Stone, Hardball's Chris Matthews, University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole, Georgetown Middle East expert John Esposito, and others. On a daily basis he takes abuse from liberal blogs, where he stands accused of "robotic flag-waving" (Daily Kos) and is dubbed "a self-appointed knight, coming to save us from all alleged war criminals" (American Prospect). For all that, he's never been allowed to vote in a U.S. presidential election.

"I can be drafted," he deadpans a little defensively. At 57, the Oxford grad with the brooding look of Richard Burton has spent nearly half his life in the United States on a green card (and has three American daughters to show for it). "This being the generous country that it is, I was quite prepared to go on as an Anglo-American. I don't particularly want to vote. But after September 11th, I thought I was cheating on my dues."

Mr. Hitchens quit a 20-year-running column with The Nation over the war. The liberal magazine, he says, became part of "the feedback loop of those who believe the Falwell-Robertson line, who believed that this was a judgment on the United States. The will to capitulation involved in that is very sinister to me." But his reputation as a contrarian has only grown since, as the libertarian, hawk, literary critic, and author of 16 books now produces prose at once gritty and laser-guided for Slate, Atlantic Monthly, Vanity Fair, and others. When he's not typing, he's talking, giving hundreds of speeches and interviews on national security more normally attributed to conservatives and a religious-right president.

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Unlike other expat legends-rock stars Bono and Neil ("Shock & Awe") Young come to mind-who fashion themselves as U.S. foreign policy experts while keeping their citizenship and their vote elsewhere, Mr. Hitchens had a change of heart after terrorists attacked New York and Washington. He watched the Pentagon burn from the rooftop of his apartment in northern Virginia and later lost a mailman to anthrax. So one day this month he will walk into a government office just outside Washington, pledge his allegiance to the United States of America, and become a citizen.

"I realized that when I was reading arguments after 9/11 that said there was the American view and there was the European view-that sort of tripe-that as far as I could tell the American view is the one that I took. I felt a much stronger identification than I had before," Mr. Hitchens tells WORLD. "Before I was ready to curse alone. I was an outsider in both countries. But it felt like, feels like, is a gesture of solidarity."

Solidarity with what, exactly, in a country cleanly divided over war in Iraq and led by a president whose policy toward terrorism has dropped his poll numbers into the dustbin?

"It's fallen on the United States to be the country that resists the renewal of barbarism, of religious barbarism in the world," Mr. Hitchens answers. "It doesn't particularly want the job, it doesn't do it terribly well-and I think would have escaped it if it could-but there's something about the United States that makes it both hated and antagonistic to this barbarism." He adds, "If one wants to defend the deployment of forces of fellow citizens, one probably ought to be a fellow citizen."

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."


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