Christopher Hitchens is one of those guys who sometimes takes your breath away with his strong writing, but then a moment later you want to retch as he goes haring off on some sodden militaristic crusade. It’s with some sadness that I see that he deserves to be minced by Juan Cole. Although when Cole has him writhing on the ground and turns around to put the boot in…well, maybe that’s a bit harsh.
Nah, he deserved that, too. Kick him again, Juan! Harder!
David Wilford says
As a rule of thumb, no matter how well they write I never trust contrarians such as Hitchens. Backe when he went after Mother Teresa, despite the fact that her flaws were real, the self-serving zeal of Hitchens prose as he pointed them out was evident and to me very off-putting. Hitchens later went off his nut as he went on a mysterious vendetta against Bill Clinton, prompting a lawsuit from a former friend of his, Sidney Blumenthan, who Hitchens had basely accused of criminal conduct. For Hitchens to emply private communications he was not given permission to read in the first place, let alone misquite in Salon, is just a sad waste of his talent.
Fred J says
Don’t peck Bora in the head if you are a mockingbird and don’t take Juan Cole’s private e-mail.
In Bora’s case he will hit you with his fist. In Juan’s case he will ream you a new one and then sew it back up for you.
I actually do have a black belt in karate, which proved useless again and again against the mockingbirds.
On the other hand, I much prefer verbal destruction performed by people with a superior command of English, people like Cole, and Berube, and PZ…I wish I could use English that well to eviscerate the people who richly deserve it.
Jonathan Badger says
I guess I’m not seeing what is so clever in Juan’s latest blog posting. While I agree that it was wrong for Christopher to use Juan’s mail without permission, all this stuff about whether Hitchens is a drunk is just stupid and juvenile. It’s like when people make comments calling Coulter a skank. Trash talking is all well and fine when it is just banter about what sports team is going to win, but politics is rather more important. If leftists can’t keep to the issues, what makes them any better than rightist blowhards like Rush?
Minced how? By calling him a drunk? He mentions Sullivan was with Hitchens when he wrote the article, but wisely does not link to Sullivan’s post. Both Hitchens and Sullivan at least provide relevant source material (compared to the one quote provided by Cole). Cole claims Ahmedinejad “quoted Khomeini to the effect that ‘the Occupation regime must end’ (ehtelal bayad az bayn berad). And, no, it is not the same thing. It is about what sort of regime people live under, not whether they exist at all.” But then when Hitchens points out that Khomeini was, in fact, talking about destroying Israel, Cole tries to dodge the criticism by saying “He blames me for not referring to some other speech of Khomeini, when in fact I never instanced any speeches of Khomeini at all in this discussion except the snippet cited by Ahmadinejad– I was arguing that there is no Persian idiom to wipe something off the map, and that Ahmadinejad has been misquoted.” As though context is irrelevant.
The only other “arguments” he tries to make are that there was some violation of etiquette and that Hitchens is a drunk. An ad hominem that he also lamely tries to excuse: “That is why the point about his drinking problem is not ad hominem. It is germane to his failing faculties and increasingly immoral behavior.” You could just as easily say Juan Cole is an idiot and that is “germane to his faculties”. Juan Cole looks like an ass in this exchange.
all this stuff about whether Hitchens is a drunk is just stupid and juvenile
Bullshit. What kind of idiot equates namecalling with character assassination?
What’s stupid and juvenile is whining about manners while a vicious thug like Hitchens hurls baseless charges of anti-Semitism in an attempt to ruin professional reputations and careers. Last fall, in one of the most disgusting columns ever published in a mainstream outlet, he linked Cindy Sheehan with David Duke.
Jonathan Badger says
What’s the difference? Calling someone a drunk is a form of character assassination. A pretty serious form in my opinion.
I’m certainly not a fan of Hitchens. What I object to is the applauding of identical tactics on the left. If we have the facts on our side, why resort to such crap? It only weakens our case.
I agree with Badger about the resort to calling Hitchens a drunk, as I did feel it took away from the force of his rebuttal and was largely irrelevant (as I don’t think the reasons Hitchens misquoted Professor Cole were particularly pertinent above and beyond Hitchens’s warmongering–though I am more forgiving of a cheap shot when defending against cheap shots, and Cole’s been taking a lot of cheap shots lately).
However, I disagree with dorkafork that Professor Cole’s response did not adequately address Hitchens’s and Sullivan’s “substantive” comments. Professor Cole argued that the translation of what President Ahmedinejad said that was (and still is) widely disseminated as “wipe Israel off the map” is incorrect. The reason Professor Cole thought that it was incorrect was because it came from a speech by Khomeini, and in that speech, Khomeini was not calling for a particular occupation regime to be “wiped off the map.” Instead, Khomeini was saying that such regime should come to an end (or would not last forever), meaning a new regime should/would take over–in other words not a threat. So that what Khomeini was expressing in the quote that President Ahmedinejad repeated was essentially what I say when I call for the end of the Bush administration–I am not threatening the Bush administration with some kind of revolutionay force. Therefore, it is irrelevant to the proper (contested) translation what Khomeini said in other speeches, because President Ahmedinejad was not quoting from those other speeches.
Bryson Brown says
Cole’s remark about a drinking problem is not a premise for an ad hominem argument. It’s a suggestion, based on personal observation and on other sources, that this problem may explain how a smart writer like Hitchens became such a sad hack on these issues. You may object to Cole’s even raising the subject, and it’s fair to say that it wasn’t essential to Cole’s argument to bring it up. But the question, just what’s gone wrong with Hitchens, seems well worth asking to me.
Hitchen’s piece manufactures an army of straw men and proceeds to slay them with all the surface conviction and utter inauthenticity of a Hollywood thriller. Cole’s response, by comparison, is detailed and extremely convincing. I’m less inclined than Cole to accept a conspiratorial reading of the right’s recent rhetoric on Iran: the Iranian regime is a worrisome bunch however Amadinejad’s remarks translate, and I do suspect that they are seeking nuclear weapons (though it’s quite possible that they want them for defensive reasons, it’s a very high-risk course of action…). So real concern is justified (as Cole’s remarks suggest at several points). On the other hand, the US right is undeniably quick to get obsessed with the ‘war option’ these days– very unconservative of them. And the mess awaiting us if they manage to fool themselves into actually launching a war is horrible to contemplate. I don’t think anyone, even Bush et al., will be stupid enough to do it, but it’s hard to be confident with those guys in charge. Maybe a little more aggressive criticism up front will save us all a lot of grief.
Yikes. Having read Cole’s piece I’ve ended up with a really weird feeling. I don’t like his cheap propagandist tactics, for a start, and I don’t like his savage ad hominems: something about his whole tone is really offputting to me. He’s got some really important pointsa, but he’s so ranty that they get lost in the noise.
I am very unconvinced by his claim that Ahmedinejad’s was not making a threat – “this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time” sounds pretty definitively threatening to me. Vanish from the page of time? Maybe there’s a new artifact of translation here, but this sounds like ‘erased from the pages of history’. Oh yes, so much less threatening than ‘wiped off the map’! His quibble that “Ahmadinejad defined Zionism not as an Arabi-Israeli national struggle but as a Western plot to divide the world of Islam with Israel as the pivot of this plan” is of equally dubious value to his case; great, so it’s not a nationalistic struggle but a global Zionist conspiracy. Yes, I can see how that undermines Hitchen’s case. Nice point.
The things that really matter aren’t even covered till halfway through the article, squeezed between the ‘drunkard’ ad hominems and the emotional appeals of his photo essay: rhetoric aside, is Iran a real global threat and is it really militarily active? And if so, is ‘regime change’ the answer? (As far as it goes I agree with Cole as to his conclusions on those issues.)
Satan Luvvs Repugs says
Calling someone a drunk is a form of character assassination. A pretty serious form in my opinion.
Unless he IS a drunk. And there is ample evidence that Hitchens is in fact, a drunk.
But Cole was suggesting that Hitchens being drunk when swiping and mischaracterizing his e-mail was a mitigating factor. For an academic, being an alcoholic is a misdemeanor, while dishonestly misquoting and mischaracterizing someone’s words is a felony.
And yeah, an expert (like Cole, when it comes to translating Farsi) gets justifiably pissed off when his work is sneeringly questioned and maligned by an ignorant
diletante like Hitchens.
Mark Paris says
I don’t know whether Hitchens is a drunk, but I do know that he is a pompous ass. I never read his stuff any more. He’s kind of like Michael Crichton – I used to enjoy some of his stuff as escapism, but once I learned what an idiot he is, I gave up reading him.
Jonathan Badger says
Not really. It’s pretty obvious (and doesn’t require unnamed sources claiming that Hitchens was drinking heavily before an encounter with Cole). Like many former Marxists, Hitchens has simply taken the no-holds-barred tactics of Marxism to his new political niche.
There doesn’t seem to be any question about Hitchens being a drunk. It’s amazing how he continues to function. He’s often well pickled when he appears on TV. For example just watch this episode on hardball and tell me he’s not drunk:
Please note that Sullivan doesn’t say Hitchens wasn’t drunk while writing the piece, only that he wasn’t drunk when he “filed” the piece. It’s hilarious. “How dare you say Bob is a drunk? I saw him yesterday at noon and he was stone cold sober.”
P.S. For God’s sake, the guy’s killin himself. Can’t some of these friends and supporters help him, do an intervention or something?
steve s says
Looks to me like Hitch was right, and surprise, Cole was giving the Islamist the benefit of the doubt. Real shocker there. To respond by calling him a drunk is both shameful and inadequate.
The issue of drink only came up in this context because Cole was ruminating on why this apparent well-respected progressive and critic of the right has fallen so far as to become a professional hack Bush war disaster applogist and war promoter. It is hard for many to believe that shear opportunism or complete God-instructed repudiation of all his previous values explains the shift.
Furthermore, it is extremely unusual for anyone to appear on a news show drunk, at least since Lucielle Ball in the Vitavitavegiman episode. Hitchens has appeared drunk more than once when he appeared as a TV pundit.(see my post above) This is extremely unusual and newsworthy in our current news culture. To act as if it isn’t happening is bizarre. I suspect he is tolerated because of his propaganda usefullness as a former Nation writer.
I appreciate your suggestion that Hitchens be viewed in a similar manner to US Grant. Lets leave aside for a moment the question of political change of heart embodied in Hitchen’s move from left to right with the neocon sunrise. By the end of the Civil War in 1865 Grant had proved himself to be a brilliant hands-on strategist and tactician, but by the end of his Presidency in the 1870s he was a helpless pathetic hulk, manipulated by a host of political con-men and financial hucksters, completely unaware of the corruption permeating his adminstration from top to bottom. I find it hard to beleive that drink didn’t turn Grant, a man of inciteful brilliance, into a pathetic loser even as he reached a “higher” stage in his career. You’re the one who said Hitchens should be compared to Grant, and that is exactly the suggestion that Cole seems to me to be making.
Jonathan Badger says
Okay, I watched the episode (or rather fast-forwarded to the point where Hitchens is on camera), and really don’t see what you mean. Yes, he seems to be attacking Powell (one of the few people involved with Bush that had any integrity), but just because I disagree with his words doesn’t mean that I think he’s drunk. I don’t claim to be an expert on drunkenness, but having being at universities (as undergrad, grad student, and postdoc) for about 15 years, I think I’ve seen quite a few drunk people.
Cole spends a tiny amount of time on the speculation that Hitchens is a drunk. His major, and far more impassioned, explanation is that he’s a war-monger. Not much to disagree with there.
Cole’s piece wasn’t a kicking, it was a prolonged squawk.
As an Iranian native Farsi speaker, let me just say that Juan Cole is definitely WRONG.
The phrase “bayad mahv shavad” translates to “must be annihilated”. It is an imperative and not a passive.
“mahv” free of context does translate as “vanish” – but “mahv shavad” does not mean “disappear”. It means “removed”. The imperative “bayad” then causes the word “removed” to mean “must be annihilated”.
Juan Cole apologized for the massacres of Moqtada Sadr and he apologizes for the proto-fascist Ahmadinejad. This comes for his love of Islam, being a proto-muslim himself.
It is a sad day when one’s religious affiliation causes them to apologize for repression and tyranny. Yale University was correct to give Cole’s application the boot.
The events of 2009 now clearly shows how Cole was wrong. Not only there was no hint of even an invasion of Iran, as Cole claimed, but the subject of his apology Mr. Ahmadinejad has been raping and torturing and executing Iranian secular democrat political prisoners. Shame on Prof. Cole.