On August 1, Christopher Hitchens devoted his column to insult the just-deceased Bob Hope ("a fool, and nearly a clown, but ... never even remotely a comedian"). Hitchens is the nasty eccentric who earlier attacked Mother Theresa (book title: The Missionary Position), Elie Wiesel (a "contemptible poseur and windbag"), and Winston Churchill (article subtitle: "Incompetent, Boorish, Drunk, and Mostly Wrong"). For good measure, he wrote a book calling for Henry Kissinger's incarceration as a war criminal.
And on August 11, Hitchens mustered his bluster and rudeness against me. Others have come to my defense, including such liberals as Steven I. Weiss and "The_Bell," so I will to take up just one issue, the one that appears most to have riled Hitchens' delicate sensibilities: my having once referred to "the so-called Palestinian refugees." Hitchens deems this term of mine a "crude trick of language" that insinuates there was no Palestinian dispossession.
Actually, I was not commenting on dispossession at all - typical sloppy Hitchens style to make a faulty assumption and then go on the rampage against it - but on the peculiar and specific United Nations definition of a "Palestinian refugee" that differs from the definition of any other refugee.
That happens to be the topic of my column today, "The Refugee Curse," which I hope Hitchens will keep quiet long enough to read and learn from. (August 19, 2003)
Oct. 21, 2003 update: I provide another instance today of Hitchens' deep thinking at "The 'October Surprise' Theory."
Dec. 23, 2003 update: I called Hitchens a "poseur and eccentric" above, not deceitful. However, after reading Sean Wilentz's brief but incisive exposé of Hitchens' claimed reaction to 9/11, I realize that this would be an appropriate adjective.
June 5, 2004 update: For the Hitchens-Pipes debate concerning the lasting impact of Ayatollah Khomeini's edict, see "Is Salman Rushdie Now Safe?"
June 17, 2004 update: Hitchens wrote today in a eulogy that Ronald Reagan was "as dumb as a stump ... an obvious phony and loon," garnering the predictable outraged reaction. What puzzles me is why anyone pays attention to this provocateur whose unserious utterances are designed merely to ruffle feathers. I expect the public eventually to catch on to his game and ignore his antics.
April 8, 2005 update: In keeping with Hitchens' attacks on the other recently dead, he today calls Pope John Paul II "an elderly and querulous celibate, who came too late and who stayed too long."
I am not one of those who uses the term "conspiracy theory" as an automatic sneer of dismissal. Conspiracies do occur. I spent a lot of my life at one point trying to show that William Casey of the Reagan-era CIA had made a private deal with the Iranian hostage-takers in 1979, inducing them to keep their prisoners until the Carter administration had been defeated, and I still firmly believe that something of the sort (which eventually culminated in the Iran-Contra underworld) was at least attempted. So do many senior members of both parties in Washington, with whom I am still in touch.
Comment: It would he most helpful if Hitchens divulged the names of those "senior members of both parties in Washington" so we can have a good laugh at his and their expense.
Jan. 5, 2006 update: In the case of Ariel Sharon, Hitchens could not even wait for death to slander him, but did so hours after Israel's prime minister experienced a massive stroke. Endorsing Noam Chomsky's view, Hitchens writes that Sharon was "the effective and conscious author of the massacre" at Sabra and Shatilla in 1982 (which is nonsense). He also hurls a variety of epithets at Sharon, including "brutal," "demagogic," and "ruthless."
Dec. 15, 2011 update: Christopher Hitchens, five months older than me, died today. Noting how many awful comments he made on the demise of his elders and betters (see above), not saying anything negative about him rates as an act of exceptional mercy.
Dec. 16, 2011 update: David Frum has publicly described an encounter between Hitchens and me that took place on Nov. 10, 2001:
In the aftershock of 9/11 and Hitchens' great political rotation, I made the mistake of organizing a dinner to try to reconcile him to the Middle East expert, Daniel Pipes. That time, Christopher arrived spoiling for a fight. The evening ended with Christopher storming out of the house.
Carol struggled to follow him, but he moved so fast that he had vanished around the corner of a neighboring street before Carol reached the sidewalk. She realized she couldn't get home on her own because Christopher had departed with the keys to their car in his pocket. Nor could she re-enter the house, without an awkward explanation to all the other dumbfounded guests. Andrew Sullivan played Sir Galahad and returned Carol home. The Hitchens' car remained parked on our curb till late the next morning.
Hitchens stormed out of the Frums' house because I made a negative comment about Edward Said. Our oh-so-delicate flower could not abide this. He stood up, denounced me, and (before dessert had been served) rushed home. He stranded his wife, upset the hosts, and made me chuckle how he is as obnoxious in life as in writing.
Why the need to reconcile Hitchens and me? He and I first met when I served the Reagan administration in 1982 and were friendly. He soon turned against me, however, devoting his attention in the course of a famous debate, "The Scholars, the Media, and the Middle East" in November 1986 that featured Bernard Lewis and Edward Said. In it, Hitchens ridiculed a point I made in "The Media and the Middle East" about the focus of U.S. journalism on two topics, the United States and Israel:
Concerning the Middle East, I want to argue, and specifically the conflict over Palestine, a subjectively even-handed treatment, inadequate as it is, is very often abandoned and sometimes suspended completely.
He then offers examples of this subjectivity, concluding that nothing like them could "occur so flagrantly in a debate on any other question." Why is the Middle East and Israel especially handled so differently? Hitchens offers two explanations for this, one of which, mystifyingly, has to do with me:
And I'll give you [a] quotation. It is the following. You have to guess where it comes from. Put simply it says, "American journalists are interested only in two topics in the Middle East: Israel and the United States. Whatever takes place that is related to these countries is amplified and broadcast to the world. Whatever is not is virtually ignored." That is from "The Media and the Middle East" by Daniel Pipes in Commentary, in the bizarre context of an argument that the entire United States press is ranged against the Israeli case-one of the unintended ironies, of other unintended ironies, which all of those readers of Dr. Pipes have long learned to cherish.
A quarter of a century later, I still can't figure out what my sin here is. Suggestions are welcome.
Our problem got worse on May 16, 1991, when he and I were both on a panel on the Phil Donahue television show to discuss the "October Surprise" theory. (Now forgotten, that popular conspiracy theory of two decades ago held that Ronald Reagan urged Ayatollah Khomeini in October 1980 to keep holding the U.S. hostages, which helped Reagan defeat Jimmy Carter in the U.S. presidential elections a month later.)
I alone on a panel of seven sages (which included Abol Hassan Bani Sadr and Gary Sick) poured ridicule on this as a preposterous notion; the other six, including Hitchens, pondered it as a worthy and important analysis. In the course of our two-hour session, to make a point, I touched Hitchens, who sat one person away from me, lightly on the shoulder. To which he theatrically snarled, "Don't touch me, Pipes." Embarrassed and determined to get even, I equally theatrically made fun of him for making a simple factual mistake about Iran.
We were off and running.
Dec. 27, 2011 update: And one more charming aspect of Hitchens' character: Giulio Meotti establishes that he was an antisemite. Just one quote: "In his atheist best-selling jeremiad, God is Not Great, Hitchens describes Judaism and Israel as both 'genocidal'."
Apr. 14, 2013 update: Meotti adds that Hitchens also had a vile anti-Zionist quality. He "depicted Israel as 'stupid, messianic and superstitious' and he published an article entitled 'Israel's Shabbos Goy,' evoking the canard of a Jewish conspiracy manipulating US policy."