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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