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article imageReview: 'Unhitched — The Trial of Christopher Hitchens'

By Joseph Power     Apr 10, 2013 in Entertainment
Christopher Hitchens, the man who eviscerated Jerry Falwell the day after his death, “if you gave him an enema, he could be buried in a matchbox”, mocked the cultural decorum to not “speak ill if the dead”.
Richard Seymour, it seems, holds him to his own conviction. The most amusing thing about the book, however, is how much such an effort would have surely delighted the late writer.
The Spectator's Nick Cohen had the following to say - apart from Seymour's publisher, Verso, once begging Hitchens for money and then betraying him - on Hitchens's use of language.
As that ‘ouvrierist’ suggests, nature did not intend Mr Seymour to write. Whatever you think of Hitchens’s arguments, he loved the English language, and it loved him back. Seymour read the collected works of that compelling stylist and still produced sentences such as, ‘Turns to the right among the intelligentsia were drawn out processes punctuated by miniwaves and with distinct temporalities.’
I think my ire for Richard Seymour reached boiling point when I read a piece published in The Guardian , for his then-upcoming book, Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens, and saw this particular quotation:
“He wrote of Columbus Day that the extermination of the Native Americans should be celebrated as a fact of historical progress.”
I count myself among one of the many admirers of the old horse. At the risk of sounding like a salivating fanboy, Hitchens was somebody who reinvigorated my interest in journalism and politics. So, I took the liberty of fishing the quotation in question from his plethora of work. What Hitchens actually wrote:
”The transformation of the northern part of this continent into ‘America’ inaugurated a nearly boundless epoch of opportunity and innovation, and thus deserves to be celebrated with great vim and gusto, with or without the participation of those who wish they had never been born.”
That was misrepresentation at best; blatant lying at worst. My interest was piqued.
Seymour, referring to Hitchens as a ‘terrible liar’, lambasted him for his apostasy in moving from the so-called Left, to the so-called Right in his support for the West’s fight against Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Seymour, a Marxist Leninist hack, is a member of the Socialist Workers Party. I find it difficult to be lectured to by a member of a political party that unashamedly aligned themselves Hamas and Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon war, but I digress.
Hitchens denounced his (then) lifelong commitment to socialism in 2001. If this book reads like anything, it reads like someone who was deeply wounded by one of the Left’s jewels possessing neoconservative (or “cruise missile liberal”) tendencies. The book is essentially the political trial of an apostate. Somebody who in the author’s own words, had become, “the George W. Bush administration’s amanuensis.” In other words – the P.R man of George W Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld in Vanity Fair and Slate, among others.
There's a conspicuous absence of the fact that the man acted as a “plaintiff in a lawsuit brought against the administration for its warrantless wiretapping programme, accused Bush of “near-impeachable irresponsibility in the matter of postwar planning” and denounced him as an “idiotic and psychically damaged Sabbath-fanatic”” . By the way, this was noted in the, The New Statesman, if political bias worries you: The New Statesman have been a proud publication of the Left for years.
Hitchens’s supposed metamorphosis from socialist writer to war-drumming neoconservative in the wake of 9/11 alienated himself from many of those on the Left. Seymour, however, states that this so-called apostasy predates Iraq, 9/11, or even Bosnia: “Not only was Hitchens a man of the right in his last years, but his predilections for a certain kind of right-wing radicalism ... pre-dated his apostasy.”
Seymour, in particular, cites Hitchens’s unusual (on the left, at least) support for Thatcher’s intervention when the fascist Argentinian military junta invaded The Falklands in 1982. Seymour imputes that it was British imperialism – and not the illegal and unprovoked invasion by Argentina – that spurred Hitchens to take his position. That, I’m afraid, is the mentality of some on the Left.
Elsewhere in the book, in the common argument that Hitchens overblew the threat of radical Islam. Seymour mocks him, saying that “what remained of his leftism could not withstand the challenge by the aerial assault of a handful of motivated jihadists.”
Watching 3000 people vaporize in a single September morning, and then the multitude of worldwide attacks across the globe (not including those that were foiled by our security services) is apparently cause for amusement. Or, if you’d prefer Seymour’s own words, “a civilizational challenge out of a handful of combatants with box cutters.” No doubt the jihadis will be so very disappointed that their efforts haven’t been given the respect they worked (and killed) so frightfully hard for.
Hitchens’s experience with Islamism, of course, began with his friend, Salman Rushdie, who was condemned to death by a theocratic Iranian madman for the publication of a novel, with a titular, 100-page satire on the origins of Islam. Far from being, in your humble narrator’s opinion, a fairly straightforward confrontation to religious totalitarianism and free expression, it becomes, instead, the fault of Britain’s colonial history. The onus was shifted from a bunch of people who’d never (or couldn’t, if they wanted to) even read Rushdie’s novel, to British colonialism, citing that this gave them a reason to be “legitimately offended”.
If Hitchens can be held to the charge of ‘overblowing’ Islamism in the wake of Rushdie’s novel, then Seymour can be charged with blatant ignorance. He said that Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa “yielded little”. I’m sure the Norwegian translator who was shot three times with a high-velocity rifle and left dead in the snow; the Japanese translator who was stabbed to death; or Rushdie himself, who disappeared into a world of rented houses, armed guards, tinted windows, and the alias of Joseph Anton (a purposely Anglo-Saxon amalgamation of Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov) would’ve been glad to avoid such trouble altogether.
Seymour makes no attempt to rebut any of the leftist arguments in support of the Iraq intervention. He writes of Hitchens’s hesitant support for the Arab Spring in the words of a man intoxicated by dislike. Funnily enough, what we’re not witnessing in 2013 doesn’t resemble an Arab Spring, so much as an Arab Winter. Dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt were overthrown, only to usher in Islamist parties like Ennahda and the Muslim Brotherhood. Scepticism, in this case, was vindicated.
Seymour’s allegations of Hitchens’s plagiarism is perhaps the most pathetic point of the entire book. Plagiarism is a serious accusation for any writer or journalist, and one I read with particular interest. The end result: Zilch. Zip. Zero. Nothing. Seymour doesn’t provide a single proven case of plagiarism on the man’s part. “Alleged’ reviews are mentioned, only when you look them up, find that the author has dismissed all notions of plagiarism by Hitchens.
This pile of pulp reads as little more than an embittered, boring, painfully monotonous critique of Christopher Hitchens. You’ll find almost nobody that agreed with him over Iraq among his circle of friends, but almost nobody who’d debate him publically over it. The man will be remembered for his rhetorical flair, his beautiful (albeit sometimes lazy) use of language, his endless cache of Youtube videos, and his unparalleled defence of securalism, enlightenment values, and free expression under fire. Not, I’m glad to say, Richard Seymour’s drivel.
The old jokes go, "If you are young and Republican, you have no heart. If you are old and a Democrat, you have no brain”, “a neocon is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality.” Beware, young leftists, if you dare to transcend the rigid Left-Right dichotomy, then you may have such a worthless book written about you, too. It’s just a shame that the man himself wasn’t alive to rebut the work itself.
More about Christopher hitchens, richard seymour, Iraq, Afghanistan, Al qaeda
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