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Hitchens vs the Syrian nationalists

19 February 2009

God Is Not GreatSo I’m reading that Christopher Hitchens — one of the now-legendary Four Horsemen of New Atheism, and all-round modern iconoclast — has managed to get himself beaten up while visiting Lebanon.

It sounds pretty dire at first blush, with my first thoughts wondering about some kind of retribution for one of his books or his regular column in Slate, Fighting Words, but the original source of the news indicates that he’s fine and just has a bit of a limp, some bruises and, presumably, a bruised ego.

I have a mixture of respect and repulsion for Hitchens, as I think his God Is Not Great is a fantastic rational book that summarises, in his unique way, how religion gets in the way of basic human functions at best. My repulsion comes from the way he goes about conveying his message, his apparent wildly-variable political standpoints, and for his all-round attitude to things that has culminated in this event. But I suppose in my attitude he has achieved his desired goal — polarisation of opinion, generation of thought, and getting people talking.

Anyway, reports state that while out drinking he chose to walk around a neighbourhood known, to the locals at least, to be sympathetic to an extremist political party — the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) — and to indiscreetly deface one of their posters in plain sight. And they didn’t take kindly to it, as you might expect from any of the extremist parties wherever you live.

It can’t be just me that sees the madness of this on multiple levels, surely? If nothing else, then how about:

  • Out drinking (presumably alone) in a country known for political and religious strife.
  • In an area that seemed to be sympathetic or supportive of the SSNP.
  • Walking around said country while drunk.
  • Brazenly defacing a poster for a political party of another nation.

Without wishing to impugn any nationality: to the Lebanese locals he must look like a drunken, intemperate American tourist defacing an advertisement for another country’s political system. That’s like walking around parts of New York or London wearing a racist t-shirt, or strolling outside one of the growing number of wartime Green Zones with USA No.1 emblazoned on your shirt: you’re not going to get away with it without a limp — sorry. In fact, he’s lucky to just have the limp.

Don’t mistake me: I by no means wish ill of the man, but this has to go down as one of those “What the hell was he thinking?” moments. I hope he learns from it and re-thinks his next surreptitious political protest. Preferably not one in another country where the locals intolerantly see him as an Imperalist Capitalist Pig try to foist his nation’s idea of peace, politics and way of life upon them.

Despite all that, I do applaud his conviction and fearlessness.

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