Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Apparently it takes a Pope to get Christopher Hitchens into rollicking form again. Hitchens is a rivetting polemicist: at his best, he mixes his no-holds-barred style, with humor and self-irony, all in just the right amounts. I even took his book from the library, Letters to a Young Contrarian, but couldn't read more than a few pages because I didn't understand what the hell he was talking about; my fault, not his. His book on Mother Teresa, however, I read with relish, all the way from its wink-wink title -- The Missionary Position -- to its last page. Lately though Hitchens seems to have stopped being provocative and merely become tiresome. I've no quarrel over Hitchens' support for the Iraq war but I do have a quarrel over how boring his latest essays have become. Here he is reiterating his stand against Joseph Wilson (and here too, and probably in a hundred other places, here on Juan Cole and here on George Galloway -- yesh, I wish he wouldn't bring his quarrels into the pages of Slate). Last week he made this startling assertion in a review of a biography of I. F. Stone (3quarksdaily, which simply quotes a small extract from essays, was startled enough to quote his "remarkable claim"):
MacPherson [the writer of the biography] makes the slightly glib assumption—as do the editors of the excellent companion volume, The Best of I. F. Stone—that, if he were around today, Izzy would be as staunchly anti-war and anti-Bush as she is. Having known him a bit, I am not so absolutely sure. That he would have found the president excruciating is a certainty. But he had a real horror of sadistic dictators, and would not have confused Slobodan Milosevic or Saddam Hussein with the Vietcong...Finally, I think he would have waited for some more documents to surface, and helped unearth them himself, before making any conclusive judgments about weapons programs or terror connections in Iraq.
I wonder how much more one needs to wait before making conclusive judgements.

I wonder also how long I'll have to wait before another enjoyable Hitchens essay comes along.

ps: The last Hitchens essay I really really enjoyed was his furious rant against Michael Moore, on the eve of the theatrical release of Fahrenheit 911. Here it is again, just in case anyone wants to read it -- it's good, I promise.

pps: That said, I wish Ratzinger had simply stuck to his guns and refused to apologize. As a Catholic, he's entitled to his opinion of Islam and the Prophet -- and he's entitled to express it as well. Since when did we require believers to say that all faiths are the same and that theirs is not the one true faith? And the Pope's a believer, isn't he? Speaking of the Pope, here's Hitchens funniest line in his essay:
It is often said—and was said by Ratzinger when he was an underling of the last Roman prelate—that Islam is not capable of a Reformation. We would not even have this word in our language if the Roman Catholic Church had been able to have its own way.

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