Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

March 4, 2009

Re: Don’t Say a Word

Filed under: politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:17 am

Christopher Hitchens has a piece in Slate called “Don’t Say a Word” which raises concerns about a non-binding U.N. resolution on “Combating defamation of religions.” Non-binding U.N. resolutions are pretty ineffectual. They are more or less a litmus test for general attitudes in the world and high-minded platitudes. Now a particular irony comes from the fact that this particular resolution appears to come out of Commission for Human Rights. As Hitchens points out, many member states do not have spectacular Human Rights records.

Whether Hitchens falls into the camp of “Islamophobia” as he calls it, I’ll leave up to the reader. However, I will note that he is an unapologetic defender of the invasion of Iraq.  I will also note that there was a good deal of violence directed towards Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. That isn’t to say that there is any type of moral equivalence, but just as it was wrong for hijackers to kill scores of innocent people, the same principle applies to the innocent victims of assaults and beatings because they happened to share the same faith as those who attacked the US. I feel the non-binding resolution tries to address the second problem while acknowledging the first.  Hitchens makes no mention of the violence directed at Muslims in the wake of 9/11.

As for gagging of criticism of Islam, Hitchens establishes some credentials as a wing-nut. However, there is this absurd notion that religious convictions should be free from criticism. This is not unique to Islam, since many Western countries promote the same idea. The basic premise is that all people should have the right to have a set of beliefs which are free from criticism. These beliefs are generally religious. Now, the reason why people want a set of beliefs free from criticism is obvious, there are beliefs that people would like to hold but cannot be defended.

America has already gone down this road to a certain extent, as it is considered rude to bring up religious or political topics in polite company (taboos on politics is a particularly baffling aspect of the culture since the United States is a participatory democracy, that is, public opinion is supposed to matter). Although, the country is so doctrinally Christian at this point, not being able to criticize those other false religions, especially the scourge of secularism or Islam, is unlikely to go over too well. Hence, the extraordinary indignation over this essentially meaningless resolution.  It is this same demographic that generally wants the United States out of the United Nations. This resolution just adds fuel to the fire.

Now, it may seem strange that we have an atheist and Christians banding together to promote scares about secret Muslim plots to take away treasured American freedoms.  However, the Hitchens/Christian alliance against Islam is not unprecedented because we see similar tag-teams surrounding the implausibility of Scientology.

Rampant paranoia aside, the wrong-headedness of this resolution is laid on the foundation that there should be beliefs free from criticism. The premise of the U.N. resolution is shut up and get along, which is the antithesis of freedom. Free societies are not utopias. There will always be tensions between conflicting ideas. There will always be those who are intentionally provocative or offensive. The individual human freedom that we are defending is precisely the freedom of those who annoy us most. Otherwise, we don’t have freedom; we have tyranny.

January 1, 2009


Filed under: history, politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 9:52 am

I happened across the above video recently where Maher was defending the Vietnam war and Hitchens was criticizing it.  It is a bizarro moment because in more recent discussions I have seen between Hitchens and Maher about the Iraq war, they are in the opposite position.  Hitchens is for the war; Maher is against.  It floors me particularly because the arguments are essentially the same for the war, the actors are different.

Maher, when supporting the war in Vietnam, feels the need to stop the advance of communism.  Hitchens, when supporting the war in Iraq, feels the need to stop the advance of Islamic extremism.  In both pro-arguments, the particular war is seen in the context of a larger war of civilizations.  

In truth, both wars were started for essentially imperial reasons.  Vietnam was, to a first approximation, an ideological war.  Iraq was, to a first approximation, a resource war.

The fear of Vietnam was a type of domino theory, although not as it is usually described.  The fear was that a colonial or client state would obtain some degree of prosperity through nationalistic or socialistic reform and would become a model for popular uprisings in other colonial or client states.  I’m somewhat surprised when people say the United States lost the Vietnam war.  Lost?  Lost what?  It isn’t like the Vietnamese invaded Washington D.C.  Not a single U.S. city was even attacked by the National Liberation Front.  Vietnam was bombed and devastated to such an extent that it did not become a model for countries elsewhere.  The United States failed towards one goal, the country did not relent and submit to a puppet regime, thus proving armed resistance could succeed if one was willing to endure massive casualties and mass devastation for the principle of self-determination.  What a Pyrrhic victory for the Vietnamese!  Why the United States continued the war, even after its government knew that the installation of a puppet regime was not going to work, was to increase the cost of this victory.

The Iraq war was a war of opportunity.  After September 11th, 2001, the Bush administration saw a historic opportunity to establish American power in the heart of the world’s energy reserves, and they took it.    

As Bertrand Russell put it in The History of Western Philosophy: “The stages in the evolution of ideas have had almost the quality of the Hegelian dialectic: doctrines have developed, by steps that each seem natural, into their opposites (pg. 643).”

For both Maher and Hitchens, both of their respective pro-war arguments are equal in merit in principle, and equally divorced from the particular circumstances of the actual conflict.  The role-reversal is so stark, it seems unlikely they are even aware.  Although, it is said that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

December 11, 2007

Christopher Hitchens: Abolish the CIA

Filed under: impeachment, politics — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 9:08 am

One of Serious war cheerleaders is at it again. In a classic case of “shoot the messenger,” Christopher Hitchens declares it is time to “Abolish the CIA.” Hitchens seems particularly upset that the NIE defuses his case for war with Iran. Eventhough the NIE was based on the consensus of 16 different intelligence agencies, Hitchens thinks the CIA deserves special blames. Hitchens asserts the plausibility of claims that Bush only heard about it NIE a few days before the rest of us. However, there is that inescapable fact that Bush’s language about Iran has changed over the course of the year. If Bush was completely unaware of the contents of the report, and if it truly were a bombshell, why would the rhetoric morph?

Hitchens further declares that we know Iran is a duplicitous regime capable of rank deception. Their dual use centrifuges could be used to produce a bomb! Yes, we are aware of that fact Mr. Hitchens, but the report said the best Iran could do would be enough highly-enriched uranium is by late 2009. The fact of the matter is the nuclear non-proliferation treaty gives Iran the right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Iran has cooperated with the IAEA. If one is going to go on spouting how evil Iran is for supporting terrorist organizations, then one also needs to explain why it was OK for the U.S. to sell weapons to Iran to fund the contras in Nicaragua? Are they more evil now then they were in the 1980’s?

Iran knows it is suicide to use the bomb. Israel would wipe them off the map. They want one for the same reason everybody else wants one, deterrence. Hitchens point about Japan is already moot because North Korea can already hit Japan with a nuclear weapon. What the NIE really proves is that Iran will actually give up nuclear weapons for security guarantees, which is the same thing they wanted all along.

Why, then, have our intelligence agencies helped to give the lying Iranian theocracy the appearance of a clean bill, while simultaneously and publicly (and with barely concealed relish) embarrassing the president and crippling his policy?

That relish that Hitchens speaks of is his imagination.   The CIA got slammed for the case of Iraq WMD’s and 9/11 intelligence failures.  Both times, people have laid blame at the feet of the CIA.  The fact of the matter is the intelligence at the President’s disposal was good.  On 9/11, he failed to act on it properly.  For Iraq, his administration was able to cook the intelligence.  It was known as the 1% doctrine, and political hacks were specifically put in the Pentagon to rewrite the Intel to support the preconceived policy.  In this case, the CIA and other intelligence agencies said: no more.  It isn’t their fault Bush was left out on a limb.

In a bizarre charge, Hitchens then turns on the destruction of the interrogation tapes as further proof the agency needs to be abolished.  As if, they didn’t do it to protect this President and his patent law-breaking.

People blame the CIA for the various overthrows of foreign governments.  But, it isn’t just the CIA.  The President is always deeply involved in the big operations the CIA carries out.  For example, blaming the CIA for the overthrow of Guatemala or Iran without also blaming Eisenhower is the height of hypocrisy.  The political leaders set the policy, not the agency.  The lawbreaking is the fault of the man in charge.

Hitchens is more than happy to throw the CIA under the bus, again, because it gets in the way of his new war.  Just like he would spend time blasting them if Bush did attack Iran and the intelligence proved to be faulty.  In Hitchens’ world, it can never be that the glorious Bush is to blame.  It is clear Hitchens wants to kill more Muslims and he won’t allow pesky things such as facts get in the way.

Abolishing the CIA still might be a good idea, but not because they are currently preventing Hitchens’ genocidal agenda.  It is because the power is abused, just as Bush has abused it repeatedly.  Before any abolishing of the CIA takes place, one would need to impeach Bush first, then we can decide which agencies are too tempting for future Presidents to abuse.

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