woensdag, augustus 04, 2004

'It wasn't 'My Pet Goat'! Moore's a liar!' - Hitch

Right. I said when starting this blog that one of my main aims was t to take on the arguments of the late Christopher Hitchens, and I have been somewhat tardy in so delivering. Here then, is the first of a series deconstructing Judas' supposed debunking of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.

From Hitchens' article in Microsoft's soon-to-be-sold-off attempt at an online magazine, Slate, and a 'debate' between him and George Monbiot on Australia's tepid Lateline, I can find a total of nineteen key complaints he has of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.

These, essentially, are Hitchen's criticisms: [The first eight are quoted from the Lateline transcript; the rest taken from Hitchen's Slate article]

1. Moore is on crack when he tells us that the war was a result of the links between the Bushes and the Saudis

Hitchens: "It purports to say we are at war with Islamic Jihadism, not because of Islamic Jihadism but because of private dealings by the Bush family.

In other words, there is nothing to worry about, there is no clash, there is no crisis, there is no terrorism - except American terrorism.

Within that there are about - one very good reviewer's counted 56 or so individual falsifications, I could mention some of them myself if you like."

To the first point: Moore does not purport that the war is due to the links between the Bush family and the Saudi royals, but points out, in an admittedly propagandistic fashion, the hypocrisy of going to war against one tyrant while maintaining such close links to another. Moore could have chosen any of the dozens of unsavoury regimes around the world that the United States supports. Colombia, Israel, Uzbekistan, Turkey are just four I might have preferred to illustrate the inconsistency, but Saudi Arabia is fairly useful, again for maximum awareness-raising impact within the US itself, for the fact that eleven of the fifteen high-jackers on 11 September were Saudi. Furthermore, if the Bush administration were as interested in extinguishing the terrorism it says it is, it might want to take a look at the Saudi government, which has been funding many of these Islamist militants as a method of internally deflecting the anger towards its own corruption, its collusion with the US and the domestic economic crisis and the related high levels of underemployment amongst the country's youth.

To the second, related point: Here Hitchens frames the discussion, as per normal, within the same fundamentally racist narrative of Samuel Huntington's 'Clash of Civilisations'. As others have pointed out, not least of which, and most recently is 'Anonymous', the senior US intelligence officer who argues that, in fact Bin Laden and Al Qaeda have a very limited series of demands, very far from any clash of civilisations: a) for the US to end its support for corrupt Middle East dictatorships, b) for the US to end its support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and c) for the US to remove its bases from the region. Indeed, while Hitchens mocks, it is true: There is no clash, no crisis. And, yes, it is more than apparent that the millions of civilian deaths that are a result of US state terrorism in the last half century alone - both from direct interventions and the use of client regimes - dwarf those caused by Al Qaeda. Count them up if you think I exaggerate: the Philippines, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Iran, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Grenada, Panama, Cyprus, Palestine, Kurdistan, Lebanon, Iraq (through its support for Hussein, the 1991 war, the sanctions and the ongoing conflict), Colombia, Angola, and on and on. From tens of thousands in Argentina to millions in Southeast Asia, together the figure surpasses those killed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union combined. It is not even the case that Hitchens should know this; he does know this - he spent enough time on the left to be aware of such atrocity. Hell, he campaigned and wrote about a third of them.

To the third point: The 56 falsifications to which he is alluding is (I think) the article by Michael Isikoff in that American weekly picture book, Newsweek. Boiled down, the number becomes essentially one - that the flights taking the Bin Laden family members out of the US happened after airspace had opened. Craig Unger, upon whose book much of Fahrenheit 9/11 is based, replied to Isikoff on his website:

"The same article also erroneously reports that the Saudi evacuation “flights didn’t begin until Sept. 14–after airspace reopened.” As House of Bush, House of Saud notes, however, the first flight actually took place a day earlier, on September 13, when restrictions on private planes were still in place. Isikoff knew this."

2. Moore supports the resistance

Hitchens: "Michael Moore has said openly and repeatedly that he is on the other side in this war, that he regards what he calls the Iraqi resistance as the 'just' side in the battle.

He thinks that they are the equivalent of the American revolutionary fighters of 1776 and that they will win which, I will conclude by saying, makes it a bit much for him to gather up for his own purposes the tears and the grief of American widows and mothers whose sons have been killed by people who he openly proclaims his kinship with."

I don't think Moore has actually said that he supports the resistance. If only he would. Were anybody's country under occupation, the inhabitants would fight back. Indeed, under international law they have the right to do so. The tactics used by sections of the resistance may be brutal, but then so were the tactics of the Viet Cong resisting another US intervention Hitchens once upon a time opposed. As were those of the FLN in Algeria, who, amongst other things, repeatedly blew up discotheques frequented by French settlers. While we're at it, the French Maquis in World War Two hardly lost any sleep over cafes blown up either in their campaign against the Germans. And Hitchens' noble American revolutionaries also showed as little concern for the British as the British for them. The terror tactics applied to Loyalists by the Patriots forced many to flee to Canada (the aforementioned United Empire Loyalists). Let's dispense with the idea that any side in any war, however noble the cause, has adhered at all times to 'gentlemanly conduct'. War is Hell.

It is no contradiction to support the resistance and at the same time weep when one hears that another American youth has been killed. In the Vietnam war, surely Hitchens both called for the NLF to win and sympathised with American GIs who were dying. The fact that Nazi Germany invaded countries does not make one feel any less sympathy for German mothers who lost their sons. It is always the working class on all sides who die in wars and this, obviously, is a tragedy. It does not, however, prevent us from taking sides.

3. The ' Some people call you the elite. I call you my base' episode is taken out of context.

Hitchens: "George Monbiot may or may not know this, but perhaps should, George Bush is speaking at the Al Smith dinner, which is a public political dinner that's been held in New York since 1906."

Hitchens here is referring to the scene in the film where Bush, speaking to a supremely wealthy white-tie audience, says "It's great to be here with the haves [beat] and the have mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base." Hitchens goes on to say that he is simply poking fun at himself.

I'm afraid I don't find it very funny, just like I didn't find Bush's attempt at stand-up at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner in March, where he joked about not finding any weapons of mass destruction at the event, very funny either. Bush has attacked social programmes while giving enormous tax breaks to the wealthy. Whether it's a joke or not, it's true: The elite are Bush's base.

While Clinton was in office, Hitchens, correctly, attacked mainstream women's organisations such as NOW for ignoring Clinton's attacks on social programmes, his expansion of the death penalty and entrenchment of the prison-industrial complex so that they could get somebody pro-choice in the white house. He criticised them for being so focussed on one issue - which Clinton actually undermined, through the underfunding of clinics, anyway - that they were willing to forgive other outrages.

Now Hitchens is, as he has admitted regularly in interviews, a 'single-issue' kind of a guy. He doesn't care about Bush's attacks on the poor and working class because the war on 'Islamo-fascism' is all-consuming and Bush is better equipped to be ruthless in dispatching the enemy. Or maybe he just doesn't care anymore about the poor and working class, period.

4. That clip of Rummy and Saddam? That's old news.

Hitchens: "As for the film of Rumsfeld meeting Saddam Hussein, it's been shown a huge number of times in the US…Many of us thought that was a deplorable policy at the time.

Those of us who thought that that policy was wrong, for this reason applaud the policy that changes it, that says no we shouldn't be fawning on Saddam Hussein, we should be removing him from office and should have done it earlier than we did."

'It's been shown a huge number of times in the US'? So, no times at all in mainstream newspapers, magazines or on TV counts as 'a huge number of times'.

Just so we're clear here: The footage of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Hussein has never been shown in the US mainstream media.

Hitchens is simply lying here.

But more importantly - because he makes this point a lot - the argument that concedes that US culpability in the past demands US action now is dishonest in three respects.

One - the people who found Hussein so amenable in the past - and who are now the ones prosecuting this war - have never offered up so much as a mea culpa for their actions. Indeed, insofar as one can find any reference to the financial, military and diplomatic support the US gave to Saddam Hussein - and here, interestingly, one only finds the reference in small conservative publications not read by the multitudes - it is to defend the actions. 'Saddam had to be supported against the greater threat of the mullahs in Iran,' they say. But even this slip of semi-truth, admitted only to a select and trustworthy audience, is not the whole story, for the US supported both sides in different ways, all of which served American imperial designs.

Two - the argument Hitchens makes would wash if we saw evidence that the US had radically changed direction upon the ascendancy of the neo-cons in Washington. But there is only continuity. The US continues to support brutal regimes and vicious local militias all over the world, from Colombia to Uzbekistan. Where are Hitchens' demands that the US stop supporting the Uribe regime in Colombia, where thousands of trade unionists, peasants, students, and human rights advocates are killed every month in service of America's wholly fabricated war on drugs?

Three - the infamous 'gassing of his own people' and other atrocities that both Hitchens and the administration have trotted out as a defence for the war since no WMDs have been found WERE DONE WHILE ON RUMSFELD AND COMPANY'S WATCH. Even if this war were just, for it to have been prosecuted by these accomplices to terror is akin to signing up convicted serial killers to hunt down other serial killers instead of using the police. These psychopaths should be in the dock with Saddam, not anywhere near bombs smart or otherwise. Even by Hitchens' own logic, he should be calling for the arrest and trial of those in the Reagan Administration that supplied and gave diplomatic cover to Saddam. And if Saddam is evil enough for an Iraqi electric chair, then so is Rumsfeld.

5. Bush wasn't reading My Pet Goat

Hitchens: "[Moore says] President Bush was reading a story called My Pet Goat.

No, he wasn't.

He was listening to children reading a chapter from a reading primer which includes that story."

I couldn't care less whether it was My Pet Goat, Nancy Drew or The Very Hungry Caterpillar. He's still a mass killer who's as thick as two short planks. (And for Christ's sake - this is Hitchens' grand expose? 'Aha! It wasn't My Pet Goat after all! The lying fiend!')

[My Pet Goat was one of the stories in the book in any case]


More debunking the debunker tomorrow.