This Is What Hitch’s Biggest Critic Sounds Like

Just like his older comrade George Galloway, Richard Seymour hates Christopher Hitchens with a passion. He’s written a book about that. I have not read it, but I’ve heard enough from both Galloway -a man known for his indefatigable defense of the Husein regime in Iraq- and Seymour to know that they couldn’t forgive the Hitch for thinking that sometimes US military intervention could be good. Also, they can’t seem to stomach Hitch’s inclusion of Islam in his criticism of religion. It is strange that people professing to be Marxists would be such defenders of a particularly totalitarian religion, but they are. George Galloway, British Member of Parliament, has even gone far beyond this. For all practical purposes, he’s an Islamist posing as a left-winger. As noted by Nick Cohen, he’s gone where even Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee wouldn’t dare go, implicitly telling British Muslims that they’d better vote for him if they would like to avoid going to hell. Stay classy. And he’s been elected.

As for Seymour, he’s on the “Islamophobia watch” bandwagon, and boy is he a natural at defending totalitarianism. Let’s see what he has to write about… the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The subtitle of the article is “The murder of Charlie Hebdo journalists is appalling. But we should fear the coming Islamophobic backlash.” and it would be surprising if it were not so expected. Bear in mind, this was written, and published, on the day of the attacks.

Many journalists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo have been murdered by bampots brandishing what appear to be machine guns at close range. It is too soon to have a complete, coherent political narrative of these killings.

So as I said this was written on the day of the attacks, possibly just hours later. The killers had apparently not been identified, so that it was indeed “too soon to have a complete, coherent political narrative of these killings”. However, it won’t prevent Mr. Seymour from coming up with a takeaway message from the events.

All one can have at this point are the correct but platitudinous points about there being no justification for this, that all attacks on journalists are abhorrent, that freedom of speech must be defended to the last drop of blood, and so on. If you really need that sermon, you’re in the wrong place.

Now that the stage is set, Mr. Seymour is going to convince us that he’s in the wrong place and hence deserves that sermon.

However, there is a wider narrative that is emerging in the rush to judgment, as news media attempt to stitch together details — at first entirely circumstantial — into an explanatory story.

It’s pretty clear here that the “details” mentioned are the fact that the killers shouted things such as “Allahu akbar” and “We avenged the prophet”. Such details are indeed circumstantial, but they only confirmed what was already on everyone’s minds.

The assumption is that the killers are members of some sort of Islamist group, possibly linked to Islamic State, and are exacting political retribution for the publication’s regular satirical attacks on Islam by executing its journalists. And about that, I do have something beyond the obvious to say, just as a starting point.

The first point is that French President Francois Hollande declared this a “terrorist” attack very early on. Now, we don’t need to know any concrete details to understand the purpose of this. “Terrorism” is not a scientific term; it is inherently normative.

Wan to hear a normative word? “Normative”.

The uses of “terrorism” in such contexts are by now well understood. I suggested apropos the Woolwich killing that it functions as a narrative device, setting up a less-than-handful of people as a civilizational threat evoking stoic defense (of “British values,” “la république,” “the West,” etc).

Believe it or not, Mr. Seymour is simply using the same counter-definitional argument as Ms. Sheth, as I discussed in my previous post. What he’s doing here is that he’s trying to bend the definition of the word “terrorism” so that it only applies to largish or large groups. Just the way Ms. Sheth did. Never mind the fact that, quoiting Wiki, “Terrorism is commonly defined as violent acts (or threat of violent acts) intended to create fear (terror); to perpetrate for a religious, political, or ideological goal; and to deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (e.g., neutral military personnel or civilians). Another common definition is political, ideological or religious violence bynon-state actors. Some definitions now include acts of unlawful violence and war.” It still has nothing to do with the perpetrator being “lone wolves” or members of a worldwide network.

It justifies repressive and securitarian responses that tend to target Muslims as such, responses which in the United Kingdom chiefly come under the rubric of the government’s Prevent strategy.

The link provided by Mr. Seymour points to a website run by the British government. There is no mention on the “Prevent” page of the words “Islam” or “Muslim”, neither is there on the “Pursue”, “Prepare” or “Protect” pages, which outline the other parts of the British government’s strategy.

The second is that there is already an enormous pressure, in this context, to defend Charlie Hebdo as a forceful exponent of “Western values,” or in some cases even as a brilliantly radical bastion of left-wing anti-clericalism.

True enough, and, to a very reasonable extent, Charlie Hebdo was “a forceful exponent of Western values” and, as far as I can tell, “a brilliantly radical bastion of left-wing anti-clericalism”.

Now, I think there’s a critical difference between solidarity with the journalists who were attacked, refusing to concede anything to the idea that journalists are somehow “legitimate targets,” and solidarity with what is frankly a racist publication.

True enough, but I wonder why you have to bring up a hypothetical racist publication in the discussion. Unless… Surely, you don’t have Charlie Hebdo in mind, Mr. Seymour? In that case, you should replace the word “frankly” by “according to the most dishonest of Islamists” or “in the sick mind of Islam appeasers” and, quite frankly, you can, as far as I’m concerned, include yourself in either of these categories.

I will not waste time arguing over this point here: I simply take it as read that — irrespective of whatever else it does, and whatever valid comment it makes — the way in which that publication represents Islam is racist.

Mr. Seymour won’t be bothered to argue for the main contention in his article. Probably because it can’t be argued for.

If you need to be convinced of this, then I suggest you do your research, beginning with reading Edward Said’s Orientalism, as well as some basic introductory texts on Islamophobia, and then come back to the conversation.

Yep, want to be convinced about something Charlie Hebdo published? Mr. Seymour’s advice: don’t go read the magazine, go read something else. Something like Edward Said’s famous Orientalism which, according to Wiki as well as to what I’ve heard elsewhere, examines “the West‘s patronizing perceptions and depictions of Middle Eastern, Asian and North African societies”. It seems to me here that by far the most patronising position is that held by Mr. Seymour and so many of his comrades on the pro-Islamist left, namely, that Arabs or South Asians, or maybe Muslims, are not quite grown-ups and hence can’t take a joke.

A detour. During the “Troubles,” one of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s most infamous acts was to send the Special Air Service to shoot three unarmed Irish Republican Army members in Gibraltar.

If you wonder what the “Troubles” are, here it is. Let’s see where Mr. Seymour is going with this.

Amnesty International considered this an outrageous case of extrajudicial killing and announced that it was launching a probe. The howls of scandal from the Tory benches were ably channeled by Mrs Thatcher, who sneeringly and cynically suggested from the dispatch box: “I hope Amnesty has some concern for the more than two thousand people murdered by the IRA since 1969.”

We have been reminded of the perils of such “you’re with us or against us” campism throughout the “war on terror.” Now, unfortunately, I suspect we’re going to see more of this, and many who know better capitulating to the political blackmail.

I wouldn’t worry too much about that if I were you, Mr. Seymour. It’s not like you’re neither with us nor against us. I and many of us on the side of secularism and the Enlightenment have no doubt that you’re against us.

The argument will be that for the sake of “good taste” we need “a decent interval” before we start criticizing Charlie Hebdo.

I don’t think that I’ve read or heard that argument once but, to be honest, that doesn’t necessarily prove much. I do agree with Mr. Seymour that the dead shouldn’t become immune from criticism. The problem I have is that his criticism is so disingenuous it’s almost funny.

But given the scale of the ongoing anti-Muslim backlash in France, the big and frightening anti-Muslim movements in Germany, and the constant anti-Muslim scares in the UK, and given the ideological purposes to which this atrocity will be put, it is essential to get this right.

As soon as there was good reason to believe “beyond reasonable doubt” that Islamists had committed the attacks, journalists and pundits and politicians throughout the world expressed their preoccupation with the fate of French muslims. They warned us, and they were right. There was some backlash, but only a single assault as far as I know. The violence in the demonstrations against the subsequent issue of Charlie Hebdo was incommensurably worse.

But these warnings were also largely overdramatic, and, two days after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, an accomplice of the Charlie assassins would take hostages in a Jewish supermarket before killing four of them, giving them a rather obscene overtone. It showed that all the while Jews, much more than Muslims, were in danger.

So much for the trope that “Muslims are the new Jews” of Europe today. The one supported by the likes of Ms. Daisy Khan in that oh-so fertile debate in terms of, on the one side, sinister piffle, and, on the other, great intellectual brio and moral clarity . Here Ms. Daisy Khan says, talking about the Jyllands Posten cartoons affair, “My Jewish rabbi friend called me right after the cartoon crisis and said, “What are you doing about the cartoons?” I said, “What are we going to do? It’s just a cartoon.” He said, “No. Don’t ever accept it. This is what they did to us in Germany. They started with the cartoons” before getting interrupted by Hitch. A very rude thing to do during a formal opening statement, but one can empathise with Hitch here. To quote my own comment on the YouTube video of the debate, which has apparently been “liked” sixty-four times, “The notion that Nazi Germany suffered from excessive freedom of speech is more than I need to hear to feel the need to throw up. I felt the same twitch as Hitch when Ms. Khan compared nazi propaganda and the Danish cartoons. Such a statement is shamelessness exemplified.” Ms. Khan simply went slightly farther than Mr. Seymour and it’s not pretty.

The bottom line is, while softcore, stealth Islamists like Mr. Khan and “leftist” apologists like Mr. Seymour are trying to portray Muslims as the perpetual victims of the West, Jews are facing very real threats to their safety because of Islamic anti-semitism.

No, the offices of Charlie Hebdo should not be raided by gun-wielding murderers. No, journalists are not legitimate targets for killing. But no, we also shouldn’t line up with the inevitable statist backlash against Muslims, or the ideological charge to defend a fetishized, racialized “secularism,” or concede to the blackmail which forces us into solidarity with a racist institution.

Do you want to hear, Mr. Seymour, an example of “[racialised]  [nota: how could a proud Northern Irish anti-imperialist like you let himself use the orthography of the Americans?] ‘secularism'” ? You are one such example. You purport to be a Marxist but, like your father figure George Galloway, are a megaphone for Islamism simply because Muslims have darker skin than Western secularists. You’re a disgraceful totalitarian.