Hitch fights back

[Posted 3:24 PM by Roger Kimball]

Ok, so James and Stefan and Dawn and I girded up our loins (so to speak) and decamped to the Galloway vs. Hitchens match. (A webcast of the event is available here.) James has already weighed in with some pre-game background here. What we expected was a room full of maniac lefties shouting about the depredations of George Bush, America, and that well known tool of the Right, Christopher Hitchens. We we got was a room full of maniac lefties shouting about the depredations of George Bush, America, and that well known tool of the Right, Christopher Hitchens--but that’s not all we got. I’d say that fully 15 percent of 1200 people who crowded into Mason Hall championed Hitchens, both in his (qualified) support for the war to depose Saddam Hussein and in his (unqualified) efforts to expose the malignities of George Galloway, British MP, Leader of the Respect Party (don’t you love it?), and good buddy of such nice folks as Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi Prime Minister, and Bashar al-Assad, the "President" of Syria.

I have a longer piece on the show coming out tomorrow in The New York Sun. For impatient souls, I offer this preview of the debate.

Mr. Hitchens opened, speaking in favor of the resolution: "That the March 2003 war in Iraq was necessary and just." He began by asking for a moment of silence in honor of the more than 160 people who had been murdered that day in Iraq by terrorists. That was too much for the audience, which erupted with cries of "demagoguery!" and accusations that the Bush administration had killed--what was it, 100,000? 100,000,000? Quite a large number--of men, women, and children in Iraq.

That, as Mr. Hitchens noted with satisfaction, was a revealing response. One hundred and sixty people are murdered by ravening fanatics and you cannot bear to accord them the respect of a moment’s silence. He went on to ask what the world would look like today if the anti-war campaigners of the last fifteen years had had their way. Well, Saddam Hussein would still be in power, and would be master of Kuwait and its oil reserves. Milosevic would still be strutting in Kosovo, have by now completed his task of "ethnic cleansing." The Taliban would be busy blowing up Buddhist statuary and stoning adulterers and homosexuals in Afghanistan. Colonel Quaddafi would doubtless still be pursuing his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. And so on.

Mr. Hitchens then asked the audience to consider some of the positive results of the war. Saddam Hussein, a man complicit in the murder and torture of hundreds of thousands, was in jail, no longer presiding over a country that was "a concentration camp above ground and a mass grave below." Iraq was even now debating a new democratic constitution for itself--a first in the Arab world. Colonel Quaddafi had decided to abandon his efforts to acquire a nuclear arsenal and was cooperating with American and British officials. The spirit of democracy, ignited in Iraq, was awakening among the people of Iran and elsewhere in the Arab world. Sure, there are problems in Iraq--serious problems--but there was also real progress.

Mr. Hitchens concluded by saying that it was a "disgrace" that a British MP should go before the US Senate, not to testify, but to decline to testify and resort to "guttersnipe abuse" when questioned. The audience was erupting loudly now, cheers contending with boos, but Mr. Hitchens persisted: it was more than a disgrace, he said, it was a "crime" that Mr. Galloway should have "profited from the theft of money" from the Iraqi oil-for-food program. Mr. Galloway’s "search for a tyrannical fatherland never ends," Mr. Hitchens said, "the the Soviet Union let him down, Albania’s gone," his "criminal connections" with the Saddam Hussein’s murderous regime have been exposed. As recently as the end of July, Mr. Galloway was in Damascus, saluting Syria a "castle of Arab dignity" and telling the Syria Times that the country was "lucky to have Bashar al-Assad as her president."

Hard words, comrades! But unfortunately for Mr. Galloway, Mr. Hitchens charges are well documented. (Readers looking for details can start here.) Not to worry, though. William Hazlitt long ago wrote that "those who lack delicacy hold us in their power." Mr. Galloway certainly lacked delicacy. And he held the audience--that 85 percent, anyway--in the palm of his hand. He began by telling us how much he admired Christopher Hitchens--not the man who stood before us now--the "hypocrite Hitchens"--but his earlier, more radical avatar, the man who protested the Vietnam War, supported the Palestinians, who even opposed the first Gulf War. According to Mr. Galloway, what we had witnessed was the "first ever metamorphosis of a butterfly back into a slug." He then dilated on the trail of slime that a slug leaves behind.

I am no entomologist. But charity requires that I inform Mr. Galloway that slugs do not grow up to be butterflies. I know that will come as a disappointment, since he liked the image well enough to invoke it a couple of times later in the evening.

But it soon became clear that Mr. Galloway was not what you would call a detail man. Little things like the difference between a caterpillar and a slug are beneath his notice. A different George, George Orwell, once noted that "the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts." Mr. Galloway underscores Orwell’s point.

Mr. Galloway was there to debate Christopher Hitchens about whether the war to liberate Iraq was a good thing. He had no difficulty making it clear that he thought not. But he did have some trouble staying on the subject. He flitted bat-if-not-butterfly-like from Iraq, the recent hurricane in New Orleans, and the "crazed religious fundamentalists" who apparently rule America. The audience instantly warmed to that theme, and Mr. Galloway was eager to gratify them further. Britain and the United States, he said, "are the biggest rogue states in the world today." Wild applause. Remember the planes that stove into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on Septmeber 11, 2001? Those planes did not come out of a clear blue sky, Mr. Galloway said, "they came out of a swamp of hatred created by us." More applause.

You have to give Mr. Galloway this: he really is a rhetorical artist of sorts, a maker of surreal verbal collages boasting high emotional wattage but only traces of fact. "Sharon," "Israel," "Halliburton"--the audience purred, "vulture capitalists," "the miserable malevolent incompetents" who even failed to retrieve the bodies from the flooded streets of New Orleans. Mr. Galloway’s claque loved it. What did it have to do with the topic at hand? Er, nothing. But then neither did his entirely gratuitous insertion of the word "racism" into the discussion. Mr. Hitchens is a racist because . . . well, it wasn’t really clear why Mr. Galloway thinks that. Nor was it clear why he thinks that Barbara Bush is a racist or why he felt called upon to compare her to Marie Antoinette.

Low comedy? Yes. And it’s comic, too, that Mr. Galloway’s should be embarking on an "anti-war tour" around the United States and Canada with Jane Fonda and that the idea for this mariage de convenance came from Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues. Delicious.