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At the crossroads

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SHELLEY WALIA

Love, Poverty and War turns into a confession of his alliance with the neo-conservatives, with whom he is fully at home.

Though a vibrant critic of the Clinton foreign policy, of the Pope and his views on the use of contraceptives, he now stands chameleon-like at the crossroads of ideological altercation.

Love, Poverty and War: Journeys and Essays, Christopher Hitchens, Atlantic Books, 2005, p.475, £14.99. FROM an editor of the New Left Review to a staunch basher of the Left. From a radical of the progressive 1960s to a supporter of George Bush and his invasion of Iraq. From a critic of the Gulf War I to a sympathiser of the Kurds and their agenda under the American umbrella. This is the ambiguous trajectory that Christopher Hitchens has followed. His ideological credentials are highly suspect. Though a vibrant critic of the Clinton foreign policy, of the Pope and his views on the use of contraceptives, of Mother Teresa's outlook on abortion, and of the negative role of Henry Kissinger, he now stands chameleon-like at the crossroads of ideological altercation.

Sordid poetics

Christopher Hitchens is disturbed by the sordid poetics that surrounds us today, especially "the most toxic of foes, religion: the most base and contemptible of the forms assumed by human egotism and stupidity. Cold, steady hatred for this, especially in its loathsome jihad shape, has been as sustaining to me as any love. It deserves a `Poverty' section of its own, not just for the parasitic relationship it bears to disease and ignorance and misery, but also in the sense intended by Marx when he spoke of `the poverty' of some philosophy". Hitchens has often wanted to withdraw from politics and return to his love of Proust, Borges, Joyce, and Bellow: "this is the love" he maintains, "that matures in the cask, if you will, and deepens with time". The section entitled "Love" is an enthralling read on the legacy of Trotsky, Churchill and Kipling as well as his love of a few novelists close to his heart. In spite of his literary tastes, the incursion of politics into his life could not be prevented when his "favourite city in the world" was assaulted by "barbaric nihilists". It was a "condensed day of love, poverty and war", when the nation was attacked from within by four planes stolen from the "victim" and inciting a reaction against an unknown and intangible foe. Though the act of terrorism is deemed to be an act of war, the president of the United States seems to base this assertion on the fact that he knows the enemy. The public also goes along with him but would like to be clear about all evidence that can justify the war. Apparently all attacks in the past in Beirut, the explosion of Panama flight 101, the previous attack on the Twin Towers have been from the Middle East or Afghanistan. Hitchens, along with the neo-conservatives he supports, stands against the "sadists" and the "fanatics", but is reluctant in agreeing with the reason that the attacks have come, owing to a growing abhorrence for Americans.

No doubts at all

This is clear in his invincible self-righteousness about his stand on world politics. Though he comes from humble beginnings, his absolute certitudes about the theory of Marxism in the 1970s is now highly suspect. His moving to America itself suggests that the basic tenet of the American Left to hate everything American has now undergone a metamorphosis and turned into a love affair with the land of his adoption. The Vietnam War is of no consequence to him, considering that he robustly feels that the war against terrorism is justified notwithstanding the ongoing insurgency in Iraq and the end of habeas corpus in the U.S. after the promulgation of the Patriot Act. Surely, something is wrong with the country, an idea that became the staple of the intellectual Left in the post-Vietnam period and continues to be, though contrary to the stand taken by the people in power. The Right is Hitchens's refuge, a party of so-called reform, of unravelling the forces of global economics and transnational trade and responsible for doing away with socialist nostalgias of liberty and exploitation. But this is not the reality. Take the case of Indonesia where the government, persuaded by the IMF, imposed food subsidies resulting in riots engulfing the entire country. It is well known that high rates of interest and the compulsions of free trade lead to bankruptcy or the economic annihilation of small industries, and that neo-liberal initiatives are more destabilising and prone to lower growth rate.

Ignoring real needs

The myth of progress under neo-liberal economic theory calls to attention the unsuitability of liberalisation and short-term inflows of foreign capital, which only produce economic disasters in developing countries by ignoring the social and political needs of the people as well as the local resources. Hitchens and Horowitz find fault with the Left. Hitchens recoils at many accusations with the argument: `Most of the leftists I know are hoping openly or secretly to leverage difficulty in Iraq in order to defeat George Bush . . . this is a tactic and a mentality utterly damned by any standard of history or morality. What I mainly do is try to rub that in." His former comrades are now his antagonists, whom he has no misgivings attacking or disagreeing with.His book turns into a confession of his alliance with the neo-conservatives, with whom he is fully at home. Though a romantic, he remains rather stubborn in his observations and one tends to disagree with him on a number of issues such as his reservations about the genuineness of Mother Teresa or the attack on Professor Christopher Ricks's book on Dylan Thomas. Nevertheless, he is quite delectable and hilarious when it comes to writing prose or narrating the game of "re-titling Shakespearean plays as if they had been written by Robert Ludlum". Rushdie and he would often come up with titles such as The Elsinore Vacillation, The Dunsinane Reforestation, The Kerchief Implication and The Rialto Sanction. Or the game of singing Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" "in a deadpan voice as though it was a blank verse". The result would be not only ridiculous, but "hypnotic" too. In his own words, Hitchens continues to "live dangerously on both sides of a question, play the ironic or amoral role".

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