Thursday, September 15, 2005

"Hitchens Vs Galloway: The big debate" (link of video here) I have just finished watching this debate. I will evaluate it as a debate first. I am no fan of either men: I wrote about Galloway before, and I find him to be quite demagogic in his approach and more than slightly buffoonish in style. I watched him once campaign on Edgeware Road in London, and was mightily unimpressed. Furthermore, his very meetings with Saddam Husayn and his cronies--no matter what was discussed, and no matter whether he received or did not receive some oil benefits--discredit his position and pronouncements on Iraq. His blustering rhetoric can sometimes be irresponsible. I know when I write those words that he is wildly popular in the Arab world, and among Arabs in the world (and in the US) only partly because his current wife is Palestinian (although most of his Arab fans seem to have ignored what she had to say about him in the Daily Telegraph last year). But watching Hitchens in this debate convinces you that he has emerged as the quintessential demagogue in the US. He is now more of a demagogue than Galloway, in my opinion. He now knows what to say and how to say it to get that typical robotic American patriotic applause, especially when he ticks off the names of the 82nd airborne and the 43rd (I made this one up) squadron, etc. He has become a parochial demagogue whose message is crafted with an eye for a mainstream American patriotic audience. In fact, the best moment of the evening was provided by neither men, but by the moderator, the able Amy Goodman who simply asked Hitchens whether his recent political positions have made the US press "friendlier" to him. He could not speak; a man who never suffers a loss for words, could not utter a word. And when he did, it was not even coherent or decipherable, and did what every person who realizes that he appears clearly embarrassed by the question: he attacked the question. As some of you remember (I think that this was pre-blog days when I used to disseminate materials to an email list) I once debated Hitchens for an hour on a San Francisco radio station 2 years ago, and I got the same relief and relaxation that I get whenever I debate intellectual and ideological opponents--with personal opponents I never bother. Those, you simply ignore. I do not know if a link of that debate still exists. But Amy's question made me think: would you not think that my life (and my bank accounts) would change dramatically and drastically if I (and I know that I am a smaller fish and less publicly significant) turn this blog into a propaganda platform for the Bush administration? Of course, I am not saying this to get applause, that I can't hear, or to receive (imaginary) medals from you. These are choices that we make, and we have to live with them. And happiness and satisfaction are based on people's ability to deal with choices and consequences (plus the unexpected of course), and some people maybe happy with additional surplus of financial rewards and compensations, but others may really suffer if they were made to utter what they do not deep down believe, and I say this without settling the question of Hitchens' sincerity or lack thereof (I would leave such skill to the stubborn Orientalist Henri Lammens who wrote early in the century that famous article "Mahomet fut il sincere?"). But this was clear to me from watching the debate: Hitches is the better writer (and user of the English language) while Galloway is the best orator, and the latter not the former can be the decisive factor in a public debate--as opposed to private conversations and debates. Moreover, stylisticly (as was noted in the article by the Independent above) Galloway was more relaxed, while Hitchens, especially when Galloway was talking, looked startled and very uncomfortable. And Hitchens has a trick he uses with great regularity and effect in the US: he always (rightly) assumes that his interlocutor knows less about the Middle East than he does, so he throws specific names of people, places, and political parties. That leaves the other person either unable to reply, or subject to more specific facts that may overwhelm her/him. In his debate with me, Hitchens tried early on to pull that trick, but I noticed that he stopped after I replied to it. But he did it today with some effect. He would for example on several occasions cite the wisdom and the authority of "the leader of the democracy movement in Egypt", the "Nelson Mandela" of Cairo. Guess who he was talking about? He was talking about Sa`d Id-Din Ibrahim. Now you don't need to travel to Cairo for this, but there is nobody who knows anything about Egypt who would ever refer to Ibrahim as "the leader of the democracy movement" in Egypt. Hell. In fairness to Ibrahim (and I disagree with him on everything although he likes to run as we shared a hotel once) he himself never to my knowledge refers to himself as "the leader of the democratic movement in Egypt." This honor was bestowed on Ibrahim for propaganda and polemical gain by Hitchens this evening, and I suspect that he knew that he was lying. He likes to throw in "and the Egyptian democratic leader told me" to add weight to his arguments and statements. Galloway never called him on it. He also cited Walid Jumblat's ONE interview with David Ignatius shortly after the assassination of Rafiq Hariri (Jumblat's friend AND patron) when he cited the American war on Iraq as a source of inspiration, and he referred to it as if this IS the position of Jumblat. But Jumblat later renounced and denounced that one interview, and has given tons of interviews and speeches against the US war and occupation. Just today, Jumblat's party issued a statement in which they attacked Zarqawi's murders but supported "Iraqi resistance". That was not mentioned: not by Hitchens and not by Galloway. Galloway was just in Lebanon, and he met with Jumblat, and Jumblat was saluting Galloway, and Galloway could have discredited him on that point, but he did not, for some reason. On another point, and for extra effect, Hitchens just made up something: just simply lied. He said that the father of the leader of the Lebanese Communist Party was "murdered by Syria." You see, it is common for Hitchens when debating leftists to make the fallacious argument that US wars and occupations are good for the Left in the Middle East, and that is when he throws in, and makes up as we just saw, some specific names and places. And Galloway I thought weakened his position by hurling personal and vulgar insults in the direction of Hitchens, who engaged in the same practice. In debates, I find, intellectual, polemical, and political attacks sting more than the vulgar and personal insults. I was quite displeased when Hitchens insulted Juan Cole and questioned his knowledge of languages when this Hitchens has never even bothered to study any Middle East language although he poses--and there are no limits on his posing--as a Middle East expert. I think that he appeared angry at Cole because with Cole he cannot engage in his Middle East "knowledge" chicanery (now where on earth did I come up with that word. I lived in this country for 22 years and I never ever used that word, and I hope that I am using it correctly). But when Hitchens talked about the hurricane, he appeared most exposed as a typical Bush's propagandist. I was even expecting him to invoke his over-tried and over-used arguments: that Bush's policies in Louisiana were good for the leftist movement in that state, and that women will now be freer, and that elections in Louisiana will improve. And to speak about the traditional tribal leader, Jalal Talbani (who caused the killing of thousands of innocent Kurds in his mini-civil war with Barzani in the 1990s) as a socialist is to betray the basic principles of that ideology. Yes, Jalal Talbani is a member of the most silly Socialist International, which has the Israeli Labor Party and Jumblat sectarian party in Lebanon. On matters of style, it is quite smart to chew a gum as Galloway did, especially when Hitchens was talking: that makes you look composed and cool under pressure.