In the midst of all the GOP presidential campaign hustle and bustle comes the sad news tonight that iconoclastic journalist Christopher Hitchens has succumbed to cancer.
Vanity Fair announces:
Christopher Hitchens—the incomparable critic, masterful rhetorician, fiery wit, and fearless bon vivant—died today at the age of 62. Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the spring of 2010, just after the publication of his memoir, Hitch-22, and began chemotherapy soon after. His matchless prose has appeared in Vanity Fair since 1992, when he was named contributing editor.
“Cancer victimhood contains a permanent temptation to be self-centered and even solipsistic,” Hitchens wrote nearly a year ago in Vanity Fair, but his own final labors were anything but: in the last 12 months, he produced for this magazine a piece on U.S.-Pakistani relations in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, a portrait of Joan Didion, an essay on the Private Eye retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum, a prediction about the future of democracy in Egypt, a meditation on the legacy of progressivism in Wisconsin, and a series of frank, graceful, and exquisitely written essays in which he chronicled the physical and spiritual effects of his disease. At the end, Hitchens was more engaged, relentless, hilarious, observant, and intelligent than just about everyone else—just as he had been for the last four decades.
Agree or disagree with him (and we certainly did, jovially so, on some of his extreme atheist stunts), Hitchens was a trenchant analyst and a naturalized American original. His writings on Muslim jihadists, Islamic rage boy syndrome, and sharia law were especially compelling — and his fearless work on those topics was cited here numerous times over the years.
Here he was after the 7/7 bombings taking on feckless leftists blaming Bush and Iraq:
My son flew in from London at the weekend, and we were discussing, as we have several times before, why it hadn’t happened yet. “It” was the jihadist attack on the city, for which the British security forces have been braced ever since the bombings in Madrid. When the telephone rang in the small hours of this morning, I was pretty sure it was the call I had been waiting for. And as I snapped on the TV I could see, from the drawn expression and halting speech of Tony Blair, that he was reacting not so much with shock as from a sense of inevitability.
Perhaps this partly explains the stoicism and insouciance of those Brits interviewed on the streets, all of whom seemed to know that a certain sang-froid was expected of them. The concrete barriers around the Houses of Parliament have been up for some time. There are estimated to be over 4 million surveillance cameras in the United Kingdom today, but of course it had to be the Underground—”the tube”—and the good old symbolic red London bus. Timed for the rush hour, and at transit stations that serve outlying and East London neighborhoods, the bombs are nearly certain to have killed a number of British Muslims. None of this, of course, has stopped George Galloway and his ilk from rushing to the microphone and demanding that the British people be removed “from harm’s way” by an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. (Since the Islamists also demand a withdrawal from Afghanistan, it surprises me that he doesn’t oblige them in this way as well, but perhaps that will come in time.)
…It is ludicrous to try and reduce this to Iraq. Europe is steadily becoming a part of the civil war that is roiling the Islamic world, and it will require all our cultural ingenuity to ensure that the criminals who shattered London’s peace at rush hour this morning are not the ones who dictate the pace and rhythm of events from now on.
And on his refusal to capitulate to Islamic Rage Boy:
The lives of Shiite Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Christians—to say nothing of atheists or secularists—are considered by Sunni militants to be of little or no account. And yet they accuse those who criticize them of bigotry! And many people are so anxious to pre-empt this accusation that they ventriloquize the reactions of Sunni mobs as if they were the vox populi, all the while muttering that we must take care not to offend such supersensitive people.
This mental and moral capitulation has a bearing on the argument about Iraq, as well. We are incessantly told that the removal of the Saddam Hussein despotism has inflamed the world’s Muslims against us and made Iraq hospitable to terrorism, for all the world as if Baathism had not been pumping out jihadist rhetoric for the past decade (as it still does from Damascus, allied to Tehran). But how are we to know what will incite such rage? A caricature published in Copenhagen appears to do it. A crass remark from Josef Ratzinger (leader of an anti-war church) seems to have the same effect. A rumor from Guantanamo will convulse Peshawar, the Muslim press preaches that the Jews brought down the Twin Towers, and a single citation in a British honors list will cause the Iranian state-run press to repeat its claim that the British government—along with the Israelis, of course—paid Salman Rushdie to write The Satanic Verses to begin with. Exactly how is such a mentality to be placated?
We may have to put up with the Rage Boys of the world, but we ought not to do their work for them, and we must not cry before we have been hurt. In front of me is a copy of this week’s Economist, which states that Rushdie’s 1989 death warrant was “punishment for the book’s unflattering depiction of the Prophet Muhammad.” There is no direct depiction of the prophet in this work of fiction, and the reverie about his many wives occurs in the dream of a madman. Nobody in Ayatollah Khomeini’s circle could possibly have read the book for him before he issued a fatwah, which made it dangerous to possess. Yet on that occasion, the bookstore chains of America pulled The Satanic Verses from their shelves, just as Borders shamefully pulled Free Inquiry (a magazine for which I write) after it reproduced the Danish cartoons. Rage Boy keenly looks forward to anger, while we worriedly anticipate trouble, and fret about etiquette, and prepare the next retreat. If taken to its logical conclusion, this would mean living at the pleasure of Rage Boy, and that I am not prepared to do.
His second-ever Tweet in 2009 glibly (he was a perfect match for the medium) took on the Muslim murderous sanctions for apostasy:
“The Hadith says…if someone becomes an apostate…they must be killed. The sentence is death: don’t anyone be telling me that’s a metaphor.”
Of course, Hitchens’ hard-drinking, chain-smoking ways and days are legendary (and remember the waterboarding thing?). But what I’ll remember is how unimaginably gracious he was when a complete stranger asked him a Christmas favor three years ago this month.
From my e-mail archives:
Michelle Malkin [email protected]
date Sat, Dec 20, 2008 at 9:44 PM
subject a strange request
Mr. Hitchens –
It’s odd and last-minute, but what the hell: I have a fabulous atheist blogger at HotAir.com who goes by the nom de plume “Allahpundit.” Last Christmas, Ayaan Hirsi Ali was kind enough to send an autographed copy of Infidel for me to pass along as a secular, end-of-the-year token of appreciation:
Might it be possible for me to FedEx you a copy of “God Is Not Great” for a signature in time for the holidays? It’s the only way I can top last year.
Thanks for your consideration.
Hitchens wrote back in a few hours:
date Sat, Dec 20, 2008 at 11:52 PM
subject Re: a strange request
Surely you may. I shall be in California over the “holidays”, so ship it to me at [address and phone number redacted].
Meanwhile, “compliments of the season”, as Mr Jefferson used to say.
Thanks for asking.
As busy as he must have been during the holiday season with family and work, he still took the time to check by both e-mail and phone to ensure that I received the signed book, which Allahpundit in turn received in time… “with compliments of the season:”
It was an unexpected and extraordinary holiday gesture from an extraordinary literary and journalistic giant.
Allahpundit writes tonight: “Hitchens being Hitchens, I wonder which he anticipated more eagerly — the end of the pain or finally knowing if he was right about you know what. I suspect he was right. I hope we’re both wrong.”
I pray so, too.
R.I.P., Christopher Hitchens. Gone too soon.
Richard Fernandez (Wretchard the Cat), himself a master of prose, raises his glass:
All there is to say about his life, Hitchens has already said himself. His facility at expression was such that it is presumptuous to try and add to his account. Nevertheless he would probably appreciate being remembered by those who knew him; and I did slightly. Even the most modest of people like to think the world has shifted, even ever so slightly, because they lived, spoke and wrote.
And Hitchens lived, and spoke and wrote.
We might quarrel about the extent to which he or anyone has made a difference. But in one matter we are agreed; and he will surely pass over any differences if I raise a glass in his memory. As he explained to an Arab waiter once in Beirut about the virtues of whiskey, “all you have to do is pour it. My problem is to drink it.” Perhaps he was talking about life as much as Johnny Walker. So for those who are so inclined, please raise a glass of whatever you please, and down one for Christopher Hitchens.
Well alright, Christopher. One is not enough. Maybe two is better.