February 25, 2009

Christopher Hitchens and the Battle of Beirut

Last week Christopher Hitchens and I were attacked in Beirut. Less than 24 hours after we landed at the international airport, a half dozen members of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party jumped us on Hamra Street when he defaced one of their signs.

He and I were traveling together because Lebanon's New Opinion Group invited us to meet Prime Minister Fouad Seniora, Future Movement party leader Saad Hariri, Druze chief Walid Jumblatt, and other leaders of the pro-independence “March 14” coalition.

“Feb
February 14 rally, downtown Beirut

We had just attended a massive rally downtown commemorating the fourth anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Christopher needed a new pair of shoes. Our colleague Jonathan Foreman from Standpoint Magazine needed a shirt. I needed a coffee. So I led the way as the three of us strolled over to Hamra Street where we could buy just about anything. And I told my two companions a story about the neighborhood's past on the way.

“When Hezbollah violently seized West Beirut last May,” I said, “the Syrian Social Nationalist Party followed them in. They put up their spinning swastika flags all over the neighborhood, and no one dared touch them until the prime minister ordered them taken down several months later.”

“SSNP
SSNP flags on Hamra Street

It was a warning of sorts – or at least it would have been heeded as such by most people. I don’t go looking for trouble, Jonathan is as mild-mannered a writer as any I know, but Christopher is brave and combative, and he would have none of it.

“My attitude to posters with swastikas on them,” he later told Alice Fordham at NOW Lebanon, “has always been the same. They should be ripped down.”

When we rounded the corner onto Hamra Street, a Syrian Social Nationalist Party sign was the first thing we saw.

“Hamra
Hamra Street, West Beirut. The SSNP sign is in the lower-left corner.

“Well there’s that swastika now,” Christopher said.

“SSNP
The now-infamous SSNP sign defaced by Christopher Hitchens

The Syrian Social Nationalist Party flags had been taken down, but a commemorative marker was still there. It was made of metal and plastic and had the semi-permanence of an official “No Parking” sign. SSNP member Khaled Alwan shot two Israeli soldiers with a pistol in 1982 after they settled their bill at the now-defunct Wimpy café on that corner, and the sign marked the spot.

Some SSNP members claim the emblem on their flag isn’t a swastika, but a cyclone. Many say they cannot be National Socialists, as were the Nazis, because they identify instead as Social Nationalists, whatever that means.

Outside observers don't find this credible. The SSNP, according to the Atlantic in a civil war era analysis, “is a party whose leaders, men approaching their seventies, send pregnant teenagers on suicide missions in booby-trapped cars. And it is a party whose members, mostly Christians from churchgoing families, dream of resuming the war of the ancient Canaanites against Joshua and the Children of Israel. They greet their leaders with a Hitlerian salute; sing their Arabic anthem, 'Greetings to You, Syria,' to the strains of 'Deutschland, Deutschland über alles'; and throng to the symbol of the red hurricane, a swastika in circular motion.”

They wish to resurrect the ancient pre-Islamic and pre-Arabic Syria and annex Lebanon, Cyprus, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Israel, and parts of Turkey and Egypt to Damascus. Jews would have no place in the resurrected Syrian empire.

“SSNP
The SSNP’s map of what they claim is their “Greater Syria”

SSNP militiamen, along with fighters from Amal and Hezbollah, used heavy weapons to seize West Beirut last May after the government shut down Hezbollah’s surveillance system at the airport, and they set aflame Hariri’s Future TV office and studio with molotov cocktails.

“SSNP
An SSNP fighter throws a molotov cocktail at Saad Hariri’s Future TV station during the fighting in May 2008. (Copyright Getty Images)

“SSNP
An SSNP militia man rifles through files at a Future Movement office during the fighting in May 2008. (Copyright Getty Images)

In 2006 some of their members were arrested by the Lebanese Army for storing “a large quantity of explosives, electrical detonators and timers in addition to a large cache of weapons.”

“Confiscated
Confiscated SSNP bomb materials

“Confiscated
Confiscated SSNP weapons

Many Lebanese believe they’re the hired guns of the Assad regime in Damascus and have carried out many, if not most, of the car bomb assassinations in Lebanon since 2005.

Christopher wanted to pull down their marker, but couldn’t. He stuck to his principles, though, and before I could stop him he scribbled “No, no, F*** the SSNP” in the bottom-right corner with a black felt-tipped pen.

I blinked several times. Was he really insulting the Syrian Social Nationalist Party while they might be watching? Neither Christopher nor Jonathan seemed to sense what was coming, but my own danger signals went haywire.

An angry young man shot across Hamra Street as though he’d been fired out of a cannon. “Hey!” he yelled as he pointed with one hand and speed-dialed for backup on his phone with the other.

“We need to get out of here now,” I said.

But the young man latched onto Christopher’s arm and wouldn’t let go. “Come with me!” he said and jabbed a finger toward Christopher's face. They were the only words I heard him say in English.

Christopher tried to shake off his assailant, but couldn’t.

“I’m not going anywhere with you,” he said.

The young man said something sinister-sounding in Arabic.

“Do you speak English?” I said.

He didn't, and I'm not sure why I even bothered to ask. I hoped to calm him down, but Christopher, Jonathan, and I needed to leave. Standing around and trying to reason with him would serve his needs, but not ours. His job was to hold us in place until the muscle crew showed up in force.

“Let go of him!” I said, and shoved him without result. He clamped onto Christopher like a steel trap.

“Christopher
Christopher Hitchens at Beiteddine, Lebanon

I stepped into the street and flagged down a taxi.

“Get in the car!” I said.

Christopher, sensing rescue, managed to shake the man off and got into the back seat of the taxi. Jonathan and I piled in after him. But the angry young man ran round to the other side of the car and got in the front seat.

I shoved him with both hands, but I didn’t have the leverage to eject him with the back of the front seat between us. The driver could have tried to push the man out, but he didn’t. I sensed he was afraid.

So my companions and I got out of the car on the left side. The SSNP man bolted from the front seat on the right side. Then I jumped back in the car and locked the doors on that side.

“He’ll just unlock it,” Jonathan said.

“Jonathan
Jonathan Foreman from Standpoint Magazine

He was right. I hadn’t noticed that the windows were rolled down on the passenger side. The young man reached in, laughed, and calmly unlocked the front passenger door.

I stepped back into the street, and the young man latched once again onto Christopher. No one could have stopped Jonathan and me had we fled, but we couldn’t leave Christopher to face an impending attack by himself. The lone SSNP man only needed to hold one of us still while waiting for his squad.

A police officer casually ambled toward us as though he had no idea what was happening.

“Help,” Christopher said to the cop. “I’m being attacked!”

Our assailant identified himself to the policeman, and the officer took three steps back as though he did not want any trouble. He could have unholstered his weapon and stopped the attack on the spot, but even Lebanon’s armed men of the law fear the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

A Lebanese man in his thirties ran up to me and offered to help.

“What’s happening?!” he said breathlessly as he trembled in shock and alarm.

I don’t remember what I told him, and it hardly matters. There wasn’t much he could do, and I did not see him again.

“Let go of him!” I said to the SSNP spotter and tried once more to throw him off Christopher.

“Hit him if you have to,” I said to Christopher. “We’re out of time and we have to get out of here.”

“Back to the hotel,” Christopher said.

“No!” I said. “We can’t let them know where we’re staying.”

Christopher wouldn’t strike his assailant, so I sized the man up from a distance of six or so feet. I could punch him hard in the face, and he couldn't stop me. I could break his knee with a solid kick to his leg, and he couldn't stop me. He needed all his strength just to hold onto Christopher while I had total freedom of movement and was hopped up on adrenaline. We hadn't seen a weapon yet, and I was pretty sure he didn't have one. I was a far greater threat to him at that moment than he was to me by himself.

Christopher, Jonathan, and I easily could have joined forces and left him bleeding and harmless in the street. I imagine, looking back now, that he was afraid. But I knew the backup he’d called would arrive any second. And his backup might be armed. We were about to face the wrath of a militia whose members can do whatever they want in the streets with impunity. Escalating seemed like the worst possible thing I could do. The time to attack the young man was right at the start, and that moment had passed. This was Beirut, where the law of the jungle can rule with the flip of a switch, and we needed to move.

I saw another taxi parked on the corner waiting for passengers, and I flung open the door.

“Get in, get in,” I said, “and lock all the doors!”

Traffic was light. If the driver would step on the gas with us inside, we could get out of there. Christopher managed to fling the man off him again. It looked hopeful there for a second. But you know where this story is going.

We knew it, too, because six or seven furious men showed up all at once and faced us in the street. They stepped in front of the taxi and cut off our escape.

None wore masks, which was a good sign. And I didn't see any weapons. But they were well-built and their body language signaled imminent violence. We were in serious trouble, and I ran into the Costa Coffee chain across the street and yelled at the waiter to call the police.

“Go away!” he said and lightly pushed me in the shoulder to make his point. “You need to leave now!”

This was no way to treat a visitor, especially not in the Arab world where guests are accorded protection. But getting in the way of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party can get a man killed, or at least beaten severely. Just a few months ago the SSNP attacked a Sunni journalist on that very street and sent him bleeding and broken to the hospital in front of impotent witnesses. A Lebanese colleague told me he was brutally assaulted merely for filming the crew taking down the SSNP flags as the prime minister ordered. “He didn't do anything to them,” she said. “He just filmed their flag.”

“Omar
Journalist Omar Harqous was beaten by the SSNP for filming their flags

Christopher was encircled by four or five of them. They were geared up to smash him, and I reached for his hand to pull him away. One of the toughs clawed at my arm and left me with a bleeding scratch and a bruise. I expected a punch in the face, but I wasn’t the target.

Christopher was the target. He was the one who had defaced their sign. One of the guys smacked him hard in the face. Another delivered a roundhouse kick to his legs. A third punched him and knocked him into the street between two parked cars. Then they gathered around and kicked him while he was down. They kicked him hard in the head, in the ribs, and in the legs.

Jonathan and I had about two and a half seconds to figure out what we should do when one of the SSNP members punched him in the side of the head and then kicked him.

I stoically accepted that I was about to get beaten myself. The fear drained out of me as I was reasonably sure they weren't going to kill us. They didn’t have weapons or masks. They just wanted to beat us. There were too many for us to fend off. We lost the fight before it even began. I could have called for backup myself, but I didn’t think of it – a mistake I will not make again. I have my own muscle crew on speed dial now for protection.

Then the universe all of a sudden righted itself.

Christopher managed to pull himself up as a taxi approached in the street. I stepped in front of the car and forced the driver to stop. “Get in!” I yelled. Christopher got in the car. Jonathan got in the car. I got in the car. We slammed down the locks on the doors with our fists. The street was empty of traffic. The way in front of the taxi was clear. The scene for our escape was set.

“Go!” I said to the driver.

“Where?” the driver said.

“Just drive!” I said.

One of the SSNP guys landed a final blow on the side of Christopher's face through the window, but the driver sped away and we were free.

I don’t remember what we said in the car. I was barely scathed in the punch up, and Jonathan seemed to be fine. Christopher was still in one piece, though he was clearly in pain. All of us were relieved. Our afternoon had gone sideways, but it could have been a great deal worse than it was.

“Let’s not go back to our hotel yet,” I said. I covered my face with my hands and rubbed my eyes with my palms. “In case we're being followed.”

Some of our colleagues were back at the hotel. If the SSNP found out where we were staying, every single one of us would have to move to the other side of Beirut.

“Where do you want to go?” our driver said.

“Let’s just drive for a while,” Jonathan said.

So our driver took us down to the Corniche that follows the curve of the Mediterranean. He never did ask what happened. Or, if he did, I don't remember him asking. I kept turning around and checking behind us to make sure we weren’t being followed.

“Fishing
Beirut’s Corniche

“Maybe we should go to the Phoenicia,” I said.

The Phoenicia Intercontinental Hotel is one of the priciest in the city. Management installed a serious security regime at the door. This is the place where diplomats and senators stay when they are in town. I doubted the guards would allow thugs from any organization into their lobby.

“He deserves a huge tip,” Jonathan said as our driver dropped us off.

“Yes,” I said. “He certainly does.”

The three of us relaxed near the Phoenicia's front door for a few minutes. We would need to change cars, but first had to ensure we hadn’t been followed.

“You're bleeding,” Jonathan said and lightly touched Christopher's elbow.

Christopher seemed unfazed by the sight of blood on his shirt.

“We need to get you cleaned up,” Jonathan said.

“I'm fine, I think,” Christopher said.

He seemed to be in pretty good spirits, all things considered.

“The SSNP,” I said, “is the last party you want to mess with in Lebanon. I’m sorry I didn’t warn you properly. This is partly my fault.”

“I appreciate that,” Christopher said. “But I would have done it anyway. One must take a stand. One simply must.”

*

Bashar Assad’s government in Damascus still wields some of its occupation instruments inside Lebanon. The Syrian Social Nationalist Party is one of those instruments, and it counts the regime as its friend and ally. The volksy geographic “nationalism” of the SSNP differs from the racialist Arab Nationalism of the Syrian Baath Party, but it conveniently meshes with Assad’s imperial foreign policy in the Middle East. It follows, then, that the SSNP is also allied with Hezbollah.

I shudder to think what might have happened to Christopher, Jonathan, and me if we were Lebanese instead of British and American.

“If you were Lebanese,” said a long-time Beiruti friend, “you might have disappeared.”

“If you were Lebanese,” said another, “none of this would even have happened.”

Two days after the punch up, various factually inaccurate versions of the story made their way into the blogosphere. Everyone seemed to think we had been drinking or were in a bar fight. I was annoyed. Christopher was amused.

“Hitchens
Graphic courtesy of the Blacksmiths of Lebanon blog

“You have no idea what it’s like being me,” he said. “Everything I do is news.”

I later sat down with him over coffee and asked him to reflect on the recent unpleasantness.

“When I told you that I should have warned you,” I said, “that I take partial responsibility, you said...”

“It wouldn't have made any difference,” he said. “Thank you, though, for giving me a protective arm. I think a swastika poster is partly fair game and partly an obligation. You don't really have the right to leave one alone. I haven't seen that particular symbol since I saw the Syrianization of Lebanon in the 1970s. And actually the first time I saw it, I didn't quite believe it.”

“You saw it when you were here before?” I said.

“Oh yes,” he said. “But it was more toward the Green Line. I did not expect to see it so flagrantly on Hamra.”

“Vero
Hamra Street, West Beirut

Christopher has seen Beirut at its worst. He visited Lebanon during the war and immediately after. In 1991, he told me, the city looked like Rotterdam after World War II had gone to work on it.

“Anyway,” he said, “call me old fashioned if you will, but my line is that swastika posters are to be defaced or torn down. I mean, what other choice do you have? I'd like to think I'd have done that if I had known it was being guarded by people who are swastika fanciers. I have done that in my time. I have had fights with people who think that way. But I was surprised first by how violent and immediate their response was, and second by how passive and supine was the response of the police.”

The police are not utterly supine. Some SSNP members have been arrested. Weapons and explosives have been confiscated. Clearly, however, the state is more supine than it should be. A police officer who wandered upon the scene of our assault didn’t do anything. Not even the army stopped the SSNP when its black masked fighters conquered the western half of the capital with Hezbollah and Amal in 2008.

“Hezbollah
A Hezbollah militiaman smokes a nargileh in Hamra

The men of the SSNP must use force to maintain a hold in West Beirut. Most of its members are Orthodox Christians while most West Beirutis are Sunnis. The Hamra district is a liberal and cosmopolitan “March 14” stronghold, and the SSNP is aligned with the Syrians and the Shia Hezbollah militia. They could be hardly be any less welcome in Tel Aviv. If its enforcers didn't jump Christopher in the street, their commemorative sign might not have lasted.

“But I was impressed,” Christopher said, “with the response of the cafe girls.”

“What was their response?” I said. “I missed that.”

“Well,” he said, “when I was thrown to the ground and bleeding from my fingers and elbow, they came over and asked what on earth was going on. How can this be happening to a guest, to a stranger? I don't remember if I was speaking English or French at that time. I said something like merde fasciste, which I hope they didn't misinterpret.”

I did not see the cafe girls. Or, if I did, I don’t remember them. Once the actual violence on Hamra began, it was over and done with in just a few seconds. The whole thing was a blur. Most of what I remember is what happened to me. Christopher, Jonathan, and I naturally recall different details. Jonathan later told me that one of the SSNP guys called off the assault after Christopher had been kicked a few times. I hadn't seen that, and I have to wonder what other details I missed.

“By then,” Christopher said, “I had become convinced that you were right, that we should get the fuck out of there and not, as I had first thought, get the hotel security between them and us. I thought no, no, let's not do that. We don't want them to know where we are. The harassment might not stop. There was a very gaunt look in the eye of the young man, the first one. And there was a very mad, sadistic, deranged look in the eyes of his auxiliaries. I wish I'd had a screwdriver.”

“You know these guys are widely suspected for setting off most or all of the car bombs,” I said.

“They weren't ready for that then,” he said.

“They weren't,” I said, “but they’re dangerous.”

“Once you credit them like that,” he said, “you do all their work for them. They should have been worried about us. Let them worry. Let them wonder if we're carrying a tool or if we have a crew. I'd like to go back, do it properly, deface the thing with red paint so there's no swastika visible. You can't have the main street, a shopping and commercial street, in a civilized city patrolled by intimidators who work for a Nazi organization. It is not humanly possible to live like that. One must not do that. There may be more important problems in Lebanon, but if people on Hamra don't dare criticize the SSNP, well fuck. That's occupation.”

“It is,” I said, “in a way. They have a state behind them. They aren't just a street gang, they're a street gang with a state.”

“Yes,” Christopher said. “They’re the worst. And also a Greek Orthodox repressed homosexual wankers organization, I think.”

The Syrian Social Nationalist Party spokesman denies the attack ever took place. He is lying.

Post-script: Adventures like this one aren’t exactly part of my job, but I’d rather not get roughed up in Beirut for free. If these dispatches are worth something to you, please consider a contribution and help make independent writing economically viable. And stay tuned for much more from Beirut and Baghdad.

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Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 25, 2009 9:38 PM
Comments

Wow. Glad the Hitch is okay. It could have been a lot worse.

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at February 25, 2009 11:42 PM

I just contributed taxi fare for your next escape...

Christopher sounds a bit foolish to me. Bravado is all well and good, but getting killed for it isn't worth it. Folks I know who come from violent backgrounds are perfectly happy to escape through bathroom windows when the bullets start to fly. And they don't start fights when the odds are stacked against them, they know the consequences.

Posted by: chuck Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 12:00 AM

Michael:

I just contributed to your site.

Nothing about this story is surprising, except for ONE thing: you wrote that the SSNP is comprised of Christians. As a Christian myself, I find that hard to believe. I have long thought that the Christians in Lebanon--and the Middle East in general--were on the right side and that they resisted terror in all its forms. I believed that the Christian, Hanan Ashrawi, was an anomaly. I believed that while the Jews were given land by the UN, they may have been too aggressive in clearing out the "Canaanites." I believed that the Canaanites have some legitimate grievances against the Israelis, because the Jews literally evacuated these first century Christians from their homelands.

Are the Christians in the SSNP representative of Christians in the middle east? Is there something that you believe about the Middle East conflict that differs from my characterization? I love Christopher Hitchens; I own "No One Left to Lie To". But I must admit that I'm concerned that you share Christopher's antipathy toward Christianity and that you would allow Christians to be painted as Nazis.

Any thoughts for a confused but interested party?

Posted by: jd Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 5:54 AM

What I find interesting that the attack on Mr.Hitchens, a best selling author(I have his latest among others) has NOT been reported in the MSM. Why?

Posted by: dennisl59 Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 6:10 AM

Being nominal Christians did not deter the Germans in the 1930s so I fail to understand why identification of these people is any sort of insult to Christianity. Certainly, telling the truth is not "antipathy." Christopher makes his atheism clear but his antipathy in this account was to Nazis with another name. "Allowing Christians to be painted as Nazis" is an odd way to characterize a true story. They painted themselves.

Posted by: Mike K Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 6:22 AM

Michael:

I hope that you don't think that Mike K answered my question. I am not being defensive in my questions to you, nor do I doubt the veracity of your story. I am concerned that there might be people who, like me, are confused about nominal Christians siding with people like Arafat and the SSNP. Are they representative of Christians in the Middle East?

Posted by: jd Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 6:30 AM

Very glad you're OK, and Jonathan and Hitch, too.

Thanks for a great post.

One of the reasons Catholic priests are celebate, is so that they can become martyrs without much irresponsibility.

Being unmarried and childless allows one a greater degree of freedom to act morally despite the risk of a beating or worse.

What does your wife think about the level of risk you choose? I can imagine accepting that risk level before marriage, but certainly not after marriage and kids. Marriage w/o kids is a border case (for me).

Your writing and pictures continue to be great. (of course, I know this means no book soon...)

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 7:06 AM

Thank Mr. Hitchens and his companions for being real men.

Tom Grey: I'd be proud as hell to be married to a mensch who's willing to fight for what he believes in. My husband was in the military, and that's one of the things I love about him-- he'll put his life on the line to defend liberty. If my husband ever did anything like what Mr. Hitchens did, nine months after he recovered I'd be bearing him another child.

Posted by: Wacky Hermit Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 7:39 AM

I must say I am befuddled why Hitch didn't kick him in the nads BEFORE his friends arrived.

Posted by: pacwaters Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 7:50 AM

"Nothing about this story is surprising, except for ONE thing: you wrote that the SSNP is comprised of Christians. As a Christian myself, I find that hard to believe."

I don't want to come across as bashing Christians, but it is surprising that anyone would find this hard to believe. Christians in Lebanon are extremely hostile to Jews and Israel. The Catholic and Orthodox folks commonly have beliefs that would be considered anti-Semitic in any civilized society. Christian guests on the U.S. Catholic TV station EWTN routinely mock Jewish religious beliefs while denouncing (in the most hysterical terms) Israel.

Hanan Ashrawi, the Christian apologist for Palestinian terror, holds beliefs that are not markedly different from Catholics all over the Holy Land, including the Catholic Latin-Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah. And the Ortho's are off-the-chart Jew haters.

"I believed that while the Jews were given land by the UN, they may have been too aggressive in clearing out the "Canaanites." I believed that the Canaanites have some legitimate grievances against the Israelis."

The Jews were attacked by Arabs after the Arabs rejected a two-state solution. Your summation is insulting to anyone with any knowledge of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Posted by: Don Kenner Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 9:05 AM

jd said: "the Jews literally evacuated these first century Christians from their homelands"

Er... say what? Which first century Christians were evacuated by Jews?

Posted by: Simon Hawkin Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 9:37 AM

Well, guys, this is not the way to do a street fight. If you do not know how to do it, do not start it.

Posted by: Simon Hawkin Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 9:38 AM

I applaud Hitchens' stance and his courage.

I doubt anyone is silly or uninformed enough to believe that these thugs are Christians in any sense which Christ would recognize.

However, the irony is that the logical implication of Hitchens' atheistic view is that there are no rights, no obligations, no moralities that apply to all, only personal preferences. Survival of the fittest is the only law.

And it's Hitchens' worldview that created Hitler, the swastika's poster boy.

Hitler and his top staff were avowed atheists, although they used religious language to gain support. This is all well-documented, just not well-known.

"‘higher race subjects to itself a lower race …a right which we see in nature and which can be regarded as the sole conceivable right,’ because it was founded on science." (at 1933 Nuremberg party rally)

Joseph Goebbels notes in a diary entry in 1939: "The Führer is deeply religious, but deeply anti-Christian. He regards Christianity as a symptom of decay."

Hitler said that religion was an
' ... organized lie [that] must be smashed. The State must remain the absolute master. ... it's impossible to eternally hold humanity in bondage and lies ... [It] was only between the sixth and eighth centuries that Christianity was imposed upon our peoples ... Our peoples had previously succeeded in living all right without this religion. I have six divisions of SS men absolutely indifferent in matters of religion."

Germany's father of evolution, Ernst Haeckel, argued that 'the church with its morality of love and charity is an effete fraud, a perversion of the natural order' because Christianity:

' ... makes no distinction of race or of color; it seeks to break down all racial barriers. In this respect the hand of Christianity is against that of Nature, for are not the races of mankind the evolutionary harvest which Nature has toiled through long ages to produce? May we not say, then, that Christianity is anti-evolutionary in its aim?'

Posted by: Grimmy Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 9:50 AM

Hitchens is free to risk his own life but its another thing altogether to risk the lives of others. Foolhardy and inappropriate behavior given the circumstances.

How would Mr Hitchens handle the situation today? I'm curious, if given the opportunity would he react in the same manner?

Posted by: 13times Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 10:18 AM

Nice propaganda piece, Michael.
You 3 amigos have turned the Syrian Social Nationalist Party into something it's not: a Nazi skinhead party. Thugs? YES. As a Lebanese, i know that they are from experience. But Nazis? I mean seriously. Why would you do that? But then as i scroll to my left i see that you're a regular contributor to commentary magazine. What a surprise. There's my answer. Bravo again.

Posted by: mobazz Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 10:46 AM

JD: Nothing about this story is surprising, except for ONE thing: you wrote that the SSNP is comprised of Christians.

The SSNP is a miniscule party with hardly any support at all. No, it does not represent the Christians of Lebanon. It is comprised of around 3,000 members in total.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 11:12 AM

Thugs? YES. As a Lebanese, i know that they are from experience. But Nazis?

The Brownshirts wore the swastika armband, employed its use on documents and flags and were street thugs as well, how do the SSNP differ?

mobazz, please enlighten us.

Posted by: 13times Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 11:18 AM

Mobazz: You 3 amigos have turned the Syrian Social Nationalist Party into something it's not: a Nazi skinhead party.

Apparently you haven't read much about this party's origins and beliefs. Everything I wrote about them is true, and Commentary isn't my source for any of this.

I notice that you didn't object to a single sentence, only to the main point, which is no way to argue or win a debate.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 11:18 AM

Er... say what? Which first century Christians were evacuated by Jews?

As I recall from reading "Blood Brothers", the Christians that were evacuated from their homes were descendants of the Maronite Christians. My memory is a little fuzzy on that part. However, you certainly aren't saying that many Palestinians were not taken from their homes against their will and that many of them were Christians; are you?

Posted by: jd Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 12:06 PM

Bravo Hitch, for doing what he did, and to you too, Michael, for standing up for him. I understand exactly what he means when he said, "...swastika posters are to be defaced or torn down." Yes. You never know what you'll do in a situation like that until you're living it, and I bet you're glad you now you'll do the right thing, regardless (or maybe partially because of) the adrenaline.

Perhaps it's a sign of my ever-increasing age, but I definitely find myself less and less able to suffer fool ideologies like theirs. The idea that certain leaders within the western world are issuing signals that they are more open to dialog with Syria is very sad.

Posted by: jasonholliston Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 12:30 PM

Nice article Michael. Those SSNP thugs need to be taught a lesson.

As a Lebanese, I'd like to add a bit more of info on the SSNP that you may or may not know. First of all, they are not a majority Orthodox Christian party. They were founded by a Greek Orthodox philosophist named Antun Saadeh, and while many supporters are Greek Orthodox, they have many supporters who are also Shi'ite Muslims, Druze, Sunni Muslims, and Maronite Catholics. Also, they are a secular organization that basically live Athiest lifestyles (they don't pray, don't follow religion, live a western lifestlye more than westerners do). That said, they have less than 5% of Lebanon in support of them, and they are actually split into quite a few organizations. One headed by Assaad Hardan, the leader of the thugs that attacked you and the leader of the SSNP in the parliament. But there are one or two SSNP organizations that just believe in the ideology, and try to keep themselves at distance from the way the SSNP has become - once a respectable party with an ideology and now a bunch of thugs. Unfortunately, there are not that numerous or that famous.

The SSNP assassinated Bachir Gemayel and many other great politicians who had a vision of a free Lebanon. I hate them more than I hate Hezbollah and other Opposition parties.

Posted by: Liason Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 1:07 PM

Michael, At the time of the attack, did you or Hitchens realize that this sign commemorates a legendary event during the Israeli invasion of Beirut?

For Americans, this would be akin to defacing a sign commemorating a Southern Civil War hero that happened to have a Confederate flag on it, sort of with the caveat that the Confederates were still running around preserving their honor and heritage in the fashion of the KKK.

There's a more-or-less complete translation of the sign based upon the picture you show here.

الحزب السوري القومي الاجتماعي
جبهة المقاومة الﻭنلنية الليناتية [? ?]
ساحة الشهيد
خالد علوان
[???]

==

Syrian Social Nationalist Party
Resistance Front [? ?]
Martyr's Square
Khalid Alwan
[???]

Do you know if Khalid Alwan was the shooter of an IDF soldier outside Wimpy in 1982? Was he SSNP?

Did you see the 5th c. Byzantine mosaic of two doves and a swastika on display at Beiteddine Palace after your attack?

Posted by: ??? ?????? Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 2:17 PM

Love Totten's war stories and glad everybody's aight. Though I'm frankly amazed that a seasoned traveller like Hitchens made such a rookie mistake. One thing I learned growing up as an expat in several countries is that you never openly take sides about internal matters like this. Not unless you're in the U.S. military! Civilians like yourself are basically naked when you're overseas and should act accordingly. You quietly walk the fence strictly as an observer. Dumb rookie mistake defacing that sign by Hitchens. Dumb, dumb, dumb. What was he thinking they'd do? It's frikin Beirut for crying out loud. But then you already know all this I'm sure.

Posted by: Carlos Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 3:09 PM

I can kind of sympathize with Hitchens, but the problem is that it's hard to see any positive change from the whole sequence. You rip down a sign - apparently of someone the Lebanese as a whole may approve of, reprehensibly or not - and the SSNP beats you up. Not exactly a message of inspiration to the locals. And, see above doubts, even if you had ripped it down - then what? The gesture is too small to be meaningful, but still large enough to hurt.

On the other hand, I figure that Hitch probably knew what was coming - if he did it entirely for his own symbolic self-actualization and is willing to face a beating for it - I don't see how I can criticize for that, except perhaps that he endangered his friends.

On the other hand, when you vandalize advertising, even non-fascists might come after your ass.

I'm kind of surprised none of you knew enough Arabic to get the point "American journalists" across. That might have made them think twice.

I must say I am befuddled why Hitch didn't kick him in the nads BEFORE his friends arrived.

Because if they arrived immediately afterwards, they might have thrown him in the trunk of a car and dissapeared him. I might have tried it anyway, but this middle-ground ending dissapears and you either get away clean or probably get hospitalized.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 4:06 PM

Glasnost,

The SSNP's membership is only 3,000 people in Lebanon. That's small even in a small country.

And of course I know enough Arabic to identify myself as a sahafi, or journalist.

Pacwaters: I must say I am befuddled why Hitch didn't kick him in the nads BEFORE his friends arrived.

In hindsight we should have attacked the spotter and ran, but I thought we could get away, and by the time I realized we couldn't, attacking him might very well have gotten us killed. At the very least we all would have been much more severely injured. That's why I didn't do it even when I had the chance. We had waited too long. I expected his friends to show up with guns, and I'm a little surprised that they didn't. At least they didn't have rifles. Maybe they had pistols tucked into their pants. I don't know.

The problem with escalation is that you cannot de-escalate, and escalating a fight with a militia is a bit like Hamas lobbing crude rockets at Israel.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 4:31 PM

Ok, I have a bone to pick with this quote from Don Kenner:

The Catholic and Orthodox folks commonly have beliefs that would be considered anti-Semitic in any civilized society. Christian guests on the U.S. Catholic TV station EWTN routinely mock Jewish religious beliefs while denouncing (in the most hysterical terms) Israel.

The folks at EWTN are NOT your run of the mill Catholics. They are a small minority of ultra-conservatives who do NOT represent the rest of the Church by a long shot.

Posted by: Jeff Grace Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 5:48 PM

I'm glad you guys made it out of that situation okay. Those dudes sounded like real third world thugs. Thanks for the dispatch.

Posted by: David Lightman Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 7:40 PM

jd -- There were very roughly around 1 M Arabs - about 150K Christians -- and 650K Jews in the Palestinian Mandate when the British pulled out. Estimates are that about 35-40,000 Christian Palestinians (roughly 35% of the total population pre 1948) fled as refugees.

Interesting that about 40-50,000 Palestinian Jews were officially listed as refugees, at the same time -- people always forget that Jordan and Egypt won and held the West Bank and Gaza, respectively, both of which (esp WB) had very significant established Jewish communities. Jordanian maps from that era clearly demarcated land legally owned by Jews and confiscated in the war.

In any case, Israel is the only ME nation with an increasing Christian population.

Posted by: AZZenny Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 8:10 PM

Khaled Alwan, whose face was on the SSNP poster, is viewed as a national hero by many, including many residents of Hamra. His 1982 act at the wimpy cafe, where this poster stood, kicked off the Lebanese resistance to the Israeli occupation of Beirut. The SSNP today is a bunch of thugs who would probably hide in their holes if the IDF showed up. But writing "F***" on such a poster could have sparked a reaction from many others, including those who lived in Hamra in 1982 and who hate the current SSNP thuggery. I wonder if Hitchens knew what he was doing, or what he was trying to take down. It was a false and misguided battle he waged there.

And yes, the SSNP is composed mostly of Greek Orthodox Christians. Famous SSNP members included Ziad Rahbani, legendary singer Fairuz's son. The party underwent major ideological transformations since the 1940s, and the current faction that took part in the May 2007 Hizbullah invasion is basically an Assad regime proxy. Wikipedia has a brief history of the party, though I cannot vouch for the veracity of all the info.

Having said that, I'm glad you and your companions weren't harmed. Had a Lebanese done that, yes, they could have ended up in hospital. But then, they would also have known better.

Cheers.

Posted by: AK Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 8:11 PM

Michael,

I am glad you are all right.
Please, do your family and rest of us a favor, next time you and CH will take a trip together make sure he is correctly politically educated while still on the plane.

Grimmy: "And it's Hitchens' worldview that created Hitler, the swastika's poster boy.

Hitler and his top staff were avowed atheists, although they used religious language to gain support. This is all well-documented, just not well-known."

Ri-i-ight. Hitler might have been an atheist (btw, the statement you contradict by quoting Gebbels) but how do you explain all those tenth of millions kirkha going murderers?

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 8:20 PM

It's funny that Hitchens, who is normally vociferous in defence of freedom of speech, would object to that sign to the point of defacing it.

Posted by: Eliot Author Profile Page at February 26, 2009 9:13 PM

"Once a respectable party with an ideology and now a bunch of thugs."

The SSNP was never a respectable party. They engaged in a failed coup attempt to overthrow the Lebanese government, and as a result were banned for many years. They have been a burden on Lebanon since they were founded.

Regarding that sign, it's funny all this fuss was about that, because I pass it many times and EVERY time I look at that specific one I tell myself that someone should cover it with spray paint.

The SSNP are traitors to Lebanon, and should be dealt with as all traitors are.

"Famous SSNP members included Ziad Rahbani, legendary singer Fairuz's son."

So what? Ziad Rahbani was also a coke head.

Posted by: lebanonfirst Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 2:58 AM

I'm surprised (particularly after the release of "Waltzing with Bashir") that no one has pointed out that it was Christians who perpetrated the massacres at Sabra and Chatilla. And many more besides during the Lebanese Civil War. None of the sides there has any claim to moral superiority. Of course, throughout history people have flocked to religion as a matter of tribal identity, rather than out of any affinity for the moral precepts of religion.

For what it's worth, I think Hitchens' stunt was a piece of adolescent showboating. Surprising for a man who writes with such maturity.

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 4:36 AM

JD -

Christian Palestinians were very much involved in terrorist activity, particularly during the seventies and eighties, when the Palestinian liberation movement was a political movement rather than one associated with Islamic fundamentalism. A notable example is George Habash, the founder of the communist PFLP terror group, but there are many others.

There are no maronites in Israel. This is strictly Lebanese. The Christians in Israel mostly belong to a splinter of Roman Catholicism called Malekite Christianity, and the rest are Greek orthodox.

I'd be very surprised if any of them can be traced back to the first century. Folks back then would have spoken Aramaic, and I really don't think there is any connection between them and the current Arab Christians, who only came in the eighth century, and converted during the crusades. Interestingly, the remains of a tiny Christian church dating back to around the first century, really just a prayer room in somebody's house, were recently found near Megiddo (the biblical Armeggedon).

During late antiquity a lot of Christians from the Byzantine empire colonized the holy land as monks and hermits, and were generally massacred by the invading Persians in the fifth century, and then later by the invading Muslims. In some of the ancient monasteries that still stand in the Judean desert you can see stacks of skulls and bones of these slaughtered monks. I don't know if any of the currently existing communities can be traced back to these early Greek Christians.

The subject is an interesting one. You should read Charles Dalyrmple's book "To the Sacred Mountain" which chronicles his journey among the ancient Christian communities of the Eastern Mediterranean.

And yes, some Christians, like other Arabs, were expelled during 1948, but the history is far too complex to be summed up in a single sentence. Some were expelled, some ran. In Haifa, a large part of the Arab population left by boat to Lebanon, even though the Jewish and British authorities urged them to stay. Their Muqtar, or leader, was afraid of being labelled a traitor if he stayed, and he took everybody with him into exile.

There was also a lot of internal displacement. Christians from small villages (the village of Baram near Lebanon is an example) were expelled to Lebanon, but then later allowed to return and live in Nazareth.

Read Benny Morris, the acknowledged expert on this complicated subject.

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 5:21 AM

A great story if for nothing else than everyone lives for another day and that day doesn't become some haunting nightmare. Having enjoyed both you and Christopher's work, I'm glad it didn't turn into something far more serious.

Although I respect Christopher's feelings, I have to wonder if he'd feel and act similarly upon seeing the symbols of the Soviet communist emblems displayed? Would he feel equally compelled to deface such?

Although I sympathize with his feelings, I do feel that it was unwise as when in Rome...... This radical group may be a small isolated one in Lebanon as a whole but it seems that this poor nation is wrought with many such thugs of different sizes and they all will act with violence to protect where they urinate. Sadly, Lebanon has become the home to this.

So although I'm grateful that you guys made it out, I would hope that the political realities stay in the forefront in such situations. Clearly although Christopher has been to Lebanon over the years he failed to realize what he was creating in his protest.

In similar escalating situations where grabbing is the limited violence, grabbing the pinky and pulling back will cause the hand to follow.

As a former high school wrestler you would be surprised how effective that is so not to escalate the situation. And it will surprise the attacker as well.

Just relieved you guys are okay. Admire you guys and love your work.

Posted by: Sheva Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 6:37 AM

MarkC:

Thanks for some answers to my questions. But basically, you have only reinforced my problem with the whole Middle East thing. After WWII the Jews needed a homeland. The United Nations gave them one, but it was at the expense of the people already living in Palestine, right?

The British have always had a bad reputation for splitting countries into arbitrary boundaries, but it appears that the United Nations was no better. I don't know if there was any better solution.

The terrorists are the worst human beings on earth, but conflict seems unavoidable in that region even if there was no such thing as a Muslim extremist. Certainly a peace brokered by anyone short of God Himself (in other words, some kind of divine intervention) has not and will not work. The peaceniks like Carter and Clinton are laughable.

Posted by: jd Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 6:42 AM

jd - aboout 35-40% of the people living in Palestine in 1947 were Jews. A significant percentage of 'local' Arabs had in-migrated in the previous 50-75 years, just like the Jews. http://www.mideastweb.org/palpop.htm

Posted by: AZZenny Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 7:19 AM

When I first saw the SSNP walking through the streets of Beirut, and when I saw the way most Lebanese looked at them, with a mixture of hate and fear, my own danger signals went haywire. The general rule seemed to be - treat this group with contempt, but keep your distance. I would have loved to deface or tear down those flags, but wouldn't actually do so unless I was holding the keys to an nearby armored Hummer and was covered by a hidden SWAT team.

Defacing the sign was a reckless thing to do, but since this story went web-viral, thousands of Western readers know about this dangerous group. They know about their fascist leanings, their involvement in car bombings and assassinations, their alliance with Syria and Hezbollah - and they know that the majority of Lebanese do not support them. So in the end, Hitch's stand was successful.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 7:59 AM

Thanks for this excellent account, Michael. It's almost funny to read the comments from Christians who are shocked to find brutality among their co-religionists. Clearly, few Christians have looked closely enough at the Holocaust.

Defensively obsessed with the religious beliefs of Hitler himself (who contradicted himself more than once), such Christians overlook the fact that Hitler didn't try to carry out the Final Solution alone.

He had help from millions of ... wait for it: Christians. The gospel of Matthew and the writings of Martin Luther laid the groundwork. Their descendants carried it out.

Posted by: PaulTammina Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 8:48 AM

These Syrians are absolute thugs. I think I can say with complete certainty that if a gang of foreigners--Arabs perhaps--were to start burning flags in the middle of Dallas or San Diego or a speedway on race day, you can be sure that no one--not a single American--would reply with force. If there's one thing I've learned about American patriots--the sort of people who read websites such as this one and Little Green Footballs and PJ media--it's that they respond to insults always with understanding, deference and Christian charity.

Posted by: mkdelucas Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 9:07 AM

He had help from millions of ... wait for it: Christians. The gospel of Matthew and the writings of Martin Luther laid the groundwork. Their descendants carried it out

Why do people insist on dragging religion into discussions that have nothing to do with religion?

The descendants of Martin Luther also fought the Nazis. So did Atheists, Agnostics, Catholics, Buddhists, Atheists, Jews, Zoroastrians, Wiccans Wagner fans, Nietzsche scholars, vegetarians, landscape artists and animists. What does this prove? Nothing.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 9:19 AM

The reason I drew attention to the fact that the SSNP comes from the Greek Orthodox community is because I saw scads of comments before I published this from people who assumed Hitchens was beat up (while drunk) by Islamists. I needed to make it clear who the SSNP really is. They aren't Christian fundamentalists -- they're secular. But they aren't Islamists or even secular Muslims. Most people who live in West Beirut -- the section of town taken over by the SSNP and Hezbollah -- mostly belong to the Sunni community. They also mostly belong to the "March 14" movement. It wouldn't be right for them to be blamed for what happened or even for the very existence of this ridiculous "party."

Anyone who thinks the Christians in Lebanon are the "good guys" while the Muslims are the "bad guys" doesn't know jack about what really goes on there.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 9:28 AM

A bold move by Hitchens. I am not sure we all share the spirit of our convictions to that degree.

As for this:

"For Americans, this would be akin to defacing a sign commemorating a Southern Civil War hero that happened to have a Confederate flag on it, sort of with the caveat that the Confederates were still running around preserving their honor and heritage in the fashion of the KKK."

I'd be inclined to deface just such a sign, even if it commemorated my own great-great-grandfather. Perhaps especially then. Leave them their Horst Wessels and leave the Bluechers alone.

Cab fare also contributed.

Posted by: DrBrydon Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 1:42 PM

Well done, gentlemen. You upheld your White Man's Burden -- the necessity of doing for the natives those things that they are too smart to do for themselves. I remember striking my own blow for freedom last time I was in Beirut. On the way to the airport I stopped and spray painted "U Suck" across a giant picture of Sheikh Nasrallah. The local Hezbollah guys were pretty upset until I explained to them that knowledge was advanced only by the unhindered exchange of ideas. In that bold spirit we then went and painted a yarmulka on a picture of Hezbollah martyr Imad Mugniya -- how we laughed!

However, while I completely support the defamation of somewhat Nazi-like flags, I have to question the wisdom of writing about it afterward. Now, Mr. Hitchens, they know who you are. But at least that will give them the opportunity to enjoy your book, "God is not Great" (2007, New York: Hachette Book Group). If you're working on a sequel, may I recommend for the title either "My God is better than your God", or "I dare you to Fatwah me, you Bastards"? Also, you've blown it with all the SSNP chicks, which everyone knows are the hottest in Beirut.

Be well.

Posted by: The Wise Levantine Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 5:06 PM

Some may call Hitchens a fool for making his stand, but I will say to them that he is then the rare sort of fool I'd like to have on my side.

Posted by: Squires Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 6:21 PM

MJT and others, can you speak about how Palestinian are treated in Lebanon? How many are there? Can Palestinians freely work, invest, conduct business in, and own property in Lebanon? How about non Lebanese more generally. Can for example workers from China or South Korea freely work, invest, conduct business in, and own property in Lebanon?

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 7:06 PM

How much do Lebanese care about Palestinians? How much do they care about Palestine? {These are different things, perhaps.}

How are Fatah and Hamas regarded by Lebanese? {I think they are both thugs . . . but that is me.}

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at February 27, 2009 7:09 PM

So the lush was granstanding in Beirut. I'm bowled over by his heroism. What next, refusing to pay his bar bill?

Posted by: Peter Byrne Author Profile Page at February 28, 2009 12:30 AM

Ah, maryatexitzero, you're proving my point. You say "Why do people insist on dragging religion into discussions that have nothing to do with religion? The descendants of Martin Luther also fought the Nazis..."

Some. But without Martin Luther, without Christianity, there would have been no Holocaust at all -- and the SSNP would not today be waving a swastika, and the heroic Mr. Hitchens would have experienced a peaceful walk through Hamra.

I am not dragging religion in, but undoing the Western crime of obscuring Christianity's inspiration. When we speak of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis and their descendants, religion does not need to be "dragged in" -- merely acknowledged.

Posted by: PaulTammina Author Profile Page at February 28, 2009 5:23 AM

PaulTammina - so, you're saying that Martin Luther invented anti Semitism? That would have been news to the ancient Romans and the Egyptians.

Anti-Semitism is mostly the result of ethno-nationalist bias, which has always been a fact of life in Europe and in the Arab world. Europeans, Arabs, and Asians prefer to live with their own kind, within communities that are divided along religious and cultural lines. Americans, Canadians and other immigrant nations see this bias as a form of racism, but the old world just doesn't see it that way.

Like nearly every other society in the old world, Lebanon is divided according to cultural and religious groups. That's why it is necessary to point out their religious/cultural alliances - it's how they define themselves.

But, giving the violent history of ethno-nationalism in Europe and the Middle East, it's lunacy to blame one entire religious or cultural group for these problems, or to say that one group is bad (or good) because they're Christian, Islamic or Jewish. The ethno-nationalist tendency to blame all members of a cultural/religious group for the actions of a few individuals in that group is the cause of a some of the problems in the old world.

In the new world, we blame whole groups of people in entire ideological groups for the acts of a few individuals in that group, which is another problem.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at February 28, 2009 8:12 AM

"you're saying that Martin Luther invented anti Semitism? That would have been news to the ancient Romans and the Egyptians."

No, Martin Luther did not invent anti-Semitism, but PaulTammina is not claiming that.

As to ancient Egyptians and Romans I think you are confusing hate of Jew the Enemy with hate of Jew the Jew.

Neither Egyptians (some say they might have at least 10 reasons) nor Romans ever claimed blood libel and all other crap like that.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at February 28, 2009 8:31 AM

"The SSNP was never a respectable party. They engaged in a failed coup attempt to overthrow the Lebanese government, and as a result were banned for many years. They have been a burden on Lebanon since they were founded."

But it's ideology is to be respected as their opinion. If we were to go after the SSNP, it would have to be because they're thugs and not because they don't believe in an independent Lebanese State.

"MJT and others, can you speak about how Palestinian are treated in Lebanon? How many are there? Can Palestinians freely work, invest, conduct business in, and own property in Lebanon? How about non Lebanese more generally. Can for example workers from China or South Korea freely work, invest, conduct business in, and own property in Lebanon?"

Palestinians live in their refugee camps. As tight as the restrictions against them are, we cannot ease them or else the USA and Israel would be one step closer to naturalizing them in Lebanon. And the only people in this country that want them to be naturalized are a small group of Sunnis.

Lebanese opinion on them varies. Most support their cause in getting their land back, as long as its not perpetrated off our soil and therefore bringing us into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A few believe that we as "Arabs" (whatever that means) must work with them to liberate their land. And then a very small minority of Lebanese are pro-Israel, mostly ultra-right-wing Christians who are more conservative than the Phalange and Lebanese Forces are.

"The reason I drew attention to the fact that the SSNP comes from the Greek Orthodox community is because I saw scads of comments before I published this from people who assumed Hitchens was beat up (while drunk) by Islamists. I needed to make it clear who the SSNP really is. They aren't Christian fundamentalists -- they're secular. But they aren't Islamists or even secular Muslims. Most people who live in West Beirut -- the section of town taken over by the SSNP and Hezbollah -- mostly belong to the Sunni community. They also mostly belong to the "March 14" movement. It wouldn't be right for them to be blamed for what happened or even for the very existence of this ridiculous "party."

True to some extent, Michael. The Greek Orthodox are the largest sect in the SSNP. But the Muslim membership in the SSNP is also pretty big. Those SSNPers wrecking havoc in Beirut in May 2008 were mostly Sunnis themselves. The secular nature of the SSNP doesn't change their minds. They weren't attacking fellow Sunnis as they saw it. They were attacking people who they thought were traitors to the "Resistance and Syrian cause."
The two respectable things about the SSNP is their secular mindsets and their democratic selection. They are secular in the sense that they see themselves as "Syrians first, Christian/Muslim second." Most don't pray. They're everything but Atheists. Usually, when a Muslim girl and a Christian guy or vice versa marry one another, its two members of the SSNP or the Communists or some leftist movement. That's because these groups are the only ones who don't hold religion to be of any importance. Also, the group votes for its leader rather than have one declare himself head, and the leader of the SSNP has been a Muslim plenty if not most of the time, most recently with the Shi'ite Ali Qanso.

"Anyone who thinks the Christians in Lebanon are the "good guys" while the Muslims are the "bad guys" doesn't know jack about what really goes on there."

This is true. ALL Lebanese are the good guys. And we're all played against each other by Iran, Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the USA. Maybe this country will learn what it unfortunately didn't during the civil war.

Posted by: Liason Author Profile Page at February 28, 2009 8:44 AM

Neither Egyptians (some say they might have at least 10 reasons) nor Romans ever claimed blood libel and all other crap like that

Like the SSNP, the Egyptians and the Romans were more action-oriented than the creators of blood libel. They were less likely than ideological types to use words to express their feelings. The motivation, like the need to dominate, or the need to eliminate dissenting views based on religion/culture/etc. remains the same.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at February 28, 2009 9:17 AM

I applaud the action taken by Hitchens even though it could have ended very badly. Beirut is not Kansas.

On small or not so small point is the actual reason for the street sign - "Khaled Alwan shot two Israeli soldiers with a pistol in 1982 after they settled their bill at the now-defunct Wimpy café".

In my experience as a reserve officer in the Israel Defense Forces, in Lebanon then and subsequently in the West Bank on numerous occasions, the idea of an occupying army's soldiers paying the bill in a cafe or restaurant rather than just taking the produce at gun point is not an unusual occurrence for the IDF and certainly matches the tragic theatre of the absurd in which we live here.

Posted by: AviL Author Profile Page at March 1, 2009 2:06 AM

"The Egyptians and Romans were more action-oriented than the creators of the blood libel..."

Oh, they were pretty gosh-darned active. Usually, they ended in massacres. What I think may have been the original blood libel, little Hugh of Lincoln, resulted in the expulsion of Jews from England in the eleventh century (amid massacres), who were not readmitted until the eighteenth century under Oliver Cromwell.

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at March 1, 2009 5:00 AM

As a history buff, I'm a little perturbed by some of the comments above. I wonder perhaps if, sensitive to the wrongdoing of various religions when they held the reigns of civil power, some might be attempting to project the same sins onto the irreligious.

The Romans didn't persecute anyone for their religion as such, they were notoriously accepting of other religions and freely added foreign deities to their pantheon. Archaeologists are constantly finding evidence of the blending of faiths with the deities of conquered peoples showing up in Roman temples etc.

Of course Roman politics was distinctly Machiavellian in character, and part of that involves suppression of various political movements. Jews and Christians (who to the Romans were basically the same) were treated often brutally because of their opposition to Roman rule over Palestine, challenging the Pax Romana.

And it is an outrageous insult to claim that the Nazis were an atheistic movement in character, and that guys like Hitchens are somehow close to Nazi ideology because of that. This is the atheist equivalent of the blood libel, an outrageous and completely false accusation which religious bigots often use against atheists.

The fact was, the Nazis had quite a close official relationship with the Church. In Italy the Facists were overwhelmingly very pious Catholics, as were the various Nazi/Fascist movements of Eastern Europe such as the Arrow Cross movement. Many Catholic priests occupied high positions of power in the various puppet governments set up by the Nazis in conquered lands, including one head of state!

Hitler's birthday was celebrated every year by the German church right up until the end of the Reich, by order of the Vatican.

Also, the majority of the soldiers of the Wehrmacht considered themselves Christian, and saw themselves as the defenders of Christian European culture against the atheist Bolshevic hordes. Hitler opened his speeches with prayers, the German soldier's and officers oath invoked God, and the German soldier's belt buckle even included the motto "Gott Mit Uns" (God With Us)

Where did anti-semitism come from anyway? It was then, just as it always has been, primarily a religious phenomenon. The only people that get upset with the supposed killers of Christ are the Christians. The Christian church in Europe has always been neck deep in anti-semitism, officially. This was the driving force behind the ancient prejudices which the Nazis exploited.

And after the war, officials in the Catholic church provided sanctuary to war criminals, smuggling them out of Europe into South America.

And how many Nazis did the church excommunicate from the Church as a result of Nazi atrocities? None! Goebbels doesn't count, because he was only chucked out for marrying a protestant.

(No, these are not the words of an anti-Catholic bigot by the way. I'm not one of the "The Pope is the Antichrist" knuckleheads. I was raised Catholic, though I do not identify with any faith today.)

Now I'm not of course saying that the Nazis were by any means good Christians. It is likely that the top Nazis were in fact only using Christianity as a means of control. Most Germans considered themselves to be good Christians and the Nazis had to exploit this.

For sure, the SS was a neo-pagan movement who carried out various acts of church desecrations and the like, and Hitler and Himmler had ideas of returning the country to a more "German" religion based on old German folk beliefs.

Sometimes I wonder if it is pure ignorance, or just a disingenuous trick, when people make that old claim about the Germans going to war in the name of atheism.

Posted by: TravisM Author Profile Page at March 1, 2009 6:30 AM

I'm afraid you three guys acted like a bunch of metro sexual wimps. As soon as the little bastard grabbed Hitchens, the three of you should have beaten him up and left him on the street.

You don't reason with or show weakness to little f*ckers like that, especially if there is only one of them. Beat, beat, and still beat. Then leave. You would have saved yourselves a lot of trouble in the end and taught the little sh*t a good lesson.

Posted by: TerryW Author Profile Page at March 1, 2009 8:12 AM

TerryW: As soon as the little bastard grabbed Hitchens, the three of you should have beaten him up and left him on the street.

Yes, I agree. In hindsight, that's obvious. It wasn't at the time. It looked like we could have gotten away from the little bastard, and by the time I realized his stalling tactic was working, it was too late. Beating him up as his friends arrived could have gotten us killed.

If anyone tries something like that with me in the future, things will play out very differently.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at March 1, 2009 8:22 AM

Here, here, that's the spirit.

Sorry about the metro sexual wimp comment.

Posted by: TerryW Author Profile Page at March 1, 2009 8:39 AM

"However, the irony is that the logical implication of Hitchens' atheistic view is that there are no rights, no obligations, no moralities that apply to all, only personal preferences. Survival of the fittest is the only law.

And it's Hitchens' worldview that created Hitler, the swastika's poster boy."

These are the kind of remarks I was referring to...

The atheistic view is just that there isn't any supernatural being who cares what we do.

That doesn't mean there aren't many natural beings who care what we do. If you were to come to the conclusion tomorrow that there was no god, you wouldn't immediately start killing and raping. You have family, friends, colleagues, you live in a society where that sort of thing is frowned on.

Since we don't wish to live in the kind of society where killings and rapings are common, we refrain from such behaviour. Others usually think as we do, so very few people rape and kill. Those that do such things are kept in check as much as possible through law enforcement and social stigma.

"Law of the jungle" is simply a reality of nature. It is not however an atheist prescription for an ideal society. What atheists generally believe in is the improvement of the human condition via science, social development and work. Law of the jungle is what we're striving to rise above and get away from.

Hitler's worldview was an assortment of racist crackpottery and megalomania.

It is hard to say for sure what his personal religious beliefs were, clearly the fact that he used to lead the masses at Nuremberg in prayer was not proof of anything other than him recognising that claiming to have god on one's side is politically a good thing.

However we do know that he saw himself as a messianic figure, told his closest associates that he believed himself chosen by "providence" and saw his military successes and survival of assassinations as evidence of divine favour.

That's not how an atheist thinks. Atheists generally dismiss that sort of thing as abnormal psychology. Hitler was clearly religious in some sense, some twisted perverted monotheism perhaps where he was convinced that Aryans (not the jews) were the true chosen people of a teutonic god.

Posted by: TravisM Author Profile Page at March 1, 2009 10:15 AM

The first thing that comes to mind is that Hitch needs some better friends. That's WEAK Totten. I'd have thought with all your travels that you would have learned to fight by now.

But I guess that's the modern man.

No wonder the world is going to Hell.

As for the wrangling on the comments about SSNP being Christian, anyone can claim a name, but that doesn't mean that they are what they claim to be.

The Nazi's were huge in the Middle East. The late 18th through the 20th Century saw the rise of a Volk (Folk) movement through out the world. Westerners can't find their own countries on an unmarked globe, so any understanding of the Middle East is out of the question, thus most only think of Muslims, and the Arab Wahabists are better known, but they have direct ties to the Baathists Persians, and groups like the SSNP in the Greek Orthodox community.

The bottom line is that they are terrorist punks who have hijacked the good name of their families, and the real men of the 20th century are now out of style, so these miscreants are allowed to run roughshod over the world.

My grandfathers are rolling over in their graves while metrosexuals ruin the world.

Posted by: StillWind Author Profile Page at March 1, 2009 10:39 AM

Stillwind: My grandfathers are rolling over in their graves while metrosexuals ruin the world.

Fuck you, and get off my blog.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at March 1, 2009 11:10 AM

Sorry to harp on about an issue which is not entirely relevant to the blog, but I figured I'd submit this link on Hitler's religious beliefs. There are numerous passages in Mein Kampf where he talks about his divine mission to "do the Lord's work" by exterminating the jews.

http://www.ffrf.org/fttoday/back/hitler.html

Posted by: TravisM Author Profile Page at March 1, 2009 10:14 PM

"Anyone who thinks the Christians in Lebanon are the "good guys" while the Muslims are the "bad guys" doesn't know jack about what really goes on there."

What do you mean? What is the point of this?

Posted by: lebanonfirst Author Profile Page at March 2, 2009 4:27 AM

Ah, yes, the world's surely going to Hell. After centuries of peace and prosperity, discovery and enlightenment, the spanish inquisition and the holocaust. It's all getting so much worse, isn't it just.

Bollocks.

i wonder what could possibly mean ... wind broken silently?

"I'd have thought with all your travels that you would have learned to fight by now.
But I guess that's the modern man.
No wonder the world is going to Hell."

What the f***?
Is that what the 'modern man' should learn from travel? To fight?
Thanks for putting him in his place.

One question remains, though, and i feel i would be letting down my muslim and jewish heritage if i didn't ask it:
Did you get around to buying some shoes, and, if yes, did you get a good bargain?

Posted by: ati Author Profile Page at March 2, 2009 7:49 AM

TravisM, I feel compelled to comment on your posts that propose the Third Reich as a fundamentally Christian nation. I have some issues with your analysis. First off, the antisemitism that was such a cornerstone of the worldview of Naziism was not fundamentally religious in nature. To be sure, historical antisemitism in Europe has had religion as its focal point, but beginning in the 1870's in Germany it began increasingly taking on a racial tone. By the 1920's the religious nature of Judaism was almost forgotten. The evils of the world were eventually projected onto the jew, and its not as if a Jew's conversion to another religion was enough to save him. Secondly, more generally, with regard to the relationship of Chritianity and Nazism, we should confine our analysis to the Third Reich itself: Frano and Mussolini were quite distinct from the Nazis and their fascism had different roots, conditions, and expressions. Just as the multifarous movements of the far right in Germany, Christianity was conquered by Nazism, and made to play its role in the state. Because Nazism was first and formost a populist movement, it appropriated the symbols of other movements that had mass appeal.

I agree that it is unfair to cavalierly label Nazism as some kind of inevitable consequence to atheism, but you overstate your case in trying to link Christianity to Nazism. If you have not already, I recommend Richard Evans' "The Coming of the Third reich" and "The Third Reich in Power" (alond with the forthcoming completion of the trilogy: "The Third Reich at War") for what may be now the definitive social history of the Third Reich.

Posted by: davidbwade Author Profile Page at March 2, 2009 8:50 AM

Lebanonfirst: What do you mean? What is the point of this?

Lots of people assumed, before I wrote this account, that the people who beat up Christopher were Muslims, as if only Muslims belong to thuggish groups in the Middle East.

There is an assumption among the not-very-well-informed that Jews and Christians are the good guys in the Middle East and that Muslims are the bad guys. I'm sure it's obvious to you that it's a lot more complicated than that.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at March 2, 2009 9:47 AM

"Therefore, I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord's Work." - Hitler, Mein Kampf

"Christ was the greatest early fighter in the battle against the world enemy, the Jews ... The work that Christ started but could not finish, I -- Adolf Hitler -- will conclude." - Hitler, at a Nazi Christmas celebration in 1926

"I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews, I am fighting for the Lord's work." - Hitler, speech to Reichstag 1938

"I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so" - Hitler, speaking to General Gerhard Engel in 1941.

Antisemitism in Europe obviously started as religious, priests were for the most part ringleaders in the various pogroms against the Jews, certainly not any kind of positive moderating influence. Over time this morphed into racial ideas and came to be mixed in with ideas of German nationalism which came about as the old empires crumbled.

I don't doubt that Hitler's ideas were very much based on racist theories, but these have to be understood as a development of a religious meme.

However, a few points I think are beyond debate here:

a) Hitler claimed to be a good Christian and believed himself to be appointed by and protected by God, to execute the holy mission of freeing Germany from the Jews.
b) Most Germans considered themselves good Christians.
c) Most Germans considered Hitler also to be a good Christian, and wouldn't have supported him otherwise. Some even considered him a saint, a new messiah sent by God to redeem the German nation.
d) Nazis claimed to be fighting a good, Christian fight against the atheist Bolshevic hordes.
e) Members of Germany's fighting forces, with the exception of the SS, considered themselves to be Christian soldiers fighting a good fight.
f) Apart from the Swastika, the main German icon was the Iron Cross, a traditional German motif intended to reflect the heritage and chivalry of Christian Germanic knights.
g) In the rest of Europe, Nazi sympathising movements were intimately linked with the Catholic church and the Vatican was a friend to these regimes more often than it was a critic.

Yes, the Nazis perverted Christianity and twisted it into something decidedly dark and evil, but the German people at the time didn't think so. They didn't think they were the bad guys, at least until after the war when the populace learned about what the Nazis had done in their name.

The above at the very least ought to be enough to demonstrate just how asinine the common claim is that Hitler and genocide are what you get when societies embrace secular values and that the Nazis "fought in the name of atheism".

If you ever watch any YouTube debates between Christians and Atheists, at one point or another the atheist side always mention religiously inspired warfare and terrorism, and the Christian side counter with the argument about how the 20th century was as brutal as it was because of what the Axis sides did while fighting "in the name of atheism".

Fact, the Germans were a Christian nation led by a man who claimed to be a Catholic, the Italians were almost to the man devout Catholics (as were most of the countries that allied themselves with the Axis) and the Japanese had a god as their head of state.

Not one of the Axis powers even came close to being atheistic in nature, let alone openly embraced the kind of enlightenment values of free speech and free enquiry which is what most atheists actually stand for.

Posted by: TravisM Author Profile Page at March 2, 2009 6:39 PM

thanks for this piece - glad to read that the worst was some scratches and bruises and frayed nerves.

In reading some of the other comments in regards to Nazism it seems that folks have commmitted the fallacy of equivalency in regards to National Socialism in its different forms and religion, Christianity specifically. I would encourage that folks don't rely on easily constructed "crutches" and dig a little deeper. TravisM's posts start at doing so but they ring of the "sonderweg" explanations of how Germany of 1933-1945 was inevitable which is tiresome in its deterministic sophistry.

Posted by: deadpool09 Author Profile Page at March 3, 2009 6:00 AM

No no, I'm not saying anything of the sort deadpool09. My claims were pretty much just that Nazi Germany was not an atheist state, that antisemitism was not abhorrent to German Christians, that the Nazis wrapped themselves in the cloak of Christianity (cynically, perhaps), that Hitler seems to have had some kind of belief that he was himself a Christian messiah of sorts and that the typical German soldier was fighting for a number of causes, but advancing atheism wasn't one of them.

This is a counterargument to the specific accusation made in one of the previous comments, repeated over and over in countless Christian vs Atheist debates (including many of the ones Hitchens himself gets into against various evangelicals) that Nazism was a movement in the name of atheism, that the death camps were the result of Germany embracing atheism, and that atheists ought to admire the Nazis because their "do whatever you like, its all survival of the fittest and there is no God so kill as many people as you want" ethos is somehow near and dear to what atheists want.

I am something of a Nazi history buff actually and if this was the time and the place I could write a long essay here on the socioeconomics of Germany during Hitler's youth and rise to power, the failure of post WW1 Democracy, the psychology behind Nazis telling people their petty prejudice was right and honourable and demanded by God etc.

I won't though. All I wish to do is smack down that stupid argument I keep seeing over and over, that atheists ought to love Hitler because he supposedly fought for values atheists hold dear.

Posted by: TravisM Author Profile Page at March 3, 2009 7:27 AM

I think "pagan" would be more correct than "atheist" for Hitler's vision of Nazi Germany. Wotan and all that rot, jungfraus shaking their moneymakers to breed up more future soldiers, Blut-und-Boden, Choosers of the Slain...much easier to use. Thor never said no to pulling a trigger.

Now if you want atheist tyranny, look to the USSR, PRC, Khmer Rouge, SLORC, like that. (though the USSR went back to dalliance with the Orthodox in WWII for a while, when they were losing really hard).

Whether Hitler in actuality believed in anything bigger than himself...? Napoleon famously "turned Turk" but it is unknown to me whether he actually took the required trimming.

Religion is used as much as using, you know.

Oh, and bugger SSNP, and maybe a taser next time, Mike? At least, you might smash his cell phone right off. That might be compatible with the safeties on your fight reflex that no doubt inhibited you from the timely infliction of harm in this case.

Also, if not combat salted and puzzled what to do, try falling bodily on the scrub and smashing his head into the pavement till he stops resisting - two or three times with gusto and he should be dazed enough. This requires little skill and I assume you fellows had mass on him.

Head butts also work quite well, esp. if you can bring the soccer-playing piece of your skull right down on the bridge of his nose. I admire the pinky-finger tactic, but once you let go, you're back to square one.

But the key is to deactivate that cellie. Who needs a gun when you have the wireless Internet in the palm of your hand? ;> Meanwhile you will have your own muscle on call - good idea - but ISTM you will likewise have to have a good signal and a half minute to talk or text. Perhaps there is a one-button iPhone app that would send out a blurt to your tag team, with GPS and googlemap street directions.

And next time you speak Chris, tell him this wicked Jew offers to drink a glass of wine with him, if he can bear it.

Posted by: Nichevo Author Profile Page at March 3, 2009 9:50 AM

"Now if you want atheist tyranny, look to the USSR, PRC, Khmer Rouge, SLORC, like that. (though the USSR went back to dalliance with the Orthodox in WWII for a while, when they were losing really hard)."

Fast forward to 3:20 in this talk by Sam Harris for an explanation of the difference between atrocities done BY a particular religious or irreligious group for reasons that aren't explicitly religious, and atrocities done by religious or irreligious groups EXPLICITLY FOR RELIGIOUS REASONS.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLIKAyzeIw4

I won't say any more because Harris' explanation is very clear and anyone with an interest in the subject can check it out.

Posted by: TravisM Author Profile Page at March 3, 2009 3:04 PM

Nichevo,

I cannot talk about PRC, Khmer Rouge, SLORC, ... but I am somewhat familiar with life in former USSR.
It is true Soviets outlawed all known religions but only to kill competition to their own (call it pagan if you want) religion. You could say it was like Saudi Arabia, which bans all other religions except Islam. I think we can call this Soviet religion "Belief in The Bright Future". Quite natural of cause on personal level but this one was organized and controlled by a state. No deviation or else ...

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at March 3, 2009 5:38 PM

Yeah. Harris' point was that the various nasty regimes were just as religious as any theocracy, except they just had their own dogmas.

Cults of personality, miracles (i.e. ludicrously exaggerated Soviet production increase figures, three harvests a year etc), saints (Stakhanovites and top soviets) and faith that a new man could be created who would build a utopian society, despite clearly visible evidence that reality was not and likely never would match the hype.

Wreaking havok in the name of communist dogmas is not the same as wreaking havoc in the cause of a sceptic's atheism. I very much doubt that in all of history there has ever been a war started or terrorist atrocity by someone whose sole beef with the world was that he didn't believe in any deities and wanted to spread that concept around.

On the other hand I don't think any one of us would hesitate for even a second in naming a number of cases where someone did go out and start a war or perpetuate a terrorist atrocity because his religious beliefs compelled him to act against unbelievers.

Posted by: TravisM Author Profile Page at March 3, 2009 7:18 PM

Seems that one could stretch the holding of any deeply held belief to religious proportions, and that includes atheism. Anyway, the 'skeptic's atheism' that you mention is fundamentally an elitist phenomenon, and it has never been a mass movement, hence it cannot be responsible for atrocities against the 'unbelievers' on any kind of scale like Communism or Nazism.

It is a mistake to put too much emphasis on religion in Nazi Germany. Nazism was a rabidly populist movement, not a religious one (though it sometimes had some of its trappings), not enirely an anti-religious one (though certainly some members, including Hitler, were indeed hostile towards Christianity), and certainly not an fundamentally Christian one (though many of the rank and file were Christians, and some Christian institutions collaberated).

You also misunderstand the nature of Nazi antisemitism. It was the very fact of its racialist view that made it so virulent: a Jew was transformed from a spiritual foe of the old antisemitism into a biological one, and a zero sum existential threat.

Frankly, Travis, I think that you may have watched one too many atheist / theist debates and its colored your historical judgement.

Posted by: davidbwade Author Profile Page at March 3, 2009 8:43 PM

"Seems that one could stretch the holding of any deeply held belief to religious proportions, and that includes atheism."

Only if we could stretch not believing in unicorns into a deeply held belief of religious proportions.

My hair colour is bald, my favourite sport is not playing tennis, my favourite flavour is flavourless, my favourite colour is colourless, I spend hours each day not playing any chess, I'd die if someone denied me my not owning an iPod, my favourite shirt is going shirtless, all I want for Christmas is a big ol' vacuum.

The only common characteristic of atheists is that they don't believe in a god or gods. That's it.

Along with that you can add all sorts of things. Many atheists are strong rationalists who care very much about all sorts of "woo", not just the religious kind but also homeopathy, astrology and all that.

However since "Atheism" is simply an absence of belief in a god or gods, some forms of Buddhism for example fit the definition, and Buddhists do have their own dogmas which aren't necessarily the sort of thing that a hardened sceptical rationalist would go for.

What's this "elitist" bit though? That label is overused in American politics I think, and is horribly offensive when you think about it.

So not believing in homeopathy and demanding that you only be treated with medicines which have passed some form of clinical trial, thinking philosophically rather than religiously, using reason instead of feeling, these are all "elitist"? Only "the elite" use their brains?

The non elite just does what, hang around in their trailer homes eating, screwing and watching Jerry Springer?

And like it or not, the Nazis did claim they were good Christians, and good Christians believed them. The Nazis never claimed to be an explicitly religious party, but they did claim that God was on their side and sought the favour and endorsement of the Church, which they received in abundance. Hitler publicly and repeatedly claimed he'd been appointed by God to carry out the persecution of the jews, and that God was protecting him.

Claiming he wasn't a Christian, despite him obviously seeming to think he was, is a bit too "True Scotsman" for me. He said he was Roman Catholic. Yes, he was also a psychopath, but a Roman Catholic psychopath who had no trouble reconciling his deeds with Christianity.

Could we at least agree that of all the things Hitler claimed to be, all the banners the Germans fought under, fighting to bring atheism to the world was not one of them, and therefore the multitude of "the worst crimes in history were done in the name of atheism" arguments are just ridiculous?

If you think that's a bit of a straw man, that nobody is really claiming that Hitler went to war in order to spread atheism, just look up some videos at Youtube using "Hitler" and "atheism" as keywords. There are huge numbers of them posted by evangelicals, almost all of them with ratings disabled and comments censored, so they can delete any comments from "elites" and retain only the "amen"s.

Posted by: TravisM Author Profile Page at March 3, 2009 9:44 PM

Well, this isn't really the venue for this topic, and Michael's been more than gracious to let us get this far into it. I didn't mean anything negative about the brand of pure atheism that you mention being elitist: just that being thus, it limits its appeal and thus the practical negative manifestations of it, unlike the great monotheistic religions. That does put it in good company, incidentally, as literature and art are also basically elitist. Anyway, I will go so far as to agree that the claim that the Nazis fought to bring the world under atheism is indeed ahistorical.

Posted by: davidbwade Author Profile Page at March 5, 2009 5:13 AM

Heh, Hitch is one of the world's most outspoken anti-theists (one beyond atheism, he goes beyond mere disbelief and indifference and goes as far as saying if there is a God, he's a shit and can go fuck himself. Of course, he's basing his opinions on the God of the bible, so I guess his POV is understandable!)

Where there is Christopher Hitchens, there is religious debate. Where there is religious debate some nut says the world's worst crimes were done in the name of atheism. When that happens, argumentative atheist types or those who simply don't like seeing historic truth get raped and misrepresented, step in and correct them.

So it shouldn't be too shocking that this has happened.

Posted by: TravisM Author Profile Page at March 5, 2009 7:13 AM

Dear Michael,

Congratulations on an excellent work of reportage - a fascinating, gripping read which taught me a great deal and, in addition, deepened my already strong admiration for Christopher Hitchens. "Everything I do is news": as hilarious as his inscription on the swastika. Regret that, as much I would like to, I can't contribute financially, seeing as I'm having a hard time staying out of the subways myself.

Posted by: Andre Author Profile Page at March 7, 2009 4:02 AM

A bit off topic, but Michael, I could use your help.

Salman Rushdie and Christopher Hitchens on the Bill Maher program both said to have seen mushroom cloud flags flying at a Hezbollah rally in Beirut. It could presumably have been during this trip.

I have no reason to doubt Rushdie and Hitchens. It's quite shocking, really, to see a group saying: We want the bomb, and we intend to use it once we have it.

That is madness. Theocratic apocalypticism. Can you vouch for what these two gentlemen said?

Posted by: Robert Kelly Author Profile Page at March 28, 2009 11:31 PM

Robert,

I have never seen such a flag, nor have I heard of it. But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Christopher didn't say anything about it to me in Beirut, but I'm sure he isn't lying.

Let me see what I can find out about this. Maybe I can find a picture somewhere.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at March 29, 2009 12:05 AM

Bravo Mr Hitchens! Great to see there's someone with some fucking balls in academia. It's so good to hear someone would confront such a standover culture. Glad it was you, love your work. I don't know if I'd have the guts (no pun intended ;) It's stunning to read people apologising for what is essentially a bunch of state sponsored Nazi thugs. Fuck them. Fuck all those religious groups who've hijacked Middle Eastern cultures.
I'm glad to hear you all got out ok.
Cheers Michael!

Posted by: Manaia Author Profile Page at March 31, 2009 1:01 AM

Despite the fact that I'm Lebanese and I don't agree with SSNP, but honestly I don't see Mr. Hitchens as a hero or even as somebody rightful in this story... At first he was just a visitor in Lebanon, and he had no right to insult a Lebanese party fully authorized by the Lebanese Government, even having deputies, ministers, as well as wide popular support from different religions (SSNP is well known as a secular party, and it's not correct what you mentioned that it's only composed of Greek Orthodox).... Second, I don't think that Beirut Municipality or any Lebanese Authority employed Mr. Hitchens or gave him go ahead to start removing posters from Beirut streets the way he likes.... In brief, as a Lebanese citizen, I feel sorry for what happened as I've always been against hypocrisy and violence by SSNP or any other group. But on the other hand, I also believe that Mr. Hitchens shall also admit that he acted in Beirut in a hypocrite way. He should have behaved JUST as a visitor, not as a STATE LEADER just because he's a BRITISH AMERICAN celebrity.

Posted by: Tony Author Profile Page at December 29, 2010 1:58 PM
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