On December 15th., Christopher Hitchens, a man of towering intelligence died well before his time.
Since then an article by Mr. Benjamin Kerstein of Tel Aviv, which on the face of it is devastating and accuses Hitchens of anti-Semitism, has been recucitated and even referred to and approved of by such luminaries as Caroline Glick. Unlike Mr. Kerstein or Ms. Glick I am disinclined to attribute Hitchens' stern criticisms of Jewish Orthodoxy and the state of Israel to anti-Semitism.
He was, of course, a devout and self-described anti-theist and saw all religions as a form of numbing mind-control and even as a form of ingratiation in the ways they sold salvation. He was noted for saying that he considered the notion of a god and an afterlife as a gruesome fairy tale blaming such beliefs for most of mankind's misfortunes. If the question is did he harbor any deliberate and calculated ill will towards Jews or Israel of the sort that would result in their extinction I would have to say that the answer is absolutely not and his statement that, "organized religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive towards children" may be taken as proof that he was opposed to organized religion but should not be interpreted as being anti-Semitic.
There is no doubt that Hitchens was an iconoclast, a polemicist, the enemy of cant and a champion of freedom. Orthodoxy whether it was in the form of Judaism or any other religion was anathema to him. He was an equal opportunity sceptic whose reason forced him to rely on verifiable evidence rather than appeals to "faith" or texts that were old, unreliable, often contradictory and an amalgam of fact, fantasy and allegory. He found circumcision to be a barbaric practice and the undue emphasis placed on female sexuality by all of the so-called Abrahamic faiths to be of a highly repressive nature. He once wrote that our most precious possession is the mind and that it was not well trained, or well served, by assuming that which it must prove. In this regard Hitchens was his own most faithful disciple.
Like myself, Hitchens was half Jewish but not in the way he was raised. In his case he was brought up as a Methodist while in my case it was as a Roman Catholic. Both of us attended British boarding schools for our numerous sins. Many people would argue that there is no such category as half Jewish in much the same way as they would argue that one cannot be half pregnant. Nevertheless, in this case it really depends upon the laws to which one subscribes. According to Judaic Law I would not be considered Jewish since it was my mother who was Catholic but according to the Nuremburg Laws this nice distinction, had I been alive at the time, would not have saved me from the gas chambers. Hitchens' mother was Jewish so his appointment at the gas chambers would have been just slightly ahead of my own.
I must confess to a great admiration of Hitchens' keen and unusally high intelligence which gave him such perceptive and illuminating insights. These gifts coupled with his unassailable erudition and his mastery of the English language produced an unsurpassed lucidity not given to lesser mortals. The first time I read his work I felt like someone who had somewhow wandered into the MET, not knowing anything about opera, just as Pavarotti started to sing the first stanza of Nessun Dorma. One would realize at once that one was in the presence of a sparkling and an inimitable brilliance. The first time I heard Hitchens' sonorous voice I was enchanted. The first time I saw him in a debate I quivered for his opponent and understood how Mister Toad felt when he first saw a motor car.
Hitchens never shied away from a fight particularly one that he had started. He possessed a fiercly independent mind unrestricted by any hide-bound ideology. Like Alexander Pope he was of no sect and sworn to no master. This often made him the one discordant note in an otherwise harmonious chorus.
When the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, a writer of fiction, it was an outraged Hitchens who sprang to Rushdie's defense while so many of his colleagues either criticised Rushdie or stood on the sidelines leaning against each other striking attitudes. The fatwa was a subornation of murder for payment for the high crime of writing a novel based on the life of Mohammed!
Another instance of Hitchens' intellectual independence and ability to challenge his own assumptions was when immediately after 9/11 he began to reassess his opinions coming to support the war in Iraq thereby incurring the undying wrath of many of his left-wing friends, but he had detected a whiff of sulfur which he knew had not only deranged all of our calculations but which had also exposed the relentless march of Islamic totalitarianism hitherto unacknowledged in the corridors of power or by the mass media of which he was a part and which then unleashed their hostility towards him.
With Hitchens' death we have lost a towering intellect and one of the most brilliant exponents of rationalism and humanism in our time. Let that be his legacy rather than accusations of anti-semitism based on his atheism and anti-theism which thundered against the pious purveyors of the supernatural, the harmful credulity of superstition and the frauds who indulge in the ritualistic buffooneries of organized religion.
Jonathan Swift once noted, "When a true genius appears in this world you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in a confederacy against him." Like Swift, Christopher Hitchens is now in a place "where savage indignation can no longer lacerate his heart" but I, for one, feel greatly deprived and will sorely miss his company on the ramparts.