Don't Ask Christopher Hitchens About Anything But Himself


For the next three weeks, Christopher Hitchens will be on book tour. He leaves the east coast next week, and then travels from Seattle on south, ending by looping over to Denver and Texas in early July. He is not, however, taking questions from the audiences on any matters not pertaining directly to himself, as he is now promoting his memoir, Hitch-22. “Wrong book!” he says, and he says it often, and he says it in a sad, huffy way, each time people ask him questions about God or Iraq or anything not directly pertaining to his personal written history, which was published all of two weeks ago. (Parts of which are about God and Iraq, but hey.) He really seems mystified as to why anyone would ask about any of the other topics of his many books, which were arriving at least once a year throughout the 00s until, in 2008, things stopped, as he began to assemble this latest. He is, however, very entertaining! He has colorful stories and he is, now, old enough to have aged well into his feisty, learned high-class manner and accent. The wonderful thing about Hitchens is that he is better-read and smarter than you, and that’s very relaxing. But one of his many colorful stories he is telling is about Hezbollah.

This story tracks to a piece published in May, 2009, in Vanity Fair. Hitchens was in Lebanon. (He has a bit about how, in cities that begin with the letter ‘B,’ he feels likely to be the victim of violence, including Beirut and the former Bombay. His book tour, fortunately, took him just to Boston and not Baltimore.)

So there, in the southern area of Beirut, Hitchens attended a rally in a big tent. The tent was decorated, Hitchens reported in VF: “a huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene, with the inscription oh zionists, if you want this type of war then so be it!” (James Kirchick has seen the same).

Oh, Hezbollah. There’s not a lot of scare-mongering that needs to be done to make that particular group scary to Americans.

Yet, Hitchens is trying his best. On his book tour, he has paraphrased and recast his own telling of this story. This was at a stop on the tour that took place in a crowded temple, where the audience was at the very least 80% Jewish. (Hitchens greeted the crowd by saying “Shalom”-his wife, daughter and mother are Jewish.)

In his retelling, Hitchens described this as a, or the, “Hezbollah flag,” and he said, when you “decode” the Arabic text, that is formed in the shape of a mushroom cloud, this “flag” says “Watch out Jews, we’re coming for you.”

When he said this, the revulsion and fear in the room was very real. Why wouldn’t it be? Angry Shias, coming for the Jews! Watch out, Jews!

But it wasn’t even true, according to Hitchens of last year. The stupid Hezbollah poster was typical revolutionary (and conditionally-phrased!) chest-pounding-really, bad enough! Just not bad enough for the telling.