A generation of journalists cut their teeth in Northern Ireland covering the Troubles: Robert Fisk, Max Hastings, Jeremy Paxman, John Simpson and Kevin Myers. You can add Christopher Hitchens to that incomplete list.
Belfast was a regular playground for Christopher Hitchens in the 1970s. The fearless writer and public intellectual had recently left Oxford and had joined the staff of the New Statesman, and as a cub journalist was sent to that "moral and political slum that was Belfast". ("Political slum" gives a nod to Cal McCrystal and the Sunday Times Insight team who in 1966 wrote a ground-breaking exposé on Northern Ireland: 'John Bull's Political Slum'.) Hitchens said in an interview:
"The Troubles in Northern Ireland, where I had my first and last experience of journalistic comity."The political editor of that weekly George Eaton gave us a glimpse Hitchens's experience in Belfast:
"It was only in 1973, three years after he had graduated from Oxford, that he was offered a job as a staff writer by the then NS editor, Anthony Howard... In an early piece, written under a joint byline with James Fenton (and which Hitchens said "still gives me great pride in retrospect"), he reported from Belfast where, ill-advisedly venturing down the Falls Road, he narrowly avoided being shot by British troops. As he recalled: "I found myself slammed against the wall by a squad of soldiers with blackened faces, and asked various urgent questions . . . Managing a brief statement in my cut-glass Oxford tones, I was abruptly recognised as non-threatening, brusquely advised to fuck off, and off I duly and promptly fucked."Hitchens wrote an essay, `Ireland. ‘We Ourselves': Suffering, faith and redemption’ (1998)
in Critical Quarterly (vol. 40, no. 1). In that 1998 essay Hitchens wrote:
"I can remember very distinctly the last time I was in Belfast. It was during the crucial general election which brought Margaret Thatcher to power [April 1979]. I was writing an article for the old New Statesman about the neglected Ulster dimension of this conjuncture - it having been Northern Ireland more than any other matter which had brought an end to the period of what we would now have to call `Old Labour' rule. My essay, when it was published, recommended above all things that the question of the Six Counties, and indeed the Six Counties themselves, be internationalised. Only by placing the issue in a context at once Atlantic and European, I argued, could the petrifying grip of antiquity be broken, and the fetishes of sovereignty be deposed by the revived notion of self-government. (I hope you notice that I have already referred to this historic part of this extremely historic province by each of its three loaded colloquial names. People who say that terminology isn't worth fighting over are saying in effect that language doesn't matter. The latter proposition is much more dangerous than the former.)
I don't particularly care for numinous dates, except that everybody cares for numinous dates and that, as I walked around in the steady rain, it was 13 April; in that hinge year of Thatcherism also both Easter and my thirtieth birthday. April 13 is as well the birthday of Seamus Heaney, and I rounded off my piece with a stave from `Linen Town':
It's twenty to four
On one of the last afternoons
Of reasonable light.
Smell the tidal Lagan:
Take a last turn
In the tang of possibility.
Compare, for example, Louis MacNeice's 1931 poem, `Belfast':
The hard cold fire of the northerner,Frozen into his blood from the fire in his basalt
Glares from behind the mica of his eyes
And the salt carrion water brings him wealth.
Down there at the end of the melancholy lough
Against the lurid sky over the stained water
Where hammers clang murderously on the girders
Like crucifixes the gantries stand.
Not at all the benign `Giant's Causeway' account. Even in the Ulster passages of Anthony Powell and Philip Larkin, indeed, neither of them conditioned to subversive or anti-national accounts, one can find in their sojourn the explicit sense of being, as English or Welsh people in this province, somehow definitively expatriated if not in fact `abroad'.He continued:
"Now I'm back in Belfast and I find that the stewardship of Northern Irish affairs is substantially in American hands. An ex-Senator of Lebanese-American background, George Mitchell, chairs important discussions on politics and economics, and on political economy, while reporting back regularly to a President who has sponsored most of the public elements of political or, if you prefer, of national dialogue and mediation. American money, American prestige, American spirit if you will, are slowly but unmistakably beginning to assert themselves. I don't mean to downgrade the importance of economic and community initiatives from the European Union, because I also believe that the co-membership of the two Irelands in one customs and political union was a necessary if not a sufficient precondition for the present stage."And continued:
"When I first visited Belfast as an Englishman, as I would much prefer to describe myself, in the early days of the present phase of the `troubles', I was struck not so much by the fact that I seemed to be in a foreign country (the past, as we know, has always been another country) as by how multiply foreign it was. In the nationalist areas, the telephone boxes could be as red as you liked but one was, inescapably, in Ireland. In the Brown Bear on Shankill Road, where I came the closest I have ever come to being roughed up on account of my accent alone, Englishness was at something of a discount. Certainly, any Englishman who had been brought up to think that the saving flavour of irony had something English about it would have been in a similar quandary. (Was it `Go back to Britain' or `Go back to England' that certain loyalist banshees yelled at Prime Minister Blair on his last visit?) One seemed to have wandered into an irony-free zone where, in a way that might have been reassuring but was somehow not, everyone honestly meant exactly what they said. My original interest in Oscar Wilde, and in his imperishable confrontation with Sir Edward Carson, was not solely in the ways that it prefigured the later confrontation over Home Rule and the right to raise rebellion. Colour does matter: I have for example always thought of Conor Cruise O'Brien as not orange or green but purple. Wilde's carnation was by no means the only green thing about him, and Carson's orange was to develop red hands in Ulster and in Flanders before his political career was over, but one of them - I submit - was a votary of irony and would have seen irony in the other's dilemma, while the other was not and could not. If Oscar Wilde had been allowed to live, do I think that he would have wept - fully and genuinely - for what happened to the Ulster Regiment and the Ulster Volunteers on the Somme in June 1916? Of course I do. Of course he would have. My other interest in that court case is that I believe it to be one of the clearest written records, since the indictment of Socrates, of the confrontation between the ironic and the literal mentality."He made some further interesting observations:
"If this part of this province, like the three tigers of Munster, Leinster and Connacht and the three frisky cubs of Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal, is going to develop henceforth as part of the American universe, it may as well do some reflecting in advance on the American way. And the Clinton slip reminded us of the three most salient and distinctive features of the American public sphere. America is the special country: one might almost say the Promised Land, first of the multi-ethnic and the multi-cultural, second of the secular and third of the amnesiac. None of these, I believe it is safe to say, has been the distinguishing mark of Ulster life in this century.
It's a good question as to how far plural citizenship and nationhood - those two elusively compatible entities - need to depend upon the friendship of amnesia... Ernest Renan's justly celebrated essay `Qu'est-ce qu'une nation?' (What is a nation?) and posed his dangerously paradoxical definition: Those who wish to make up a nation must possess much in common and also be willing to forget many things... Milan Kundera, in his wonderful Book of Laughter and Forgetting, as saying that: `The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting'... Arthur Balfour's remark - `I can never forgive, but I always forget'.
Timothy Garton Ash... tried to imagine an English history and English present that would not compromise him or make him feel awkward:
"Personal memory is such a slippery customer. Nietzsche catches it brilliantly in one of his epigrams: `”I did that,” says my memory. “I can't have done that,” says my pride and remains adamant. In the end - memory gives way.' The temptation is always to pick and choose your past, just as it is for nations: to remember Shakespeare and Churchill but forget Northern Ireland. But we must take it all or leave it all; and I must say `I'."The New York Post wrote in the paper's obituary:
"Christopher Hitchens remains more interested in joining the literary tradition than in purging it. In a speech about history and memory that he gave in Northern Ireland in 1997, he noted that, for better or for worse, Ireland’s literary tradition had been built out of nationalism, insularity, insurrection and reprisal, and that we “cannot be expected to be ashamed of having taken seriously certain ideas of nationality and religion and community"."Hitchens said in a 2010 debate with his brother Peter:
"Our parents would not have said you can go into Portsmouth and hang around the railway station or the docks any old time of day or night. No, in fact, we were constantly being enjoined to beware of the rough and the lumpen element that was noticeable in English life.
Then there were cities where you couldn’t even imagine, where everyone — your school friends — would talk about, do you know what happens in Glasgow on the housing estates? This is in exactly the ’50s and ’60s when the authority of the Church of England was much greater than it is now. Glasgow, you’d get your eyes cut out with a broken bottle if — inaudible —particular students looked at you. It was partly true. Glasgow, the most religious city in the country, where people would kill you over what kind of Christian you were, as a matter of fact.
We hadn’t then realized how bad the situation was in Northern Ireland, where constant violence, incivility, sadism, combined with all the things that go with clerical rule and politics — backwardness, stupidity, unemployment, low standards of education and hygiene. The place was a complete slum. And what distinguished it from the rest of the United Kingdom? The fact that the priests had authority there and people were willing to swing a boot or a bottle in the name of faith. That’s what made the difference."Hitchens later recalled his time in Northern Ireland in an essay in Slate Magazine in 2010:
"I used to work in Northern Ireland, where religion is by no means a minor business either, and at first couldn’t tell by looking whether someone was Catholic or Protestant. After a while, I thought I could guess with a fair degree of accuracy, but most of the inhabitants of Belfast seemed able to do it by some kind of instinct. There is a small underlay of ethnic difference there, with the original Gaels being a little darker and smaller than the blonder Scots who were imported as settlers, but to the outsider it is impalpable. It’s just that it’s the dominant question locally."He also wrote:
"In Belfast, I have seen whole streets burned out by sectarian warfare between different sects of Christianity, and interviewed people whose relatives and friends have been kidnapped and killed or tortured by rival religious death squads... (Even the word ‘drill’ makes me queasy: a power tool of that kind was often used to destroy the kneecaps of those who fell foul of the religious gangs.)"Hitch also wrote:
"Looking back on that year of color and rage and excitement and (yes) hope , I can now see well enough to separate the different kinds of revolutionary with whom I became acquainted. Some of one kind went on to become victorious rulers, either of nascent dictatorships in Vietnam and Angola or of nascent democracies in Spain, Portugal, Greece, and South Africa. Some of a second kind would invert the hieroglyph “68” on the odometer and become the triumphant figures of the anti-Communist revolution of ’89. (For this particular irony, see Tom Stoppard’s brilliant play Rock and Roll.) And some of another kind wound up either dead or in prison, having tried to launch movements of “armed struggle” from Northern Ireland to West Germany. The first two evolved a sort of social-democratic modus vivendi that has some battle honors to its credit; the third lot mutated into the fans of Saddam Hussein and the apologists for al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood—in other words, into the most reactionary force on the planet."And on the island of Ireland and Europe, Hitchens wrote in Slate Magazine, 'Is The Euro Doomed?':
"When I still lived in Europe, I was one of the few on the left to advocate an enlargement of the community and to identify it with the progressive element in politics. This was mainly because I had seen the positive effect that Europeanism had exerted on the periphery of the continent, especially in Spain, Portugal, and Greece. Until the middle of the 1970s, these countries had been ruled by backward-looking dictatorships, generally religious and military in character and dependent on military aid from the more conservative circles in the United States. Because the European community allowed only parliamentary democracies to join, the exclusion from the continent's heartland gave a huge incentive to the middle class in these countries to support the overthrow of despotism.
The same attraction had a solvent effect on other countries, too. Once the Irish Republic became a member and was thus part of the same customs union as the United Kingdom, the border with Northern Ireland became an irrelevance, and it was only a matter of time before the sectarian war would begin to seem irrelevant."Restating the above, Hitchens said in his 1998 essay on Ireland:
"I also believe that the co-membership of the two Irelands in one customs and political union was a necessary if not a sufficient precondition for the present stage."Niall Ferguson wrote:
"It goes without saying that Ireland’s recent riches are the fruit as much of economic dependence as of political independence: dependence, above all, on American capital and European subsidies."Fintan O'Toole said:
"You couldn’t have had the peace process in Ireland if you hadn’t had Celtic Tiger. The Celtic Tiger underpinned the sense that change wasn’t bad and that people could begin to think about themselves in a more complicated way."Hitch wrote towards the end of his piece in the Nation:
"How tragic it is that the euro system has already, in effect, become a two-tier one and that the bottom tier is occupied by the very countries—Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland—that benefited most from their accession to the European Union. The shady way in which Greece behaved in concealing its debts, and the drunken-sailor manner in which other smaller states managed their budgets, has, of course, offended the Germans."He wrote in the Nation in 1990:
"By the Anglo-Irish agreement at Hillsborough [Margaret Thatcher] gave up Britain's absurd claim to exclusive sovereignty over Northern Ireland... It is absolutely safe to say that no Labor Prime Minister would have had the nerve to do [this]."
In his 1992 essay in the Nation in defence of Christopher Columbus and the conquest and destruction of native America, Hitchens wrote:
"As Marx wrote about India, the impact of a more developed society upon a culture (or a series of warring cultures, since there was no such nation as India before the British Empire) can spread aspects of modernity and enlightenment that outlive and transcend the conqueror. This isn’t always true; the British probably left Africa worse off than they found it, and they certainly retarded the whole life of Ireland."
"The international community, especially the United States, would be well within its right if it made Northern Ireland its business and ignored Britain’s claims to exclusive sovereignty. As for the view that such an initiative would be a victory for the terrorist gunmen, it doesn’t hold water. The gunmen are only made possible by the unique insensitivity of British policy, and an influx of international credit and concern would do much to isolate them."He also wrote:
"Most American politicians I have met are a good deal better informed about Northern Ireland than their British counterparts."Ian Buruma wrote in the New York Review of Books:
"In an earlier phase of his career, Hitchens tells us, “I resolved to try and resist in my own life the jaded reaction that makes one coarsened to the ugly habits of power.” Quite right too. He was also commendably staunch about the use of torture by the British in Northern Ireland. A Labour minister who defended torture as a necessary measure is called “a bullying dwarf.” Hitchens writes: “Everybody knows the creepy excuses that are always involved here: ‘terrorism’ must be stopped, lives are at stake, the ‘ticking bomb’ must be intercepted.” What on earth was this same Hitchens thinking, then, when he adopted Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, as his new good friend?"Hitchens said in an interview with Hugh Hewitt:
"[Peter Hitchens] would often come up with very alarming remarks. I mean, I remember when I asked him once about, or rather, he actually asked me when I had been reporting from Northern Ireland at a certain stage, he said oh, what do you think should happen there, and I was sort of moaning on about this and that, and power sharing, and civil rights and all this, and he said well, what I think is it needs a jolly good dose of martial law. That’s what he sounded like, as if, I think I say it in the book, as if the British had never tried the use of force in Ireland before."He also wrote in Mother Jones:
"Tony Benn was silent on Ireland for many years, as too many Labour leaders have been—perhaps because it was Labour who first sent the British army to Ireland in 1969, when he was in the cabinet. But in May 1981 he became the first national politician to break the two-party consensus on the issue. He called for British troops to be withdrawn and to be replaced by an international peacekeeping force if need be."Hitchens said in a conversation with Andrew Sullivan:
There’s a wonderful essay by Sigmund Freud called, “The Narcissism of the Small Difference,” and it has to do with the way in which divisions that are invisible to the outsider—as between, say Sinhala and Tamil in Sri Lanka, or Protestant and Catholic in Northern Ireland—are everything to the people who live there. The least thing is the one that divides them. If you were a Zulu, say, or Han Chinese and you go to Belfast… “What are they fighting about? This seems preposterous!” But to them it’s everything, in many ways it’s all they know, it’s what gives them identity.For Hitchens, "religion has been an enormous multiplier of tribal suspicion and hatred." Read more on Ireland's vanity of small differences here. On Ian Paisley, Hitchens said:
"One must hear from people who dislike others. It’s essential to me that Ian Paisley is an MP and of the European Parliament and that he says that Catholicism is the work of the devil, it’s absolutely essential."On Paisley's free church and Belfast Hitchens said:
"[Suppose I was lost in a strange town and it’s late at night and I see a group of men coming towards me] it would have been no reassurance to me at all to find that they’d just been to the Mr Paisley’s Martyrs Memorial church in Belfast or a Party of God soiree in Beirut or to the Greater Serbia Church in downtown Belgrade."Hitch was equally as scathing in his condemnation of Gerry Adams, as you can read in my previous post here and below. Also, read David Remnick and Kevin Myers on their experience of visiting Paisley's church here and here. Also read Jack Kyle here on Belfast's "spiritual nightclubs."
Hitchens said to Ian Parker of the New Yorker:
"[During the IRA bombing campaigns on the British mainland, which began in the nineteen-seventies I] kept two sets of books: I didn’t like bombs, I didn’t like the partition of Ireland."Christopher Hitchens in ‘Never Trust Imperialists - Especially When They Turn Pacifist’ in the Boston Review (1993) wrote:
"Then there is the Irish question (or the English question as it’s more properly known in Ireland) which displayed ironies of a rather different kind. In August 1969, the British government committed armed soldiers as policemen on the streets of Belfast and Derry. The proximate cause of the commitment was a pogrom mounted against the Catholic minority (and I’m using “pogrom” in the proper historical sense for once, to denote an attack by an armed mob which enjoyed, and which knew it would enjoy, local police protection). Many working class Catholics and nationalists actually welcomed British soldiers with flowers and cups of tea—an almost surreal moment—and regarded them as deliverers. Large sections of the British left dropped, pro tem, their historic opposition to the stationing of troops in Ireland. On this, though, I quarreled with my comrades. In the first instance, troops are always sent with a “humanitarian” and peace-keeping purpose. That was how the U.S. Marines had gotten to the Philippines and Cuba, and it was also the pretext for western intervention in the Congo. As an excuse, it ranks only slightly higher than the degrading idea that intervention is necessary “to protect our nationals”—another jingoist standby. The subsequent evolution of the British presence in Ulster has done nothing to change my mind."Hitch said:
"The word “community” pisses me off. Who isn’t in a community now? It’s particularly bad in my adopted country and in my home town of Washington DC. “The defence community”; alright if you must. “The intelligence community” for the CIA is an outrage. “The donor community” for those who seek to influence politics by giving money under the table is appalling. And the ultimate reductio ad absurdum of it, I did actually once read in a very guardedly written account of organised crime - “the Sicilian business community.” You hear the word “community”, keep your hand on your wallet… It robs the language of the word."An important contribution for Ireland, general as it is, is that you cannot ventriloquise the dead, as Hitchens said.
|Christopher Hitchens at the Gate Theatre before a debate, 'God Is Not Great', during the Dublin Writers Festival in 2008.|
"[Ronan Bennett] refers to the “Muslim dead from Iraq to Afghanistan” and conscripts them for what he imagines is his side. How dare he? Has he even begun to tot up the number of Muslims murdered by the Taliban? Or the total slaughtered in Iraq since al-Qaida began its campaign to level the Shi'a mosques? Does he think that the forces of the Northern Alliance, or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, who fight on “our” side against barbarism, are somehow inauthentic Muslims because they prefer Bush and Blair to Mullah Omar or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi? Something in his tone makes me suspect that this may well be his problem, just as I might have preferred him to mention that it was also the Provisional IRA, and not just the 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act, that left “the Irish community in Britain feeling like a suspect nation”."He wrote in his memoir, 'Hitch 22':
"I eventually came to appreciate a feature of the situation that has since helped me to understand similar obduracy in Lebanon, Gaza, Cyprus, and several other spots. The local leaderships that are generated by the "troubles" in such places do not want there to be a solution. A solution would mean that they were no longer deferred to by visiting UN or American mediators, no longer invited to ritzy high-profile international conferences, no longer treated with deference by the mass media, and no longer able to make a second living by smuggling and protection-racketeering. The power of this parasitic class was what protracted the fighting in Northern Ireland for years and years after it had become obvious to all that nobody (except the racketeers) could "win". And when it was over, far too many of the racketeers become profiteers of the "peace process" as well."In November 2010 Christopher Hitchens debated Tony Blair on the existence of God. In that debate the issue of Northern Ireland was raised, here is what Hitchens said:
"It’s very touching for Tony to say that he recently went to a meeting that bridged a religious divide in Northern Ireland. Well, where does the religious divide come from? 400 years and more, in my own country of birth, of people killing each others’ children, depending on what kind of Christian they were, and sending each others’ children in rhetoric to hell, and making Northern Ireland the place, the most remarkable in northern Europe for unemployment, for ignorance, for poverty and for, I would say, stupidity too. And for them now to say, "Maybe we might consider breaching this gap.” Well, I should bloody well think so. But I don’t see how. If they had listened to the atheist community in Northern Ireland, which is a real thing, and if they had listened to the secular movement in Northern Ireland, which is a real thing and I know many people who have suffered dreadfully from membership in it, not excluding being pulled out of a car by a man in a balaclava and being asked, “Are you Catholic or Protestant?” He said, “I’m Jewish atheist, actually.” “Well are you a Protestant Jewish atheist or a Catholic Jewish atheist?” You laugh, but it’s not so funny when the party of God has a gun in your ear at the same time. And that was in Britain, and still is, to some extent, until recently."In an essay on Ghandi, Hitchens shared a thought on Eamon de Valera:
"Not entirely unlike his contemporary fighter for independence Eamon De Valera, who yearned for an impossible Ireland that spoke Gaelic, resisted modernity, and put its trust in a priestly caste, Gandhi had a vision of an “unpolluted” India that owed a great deal to the ancient Hindu fear and prohibition of anything that originated from “across the black water”."Hitchens said (also here) about the Catholic Church in the 1930s:
"If I had been writing in the 1930s I would certainly have said that the Roman Catholic church was the most dangerous religion in the world because of its open alliance with fascism and anti-semitism.And:
"I’m afraid the SS’s relationship with the Catholic Church is something the Church still has to deal with and does not deny."He said:
"If you’re writing about the history of the 1930s and the rise of totalitarianism, you can take out the word “fascist”, if you want, for Italy, Portugal, Spain, Czechoslovakia and Austria and replace it with “extreme-right Catholic party”. Almost all of those regimes were in place with the help of the Vatican and with understandings from the Holy See. It’s not denied. These understandings quite often persisted after the Second World War was over and extended to comparable regimes in Argentina and elsewhere."From a liberal protestant and a labour unionist perspective there was the problem of the Catholic church’s traditional identification with reactionary and authoritarian politics elsewhere in Europe, something French socialists, Italian liberals or Spanish anti-clericalists would have immediately understood. Hitchens wrote in his book, 'god Is Not Great':
"In neigbouring Ireland, the Blue Shirt movement of General O’Duffy (which sent volunteers to fight for Franco in Spain) was little more than a dependency of the Catholic Church. As late as April 1945, on the news of the death of Hitler, President Eamon de Valera put on his top, called for the state coach, and went to the German embassy in Dublin to offer his official condolences. Attitudes like this meant that several Catholic-dominated state, from Ireland to Spain to Portugal, were ineligible to join the United Nations when it was first founded. The church has made efforts to apologise for this, but its complicity with fascism is an ineffacable mark on its history, and was not a short-term or a hasty commitment so much as a working alliance which did not break down until after the fascist period had itself passed into history."Oliver Jeffers said:
"My experience with the Catholic Church and my reading about the things done in the name of religion across the world, really made me quite ashamed."Gladstone wrote a famous treatise against the power of the Vatican in 1874:
"No one can become her convert without renouncing his moral and mental freedom, and placing his civil loyalty and duty at the mercy of another... It is the peculiarity of Roman theology that, by thrusting itself into the temporal domain, it naturally, and even necessarily, comes to the frequent theme of political discussion…
Why did theology enter so largely into the debates of parliament on Roman Catholic emancipation? Certainly not because our statesmen and debaters of 50 years ago had an abstract love of such controversies, but because it was extensively believed that the Pope of Rome had been an was a trespasser of upon ground which belonged to the civil authority, and that be affected to determine by spiritual prerogative questions of civil sphere…
All other Christian bodies are content with freedom in their own religious domain… [and] make no religious claims to temporal possessions or advantage; and, consequently, never are in perilous collision with the state."In his 'Address To the Irish People', Percey Bysshe Shelley somewhat foresaw the possibility that Home Rule could mean Rome Rule. He wrote in 1812 during his visit to Dublin:
"Some teach you that others are heretics, that you alone are right, some teach that rectitude consists in religious opinions, without which no morality is good, some will tell you that you ought to divulge your secrets to one particular set of men; beware my friends how you trust those who speak in this way. They will, I doubt not, attempt to rescue you from your present miserable state, but they will prepare a worse. It will be out of the frying pan into the fire. Your present oppressors it is true, will then oppress you no longer, but you will feel the lash of a master a thousand times more blood-thirsty and cruel. Evil designing men will spring up who will prevent your thinking as you please, will burn you if you do not think as they do. There are always bad men who take advantage of hard times. The monks and the priests of old were very bad men; take care no such abuse your confidence again… I wish you to think for your children and your children’s children; to take great care (for it all rests with you) that whilst one tyrannyis destroyed another more fierce and terrible does not spring up. Take care then of smooth-faced imposters, who talk indeed of freedom, but will cheat you into slavery. Can there be a worse slavery than depending for the safety of your soul on the will of another man?"Christopher Hitchens wrote in ‘god Is Not Great’:
"In Ireland alone - once an unquestioning disciple of Holy Mother Church - it is now estimated that the unmolested children of religious schools were probably the minority."The Savi Report (Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland) was published 12 years ago and found the following:
- One in five women (20.4%) reported experiencing contact sexual abuse in childhood and one in 10 reported non-contact sexual abuseVincent Browne said:
- More than one in 20 women (5.6%) – over 110,000 – were raped as children
- One in six men (16.2%) reported experiencing sexual abuse in childhood, with one in 14 reporting non-contact abuse
- 2.7% of all men were subjected to penetrative sex (anal or oral sex) in childhood. That is more than 50,000 men raped as children
"The [Irish] State had direct knowledge of widespread sexual abuse of children from at least the 1930s and had failed to provide the appropriate protections for children.Christopher Hitchens said:
"In the jubilee millennium year of 2000... a whole sermon of apology [was] given by His Holiness the Pope... His Holiness on that occasion—it was March the 12th, 2000, if you wish to look it up—begged forgiveness for, among some other things, the crusades, the Inquisition, the persecution of the Jewish people, in justice towards women, that’s half the human race right there, and the forced conversion of indigenous peoples, especially in South America, the African slave trade, the admission that Galileo was right, and for silence during Hitler’s Final Solution or Shoah. And it doesn’t end there, there are smaller but significant—equally significant—avowals of a very bad conscience. These have included regret for the rape and torture of orphans and other children in church-run schools in almost every country on Earth, from Ireland to Australia."He repeated this here, saying:
"The last Pope, just in the last decade of his tenure apologized. He said, “We were wrong about the Jewish question. We probably shouldn’t have said for so long the Jews were responsible for the murder of Christ. We were probably wrong in forced conversion of the peoples of the Indies,” as they were thought of (the isthmus and the southern cone of our hemisphere). “We were certainly wrong—we owe an apology to Muslims for the atrocities of the crusades. We owe an apology to the Eastern Orthodox churches for the incredible butchery to which they, our fellow Christians, were subjected by us, The Roman Catholic Church. And we probably owe an apology to the Protestants for saying so many awful things about them and torturing and burning and killing them, too. So having now said that we were completely wrong and completely cruel and completely sadistic and completely violent and retarded human civilization for that many centuries in that many countries and continents, we quit and now we can go back to being infallible all over again"."He wrote in the Guardian:
"Thomas Paine saw what was happening to the Indians, and saw also that the theft of their land and the threat to their existence came largely from proselytising Christianity, which was used as a hypocritical cover for greed."In the age of exploration the Vatican issued papal bulls which inspired the “doctrine of discovery”. Speaking in mid-May 2007 in Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI said that native populations had been "silently longing" for the faith colonizers had brought to South America. Having outraged the indigenous community he then qualified his position, saying:
"It is not possible to forget the suffering and the injustices inflicted by colonizers against the indigenous population, whose fundamental human rights were often trampled... While we do not overlook the various injustices and sufferings that accompanied colonization, the Gospel has expressed and continues to express the identity of the peoples in this region and provides inspiration to address the challenges of our globalized era.
The memories of a glorious past cannot ignore the shadows that accompanied the process of evangelization of the Latin American continent... Mentioning this must not prevent us from acknowledging with gratitude the marvelous work accomplished by the divine grace among these people in the course of these centuries."The great pillar of in the pantheon of Irish nationhood is Ireland's anti-imperialism. The other pillar of Irish nationhood is its abiding link with American. One pillar should cancel out or negate the other, but contemporary Ireland is able to live with these two opposites. Christopher Hitchens explained America's imperialism:
"Starting in 1898, the United States did destroy or subvert all of the European empires. It took over Cuba and the Philippines from Spain (we still hold Puerto Rico as a “colony” in consequence) and after 1918 decided that if Europe was going to be quarrelsome and destabilizing, a large American navy ought to be built on the model of the British one. Franklin Roosevelt spent the years 1939 to 1945 steadily extracting British bases and colonies from Winston Churchill, from the Caribbean to West Africa, in exchange for wartime assistance. Within a few years of the end of World War II, the United States was the regnant or decisive power in what had been the Belgian Congo, the British Suez Canal Zone, and—most ominously of all—French Indochina. Dutch Indonesia and Portuguese Angola joined the list in due course. Meanwhile, under the ostensibly anti-imperial Monroe Doctrine, Washington considered the isthmus of Central America and everything due south of it to be its special province in any case.
In the course of all this—and the course of it involved some episodes of unforgettable arrogance and cruelty—some American officers and diplomats did achieve an almost proconsular status, which is why Apocalypse Now is based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. But in general, what was created was a system of proxy rule, by way of client states and dependent regimes. And few dared call it imperialism. Indeed, the most militant defenders of the policy greatly resented the term, which seemed to echo leftist propaganda."Christopher Hitchens said that when considering imperialism and the conquest of countries, "everything has to do with the alternative". He said:
"Well I still think, which was what my book was about, that the more or less direct succession by American policy and institutions after 1945 of British imperialist policies wasn’t a good thing for the United States, and not that good a thing for the territories that it inherited either.
I’d mentioned the disputed territories that were still there at the end of the Empire – Palestine, Cyprus, Kashmir – on the borderlines which we’re still fighting over, as a matter of fact. Well, I don’t think it was an admirable or fortunate thing that that happened, nor in fact the American succession in other parts of the world to the empires of Portugal in Africa, Belgium in Africa, Holland in Indonesia, and elsewhere.
That these are very, very spotty periods indeed and deserve, I think, more criticism than they got.
But everything has to do with the alternative. And now that there isn’t what you would call an idealist, internationalist, secular, leftist opposition to this – there’s nothing of the kind – it becomes much plainer who the real rivals are. So I would say, for example, that certainly the cruelest master Zimbabwe has ever had – a country where I was very much involved at one point, when it was still Rhodesia – is not just [Robert] Mugabe locally but his imperial boss; China is by far the cruelest master that Zimbabwe’s ever had. And if you make that extension – which is unhappily very easy to do, Darfur, Burma, North Korea, there’s quite a long list, I may have left something out; everywhere where human rights are not just denied but literally negated – the superpower China is behind it."He continued:
"If you ask me to compare and contrast progress made by imperialisms as opposed to retrogressive things done by them or what. My favorite writings on this always was, and is, Karl Marx’s brilliant essays on India, where he said it’s absurd to go on about the British oppression or occupation of India because it’s not as if India would be unoccupied without the British. It would be now dominated either by Russia, possibly Turkey, conceivably Persia…"Hitchens wrote here:
"It was Karl Marx who argued that India might benefit in this way from being colonized by England and not Russia or Persia or Turkey."And on the British in Ireland:
"The British record in Ireland doesn’t strike me that way at all. And parts of West Africa, and elsewhere. I don’t think one can say that it harnessed the energies, emancipated the labor force and savings, or any of this sort of thing, as it did in India. And I hope my accent doesn’t betray me or compromise me, but I still think there’s a good case to be made that if you have to be colonized, don’t be colonized by the Belgians. For one thing, it’s a terrible thing to be colonized by a country that’s already practically a colony itself and backward and impoverished and narrow. And best of all is to have your own free economy and free institutions and an alliance with other countries that have the same. The Anglo-sphere is a prefiguration of that, I suppose – rather imperfect, rather inexact, but not bad."My post on this here. On partition Christopher Hitchens said:
"It is the admixture of religion with the national question that has made the problem of partition so toxic. Whether consciously or not, British colonial authorities usually preferred to define and categorize their subjects according to confession… As a partially intended consequence, any secular or nonsectarian politician was at a peculiar disadvantage."And on Ireland specifically he said:
"The 1921 partition of Ireland was not just a division of the island but a division of the northeastern province of Ulster. Historically this province contained nine counties. But only four — Antrim, Armagh, Derry, and Down — had anything like a stable Protestant majority. Three others—Monaghan, Cavan, and Donegal — were overwhelmingly Catholic. The line of pro-British partition attempted to annex the maximum amount of territory with the minimum number of Catholic and nationalist voters. Two largely Catholic counties, Fermanagh and Tyrone, petitioned to be excluded from the “Unionist” project. But a mere four counties were thought to be incompatible with a separate state; so the partition of Ireland, into twenty-six counties versus six, was also the fracturing of Ulster."And more on Ireland:
"In Northern Ireland the number of Catholic citizens now approaches the number of Protestant ones, so that the terms “minority” and “majority” will soon take on new meaning. When that time arrives, we can be sure that demands will be renewed for a redivision of the Six Counties, roughly east and west of the Bann River."He also said it in 1994:
"Northern Ireland is going to have to be partitioned again real soon, I can tell you that."Read my previous post, Christopher Hitchens on Ireland, here. In that post he said:
"[Segregated schooling is] Cultural suicide. Don't let it happen to you. Don't let it happen where you live. Look at how wonderfully it worked, what happened in Northern Ireland when it was allowed to segregate Protestant and Catholic schools. [Hitchens internal dialogue:]
After all they have different faiths.
Oh they do?
I thought they were both Christians. I can't arbitrate between this.
No, they should have separate schools which should never meet. Never inter-marry. Never socialise."In another essay, this time for Vanity Fair Magazine titled 'Londonistan is Called', Hitchens wrote:
How beautifully that worked out."
"Tony Blair is far too indulgent to this phenomenon (Muslim immigration). It is his policy of encouraging "faith schools" that has written sectarianism into the very fabric of British life. A non-Muslim child who lives in a Muslim-majority area may now find herself attending a school that requires headscarves. The idea of separate schools for separate faiths—the idea that worked so beautifully in Northern Ireland—has meant that children are encouraged to think of themselves as belonging to a distinct religious "community" rather than a nation."Christopher Hitchens referred to Northern Ireland during a debate on religion, describing the leading politicians as "barbaric, sectarian party leaders."
In a debate on religion available here, Christopher Hitchens cites Belfast in list of cities which he would not feel safe walking down a dark road towards a group of men leaving a prayer meeting.
"Baghdad, Banja Luca, Basra, Beirut, Belfast*, Belgrade, Bombay, Bosnia..."Writing for Slate Magazine in April 2007, Hitchens spoke about Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley, with a post entitled, 'These Men Are "Peacemakers"? Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams make me want to spew.' He said:
"The main force that opposed it [peace agreement] initially was led by Ian Paisley, a brutish Calvinist street thug with covert sympathizers in the police force. The main force that opposed it [peace process] eventually was the Provisional IRA, which gladly accepted the sectarian challenge and which preached the insane idea that Irish Protestants could be bombed into some deranged concept of a Fenian republic.
The British laws of libel forbid me to tell what I heard when I was a young reporter in the pubs and back streets of Belfast, but I'll put it like this: Both Paisley and Adams know very well of things that happened that should never have happened. And both of them, in order to arrive at that smug power-sharing press conference, have had to arrange to seem adequately uninformed about such horrid past events."He was asked the following by Laurie Taylor:
"I remember reading about a television occasion when your atheism was challenged. Do you remember your encounter with chat show host, Dennis Prager and his 'test question' for atheists? "Suppose you're lost in a strange town and it's late at night and you see a group of men coming towards you. Do you feel more safe or less safe on knowing they've just come from a prayer meeting?"And responded:
"Oh yes. Mr Prager is quite a figure in conservative circles. I said well, without leaving the letter B, let me say that I have been in Belfast, I have been in Belgrade and I have been in Beirut. And I have been lost and cut off in all those three places and had the experience of wondering what that group of guys on the other side of the street were thinking. And it would have been no reassurance to me at all to find that they'd just been to the Mr Paisley's Martyrs Memorial church in Belfast or a Party of God soiree in Beirut or to the Greater Serbia Church in downtown Belgrade. That quietened Mr Prager down."
Read George Orwell on Ireland here. Philip Larkin on Belfast here. John Betjeman on Belfast here. Read Hitchens' 1998 essay `Ireland. ‘We Ourselves': Suffering, faith and redemption’ (Critical Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 1) in full here.