February 26, 2009

Hitchens in Beirut: Michael Totten Weighs In

As many of the blog's readers have pointed out, Michael Totten -- an actual eye witness to the ass kicking received by Christopher Hitchens in Hamra -- has posted an account of the event on his blog. As I told Michael in an email exchange, I think he lets Hitchens off the hook far too easily in his account. "There is a thin line between badass and dumbass," I wrote. If I had been in Michael's shoes, I would have punched that one nerd grabbing Hitchens, run like hell (in true Flashman form), and then pummeled the life out of Hitchens once back at the hotel.

Hitchens didn't just write "Fuck the SSNP" on some random sign. He scrawled it onto what amounts to a freaking SSNP shrine on the corner of Hamra and Abdul Aziz streets where some kid shot two Israeli soldiers in 1982. To show up in some foreign country and think you can walk around doing such things without consequences ... well, it's arrogance and idiocy combined. It would be like me going for a run in my Southeast DC neighborhood waving a Confederate battle flag. Honestly, would any of you feel sorry for me when the inevitable happened? And why endanger your buddies by doing something so stupid? If I were Michael Totten I would be pissed. ("Buddy" is only half the word.)

Second, the SSNP may be thugs, but they're not exactly the epitome of evil. On a scale of evil, I would say they're somewhere in between the designated hitter rule and Coldplay. They're almost a joke. And it's not as if they're the only political group in Lebanon that has displayed vaguely fascistic tendencies. As a matter of fact, as any astute observer of Lebanese politics would be quick to point out, the very political coalition hosting Hitchens in Lebanon also contains some political parties which have been accused of fascism from time to time. (No points for guessing which parties.) What's more, members of this coalition have even been accused of accommodating, in the refugee camps, some of those Islamo-fascists Hitchens kept going on about after 9/11.

I can't get that scene in Rushmore out of my head, the one where Max gets pummeled by the Scottish kid (the 2:23 mark of this clip) and looks up at the little kids who used to idolize him. This must have been what Hitchens was like in Beirut.

In summary, it's no one's fault in Beirut that Christopher Hitchens was born too late to have participated in the Spanish Civil War, and if you're hunting for fascists to insult in Lebanon, there's no need to stop with the SSNP. But it might be smartest to just be a considerate tourist, keep your mouth shut, and draw your conclusions later.

P.S. I'm not crazy. Janet Maslin likes Craig's book too. Janet Maslin, people!