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September 15, 2005

Douglas Murray on the Hitchens - Galloway Debate

Posted by Douglas Murray

Douglas Murray - the author of Neoconservatism: Why We Need It - watches Christopher Hitchens and George Galloway debate the Iraq war. Murray asks of the anti-war movement, when you have adopted George Galloway as your poster boy - someone who is not just pro-war, but pro all wars against democratic interests - is it not time to re-think?

It's possible that those who didn't stay up into the small hours to watch the New York "prize-fight" between un-gorgeous George and Christopher Hitchens couldn't care less about such a contest. Its pre-event flagging in the press certainly indicated that this would be more Celebrity Wrestling than Question Time. But anything with Mr Hitchens tends to be elevated quite a few levels, while ascent is the only possible direction from Mr Galloway's level of discourse. The motion to debate was whether or not the 2003 war in Iraq was right or not.

Hitchens kicked-off with a detailed explanation for his pro-regime-change stance. It must be said that many people do not agree with him on the points he puts across, complaining that the justifications he gives were not those of the Bush or Blair administrations. And of course they are right, but Hitchens is not a spokesperson for the British or American governments and has (as all those of us who supported the war do) particular impetuses for his stance. Nevertheless, it does remain a source of concern that during a time of war a non-government source can provide more satisfactory explanations for government actions than government can.

But someone who cannot provide satisfactory explanations for anyone else let alone himself is George Galloway, who made his fifteen-minute opener into a familiar tirade against the war, the West and Hitchens. It has to be said that after Hitchens' thoughtful opening volley, Galloway's fire carried some clout more the shock of a change-of-tone than any recognisable feat. Combining a podium manner reminiscent of Herr Hitler, and a rhetoric ever-closer to some sub-lieutenant Bin-Ladenist hoping to catch the top-man's eye, Galloway - naturally - answered no questions. This has become the sine qua non of his style. He performed the same trick before the Senate sub-committee in May, and as long as a cretinous media persist in treating him like a brave child who dares to stand up to authority then the back-foot will be one Galloway rarely has to rely on.

So some wild Galloway punches were thrown. Hitchens, he claimed, had performed a reversal of nature in transforming himself over recent years "from a butterfly into a slug". But the "trail of slime" he claimed Hitchens had left turned out to be little more than Hitchens' well documented and long recanted opposition to the 1991 Gulf War.

It does occur here that Galloway ought to look into his researcher's expense claims (if, that is, he can pull them away for a moment from exploiting the de Menezes family). Buying a book by your opponent (For the Sake of Argument) and expecting the audience to coo is several degrees less impressive as investigation than, for instance, the Daily Telegraph's reportage, of which Galloway is known not to be a fan. Since I assume Galloway's thugs aren't yet charging the de Menezes family pro rata, one can only assume their hourly Amazon-searching rate from Galloway compensates enough.

For Galloway, Hitchen's 1991 / 2003 positions demonstrate inconsistency. But as Hitchens pointed out, if consistency is an "asset", then Galloway's assets have best been exhibited in a career-long desire to remain "in" with the most abhorrent Middle Eastern dictator of the moment.

Now that Yasser Arafat is dead, and Tariq Aziz and Saddam Hussein can no longer come out to play, Galloway has already found a new cave-base of his own. His cosying up to the remaining Ba'athist regime in Syria last month was not only typical - it was inevitable. But propping up the Assad regime poses unique problems for Galloway (not that he would note them). As Hitchens pointed out, it's not especially sane to applaud the country which is sending fighters across into Iraq to murder the son of Cindy Sheehan - and the sons of a good many other American and British mothers who don't agree with Cindy that the world is run by high-level Jews and simultaneously commiserate with Mrs Sheehan herself. (It should also be said that it's possible that Galloway's Sheehan wagon-hitching is at least partly inspired by their common belief that they have not said what comes out of their mouths, and that sinister people perhaps Jews - are tampering with their vocal cords as well as their e-mails).

Other Galloway-isms in that high-flown jihadist language of his ("You used to write like an angel now you work for the devil" etc.) lacked the punch he thought they had. Dodging around the ring, trying to land a knock-out blow in his opponent's back, appeared to genuinely tire the moustachioed one out. A misguided attempt to persuade the people of New York that 9/11 had been their fault helped shift opinion in the hall, if only because it helped remind some of the morons that this was not a friend, but an enemy of America speaking to them. Of course a lot of the audience whooped and wailed anyway, cheering as though they'd won the Ashes when Galloway told them that they had killed hundreds of thousands of people, applauding like pop-idol-struck teenies when he told them that they were creating thousands more Bin Ladens by daring to react against Bin Laden-ist terror.

Which gave Hitchens the opportunity to deliver what was truly the knock-out blow of the night, the one which hit harder - because it was truer - than anything the opponent had in his arsenal. "Ladies and Gentlemen", Hitchens told the audience, looking at them solemnly over his glasses, the antithesis of the Mosley-ite manner perfected by his opponent:

This is masochism. But it's being offered to you by sadists.
Of course Mr Galloway responded in the end by claiming that the debate wasn't going anywhere, and had run out of steam. In reality, what had happened was that he'd thrown all the punches he could, seen that there wasn't another corner of the ring to lash out from, decided that as he doesn't deflect tangible hits he'd ignore them - and quit while he was behind. What last night's debate showed was not just that Galloway will never answer a question, but that he believes he doesn't owe anyone any answers.

But it also reminded us what a fantastic mess the "left" and popular anti-war sentiment is in. When you are opposed to the democratic movement in Iraq and bigging-up the jihadists you ought to at least momentarily intimate that you might be on the wrong side. And when you find yourself wishing for greater catastrophe in Iraq in order to sustain what Hitchens rightly lampooned as the "underground struggle" against Dick Cheney, then you ought to wonder if you're in the place you want to be.

But most of all, when you're "opposed" to war, but adopt as your new poster-boy someone who is not just pro-war, but pro all wars against democratic interests, then it's surely time to re-think. And when your friend of last resort is a composite of every twentieth-century dictator and an ally and courtier of the remaining dictators of the twenty-first century, then it really is time to start crawling away.

Douglas Murray is a bestselling author and freelance journalist. His forthcoming book - Neoconservatism: Why We Need It - will be published this autumn by the Social Affairs Unit.

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Nice report. I, too, stayed up 'til 3.00 am listening to the debate and it was a masterful performance by Hitchens, for not only was he taking on Galloway but also the moderator and a large proportion of the audience. Very glad I made the effort and to any one who missed it, get yourself a copy of the audio file.

Posted by: jez b at September 15, 2005 08:30 PM

It is remarkable that any credible intellect would voluntarily step into the polemical kitchen with George Galloway. He offers a caldron of anti-intellectual hyperbole based on being anti-west for the sake of being anti-west. In so doing he aligns himself with a medieval movement which is antithetical to democracy, liberty, liberalism, the dignity of man and freedom of expression. The "debate" did nothing but showcase the base and shallow arguments from a fringe who saw their heyday in the 60's and 70's. They always seem to be on the side of iconoclasts whether they be collectivist or jihadist.

Posted by: David C. Smith at August 27, 2006 07:51 PM

I am listening to Mr. Murray on C-Span.
I admit that his definition of neo-conservatism is very attactive. However, in actual practice, we in America have had a batch of self-described neo-conservatives who have been utter failures.

Our experience is that our neo-conserviatives have adoped a moral yardstick of which they allow no question. They claim their own yardstick is correct and they allow no question of their designated sets of right and wrong. I think there really are few actual adult, thinking moral relativists. Their sets of right and wrong are different. I think some of the entries in our current neo-con "good" set, for example, marginalizing persecuting homosexuals, are, in fact evil, and denying the quite well-accepted evidence that homosexuality is in-born. Our neo-conservatives arrogantly pronounce that their own yardstick of morality is the only correct one.

The other claim for neo-conservatism, according to Mr. Douglas, is that they are reality based. Our batch are clearly not. Their arrogance filters the input from the real world so that they cannot accept, for example, the fact that their course in the fight against terror is counter-productive. Liberals do not deny that there is a threat from terror: President Clinton tried to warn incoming President Bush of the threat, and was rebuffed. However, liberals take a look at the results of our current course of action and say, Perhaps a better way could be found.

Our neo-conservatives are so arrogant that they won't let reality they don't like disrupt their thinking. They think they must be right. They do not allow the idea that their pre-established opinions supressed acceptance of a few inconsistant facts.

Just an asside about current harrangues of Communism as an evil. I think that Communism is not evil, but a valid reaction to opression. It offers, however, a very weak social system that cannot protect against the rise of a tyranny that supplants and kills it. What is evil, is not Communism, but the tyrants that take advantage of its instability and supplant it. This is an different argument against Communism, based more on what really happens. Stalin was no communist. He was a tyrant, no different than the Czar, but with better propoganda.

Posted by: Krista Maki at September 4, 2006 05:52 PM

Whereas there is much that can be commended about neo-cons (their philosophical pedigree, their obvious range of talented 'recruits) the affection that many of them show for the Bush/Cheney cabal is odd if not entirely incongruous- the Don Quitoxe of democratic ideals and values championing the greedy little Sanchos in and around the White House. Maybe it's impossible to find better allies but a surrender of critical faculties when discussing these rulers and the ugly and destructive values they represent seems an all too obvious prostration before those who wield power. So similar to damp squib-cum- messiah Tony Blair. Hitchens is good at insults but very little else. In comparison George Galloway is a like little Churchill who was happy enough to cosy up to Stalin to combat a 'greater evil'. Simple minded readers will interpret this as meaning 'America is evil' but that's not the case, Tony Blair was involved in the killing of half a million Iraqi children and the deaths of many more as a result of the recent invasion while at the same time championing Iraqi freedom (freedom to be robbed and tortured by St Sancho it would appear). Likewise those who attack the American Government do not necessarily have to be anti-American . Look at the bosses America has, do you really think they're as good as America deserves? I'm not optimistic enough to recommend a solution for now[communism? nonsense] but the years to come will continue to reveal what these savages really are like and maybe one day someone will pick up the pieces. The clash of civilizations is a sideshow, a myth and not even a very original one. It's a game, one in which bluster is the law, just call anyone who challenges you 'sick and twisted' and hey presto you've got a philosophy! You think that because your masters go under the banner of hunters and trappers that they're not warlords too! If personnal responsibility is closing your eyes to brutality because its carried out by your leaders then you might as well have the courage to revel in the carnage with them. They might even give you shares in one of their companies.

Posted by: UlyssesRex at November 9, 2007 07:32 PM
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