9/11, Islamic Fascism & The Secular Intellectual

An Evening with Christopher Hitchens

Interviewers: Robert Boyers, Tim Burns

My favorite author turns out to be Oscar Wilde. I think that’s because I share with him a vulgar taste for paradox, as you’ll see. We’re met in a very extraordinary week, after all, for we have just seen something that, I must say, I never expected to see, which is the United States of America succeeding in bombing a country back out of the stone age. Now I have been, among rightly ink-stained hacks, one of those most consistently critical of American foreign policy, and so I feel I owe people an explanation when I say, as I do, that though I don’t know whether I support Mr. Bush’s war in all of its aspects, I’m very glad to see his element of the Republican Party joining the war that I think should have been declared and fought against Islamic fascism some time ago. And if I may be forgiven for putting it autobiographically, I hope I can justify this sentiment in the narrative that follows.

For me, this war began on the 14th of February, that’s Valentine’s Day, 1989. On that day, the theocratic leader of Iran, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, decided that the turbulence in the Muslim world that had been created by the publication of a novel, a work of fiction entitled The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie, was by no means sufficient. There had been riots, there had been shootings, there had been burnings, there had been threats to destroy the novel, even threats to disrupt any events in which Salman Rushdie, who is a friend of mine, I should perhaps add, would appear, but the Ayatollah thought “no, these protests, these threats of death and burning are fine, but nobody out-Islams the Ayatollah. I’m the leader here.” And so the Ayatollah announced that he would personally pay a large sum of money as a bounty in his own name to anyone who would murder the author of a work of fiction published in the West by a man who was not a citizen of Iran. On that day, I thought, “Right, that’s a very frontal challenge indeed not just to the first amendment—that would be putting it rather weakly—but to the whole concept of the rights of man. That’s not just attacking the American Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, the French Revolution, it’s really attacking the Magna Carta, if you will. It’s the enemy in plain view.”

Now President Bush Sr. on that day was asked at a press conference, “Do you have any comment on the fact that the theocratic leader of a foreign state has offered money in public, in his own name, to suborn murder of a fiction writer who lives in the West, and isn’t a citizen of Iran?” President Bush said, “As far as I can see, no American interest is involved in or threatened by this.” That’s all he said. To which Susan Sontag the next day replied, Mr. President, it would be contemptible, in a way, to argue by reminding you that Mr. Rushdie has an American wife who’s had to join him in hiding. It would be pathetic to take refuge in that, but might it not also be hoped of an American President that he would identify things such as the struggle for free expression, if only in fiction, or the right to pursue your career as a novelist without a foreign state suborning death squads to come and kill you, as also congruent with American interests? If President Bush felt the sting of that, he did not register it. But I did. And so I’ve been at this for quite a long time and have believed that there is a very serious danger of under- reaction to Islamic fascism. And I’ve therefore had fantastically little patience for those who fear that over-reaction will come to be the problem. I would define the situation precisely to the contrary.

That’s the first of my materially relevant reminiscences about this. The second involves events occurring less than two years later, when it became quite obvious to me and to many other people born in Europe that something we didn’t think we would see again in our own lifetimes was actually happening. That was, precisely, an organized, militarized, quite clearly prepared and rehearsed attempt to physically destroy the people and the culture and the evidence of the existence of a European ethnic minority, in this case, the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina, who were to be put to the sword, their mosques and libraries and institutions and graveyards erased from memory by a Serbo-fascist alliance with the Catholic-fascist Croatian ustasha, a collusion dedicated to the extirpation of Muslim and secular and Jewish Bosnia, to the destruction of the multi- ethnic state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Only the Bosnians were given their religious denominations in Western coverage. The Muslims were said to do this or suffer from that; it was never said, “Yesterday, the Christian Orthodox bombarded Sarajevo.” It was always the Serbs who did it. It was not said, “Yesterday, the Roman Catholics indiscriminately shelled etcetera.” It was said the Croats did it. At any rate, religious warfare was combined with ethno-fascism unleashed in Europe, and we saw the insane racist propaganda that defined a population as one fit only for extermination, and saw the actual evidence, day by day, this time on film, and in real time, as it was happening.

Well, I don’t set up to be morally superior to anyone else, but I would have felt myself morally inferior, shall we say, if I had not said: that’s a crisis for civilization. We’ve had in Europe the massacre of the Christian Armenian population by Ottoman Turkey, in the early part of the century. In the middle part of the century, Nazi imperialism made a very spirited and very nearly successful attempt to destroy the Jews of Europe. We don’t want to end the century by having the Muslims of Europe being put to the sword by gangster regimes of this kind. There should be an organized effort to stop it. And it took a long, long time to get anyone in our governments to pay attention to it. And any one of you will remember the indifference, especially of the British Tory regime, but also of the Clinton regime, in the face of this appalling outrage, and of course of the Bush regime in the early stages of the conflict. And given that around the same time, very nearly half the population of Rwanda was put to the sword, and again, in confronting this ethnic-fascism, the United Nations and its institutions, in particular, the government of the United States, despite repeated warnings and cries for help, chose to be indifferent to it on the grounds that it was not our fight, not our problem, a new question was raised for critics of American foreign policy, such as myself: Is it possible to criticize the empire for not intervening? Can it be morally necessary, in fact, to say, that there is a problem of under-reaction, that there is a problem of non-intervention? Non-intervention, if you remember, was the name of the policy of the European powers in the Spanish Civil war. It was the reason they decided to let the Spanish Republic die. They called it “non-intervention.” Could one criticize non-intervention, without giving up, if you will, one’s anti-imperialism? It seemed to be perfectly obvious that one could and actually, after a while, increasingly necessary that one should criticize non-intervention. And the fact that the population was Muslim, as later in the decade it was in Kosovo, shouldn’t have had anything to do with it. One would have defended these people if they hadn’t been Muslim; one would have defended them if they’d been fundamentalist Muslims, defended them from being massacred for their religion or their ethnicity or their language. Of course. But as it happens, they were a European population, very much assimilated into a multi-cultural state. And that was exactly what their enemies hated about them.

So that you could, if you liked, say that this was or had to be a defense of cosmopolitanism. Never mind. Their enemies hated them for being Muslim. Well, it was important therefore to say, “What will the Muslim world say of us? What would it be entitled to say, if in plain view, the Muslim population of Western Europe was exterminated?” And by the way, that question still stands. I hope to leave it hanging in the air, because it still is a question, and not just for the Muslim world either.

And so we come to the 11th of September, or I come to it, in my way, for these events were what I had in mind when the events of 9/11 happened. And I should confess that, on the day those terrible events occurred, though of course I went through the full gamut of reactions and emotions, as everybody did, felt anger and rage and nausea and disgust, though not fear, when I was through with it all, I realized that there was an unexamined or so to speak unanalyzed emotion still inside me that was very strong indeed. I couldn’t quite place it, but it was animating. I was very pleased to find that when I could analyze it, I could see that it was exhilaration. Now, I’m aware that may sound like an indecent thing to say—who can be exhilarated at such an atrocity, who could feel anything but nausea or depression or maybe fear or anger? But I felt exhilaration that was clear. The battle that I felt coming on for a long time has been joined. There are the ethnic fascists of all stripes on one side, and on the other there are those who are against them, who are for secular democracy and internationalism and atheism and multiculturalism. And however long this war goes on, I’ll never get bored with prosecuting it. It’s a major cultural clash and it has to be fought. You can call it a clash of civilizations if you wish, though it’s a vulgarism. Many people go through immense trouble to say, “Let it not be a clash of civilizations, I hope it isn’t going to be one.” I don’t take any stock in that. If the ethno-religious fascists want a clash of civilizations, I can assure them, they can and will have one.

And I was very delighted, therefore, to see the Bush administration that, until September 11, had been the patron of Saudi Arabia and the patron of Pakistan and the Pakistani secret police, who are the armorers, and paymasters, and trainers, and incubators, and financiers of the Al-Qaeda and Taliban network, discover that it had to go to war with its own proxies. I started with a paradox; I’ll move you to an irony. I don’t mind when the empire quarrels with proxies like that. I don’t think it’s imperialistic to tell the Pakistanis, “We’re sorry, we no longer think it’s a good idea if you colonize and invade Afghanistan.” And I think that it’s not at all a bad thing that there’s been a great clarification of the disgusting relationship between this administration and Saudi Arabia, which has been using its forces and its money to spread the ideas of ethno-fascism around the world at a very rapid rate. And the people who are doing this are not our friends, they mean us ill, they will use civilians to create civilian casualties. They will use civil aviation in order to enhance the pain of civilian casualties. They mean business. They mean it in Nigeria, where they’re not the oppressed minority, where they’re the privileged majority. In northern Nigeria, they want to impose sharia law. What’s the root cause of that? The root cause of that is that they think they can get away with it. They believe that society can be run out of one book that’s holy, but it can be interpreted by mere humans who know God’s will and can inflict it on others.

This is an old story. Christian Europe hasn’t completely emerged from it. What happened in Yugoslavia is absolute proof of that. There are other monotheisms that have much to answer for. But we make no exceptions. We’re not entitled to. The fact is, a real enemy has disclosed itself, and it is a sort of a pleasure to be able to say that in combating it one is defending values that we don’t really have the right to set aside, just as with the fatwa against Rushdie. It doesn’t matter how hesitant people were before. Things will, or should be, different now.

Yes, we remember what people on the left have said, remember what pampered leftists like John Berger and pseudo-progressives like John Le Carré said about the attempt to murder Salman Rushdie. They said, “Well, you’ve offended the Muslim world. Well, you’ve upset the sensibilities of the community of Islam. Well, didn’t you know what you were doing?” Yes, he said, he did. He said you can use holy writ for literary purposes. This is human text, not holy text. Yes, he did know what he was doing. Should he be sentenced to death for that? But what did Le Carré and others say but some version of, well, if we oppose the fatwa, won’t it turn the whole Muslim world against us?

But that is not quite what has happened, is it? In Iran today, there have now been three successive elections in which the vast majority of the Iranian people, and the overwhelming majority of them under thirty, have declared that they no longer wish to be ruled by Mullahs. They want Iran to rejoin the modern world. We have a fantastic cultural history in our country, they are saying. We do not want it arbitrated by people who have read only one volume. We don’t need it to be proved to us that this “one book” doesn’t work. It’s been proved hundreds of times already. So far, the mullahs can say, we don’t mind you having elections, you just can’t win them. But Iran is emerging out of the tunnel into which the Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces were trying to push Afghanistan. So the cultural pessimism of so many on the left in this country is misguided. The idea that the Muslim extremists are the ventriloquists of the masses, are the only ones who can interpret the needs and desires of the poor and oppressed, is nonsense. The contrary is the case. They are the least able to articulate these things.

We can look, if we care to, not at what the mullahs have done to our society, but at what they’ve done to their own societies. Look at what they’ve done to Afghanistan, or had done, reduced a people to penury, beggary, misery, ignorance, cultural desecration, and in the case of half of the population, enslavement. That’s what they did to their own society. Think of what they have in mind for the infidels. Fortunately, I think, Mr. Bin Laden has declared holy war now not only on his own recalcitrant people, but on all Christians, and of course, all Jews, that goes without saying, and on all atheists and all secularists, and on all Hindus—that’s a billion Indians—because he wants a holy war in Kashmir.

Why are people afraid of this? What is it that commits them to say that this madness, this idiocy, this lunacy, this fascism is a reproach to our society? What is the itch? What is the impulse to regard this madness as a reproach? No doubt these are questions we will be pursuing this evening.

Have they any relation to my recent book on Henry Kissinger, which Bob Boyers asked me, if possible, to mention? Well, I say that the world changed, our view of the world changed, because of Bosnia, and because we can now say that we live in a world that is post-Milosevic and post-Pinochet. On a certain day in London—I wish I had been there that day—the British special branch cops went around to a clinic in London and said, are you Auguste Pinochet of Santiago de Chile? And when he said, “Si,” or whatever he said, they said well, you’re nipped then, and it says here we have to take you into custody. They cut off his phone, and they said to him, you’re held on grounds that you are a torturer, a murderer, and a despot. And the British House of Lords upheld the view not just that he was subject to the universal jurisdiction that applies to all those who think it’s o.k. to kill civilians for their mad schemes, but that the old defense of sovereign immunity move—I did it, but I did it because I was in government at the time, so I’m immune from prosecution—has no longer any authority. You can no longer plead that. Pinochet failed to plead it before the British House of Lords, the last feudal body in Europe. Now we don’t want, do we, to fall below a status set by the British House of Lords? Let’s ask ourselves that, and recall that today Pinochet is a discredited figure in his own country, saved only by the mercy of the good people of Chile from the indictment, which has been successfully brought against him, solely because of his many mental and physical disabilities. The arrest of Mr. Milosevic followed the same pattern, and by that extension, if those standards apply, as is obviously the case, then the many prosecutions that have been brought privately, or investigations launched in Argentina, Chile, France, and elsewhere, against Henry Kissinger, will ultimately also have to prevail. They’ll have to prevail, ladies and gentleman, comrades and friends, brothers and sisters, or you’ll have to give up the idea that you live in a democratic country. If you don’t want to say you live in a country where people are above the law, you’ll have to see to it that the standards apply. And it won’t work for Kissinger in front of these courts to say, yes I did do that in Timor, I did do that in Chile, I did do that in Cambodia, but I was hoping to impress Richard Nixon. I never thought that was a very impressive defense, and it’s now been struck down.

So, I’ll end my opening remarks like this. Judge Balthazar Galzon, the brilliant Spanish judge who said yes to the application from the Chilean and Spanish lawyers, and the many families of the disappeared, the tortured, the murdered, and the kidnapped, who said yes, we will issue a warrant for the arrest of General Pinochet wherever he can be found, this Judge Galzon has just put into the bag eight members of the Al-Qaeda network, the crime family of Mr. Bin Laden, which in collusion with the fascist regime of the Taliban has been the root of our woes these many weeks. He’s got them. They’re in preventive custody. This is a judge who’s not soft on crime. This is one of the great lawyers of the 20th century. But he’s also said to attorney general Ashcroft, I can’t give up prisoners to any country that doesn’t observe the rule of law. So, I can’t deliver these people to a military tribunal that can take secret evidence and won’t have the charge read to the defendants and can impose capital punishment. European Union standards forbid this.

So I would say, wouldn’t you, that the battle is on. And a very good battle it is to be involved in, and one can take cheer from doing so, and find some exhilaration perhaps of one’s own in the thought that, whether it’s Kissinger or Al-Qaeda we’re looking at, there are those who are committed to defend the rule of law, to defend the universality of human rights, and to defend the superiority of secular, rational, inquiring civilization from all challenges and all enemies, foreign or domestic.

TB: In your recent book, Letters to a Young Contrarian, you say that you don’t think the solidarity of belonging is much of a prize, and give to the young this advice: “Do not live for others. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you. That would seem to be almost the very definition of what Marx would call an alienated human being.” I read this, Christopher, and I wonder how you reconcile your manifest concern for justice with your frank detachment from any devotion to the common good?

CH: Well, yes, I suppose it’s partly my sub-Ayn Rand view. There are some merits to selfishness, or, if you like, to individualism. And, if it was pointed out to me that I was the only person who held this view, it wouldn’t discompose me in the least. In fact, it would even perhaps confirm me in the conviction that I’d been right all along. This is not as arrogant as it need sound or as I can make it sound if I’m of a mind to. I’m writing, after all, in the book you cite, to the young, definitive proof that I’m about to become or have already become a middle-aged shlump. You don’t get to write to the young until they’re sure you’re “all right.” I’m saying to them, don’t worry about being isolated. Don’t worry about people asking, have you offended some community? Have you upset some group? Or wouldn’t you be happy if you identified with some generation or some ethnicity? Be willing to live as if that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t dissolve your responsibilities to your fellow creatures, of course. The independence is just a means of keeping yourself going when, as will happen to you, there are long periods of defeat and loneliness and disappointment.

TB: You’d accept living for others so long as you’re not caring whether they’re thinking that you’re living for them.

CH: Yes, I wouldn’t want to be giving anyone the impression of being too compassionate. That’s what I’m saying.

TB: A number of columnists, including Martin Kramer, Jonathan Tobin, Daniel Pipes, John Miller, have recently pointed out that Middle East and Islamic studies departments in the United States and European universities not only failed to warn against radical Islamicist terror attacks, but deny, and continue to deny, as even last week at the Mesa conference in San Francisco, that such attacks are a defining and self-acknowledged aspiration of militant Islam. They have for twenty years insisted on seeing the surge of militant Islam as an Islamic version of the 16th century Protestant Reformation in Europe, ignoring the fact that Martin Luther’s goals were roughly the opposite of those of militant Islam, as you have argued. In this, the post-orientalists follow the lead of your old friend and co-author, Edward Said, who has often attacked the very notion of Islamic terrorism as a Western racist slur. Do you think Islamic studies people have been misled by Said?

CH: I’ve debated with Pipes, and with Bernard Lewis, and in fact, the occasion where I debated with Bernard Lewis was at the Mesa annual conference some years ago in Cambridge when I spoke with Edward Said against Bernard Lewis and Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic on the subject of scholarship and objectivity and their version of it. I have had a long friendship, of which I’m very proud, with Edward Said, whom I consider a very honorable and brave person who probably would never have had politics inflicted on him if it wasn’t for what had happened to the Palestinian people, and I’ve often teased him and said, you might have done better to be writing about Jane Austen and Rudyard Kipling, where you are much more reliable. He’s too nice, really, to be in politics in many ways. I’ve also had a long-standing quarrel with him which began when he published his book about the press coverage of the Muslim world after the Iranian Revolution. After the Iranian revolution, people thought, my God, shouldn’t we have been paying more attention to what the Muslim world thought—not just to what it thought, but to how it thought? Clearly this idea came to the Western world, and to the American empire that had sponsored the Shah, as a huge surprise. So there was suddenly a great over-compensation, which very rapidly went too far. Scholars of Islamic studies and Middle Eastern studies have both been much too euphemistic about Islam, because they’ve told themselves they’ve been redressing a balance, redressing a pre-existing prejudice in the wider community and in the wider academy against the study of or the understanding of the Muslim world.

Now it’s true there was a prejudice, and you can see it at the popular level as well as at the academic and journalistic. But in combating a prejudice, you don’t do yourself a favor if you say, well there’s no problem in certain kinds or manifestations of Islamic belief. I remember an evening in New York where Edward was introducing his book on covering Islam where I said to him, look, you may be right that our society and its cultural institutions have distorted or trivialized or sometimes defamed the Muslim world, but look, you yourself are of a Christian family from Jerusalem, and you are self-created as a secularist and a foe of all tribal and sectarian intolerance. What do you think would happen to you if an Islamic Palestine was ever actually established? Does it never bother you to think about that? He rather waved the question away. He said, of course if there was such a thing as an Islamic revolution, it probably wouldn’t have much of a place for him. I don’t think he thought of it then as enough of a threat. And actually, I’d have to say I don’t think he does now.

So, the same thought occurs to me when I hear President Bush saying, as he consistently does, that Islam is not the enemy. Conservative friends of mine in Washington spend half their time now hanging around outside the Mosque on Massachusetts Avenue to make nice. It makes me want to throw up, frankly. I’m sorry, but to me, Islam is an enemy. It’s an ignorant, desert monotheism that believes that the word of God was ventriloquized to some very mediocre human being. And that this can be imposed, as law, on non-believers. If that isn’t an enemy, I don’t know what the hell is. Now Christianity and Judaism both show themselves capable of doing the same thing, though Judaism is at least smart enough not to proselytize. Also, I don’t want to seem tribal about this, but Judaism is also smart enough not to claim the messiah has already arrived.

TB: It did once.

CH: No, a rabbi tells me that, if you want to stay Jewish, you don’t have to believe this or believe that. You only have to believe that the messiah will come eventually, though he may tarry. No other religion does that. That’s Woody Allen. The Jews do not say, as the Christians commit themselves to saying, that the messiah has already come and that things are so fucked up, he’s got to come back again. I mean, that’s not enough to keep the mind alive, is it? And nor do the secularized Jews say that if only you could gather all the Jews into Palestine and force all the Arabs out then the messiah would come, which, I’m afraid to say, is the tendency of many people now in the government of Israel. And I don’t think the United States should pay a further dime to that project. If they’re going to do occupation according to their Zionism, they can pay for it themselves. It’s an insult that the atrocity long committed by Israel in occupied Palestine is committed in our name. So, call me equal opportunity on this point. I think there’s been a great deal of naiveté about this. And I think it shares in the wider naiveté of our thinking on Islam.

RB: I wanted to turn your attention, if only briefly, to your recent debates with Noam Chomsky, which you were involved in, Christopher, in the weeks immediately following 9/11. Would you speak a bit about the substance of those debates, which bear on a number of things you’ve been saying here tonight?

CH: Yes, by all means. It’s in a way a demonstration case. There’s an odd anachronism here. My quarrel with Professor Chomsky goes back to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Chomsky opposed Western intervention to save the Muslims of Bosnia. He was one of those who said, no, if you intervene in Bosnia, you will turn Russia and Serbia against us; that’s all that counted. And we said, of course, what about the massacre of the Muslims? Now Chomsky tells us that, if you’re against Al-Qaeda and you don’t get the message they’re sending, you’re insensitive to the opinions and feelings of the Muslim street. It was pretty bad the first time, extremely bad the second time. Take the two together, you have the definition of bad faith. You also have the definition, I believe, of what could be vulgarly called—this is a term I generally resist the use of—anti-Americanism. I realized in the course of these exchanges that there was a big difference between us that wasn’t really being stated in these arguments. It appeared to me that his view was that no such thing as a moral United States intervention could take place. That was an axiom to him. The particular circumstances in each instance didn’t matter. They couldn’t have mattered much to him, because he kept on getting the facts and the interpretations confused and kept on doing things he never used to do, like reading evidence out or indeed sometimes putting evidence in. I realized it wasn’t possible to convince him—you could not convince someone who believed by axiom, by theorem, by definition that there could not be a moral Western intervention that involved the use of force.

And then pushing that back a little further, I realized that the big difference between us was this: He doesn’t think the United States of America is a good idea to begin with. He just doesn’t. That’s a perfectly honorable position, by the way. You can say it’s been all down hill since 1492. One genocide and rape after another. Probably, a number of people in this room could make that case. I know how to make it. I just don’t believe it. I actually think, as the debris clears and as the smoke dissipates, that the revolutions of 1917 and 1948 and others will not have stood the test of time, though 1789 holds up pretty well, and that from now on the real question we’ll need to argue about is whether 1776 wasn’t the real revolution, the real international revolution, the real model for what a human society might become. That’s to say a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, open democracy, not based on empire or exploitation. Big argument to be having. The only one of this kind worth having, in my opinion.

And I think that Noam has written himself out of this argument and written himself out in a very vulgar and cheap way, not to mince words here. Not only did he basically say that what had been done in New York on the 11th of September was no worse than the last time Bill Clinton dropped a cruise missile into Sudan—thereby investing in the most tenth rate kind of moral equivalence and subject changing—but since then said on the record, at MIT, that he believes that the program of the United States is a silent genocide in Afghanistan that will deliberately kill between 2 and 3 million Afghans. This is a plan, Chomsky believes. And he adds, what’s most interesting about this plan, is how few people are willing to point it out. I’m willing to leave him the exclusivity here, on both points. But I’m afraid to say that, as between the two of us, it’s goodbye from me, and I dare say it’s goodbye from him.

TB: You know, Christopher, that European Marxists have long taken heart from Islamic terrorists who are fighting, they think, the long revolution against American hegemony. Michel Foucault was, as you know, enthralled by the 1979 Shiite revolution in Iran. He pronounced Khomeini a kind of mystic saint, and welcomed Islamic governments as a new form of political spirituality, a form that could, he said, inspire western radicals to combat capitalist hegemony. This he said in 1979. But it’s still happening. Carlos the Jackal, in case you haven’t heard, has converted to Islam while sitting in his French prison cell dreaming of revolution. And, in the recent bestseller, Empire, Michael Hart and Antonio Negri call Islamic terrorism a spearhead of “the post-modern revolution against the new imperial order because of its refusal of modernity as a weapon of euro- American hegemony.” You stressed the Islamic or religious nature of the terrorists and of the Taliban, and rightly so. But aren’t you ignoring the important relation between what you’ve called Islamic fascism and post-modern Marxist thought?

CH: Among the Parisian rabble, there are several conspicuous converts to Islam. And yes, there is, there has been for some time a great intellectual promiscuity about this kind of thing and a sort of worship of power and violence. I actually think it has more to do with Genet than with any other intellectual source, and it probably has also to do with some very orientalist fantasies about the sort of good luck that may strike you if you’re a white person walking through an Algerian ghetto or brothel.

TB: But the intellectual sources are pretty clear.

CH: Yes, but I’m afraid they have in common with this a certain kind of sadomasochism and a feeling of European guilt and the wish to, well, to be sodomized, which is one that can be and will be obliged if the impulse is pursued consistently enough. I have nothing but contempt for these people and for their attitude to the life of the mind or to the survival of civil society, though I wouldn’t say any of that is true of Chomsky, whom I would be careful to separate from that. But yes, it’s true that there are those on the left who thought, and continue to think, that in a sense any rebellion is better than none.

TB: For those you describe, Islamic peoples have sort of replaced the Marxist proletariat, the volk, and are associated with a purifying revolution that will be necessary in order to free us all of the insidious influence of capitalism.

CH: Well, exactly as you say. I had a debate with Oliver Stone at the New York Film Festival only a month or so after the bombing, where he referred to the “rebellion” of the 11th of September. And I asked him to say in which sense it was a “rebellion.” He said, well, it was like 1789, and that’s why it generated such popular enthusiasm, because revolutions are greeted in this way. It didn’t quite occur to the fellow that the French Revolution had to do with reason and liberty, and equality, and fraternity, and the abolition of slavery, and the beginning of the emancipation of women, and is by no means to be compared with the regime of the Taliban, who walked through the Afghan national museum with hammers destroying every single work of man, and practically banned literacy, restored slavery and believe, as they tell us, in only one book. And Oliver Stone thinks that’s 1789. This is beyond intellectual promiscuity. And Stone is not the only one. You’re quite right. This has to be fought. This is why I feel the sense of exhilaration I confessed to, or I’d rather say affirmed, in the beginning. I’ve long disliked these people, and now I think I’m going to get them. Make them look and feel stupid, which they are, and sinister, which they also are.

TB: I’m satisfied with that answer, but I wonder what you make of the idea—perhaps I’m wrong, but it may be your idea—that atheism isn’t compatible with multiculturalism.

CH: I’m not sure that’s always or usually the case, but let me give you an example, another case of paradox. Before he was Sir Vidiadhar and the winner of the Nobel Prize, V. S. Naipaul was taking a stroll with a friend, this would have been in the mid-1980s, and said, I really hope the Russians win in Afghanistan. This, remember, is the most conservative, the most anti-communist, the most right-wing cultural figure that the British colonial literary peripheries probably ever produced. But boy, was he with the Red army in Afghanistan, because he thought, let’s put down the towel heads. You could say that was imperialism in a way, you couldn’t say it was atheism, because he’s a Brahman and rather too keen, I think, on the Hindu version of events. I would say that atheism—this is rather a key point—that atheism doesn’t need to proselytize in just the same way that it doesn’t need a priesthood. Rationalism doesn’t go to church. It doesn’t need the reinforcement of gathering in crowds and listening again to hypnotic mantras. It doesn’t need a priesthood, it doesn’t need a recruitment, it doesn’t need a revival. It makes sense or it doesn’t. So I resent the idea that it’s imperialistic. Do we think we’re culturally and intellectually superior? Certainly, we do. Can we prove it? It can’t be disproved. I would say this: There is only one guarantee that’s ever been found for religious liberty. And that is a secular state. If you do not have a secular state, the freedom of religion is impossible. Only secularism can guarantee the freedom of belief for all believers, and that is why I think atheism is morally superior.

RB: I stand with you on the side of reason, Christopher, and I’m glad to see you standing for it, though of course this comes as no surprise. But I do hear in what you’ve just said a suggestion, more than a suggestion, that multiculturalism, a genuine and deep respect for other cultures that are religious, would be difficult, if not impossible, for a man of your outlook.

CH: I’m sorry, but I don’t feel that I have to respect all religions and all religious cultures. And I don’t.

RB: Right, you don’t.

CH: I’d rather say that I condescend to them, in fact. If someone says—it’s obviously true—that the state of Utah is run by a cult that believes in Joseph Smith, I can’t pretend to think that’s just wonderful, but I can’t and I wouldn’t expel Utah from the Union.

TB: That’s large of you.

CH: Again, I wouldn’t expel Utah from the Union, but I’m not going to say that I take the beliefs of Smith’s followers seriously. No, I’m not. I am not going to do it. Nor am I going to handle any snakes to prove, you know, that I’m a caring, sharing person.

AUD: Would you accept, at the very least, that religious texts exist as mytho-poetic narratives that carry a cultural legacy, and that people have a basic human right to their faith, to their sense of the mystery in things? You may believe that religion is the root of evil, but I believe that the root of all evil is poverty, the poverty that prevents people from having an education, and thus leads to religious fundamentalism, and what follows from that. I also believe that atheists can cause problems as well. In Tibet, the Chinese went in to what I believe was a peaceful theocracy, correct me if I’m wrong, a country where there was terrible poverty, but a poverty, as far as I understand it, which had nothing to do with the fact that people were devoted to the Dalai Llama. And the Chinese destroyed the temples, demolished that culture as a whole, and wiped out many people as well. I don’t think that Tibetan Buddhism has an ounce of fascism in it, and so I can’t help wondering how you read these events?

CH: When you say that mytho-poetic narratives that carry a cultural legacy are religion, you state no more than the obvious. The same could be said of The Odyssey, for example, which isn’t a religious text, though it does involve Gods. Of course it’s true that’s what religion is. That people have a human right to believe it isn’t to be doubted. I’m, in this sense, a perfectly conformist Freudian. In The Future of an Illusion, the great doctor points out that such illusion is ineradicable. It’s part of the human personality. There’s no way around it. As long as people are afraid of death, and afraid of the dark, and take their wishes for thoughts, religion is certain to flourish. I would add, as long as we have prefrontal lobes that are so small and adrenaline glands that are so big, as long as we remain mammals who have recently been found to have much in common with round worms, as I’d long suspected, and other lower animals, it’s our form of solipsism to pretend that we’re different and that we have a special destiny. From this comes the ghastly thought that there should be a God that would supervise us from cradle to grave, and beyond. Some people say they think this would be a nice idea, an idea of a celestial North Korea from which you couldn’t defect. I’m just glad that there’s no reason to believe it. Some soft agnostics say, I wish it was true, it just isn’t. I say, you wish that was true? You want permanent celestial supervision?

RB: A colleague here said to me the other day, anticipating your arrival, that though you are a rationalist, you tend to fall back often on the idea of an innate, unaccountable instinct for justice so that it’s not what a person thinks but what he is that determines whether or not he operates from a sense, a conviction, of justice.

CH: Well, once you’ve done all the dialectics you can do, you are left, I think, with the strange fact that some people, finding a wallet on the back seat of a taxi and knowing that nobody’s looking, will look for ways of giving it back. I would say yes, that is the expression of something innate. Everyone understands the example I’ve just given. It’s common to all of us. Calling it a spirit is just not calling it a fact, a material fact. When you’ve done as much dialectical chopping as you can, you are left with that, and it’s a very intriguing mystery. When you meet people who don’t have those feelings, like the psychopaths so often to be found in power, you also know who they are by indirection, by instinct, as it were. But I haven’t yet given the lady in the audience a proper answer. To the matter of Tibet, and to whether people are, so to speak, more justified in saying that Buddhism is a peaceful religion, a nearly spiritual one, and that’s what China didn’t like about it: the whole history of the Chinese conquest of Tibet goes back to the turn of the century when the British, very unwisely, raised the question of whether or not Tibet could be annexed by Britain or not, instead of left alone. The Chinese, who ignored their claim to Tibet for a long time, thought, if the British can annex it, maybe we can too, and maybe we’d better. A nationalist question, not a religious one. Tibet, as it was discovered by visitors at that point, was a feudal system. A very ruthless one, I might add, a very impervious feudal system ruled by someone who claimed to be not appointed by God as the Medieval European kingships claimed, according to the divine right of kings, but to be himself a God. The Dalai Llama is not a God. He is not divine, nor was he appointed by any celestial authority. His claim is false. And the feudal system of his country has kept his people in backwardness. And if you ever go to a meeting of his parliament in India or any immediate groups of his supporters, you will find that there’s only one vote. There’s only one outcome and there’s usually only one resolution. So he’s in a weak position to criticize the dogmatism of the materialists. He has also expelled a number of other people from Tibet for preaching the wrong kind of Buddhism. In spite of all the people in this country who seem to think he’s some kind of herbivorous pacifist, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the nuclear tests conducted by the extreme right wing Hindu nationalist government of India a couple of years ago.

But even that is, in a way, off the point. It doesn’t matter. Sometimes Christians are more compassionate than atheists. Sometimes Judaism seems to make more sense than Islam. They all have this in common: they’re all equal glimpses of the same, essential untruth. And there’s no exemption from that. Civilization begins where acts of faith end. Civilization begins where inquiry begins, skepticism begins, experiment begins, doubt begins. Acts of faith are products of the childhood of the race and of the less evolved parts of the mammalian species. This will be found to be true in all cases and all societies, and all circumstances, and all people. And that’s why the thinking that is an expression of religious faith cannot be morally or intellectually superior.

AUD: You’ve been very critical, as we’d expect, of Bush administration plans for secret military tribunals. Obviously you would prefer bringing people to justice before international war crimes courts, like the one at the Hague, where Milosevic is to stand trial. And of course your recent book on Kissinger proposes that we bring to justice in this way the former American Secretary of State. Would you say something about this?

CH: As things now stand, even some people in the Bush administration may now regret that, should Bin Laden or Mullah Omar be captured, there, is nowhere we can respectably take them. It would have been possible, had the United States been pushing to set up an international authority to try the common enemies of humanity, the torturers, the dictators, that lot, well, yes, to say, let this be the first test. Now they can’t do it. So they’ve either got to try and kill these men or pretend that they were killed resisting arrest, or bring them to the United States where we can’t put them on a real American trial with all the fixings and frills. To handle them, we’d have to go for a militarization of the justice system. Obviously, this is a grotesque position to be in when you are fighting a war that claims to uphold universal norms. In fact, it’s a straight negation of our claims, it seems to me. And I’m very glad to see how much embarrassment and protest this has caused.

AUD: I have two short questions for you. The first one is, how do you account for the fact that so many people in government and the press have been willing not to make an issue of Henry Kissinger’s interference with the peace plan the Johnson administration was attempting to negotiate with the Vietnamese in 1968? That’s one question you take up only tangentially in your book. But the more important question, the one I’d really like to hear you address, is the question of what you offer in place of some deep belief in human justice and in some transcendent idea of the common good? You seem to offer us merely, and I mean merely, a secularism which is, yes, by its nature bracing and very sterile. No doubt you are right to be critical of the people who want to identify automatically, uncritically with those who are struggling, with the subaltern, with the impoverished. But secularism of course offers us nothing of the sacred that the subaltern have by their very nature, by virtue of their subordination to beliefs that are under siege.

CH: Some years ago, Clark Clifford published a book, written with Richard Holbrook, called Counselors of the President, in which they told some part of the story about Kissinger’s obstruction of the ‘68 peace talks and about why they kept quiet about it for so long. That’s why I say that everyone in Washington, everyone in the professional, political and journalistic class, knows that the ‘68 election was subverted in order to make us carry on an illegal war. And that brings us to a kind of Shakespearian crisis of legitimacy in the state, which is why all these important people don’t want to mention it and why it’s not going to be taught in school. You couldn’t have a chat show on television that took as its assumption that this subversion happened in 1968. It cannot be said in front of the citizenry. It can be known only by those whose job it is to know these things.

Then to your second point. What did Marx say about religion? Hands up. Did he say it was the opium of the people or the opium of the masses? Who says that he did? Well, he didn’t say it. It’s very widely believed that he did. In fact, I think it’s one of the three or four most celebrated misquotations of a classic writer. What he said in the introduction to his critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, is that religion is the heart of the heartless world. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature. Religion is the opium of the poor people. He adds that criticism has plucked the flowers from the chain. Not so that men and women may wear the chain without consolation, but so that they may break the chain and cull the living flower. I think you’ll see that that’s rather better put. I personally don’t think that anyone but a non-believer would have been capable of writing it in that way. Because those who say, well, I believe it because it’s true and it’s beautiful are simply collapsing its tautology and inviting everyone else to do the same, and surrendering to faith. They’re saying, I don’t need my mind, I’d rather have nirvana. I’d rather have bliss. I’d rather have belief. Well, for some of us that is actually an obscene statement. You’ll have to get used to it. We don’t just disagree with it, we find it violently disagreeable that people should wish to dissolve and smash the intellect for whatever bliss-induced reasons they would have us believe. Get, by the way, a wonderful book by an American Buddhist master called Zen at War. It’s a fantastic book about how Zen became the official ideology of the Japanese empire and its army in the 1930s, because it inculcated rigidity, passivity, obedience, fatalism. No religion is fully exempt from this. The sleep of reason brings forth monsters. There are no exceptions. And if secularism is sterile, well, it needn’t be, and is in any case entirely to be preferred to the alternative.

AUD: You were a critic of the Gulf War, I believe, and you have written that the Bush administration may next launch an attack on Iraq. Where do these reflections belong in your take on the present situation?

CH: I knew very well what the nature of the Saddam Hussein regime was. But I didn’t believe that you could fight a just war against Iraq primarily to show Saddam Hussein that George Bush was after all the boss; that didn’t and doesn’t meet my criterion of justice. An important consequence of the war, however, one that did have a big influence on changing my position to the one I now occupy, is this: At the end of the war, because it was quite clear that our intention was not to remove the Saddam Hussein regime, but only to discipline it and bring it back into line, a hideous massacre occurred in Kurdistan in full view of world opinion. Now world opinion had been told we were going to war at least in part because Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds. Remember? I mean, one was summoned to support the war in the name of the highest principles. That couldn’t be sustained. So as a result of public and democratic pressure, a safe haven was created in Northern Iraq, which I visited more than once, where the embryo of a Kurdish homeland is now taking shape. And very encouraging it is to see.

That is, by the way, the oldest cause of the left in the Middle East, of the Arab and Turkish and Persian left and their supporters. The oldest cause, I mean to say, is the self-determination of a Kurdistan, long before Palestine. And this, now, is the nearest we’ve ever come to getting it underway by what a Hegelian might call the law of unintended consequences. And I thought back then that that cause was worth defending. And I’ve repeatedly asked the Chomsky fans and the others, do you or do you not favor the continuing of Western protection of the Kurdish minority and its region in Iraq, but they decline to answer the question. They’re not ready for it, because it shifts the subject away from their obsession with imperial guilt.

AUD: Though you speak consistently for the principle of reason, I’m not sure I understand your version of that principle. In fact, I hear in much of your discussion a good deal of passion, as in the description of your response to September 11, where you listed a variety of emotions that seized you on that day. I heard in your remarks a good deal to the effect that you have long disliked these people who are now our enemies and that now you were exhilarated at the thought that we were free to go out and get them. So I guess I’m wondering if you are arguing for a new kind of reason, which would make it more passionate and less like the reason embraced by the “enlightenment” West? And is there not then possibly a danger to reason itself, in the sense that the more passionate it becomes, the more, in your own terms, religious or fanatical it must become?

CH: Why not define reason as the faculty of making discriminations by induction and deduction and accepting their verdict, whether that accords with one’s prejudices or not? That is at least a stab at an improvised definition. Note that, in my insistence on making discriminations, I wish to distinguish reason from mere logic, though I don’t see why logic has to be conducted by someone who is in a state of icy detachment. Logic, after all, can occur to you when you’re all head up. In fact, that’s often when you need it most. Or perhaps that hasn’t been your experience. The same could just as well be said for reason. There’s no requirement, in other words, that it be value-free or neutral. People confuse the exercise of reason with neutrality, objectivity, fair-mindedness, even-handedness, all part of a reflection of the great discourse of consensus. The real thing to aim for is objectivity, which you know you cannot attain, though you act as if you wish you could. To be objective, in other words, to try and judge yourself as strictly as you would others, is essential here. You can do that in a bad mood just as much as in a good one or a calm one. Therefore, the old maxim you hear all the time, that a given argument generated more heat than light, though it may be a great common room put down, is actually nonsensical. The source of light is heat. You can’t get light without heat, that’s a fact. It’s a good metaphor, but not one that could ever become religious, I think.

TB: May I ask a follow-up to that question? Your definition of reason is a very good one, I think, but I wonder—we do have to be careful, do we not, with anyone who claims to speak for reason, and yet also writes, as you do: “The pleasures and rewards of the intellect are inseparable from angst, uncertainty, conflict, and even despair.” Is it possible really to defend reason or the life of the intellect and yet say the pleasures of that life are bound up with despair? Despair, after all, is a much graver thing than disappointment, which you’ve often, and rightly, talked about, as when you say that, sometimes, we have to abandon our prejudices and accept very hard truths. But, despair is something else, the reflection of a kind of perpetual disappointment, more suited to a cynic than to a rational thinker.

CH: Many people have been discussing Auden’s wonderful poem, “September 1, 1939,” which I’m thoroughly pleased to see. The poem alerts us, you recall, to the menace of totalitarianism and unreason: “Exiled Thucydides knew/ All that a speech can say/ About democracy,/ And what dictators do,/ The elderly rubbish they talk/ To an apathetic grave;/ Analyzed all in his book/The enlightenment driven away,/ The habit forming pain,/ Mismanagement and grief:/ We must suffer them all again.” That’s Auden seeing Europe and civilization go into a crash of unreason and superstition run by thuggish mediocrities, but facing it, facing it straight. And at the end, in the closing pass, he says, “Defenseless under the night/ Our world in stupor lies;/ Yet dotted everywhere,/ Ironic points of light/ Flash out wherever the just/ Exchange their messages:/ May I, composed like them/ Of Eros and of dust,/ Beleaguered by the same/ Negation and despair/ Show an affirming flame.” Now that seems to me the absolute essence of the contradiction to which you refer. Of course those of us who believe we are the product of physics and evolution do not relish or rejoice in the conclusion to which this brings us: That we are a possibly quite disposable experiment composed of microscopic molecular elements. Either that, or we’re living on a planet that’s used as a penal colony and lunatic asylum by higher civilizations. You can believe anything you like. You can summon anything if you have enough faith for it. But to decide to live without faith, without certainty, and with the probability that the deductions of reason and science are what they are, is to court and come in for despair. The question is, what will you do once you’ve met despair? That will be the test of what your style is, whether you have any irony in you and can make something of the constellations of literature and philosophy and poetry available to you. But to say, why not have faith instead of despair is, I am sorry, insulting and unacceptable.

TB: But my question wasn’t faith or despair. It was rather, is it really reason you’re about if it’s bound up with despair? I suppose I meant to propose as an alternative a serene resignation.

CH: Nobody could possibly have thought that I was proposing the dichotomy, faith or despair. Given how scrupulous you have been in teasing me out, I will blame myself, my own poor phrasing, for provoking such a misapprehension. I said, push reason as far as it will go, be a better logician or rationalist than I am by far, and you will still find that you meet despair coming the other way. There’s no avoiding it. That is part of the condition. We’re born into a losing struggle. And we know it, that’s the thing. We’re born into a losing struggle, we cannot emerge from it victorious. We know this, but we don’t altogether despair. That’s enough for us to be going on with.

TB: In Auden’s case, the struggle was for justice. But we were speaking about reason.

CH: While one’s hanging around, waiting for extinction, there are worse things to be campaigning for than reason.

AUD: I’m sorry to ask a more mundane question, but do you think the use of cluster bombs by the United States in the present war is justified? Or may the United States do so much damage to Afghanistan and its people that the benefits we achieve in the war will be outweighed by the damage that is done?

CH: In my book on Kissinger, I say that some of the weaponry that was employed in Vietnam, the phosphorus, and napalm especially, probably deserves to be called criminal, even if the use of such weapons isn’t indiscriminate, and only the weapon itself is indiscriminate. This was particularly true of the B-52 bomber, which can’t be seen or heard from the ground and can’t see the ground, and, so to speak, doesn’t care about it, but carries a vast bomb load, so that the danger of civilian catastrophe is very great. When I was writing about Kissinger, I saw that his policy considered the Vietnamese and Cambodian peasantry as enemies. But this is not true of our policy in the case of Afghanistan, because the targeting, the accuracy of our bombs is now much greater; they can be directed much more selectively than was possible thirty years ago. And second, it is not the view of our government that the Afghan peasantry is the enemy. It’s neither the view implicitly nor explicitly. Very much to the contrary. There’s been an almost pedantic emphasis on hearts and minds. Now I can assure you, as someone who went to all those press conferences in Islamabad throughout the first three weeks of the bombing, there wasn’t a single question that didn’t begin with, what are you doing to avoid civilian casualties? It was the one thing every journalist knew how to ask. And you saw it yourself on the T.V. They’ve all been in Kabul and Kandahar now. If they had found evidence of indiscriminate bombing and of civilian deaths, they would have published it. Believe me. Everyone’s waiting for the Pulitzer Prize that will come from exposing something terrible. But there’s just no such evidence. Those cluster bombs were dropped very accurately on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda front line. To be sure, a cluster bomb is a terrifying weapon. If people don’t know this, it breaks up into small parts and bursts into hardened steel darts that fly at about chest height at fantastic velocity and goes straight through your robes, straight through your turban. If you’ve got a Koran over your heart, you’ll never live to say how it saved your life. It’ll go straight through the Koran and out the other side and through the guy behind you. It’s dropped in this case in order to kill the forces of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and it succeeded. So of course I’m in favor of it. I think these forces should be killed. I want them to go away. I don’t want them to come back and try again. I think the use of cluster bombing and B-52 bombing was direct, proportionate, accurate and just. The only bomb that fell in the center of Kabul, and I have friends who went to see it, on the first day, fell right on the headquarters of the Taliban religious police, the most feared building in the city. It fell right on top of it and went straight through the middle and blew out the walls and it killed all the people inside. Excellent. Admirable. I wish I had done it myself. So, you see, I don’t really feel there’s any point in taking refuge in half measures here, or in euphemism. Yes, I do think in this case it was right to use those weapons, and I also think it’s perfectly justifiable in fighting an organization like that to make sure the casualties are felt by the other side and not by you. And one way of doing that is to pitilessly bomb the other person’s positions and not risk any of your own people, because it’s unbelievably demoralizing for them to take casualties around the clock and never get a chance to shoot back at you. It’s terrifying. And then they run away, as they did in the middle of the night, leaving the people of their capital city without even saying goodbye; there they were, leaving the people who, we were told by Al-Qaeda, would fight till the end. These were the tough warriors whom we’d only make even harder. These were the people who were for holy war, who held the fantastically difficult terrain of Afghanistan. All that crap you were told by the peaceniks. All nonsense, and all blown away by the pinpoint accuracy of a perfectly justifiable war. No, I think it’s the finest hour of the U.S. defense department. I really do.

RB: And what, Christopher, is the response to all of this in Pakistan, where the government that has chosen to side with us has, clearly, a difficult path to negotiate?

CH: I’ve never before been in a society, in this case it was Pakistan, where the only people who support a Pentagon bombing campaign are the secular left. This was new to me. That was the situation in Pakistan. The people who were opposed to the bombing were the absolute sweepings of the Pakistani right wing, the religious or the political and military fascists, the people who have misgoverned the country and extended this misgoverning to Afghanistan. They were the ones who were the peaceniks. It was the left who thought, come on, at least it’s some kind of fight against fundamentalism.

Of course there are many people who at least half-believed in Bin Laden and his ravings. And yes, perhaps they do in part represent the Muslim street. Maybe there are a million Muslims in Indonesia who agree with him. Let’s suppose that there are. Let’s make it twenty-five million Muslims in Indonesia who agree with Bin Laden. It doesn’t make any difference that they agree with him. There’s nothing they can do about their agreement with him. They can’t go and live in his cave. They can’t go and join him in his desert. And they can’t go back into the seventh century, even if they wish they could.

So again, you don’t need a special theory to get this into focus. It’s like what it had to be for people watching the Soviet agricultural planning in the 1930s. You just had to watch to see how long it took to fail. Of course there were and are many people who wish that they didn’t have to be bothered all the time with these inevitable failures and, in the present instance, with these theocratic thugs, and you find them all over India, particularly, which has a larger Muslim population than Pakistan, and increasingly in Tehran and all around Iran. Iran, by the way, has largely overthrown theocratic fundamentalism with its own resources, without any help from outside. Its own culture has repudiated the stuff and outgrown it, transcended it if you will. There is struggle, but it is clear already which way it will end. This is going to go on happening across the Muslim world.

In a way, this struggle was waged by Islamic intellectuals over The Satanic Verses, arguing about whether holy writ can be discussed in public or not. There are other test cases, and we have to watch this contest with breathless interest, because those who are on the aggressive side, the doomed, impossible, hopeless, Medieval side, are hoping to make their point by exporting this war to our society. That was what they were doing with the Rushdie fatwa and again on September 11, trying to prove to us that no one can outdo them in their zealotry; we will take it to the West, they said to us. So we have a double reason to watch out and to pay attention and to cultivate friendship and solidarity and contact with those in the Muslim and Arab and Persian and Turkish world who are our counterparts and our friends. And we won’t lack for company in that conversation, I promise you.

(2002)