Christopher Hitchens apparently didn’t get the memo that it’s no longer verboten to recognize that certain U.S. policies have, in some cases, exacerbated the very problem of Islamic extremism that they were intended to address. Responding to Robert Wright’s Sunday New York Times op-ed, in which Wright suggested that Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan and Little Rock shooter Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad were driven to violence in part by images of U.S. forces killing Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hitchens fumes:
For a start, did Hasan or Muhammad ever say what “killing” of which “Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan” they had in mind? There isn’t a day goes by without the brutal slaughter of Muslims in both countries by al-Qaida or the Taliban. And that’s not just because most (though not all) civilians in both countries happen to be of the Islamic faith. The terrorists do not pause before deliberately blowing up the mosques and religious processions of those whose Muslim beliefs they deem insufficiently devout. Most of those now being tortured and raped and executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran are Muslim. All the women being scarred with acid and threatened with murder for the crime of going to school in Pakistan are Muslim. Many of those killed in London, Madrid, and New York were Muslim, and almost all the victims callously destroyed in similar atrocities in Istanbul, Cairo, Casablanca, and Algiers in the recent past were Muslim, too. It takes a true intellectual to survey this appalling picture and to say, as Wright does, that we invite attacks on our off-duty soldiers because “the hawkish war-on-terrorism strategy—a global anti-jihad that creates nonstop imagery of Americans killing Muslims—is so dubious.” Dubious? The only thing dubious here is his command of language. When did the U.S. Army ever do what the jihadists do every day: deliberately murder Muslim civilians and brag on video about the fact? For shame. The slippery slope—actually the slimy slope—is the one down which Wright is skidding.
It’s probably important to point out here the yawning chasm between saying that “we invite attacks on our off-duty soldiers” through a “hawkish war-on-terrorism strategy” — which Wright did not do — and saying that a “hawkish war-on-terrorism strategy” and its attendant right-wing propaganda has generated resentment which in turn fed Hasan’s and Muhammad’s extremism, which is was Wright does say. As a general point about radical extremism, I think it’s so obvious as to no longer be controversial. In specific regard to Hasan and Muhammad, I think the jury’s still out.
I find it hard to believe, though, that Hitchens hasn’t yet moved beyond this idea that saying “the terrorists are very bad!” and then detailing some of the very bad things that “the terrorists” do constitutes an actual argument. This sort of petulant sanctimony went out of style years ago. For the record: Yes, “the terrorists” are very bad. So are some of the consequences of our poorly thought out policies for dealing with them. These two ideas are not mutually exclusive.