It’s tough, writing an appreciation of Christopher Hitchens, the brilliant essayist and author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and the memoir Hitch 22, to name a couple.
Hitchens died last week, and an impressive array of pundits have tried to punch above their weight and write about Hitchens as well as Hitchens wrote about himself.
The results have been admirable, although we could do without the manly memoirs from those who tried to match the master drink for drink and stay on their barstools. Typical of this school is Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, who wrote that after having more drinks at lunch than most of us have in a lifetime at lunch, they stumbled back to the office and Hitchens “produced a 1,000-word column of near perfection in under half an hour.”
The other unsettling thing about the coverage is that it’s universally by guys about a guy. Hitchens famously maintained that women aren’t funny, and as far as I can tell, most women continue to hold that against him.
Otherwise, just about everything you could ever say, hope to say or imagine that someone, someday might say has been written about Christopher Hitchens. So why bother to add to the pile?
Maybe it’s because, as Carter writes, “you felt as though he was writing to you and to you alone.” We all had a front row seat to The Show thanks to Hitchens, who would tackle any topic on our behalf, from Mother Teresa, whom he detested as the benign, loving face of oppression, to Holocaust denier David Irving, tolerating him and his odious outlook in the name of intellectual freedom.
When you’re a writer, intellectual freedom is your most precious resource. Unless you write the truth (as you know it, in your heart) with complete fearlessness, you are producing weasel poop. At best.
Hitchens was completely fearless. He proved it time and again, but most of all when he turned his back on the left to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq, arguing that “Islamofascism” is the greatest threat of our time. It started when the Ayatollah of Iran put a fatwah (a kind of assassination contract with religious trappings) on his good friend Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses.
If it weren’t three sentences long, this quote about the fatwah from his memoir should be written on his tomb: “It was, if I can phrase it like this, a matter of everything I hated versus everything I loved. In the hate column: dictatorship, religion, stupidity, demagogy, censorship, bullying and intimidation. In the love column: literature, irony, humour, the individual and the defense of free expression.”
Christopher Hitchens, wherever you are, let ‘er RIP.