09.17.2005

Kasha — Hitchens vs Galloway: The big debate — David Usborne

Comments Off on Kasha — Hitchens vs Galloway: The big debate — David Usborne

Hitchens vs Galloway: The big debate
16 September 2005
Christopher Hitchens, vocal supporter of the Iraq war, against George
Galloway, indefatigable enemy of the war
By David Usborne in New York
Published: 16 September 2005
The George Galloway Tour had arrived in town and things were running a
little late. The queue to get into the 1,000-seat auditorium at Baruch
College near Gramercy Park had stretched more than two blocks and it was
taking time to get everyone in. Apparently not fully apprised of what she
was in for, an American woman turns around to a British reporter sitting
one row behind and innocently inquires: “Is this personal?”
The Respect party MP for Bethnal Green and Bow is on a swing through the US
to promote his new book, Mr Galloway Goes to Washington, about his
blistering appearance at a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill this spring
investigating scams and scandals in Iraq’s oil-for-food programme. But the
New York stop always promised to be more entertaining than any other. He
would have company on stage.
Yes, ma’am, you have a ringside seat for the political prize-fight of the
season. Never mind the mayoral elections going on the city right now or that
Messrs Bush and Blair are merely a mile away at UN headquarters charting all
of our futures. What you are about to witness is foreign policy discourse at
its most raw and bloody and – no question about it – most personal. Get
ready for Galloway versus Hitchens.
It was minutes before Galloway’s Senate performance in May when he had his
now famous run-in with Christopher Hitchens on the street. Hitchens, the
Vanity Fair columnist and renegade from the left with a new career defending
the 2003 invasion of Iraq, berated Galloway for his anti-war stance and his
past ties to Saddam Hussein, upon which the MP called him “a drink-soaked
former Trotskyite popinjay”.
Such insults should not be left unattended, or so thought Hitchens, who
subsequently challenged Galloway to join him in a public debate at a time
and venue of his choosing. That moment came on Wednesday night at Baruch
College. In the audience was the entire beau monde of the New York left,
including the publisher and editor of The Nation magazine, Victor Navasky
and Katrina Vanden Heuvel, and the motion set forward was this: “The war in
Iraq was necessary and just.” More than half an hour behind schedule, at
last the bold contenders are brought before us. We quiver with
anticipation, because this is a land where political debate is normally
dreary in its politeness. There is real bad blood here. “No handshakes, no
courtesies,” Hitchens growls before the evening even begins.
Pasty-faced, scruffy and slightly coy, Hitchens ambles to his podium. He
lets his jacket fall to the floor from his left hand and his blue shirt is
soaked in patches of sweat. Stage-right, meanwhile (not appropriately),
Galloway is all prosperity with a perfect late-summer tan and perfect beige
suit and tie.
No one is more intrigued – or perhaps more appalled – by the event than the
woman two seats to my left, Oona King. She, of course, is the former Labour
candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow who knows first hand what it is like to
go up against the barking Galloway. Some of us are imagining that Hitchens,
a man of no small intellectual rigour, will surely get the better of the
man from Dundee tonight. But perhaps Oona knows better. She whispers
something to me about Galloway being “brilliant”. Oh dear.
There is the small matter of the crowd. Hitchens fears they will not be in
his corner and has been outside working the queue (hence the damp patches),
doling out leaflets casting doubt on the integrity of his opponent. Amongst
tit-bits included were the words allegedly spoken by Galloway to Saddam
during a visit to Baghdad in 1994. “I salute your courage, your strength,
your indefatigability. And I want you to know that we are with you until
victory, until victory, until Jerusalem.”
The moderator, Amy Goodman, a left-wing radio personality (a precious
species in the US) gives Hitchens the first 15 minutes. Perhaps unwisely he
opens by asking for a moment’s silence for the more than 150 victims of
violence on Wednesday in Iraq. It seems gimmicky and a man yells that he
won’t join in silence with someone who has condoned the war in the first
place. Ignoring the interruption, Hitchens begins in earnest, depicting the
kind of world we would live in if the pacifists got their way. From the
reactions around us, it seems he might have a good third of the hall in his
pocket; he should do fine.
It is still not quite clear to me at what point exactly Hitchens jumped the
rails. Much later in the night, when Hitch and I and a few others have
repaired to a friend’s loft in SoHo, I attempt something of a post-mortem
with him. Is there anything, I dare to wonder, that he perhaps wishes in
hindsight he hadn’t said to Galloway? Has he any regrets from the evening?
Of course, he says flat-out no. “There are things I didn’t say that I wish
I had,” he replies instead. We then spend a good time lingering on the
moment that Galloway came close to calling Hitchens a racist, taking issue
with his assertion that most of the insurgent fighters are “foreigners”
from outside Iraq. “If someone calls me a racist, I will sue,” Hitchens
says darkly, drinking, but not drink-soaked. “I always sue and I never let
go. I never let go.”
In fact, both men tonight had waded into areas they would have better
avoided. Galloway caused paroxysms saying the planes that slammed into the
twin towers four years ago did not come out of “a clear blue sky”. Rather it
was the fault of the US and its foreign policies, especially on Israel. “I
believe they emerged out of a swamp of hatred created by us”, he said. “I
believe that it’s because of the total, complete unending and bottomless
support for General Sharon’s crimes against the Palestinian people.”
As Hitchens pointed out, this was not entirely sagacious of the MP, who does
not boast sensitivity as a middle name anyway. (Ask Ms King about that). “Mr
Galloway,” he said quietly, “you picked the wrong city to say that”. In the
meanwhile, he went on, the suggestion that somehow the misery caused by the
terrorists here and in London is somehow our fault in the first place is, he
said, “piffle, dangerous piffle”. “Our fault? No, this is masochism. And it
is masochism being offered to you by sadists.”
Then there were the moments in the evening where Hurricane Katrina entered
the hall. Galloway could not resist rehearsing the point, why send billions
of dollars to Iraq when you can’t help your own people in New Orleans?
Foolishly, Hitchens then took it upon himself to defend President Bush and
the Pentagon’s post-Katrina clean-up. The White House, he said, had 200,000
soldiers to send to the devastated Gulf area after the hurricane, but
wasn’t able to until it got the say-so from state governors. That was the
problem – it wasn’t lack of compassion. Even more rashly, he castigated the
left for making assumptions about the numbers of victims being
disproportionately black “before the bodies were even identified”. Sharp
intake of breath from Ms King there, who briefly considers joining the
Galloway camp.
Thus Hitchens simply invited Galloway to repeat the charge that if he was
not in the pay of the Bush administration, then surely he had become its
most ardent cheerleader. It also allowed the esteemed member from Bow to
ridicule his opponent for changing his position so drastically in barely a
decade, because, as any of his friends and readers know, Hitchens opposed
the 1991 Gulf War. “What Mr Hitchens has done is unique in natural history,
the first ever metamorphosis from a butterfly into a slug,” Galloway barked
with evident glee. (Dear Lord, how he is enjoying this. How long before he
is signed up by a cable channel here to froth nightly before Americans in
their living rooms at least when Parliament is in recess?) “The one thing a
slug does leave behind it is a trail of slime.” Both men also fell into the
trap of insulting the audience. Galloway did it just a little when he
lamented that anyone could doubt the statistics recording the numbers of
Iraqi dead because of the war. (100,000 he says.) “How far has the neocon
rot seeped into your souls?” he asked us. But as the evening wore on,
Hitchens visibly tired of his hecklers and returned fire in tones that were
equally arrogant and snide. Those shouting at him were “zoo animals”. But
mostly the two men just insulted each other. “You have fallen out of the
gutter and into the sewer,” Galloway tells Hitchens, who had just made hay
of the fact that his opponent had recently visited Damascus to chum up with
Syria’s “slobbering” President Assad. It is Syria, asserts Hitchens, who
sends in the insurgents to murder and maim. Syria that sent in the bombers
that destroyed the UN headquarters in Baghdad. “Is it not rather revolting
to go to Damascus and stand beside Assad?” Hitchens asks. “Mr Galloway,
beneath each gutter there is another gurgling gutter underneath.” This was
a mismatch because Hitchens is a thinker and writer. He is also a debater,
but not a politician or campaigner. Galloway, as Ms King tells me, is a
trained stump orator with a killer instinct. While Hitchens burbles
slightly – smart burble, it is true – Galloway gives terse, knock-out
one-liners. And just as he spies Ms Goodman preparing to wind the night up,
Galloway snatches the chance at the end to look gracious – while Hitchens
just looks exhausted. “I think we have generated as much light as we are
going to,” he says. “And as much heat as we ought to.”
Hitchens on Galloway
* “The man’s search for a tyrannical fatherland never ends! The Soviet
Union’s let him down, Albania’s gone, the Red Army’s out of Afghanistan and
Czechoslovakia, the hunt persists! Saddam has been overthrown. On to the
next on the 30th July in Damascus in Syria, appearing… I’ve given it all
to you in a piece of paper, in front of Mr Assad, whose death squads are
cutting down the leaders of democracy in Lebanonas this is going on to tell
the Syrian people they’re fortunate to have such a leader.”
* “I believe it is a disgrace that a member of the British House of Commons
should go before the United States Senate Subcommittee, and not testify, but
decline to testify, and to insult all those who try to ask him questions
with the most vile and cheap guttersnipe abuse, I think that’s a disgrace.
How can anyone who has had dealings with this regime show their face at a
city like this and not content with it, not content with it!”
Galloway on Hitchens
* “You start off being the liberal mouthpiece for one of the most
reactionary governments this country has ever known and you end up a
mouthpiece and apologist for these miserable malevolent incompetents who
cannot even pick up the bodies of their own citizens in New Orleans.”
* “The most foreign fighters in Iraq are wearing British and American
uniforms. The level of self-delusion is bordering frankly on the racist. The
vast majority of the people of Iraq are against the occupation of Iraq by
the American and British forces.”
* “They intend, if they can, to have an Iraq Americana, but the Iraqi people
have decided otherwise.”
* “People like Mr Hitchens are ready to fight to the last drop of other
people’s blood, and it’s utterly and completely contemptible”.
* “Mr Hitchens’s policy has succeeded in making 10,000 new Bin Ladens.”
The George Galloway Tour had arrived in town and things were running a
little late. The queue to get into the 1,000-seat auditorium at Baruch
College near Gramercy Park had stretched more than two blocks and it was
taking time to get everyone in. Apparently not fully apprised of what she
was in for, an American woman turns around to a British reporter sitting
one row behind and innocently inquires: “Is this personal?”
The Respect party MP for Bethnal Green and Bow is on a swing through the US
to promote his new book, Mr Galloway Goes to Washington, about his
blistering appearance at a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill this spring
investigating scams and scandals in Iraq’s oil-for-food programme. But the
New York stop always promised to be more entertaining than any other. He
would have company on stage.
Yes, ma’am, you have a ringside seat for the political prize-fight of the
season. Never mind the mayoral elections going on the city right now or that
Messrs Bush and Blair are merely a mile away at UN headquarters charting all
of our futures. What you are about to witness is foreign policy discourse at
its most raw and bloody and – no question about it – most personal. Get
ready for Galloway versus Hitchens.
It was minutes before Galloway’s Senate performance in May when he had his
now famous run-in with Christopher Hitchens on the street. Hitchens, the
Vanity Fair columnist and renegade from the left with a new career defending
the 2003 invasion of Iraq, berated Galloway for his anti-war stance and his
past ties to Saddam Hussein, upon which the MP called him “a drink-soaked
former Trotskyite popinjay”.
Such insults should not be left unattended, or so thought Hitchens, who
subsequently challenged Galloway to join him in a public debate at a time
and venue of his choosing. That moment came on Wednesday night at Baruch
College. In the audience was the entire beau monde of the New York left,
including the publisher and editor of The Nation magazine, Victor Navasky
and Katrina Vanden Heuvel, and the motion set forward was this: “The war in
Iraq was necessary and just.” More than half an hour behind schedule, at
last the bold contenders are brought before us. We quiver with
anticipation, because this is a land where political debate is normally
dreary in its politeness. There is real bad blood here. “No handshakes, no
courtesies,” Hitchens growls before the evening even begins.
Pasty-faced, scruffy and slightly coy, Hitchens ambles to his podium. He
lets his jacket fall to the floor from his left hand and his blue shirt is
soaked in patches of sweat. Stage-right, meanwhile (not appropriately),
Galloway is all prosperity with a perfect late-summer tan and perfect beige
suit and tie.
No one is more intrigued – or perhaps more appalled – by the event than the
woman two seats to my left, Oona King. She, of course, is the former Labour
candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow who knows first hand what it is like to
go up against the barking Galloway. Some of us are imagining that Hitchens,
a man of no small intellectual rigour, will surely get the better of the
man from Dundee tonight. But perhaps Oona knows better. She whispers
something to me about Galloway being “brilliant”. Oh dear.
There is the small matter of the crowd. Hitchens fears they will not be in
his corner and has been outside working the queue (hence the damp patches),
doling out leaflets casting doubt on the integrity of his opponent. Amongst
tit-bits included were the words allegedly spoken by Galloway to Saddam
during a visit to Baghdad in 1994. “I salute your courage, your strength,
your indefatigability. And I want you to know that we are with you until
victory, until victory, until Jerusalem.”
The moderator, Amy Goodman, a left-wing radio personality (a precious
species in the US) gives Hitchens the first 15 minutes. Perhaps unwisely he
opens by asking for a moment’s silence for the more than 150 victims of
violence on Wednesday in Iraq. It seems gimmicky and a man yells that he
won’t join in silence with someone who has condoned the war in the first
place. Ignoring the interruption, Hitchens begins in earnest, depicting the
kind of world we would live in if the pacifists got their way. From the
reactions around us, it seems he might have a good third of the hall in his
pocket; he should do fine.
It is still not quite clear to me at what point exactly Hitchens jumped the
rails. Much later in the night, when Hitch and I and a few others have
repaired to a friend’s loft in SoHo, I attempt something of a post-mortem
with him. Is there anything, I dare to wonder, that he perhaps wishes in
hindsight he hadn’t said to Galloway? Has he any regrets from the evening?
Of course, he says flat-out no. “There are things I didn’t say that I wish
I had,” he replies instead. We then spend a good time lingering on the
moment that Galloway came close to calling Hitchens a racist, taking issue
with his assertion that most of the insurgent fighters are “foreigners”
from outside Iraq. “If someone calls me a racist, I will sue,” Hitchens
says darkly, drinking, but not drink-soaked. “I always sue and I never let
go. I never let go.”
In fact, both men tonight had waded into areas they would have better
avoided. Galloway caused paroxysms saying the planes that slammed into the
twin towers four years ago did not come out of “a clear blue sky”. Rather it
was the fault of the US and its foreign policies, especially on Israel. “I
believe they emerged out of a swamp of hatred created by us”, he said. “I
believe that it’s because of the total, complete unending and bottomless
support for General Sharon’s crimes against the Palestinian people.”
As Hitchens pointed out, this was not entirely sagacious of the MP, who does
not boast sensitivity as a middle name anyway. (Ask Ms King about that). “Mr
Galloway,” he said quietly, “you picked the wrong city to say that”. In the
meanwhile, he went on, the suggestion that somehow the misery caused by the
terrorists here and in London is somehow our fault in the first place is, he
said, “piffle, dangerous piffle”. “Our fault? No, this is masochism. And it
is masochism being offered to you by sadists.”
Then there were the moments in the evening where Hurricane Katrina entered
the hall. Galloway could not resist rehearsing the point, why send billions
of dollars to Iraq when you can’t help your own people in New Orleans?
Foolishly, Hitchens then took it upon himself to defend President Bush and
the Pentagon’s post-Katrina clean-up. The White House, he said, had 200,000
soldiers to send to the devastated Gulf area after the hurricane, but
wasn’t able to unt il it got the say-so from state governors. That was the
problem – it wasn’t lack of compassion. Even more rashly, he castigated the
left for making assumptions about the numbers of victims being
disproportionately black “before the bodies were even identified”. Sharp
intake of breath from Ms King there, who briefly considers joining the
Galloway camp.
Thus Hitchens simply invited Galloway to repeat the charge that if he was
not in the pay of the Bush administration, then surely he had become its
most ardent cheerleader. It also allowed the esteemed member from Bow to
ridicule his opponent for changing his position so drastically in barely a
decade, because, as any of his friends and readers know, Hitchens opposed
the 1991 Gulf War. “What Mr Hitchens has done is unique in natural history,
the first ever metamorphosis from a butterfly into a slug,” Galloway barked
with evident glee. (Dear Lord, how he is enjoying this. How long before he
is signed up by a cable channel here to froth nightly before Americans in
their living rooms at least when Parliament is in recess?) “The one thing a
slug does leave behind it is a trail of slime.” Both men also fell into the
trap of insulting the audience. Galloway did it just a little when he
lamented that anyone could doubt the statistics recording the numbers of
Iraqi dead because of the war. (100,000 he says.) “How far has the neocon
rot seeped into your souls?” he asked us. But as the evening wore on,
Hitchens visibly tired of his hecklers and returned fire in tones that were
equally arrogant and snide. Those shouting at him were “zoo animals”. But
mostly the two men just insulted each other. “You have fallen out of the
gutter and into the sewer,” Galloway tells Hitchens, who had just made hay
of the fact that his opponent had recently visited Damascus to chum up with
Syria’s “slobbering” President Assad. It is Syria, asserts Hitchens, who
sends in the insurgents to murder and maim. Syria that sent in the bombers
that destroyed the UN headquarters in Baghdad. “Is it not rather revolting
to go to Damascus and stand beside Assad?” Hitchens asks. “Mr Galloway,
beneath each gutter there is another gurgling gutter underneath.” This was
a mismatch because Hitchens is a thinker and writer. He is also a debater,
but not a politician or campaigner. Galloway, as Ms King tells me, is a
trained stump orator with a killer instinct. While Hitchens burbles
slightly – smart burble, it is true – Galloway gives terse, knock-out
one-liners. And just as he spies Ms Goodman preparing to wind the night up,
Galloway snatches the chance at the end to look gracious – while Hitchens
just looks exhausted. “I think we have generated as much light as we are
going to,” he says. “And as much heat as we ought to.”
Hitchens on Galloway
* “The man’s search for a tyrannical fatherland never ends! The Soviet
Union’s let him down, Albania’s gone, the Red Army’s out of Afghanistan and
Czechoslovakia, the hunt persists! Saddam has been overthrown. On to the
next on the 30th July in Damascus in Syria, appearing… I’ve given it all
to you in a piece of paper, in front of Mr Assad, whose death squads are
cutting down the leaders of democracy in Lebanonas this is going on to tell
the Syrian people they’re fortunate to have such a leader.”
* “I believe it is a disgrace that a member of the British House of Commons
should go before the United States Senate Subcommittee, and not testify, but
decline to testify, and to insult all those who try to ask him questions
with the most vile and cheap guttersnipe abuse, I think that’s a disgrace.
How can anyone who has had dealings with this regime show their face at a
city like this and not content with it, not content with it!”
Galloway on Hitchens
* “You start off being the liberal mouthpiece for one of the most
reactionary governments this country has ever known and you end up a
mouthpiece and apologist for these miserable malevolent incompetents who
cannot even pick up the bodies of their own citizens in New Orleans.”
* “The most foreign fighters in Iraq are wearing British and American
uniforms. The level of self-delusion is bordering frankly on the racist. The
vast majority of the people of Iraq are against the occupation of Iraq by
the American and British forces.”
* “They intend, if they can, to have an Iraq Americana, but the Iraqi people
have decided otherwise.”
* “People like Mr Hitchens are ready to fight to the last drop of other
people’s blood, and it’s utterly and completely contemptible”.
* “Mr Hitchens’s policy has succeeded in making 10,000 new Bin Ladens.”
(http://red.as-eu.falkag.net/red?cmd=url&flg=0&&rdm=41557899&dlv=1028,30022,
381596,177088,660284&kid=177088&chw=9177088-&tcs=&bls3=110000C&bls4=01000138
157
1&ucl=111111A&uid=1&dmn=&scx=1280&scy=800&scc=32&jav=1&sta=,,,1,,,,,,,0,0,0,
14 389,14388,14387,3935,0&iid=381596&bid=660284&dat=)
>>
—————– Forwarded Message:
Subj: you may have been there Date: 16, September 2005 1:09:44 PM From:
IWARDE To: Rasalti
Dear Rasha,
Reading the British press in Singapore, where I am at the moment, I thought
of you when I read the following piece. You may actually have been there.
Are you in NY these days? How have you been?
On my side it’s more of the same. Lots of trips (in Lebanon, Italy now
Singapore, before the UK and Germany, and finally back to Boston). I finally
finished my interminable Financial War on Terror book which should be out in
a couple of months, and now it’s on to a book in French ‘guerres d’Irak’.
Hope all’s well with you.
Best
Ibrahim
16 September 2005
Hitchens vs Galloway: The big debate
Christopher Hitchens, vocal supporter of the Iraq war, against George
Galloway, indefatigable enemy of the war
By David Usborne in New York
Published: 16 September 2005
The George Galloway Tour had arrived in town and things were running a
little late. The queue to get into the 1,000-seat auditorium at Baruch
College near Gramercy Park had stretched more than two blocks and it was
taking time to get everyone in. Apparently not fully apprised of what she
was in for, an American woman turns around to a British reporter sitting
one row behind and innocently inquires: “Is this personal?”
The Respect party MP for Bethnal Green and Bow is on a swing through the US
to promote his new book, Mr Galloway Goes to Washington, about his
blistering appearance at a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill this spring
investigating scams and scandals in Iraq’s oil-for-food programme. But the
New York stop always promised to be more entertaining than any other. He
would have company on stage.
Yes, ma’am, you have a ringside seat for the political prize-fight of the
season. Never mind the mayoral elections going on the city right now or that
Messrs Bush and Blair are merely a mile away at UN headquarters charting all
of our futures. What you are about to witness is foreign policy discourse at
its most raw and bloody and – no question about it – most personal. Get
ready for Galloway versus Hitchens.
It was minutes before Galloway’s Senate performance in May when he had his
now famous run-in with Christopher Hitchens on the street. Hitchens, the
Vanity Fair columnist and renegade from the left with a new career defending
the 2003 invasion of Iraq, berated Galloway for his anti-war stance and his
past ties to Saddam Hussein, upon which the MP called him “a drink-soaked
former Trotskyite popinjay”.
Such insults should not be left unattended, or so thought Hitchens, who
subsequently challenged Galloway to join him in a public debate at a time
and venue of his choosing. That moment came on Wednesday night at Baruch
College. In the audience was the entire beau monde of the New York left,
including the publisher and editor of The Nation magazine, Victor Navasky
and Katrina Vanden Heuvel, and the motion set forward was this: “The war in
Iraq was necessary and just.” More than half an hour behind schedule, at
last the bold contenders are brought before us. We quiver with
anticipation, because this is a land where political debate is normally
dreary in its politeness. There is real bad blood here. “No handshakes, no
courtesies,” Hitchens growls before the evening even begins.
Pasty-faced, scruffy and slightly coy, Hitchens ambles to his podium. He
lets his jacket fall to the floor from his left hand and his blue shirt is
soaked in patches of sweat. Stage-right, meanwhile (not appropriately),
Galloway is all prosperity with a perfect late-summer tan and perfect beige
suit and tie.
No one is more intrigued – or perhaps more appalled – by the event than the
woman two seats to my left, Oona King. She, of course, is the former Labour
candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow who knows first hand what it is like to
go up against the barking Galloway. Some of us are imagining that Hitchens,
a man of no small intellectual rigour, will surely get the better of the
man from Dundee tonight. But perhaps Oona knows better. She whispers
something to me about Galloway being “brilliant”. Oh dear.
There is the small matter of the crowd. Hitchens fears they will not be in
his corner and has been outside working the queue (hence the damp patches),
doling out leaflets casting doubt on the integrity of his opponent. Amongst
tit-bits included were the words allegedly spoken by Galloway to Saddam
during a visit to Baghdad in 1994. “I salute your courage, your strength,
your indefatigability. And I want you to know that we are with you until
victory, until victory, until Jerusalem.”
The moderator, Amy Goodman, a left-wing radio personality (a precious
species in the US) gives Hitchens the first 15 minutes. Perhaps unwisely he
opens by asking for a moment’s silence for the more than 150 victims of
violence on Wednesday in Iraq. It seems gimmicky and a man yells that he
won’t join in silence with someone who has condoned the war in the first
place. Ignoring the interruption, Hitchens begins in earnest, depicting the
kind of world we would live in if the pacifists got their way. From the
reactions around us, it seems he might have a good third of the hall in his
pocket; he should do fine.
It is still not quite clear to me at what point exactly Hitchens jumped the
rails. Much later in the night, when Hitch and I and a few others have
repaired to a friend’s loft in SoHo, I attempt something of a post-mortem
with him. Is there anything, I dare to wonder, that he perhaps wishes in
hindsight he hadn’t said to Galloway? Has he any regrets from the evening?
Of course, he says flat-out no. “There are things I didn’t say that I wish
I had,” he replies instead. We then spend a good time lingering on the
moment that Galloway came close to calling Hitchens a racist, taking issue
with his assertion that most of the insurgent fighters are “foreigners”
from outside Iraq. “If someone calls me a racist, I will sue,” Hitchens
says darkly, drinking, but not drink-soaked. “I always sue and I never let
go. I never let go.”
In fact, both men tonight had waded into areas they would have better
avoided. Galloway caused paroxysms saying the planes that slammed into the
twin towers four years ago did not come out of “a clear blue sky”. Rather it
was the fault of the US and its foreign policies, especially on Israel. “I
believe they emerged out of a swamp of hatred created by us”, he said. “I
believe that it’s because of the total, complete unending and bottomless
support for General Sharon’s crimes against the Palestinian people.”
As Hitchens pointed out, this was not entirely sagacious of the MP, who does
not boast sensitivity as a middle name anyway. (Ask Ms King about that). “Mr
Galloway,” he said quietly, “you picked the wrong city to say that”. In the
meanwhile, he went on, the suggestion that somehow the misery caused by the
terrorists here and in London is somehow our fault in the first place is, he
said, “piffle, dangerous piffle”. “Our fault? No, this is masochism. And it
is masochism being offered to you by sadists.”
Then there were the moments in the evening where Hurricane Katrina entered
the hall. Galloway could not resist rehearsing the point, why send billions
of dollars to Iraq when you can’t help your own people in New Orleans?
Foolishly, Hitchens then took it upon himself to defend President Bush and
the Pentagon’s post-Katrina clean-up. The White House, he said, had 200,000
soldiers to send to the devastated Gulf area after the hurricane, but
wasn’t able to until it got the say-so from state governors. That was the
problem – it wasn’t lack of compassion. Even more rashly, he castigated the
left for making assumptions about the numbers of victims being
disproportionately black “before the bodies were even identified”. Sharp
intake of breath from Ms King there, who briefly considers joining the
Galloway camp.
Thus Hitchens simply invited Galloway to repeat the charge that if he was
not in the pay of the Bush administration, then surely he had become its
most ardent cheerleader. It also allowed the esteemed member from Bow to
ridicule his opponent for changing his position so drastically in barely a
decade, because, as any of his friends and readers know, Hitchens opposed
the 1991 Gulf War. “What Mr Hitchens has done is unique in natural history,
the first ever metamorphosis from a butterfly into a slug,” Galloway barked
with evident glee. (Dear Lord, how he is enjoying this. How long before he
is signed up by a cable channel here to froth nightly before Americans in
their living rooms at least when Parliament is in recess?) “The one thing a
slug does leave behind it is a trail of slime.” Both men also fell into the
trap of insulting the audience. Galloway did it just a little when he
lamented that anyone could doubt the statistics recording the numbers of
Iraqi dead because of the war. (100,000 he says.) “How far has the neocon
rot seeped into your souls?” he asked us. But as the evening wore on,
Hitchens visibly tired of his hecklers and returned fire in tones that were
equally arrogant and snide. Those shouting at him were “zoo animals”. But
mostly the two men just insulted each other. “You have fallen out of the
gutter and into the sewer,” Galloway tells Hitchens, who had just made hay
of the fact that his opponent had recently visited Damascus to chum up with
Syria’s “slobbering” President Assad. It is Syria, asserts Hitchens, who
sends in the insurgents to murder and maim. Syria that sent in the bombers
that destroyed the UN headquarters in Baghdad. “Is it not rather revolting
to go to Damascus and stand beside Assad?” Hitchens asks. “Mr Galloway,
beneath each gutter there is another gurgling gutter underneath.” This was
a mismatch because Hitchens is a thinker and writer. He is also a debater,
but not a politician or campaigner. Galloway, as Ms King tells me, is a
trained stump orator with a killer instinct. While Hitchens burbles
slightly – smart burble, it is true – Galloway gives terse, knock-out
one-liners. And just as he spies Ms Goodman preparing to wind the night up,
Galloway snatches the chance at the end to look gracious – while Hitchens
just looks exhausted. “I think we have generated as much light as we are
going to,” he says. “And as much heat as we ought to.”
Hitchens on Galloway
* “The man’s search for a tyrannical fatherland never ends! The Soviet
Union’s let him down, Albania’s gone, the Red Army’s out of Afghanistan and
Czechoslovakia, the hunt persists! Saddam has been overthrown. On to the
next on the 30th July in Damascus in Syria, appearing… I’ve given it all
to you in a piece of paper, in front of Mr Assad, whose death squads are
cutting down the leaders of democracy in Lebanonas this is going on to tell
the Syrian people they’re fortunate to have such a leader.”
* “I believe it is a disgrace that a member of the British House of Commons
should go before the United States Senate Subcommittee, and not testify, but
decline to testify, and to insult all those who try to ask him questions
with the most vile and cheap guttersnipe abuse, I think that’s a disgrace.
How can anyone who has had dealings with this regime show their face at a
city like this and not content with it, not content with it!”
Galloway on Hitchens
* “You start off being the liberal mouthpiece for one of the most
reactionary governments this country has ever known and you end up a
mouthpiece and apologist for these miserable malevolent incompetents who
cannot even pick up the bodies of their own citizens in New Orleans.”
* “The most foreign fighters in Iraq are wearing British and American
uniforms. The level of self-delusion is bordering frankly on the racist. The
vast majority of the people of Iraq are against the occupation of Iraq by
the American and British forces.”
* “They intend, if they can, to have an Iraq Americana, but the Iraqi people
have decided otherwise.”
* “People like Mr Hitchens are ready to fight to the last drop of other
people’s blood, and it’s utterly and completely contemptible”.
* “Mr Hitchens’s policy has succeeded in making 10,000 new Bin Ladens.”
The George Galloway Tour had arrived in town and things were running a
little late. The queue to get into the 1,000-seat auditorium at Baruch
College near Gramercy Park had stretched more than two blocks and it was
taking time to get everyone in. Apparently not fully apprised of what she
was in for, an American woman turns around to a British reporter sitting
one row behind and innocently inquires: “Is this personal?”
The Respect party MP for Bethnal Green and Bow is on a swing through the US
to promote his new book, Mr Galloway Goes to Washington, about his
blistering appearance at a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill this spring
investigating scams and scandals in Iraq’s oil-for-food programme. But the
New York stop always promised to be more entertaining than any other. He
would have company on stage.
Yes, ma’am, you have a ringside seat for the political prize-fight of the
season. Never mind the mayoral elections going on the city right now or that
Messrs Bush and Blair are merely a mile away at UN headquarters charting all
of our futures. What you are about to witness is foreign policy discourse at
its most raw and bloody and – no question about it – most personal. Get
ready for Galloway versus Hitchens.
It was minutes before Galloway’s Senate performance in May when he had his
now famous run-in with Christopher Hitchens on the street. Hitchens, the
Vanity Fair columnist and renegade from the left with a new career defending
the 2003 invasion of Iraq, berated Galloway for his anti-war stance and his
past ties to Saddam Hussein, upon which the MP called him “a drink-soaked
former Trotskyite popinjay”.
Such insults should not be left unattended, or so thought Hitchens, who
subsequently challenged Galloway to join him in a public debate at a time
and venue of his choosing. That moment came on Wednesday night at Baruch
College. In the audience was the entire beau monde of the New York left,
including the publisher and editor of The Nation magazine, Victor Navasky
and Katrina Vanden Heuvel, and the motion set forward was this: “The war in
Iraq was necessary and just.” More than half an hour behind schedule, at
last the bold contenders are brought before us. We quiver with
anticipation, because this is a land where political debate is normally
dreary in its politeness. There is real bad blood here. “No handshakes, no
courtesies,” Hitchens growls before the evening even begins.
Pasty-faced, scruffy and slightly coy, Hitchens ambles to his podium. He
lets his jacket fall to the floor from his left hand and his blue shirt is
soaked in patches of sweat. Stage-right, meanwhile (not appropriately),
Galloway is all prosperity with a perfect late-summer tan and perfect beige
suit and tie.
No one is more intrigued – or perhaps more appalled – by the event than the
woman two seats to my left, Oona King. She, of course, is the former Labour
candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow who knows first hand what it is like to
go up against the barking Galloway. Some of us are imagining that Hitchens,
a man of no small intellectual rigour, will surely get the better of the
man from Dundee tonight. But perhaps Oona knows better. She whispers
something to me about Galloway being “brilliant”. Oh dear.
There is the small matter of the crowd. Hitchens fears they will not be in
his corner and has been outside working the queue (hence the damp patches),
doling out leaflets casting doubt on the integrity of his opponent. Amongst
tit-bits included were the words allegedly spoken by Galloway to Saddam
during a visit to Baghdad in 1994. “I salute your courage, your strength,
your indefatigability. And I want you to know that we are with you until
victory, until victory, until Jerusalem.”
The moderator, Amy Goodman, a left-wing radio personality (a precious
species in the US) gives Hitchens the first 15 minutes. Perhaps unwisely he
opens by asking for a moment’s silence for the more than 150 victims of
violence on Wednesday in Iraq. It seems gimmicky and a man yells that he
won’t join in silence with someone who has condoned the war in the first
place. Ignoring the interruption, Hitchens begins in earnest, depicting the
kind of world we would live in if the pacifists got their way. From the
reactions around us, it seems he might have a good third of the hall in his
pocket; he should do fine.
It is still not quite clear to me at what point exactly Hitchens jumped the
rails. Much later in the night, when Hitch and I and a few others have
repaired to a friend’s loft in SoHo, I attempt something of a post-mortem
with him. Is there anything, I dare to wonder, that he perhaps wishes in
hindsight he hadn’t said to Galloway? Has he any regrets from the evening?
Of course, he says flat-out no. “There are things I didn’t say that I wish
I had,” he replies instead. We then spend a good time lingering on the
moment that Galloway came close to calling Hitchens a racist, taking issue
with his assertion that most of the insurgent fighters are “foreigners”
from outside Iraq. “If someone calls me a racist, I will sue,” Hitchens
says darkly, drinking, but not drink-soaked. “I always sue and I never let
go. I never let go.”
In fact, both men tonight had waded into areas they would have better
avoided. Galloway caused paroxysms saying the planes that slammed into the
twin towers four years ago did not come out of “a clear blue sky”. Rather it
was the fault of the US and its foreign policies, especially on Israel. “I
believe they emerged out of a swamp of hatred created by us”, he said. “I
believe that it’s because of the total, complete unending and bottomless
support for General Sharon’s crimes against the Palestinian people.”
As Hitchens pointed out, this was not entirely sagacious of the MP, who does
not boast sensitivity as a middle name anyway. (Ask Ms King about that). “Mr
Galloway,” he said quietly, “you picked the wrong city to say that”. In the
meanwhile, he went on, the suggestion that somehow the misery caused by the
terrorists here and in London is somehow our fault in the first place is, he
said, “piffle, dangerous piffle”. “Our fault? No, this is masochism. And it
is masochism being offered to you by sadists.”
Then there were the moments in the evening where Hurricane Katrina entered
the hall. Galloway could not resist rehearsing the point, why send billions
of dollars to Iraq when you can’t help your own people in New Orleans?
Foolishly, Hitchens then took it upon himself to defend President Bush and
the Pentagon’s post-Katrina clean-up. The White House, he said, had 200,000
soldiers to send to the devastated Gulf area after the hurricane, but
wasn’t able to until it got the say-so from state governors. That was the
problem – it wasn’t lack of compassion. Even more rashly, he castigated the
left for making assumptions about the numbers of victims being
disproportionately black “before the bodies were even identified”. Sharp
intake of breath from Ms King there, who briefly considers joining the
Galloway camp.
Thus Hitchens simply invited Galloway to repeat the charge that if he was
not in the pay of the Bush administration, then surely he had become its
most ardent cheerleader. It also allowed the esteemed member from Bow to
ridicule his opponent for changing his position so drastically in barely a
decade, because, as any of his friends and readers know, Hitchens opposed
the 1991 Gulf War. “What Mr Hitchens has done is unique in natural history,
the first ever metamorphosis from a butterfly into a slug,” Galloway barked
with evident glee. (Dear Lord, how he is enjoying this. How long before he
is signed up by a cable channel here to froth nightly before Americans in
their living rooms at least when Parliament is in recess?) “The one thing a
slug does leave behind it is a trail of slime.” Both men also fell into the
trap of insulting the audience. Galloway did it just a little when he
lamented that anyone could doubt the statistics recording the numbers of
Iraqi dead because of the war. (100,000 he says.) “How far has the neocon
rot seeped into your souls?” he asked us. But as the evening wore on,
Hitchens visibly tired of his hecklers and returned fire in tones that were
equally arrogant and snide. Those shouting at him were “zoo animals”. But
mostly the two men just insulted each other. “You have fallen out of the
gutter and into the sewer,” Galloway tells Hitchens, who had just made hay
of the fact that his opponent had recently visited Damascus to chum up with
Syria’s “slobbering” President Assad. It is Syria, asserts Hitchens, who
sends in the insurgents to murder and maim. Syria that sent in the bombers
that destroyed the UN headquarters in Baghdad. “Is it not rather revolting
to go to Damascus and stand beside Assad?” Hitchens asks. “Mr Galloway,
beneath each gutter there is another gurgling gutter underneath.” This was
a mismatch because Hitchens is a thinker and writer. He is also a debater,
but not a politician or campaigner. Galloway, as Ms King tells me, is a
trained stump orator with a killer instinct. While Hitchens burbles
slightly – smart burble, it is true – Galloway gives terse, knock-out
one-liners. And just as he spies Ms Goodman preparing to wind the night up,
Galloway snatches the chance at the end to look gracious – while Hitchens
just looks exhausted. “I think we have generated as much light as we are
going to,” he says. “And as much heat as we ought to.”
Hitchens on Galloway
* “The man’s search for a tyrannical fatherland never ends! The Soviet
Union’s let him down, Albania’s gone, the Red Army’s out of Afghanistan and
Czechoslovakia, the hunt persists! Saddam has been overthrown. On to the
next on the 30th July in Damascus in Syria, appearing… I’ve given it all
to you in a piece of paper, in front of Mr Assad, whose death squads are
cutting down the leaders of democracy in Lebanonas this is going on to tell
the Syrian people they’re fortunate to have such a leader.”
* “I believe it is a disgrace that a member of the British House of Commons
should go before the United States Senate Subcommittee, and not testify, but
decline to testify, and to insult all those who try to ask him questions
with the most vile and cheap guttersnipe abuse, I think that’s a disgrace.
How can anyone who has had dealings with this regime show their face at a
city like this and not content with it, not content with it!”
Galloway on Hitchens
* “You start off being the liberal mouthpiece for one of the most
reactionary governments this country has ever known and you end up a
mouthpiece and apologist for these miserable malevolent incompetents who
cannot even pick up the bodies of their own citizens in New Orleans.”
* “The most foreign fighters in Iraq are wearing British and American
uniforms. The level of self-delusion is bordering frankly on the racist. The
vast majority of the people of Iraq are against the occupation of Iraq by
the American and British forces.”
* “They intend, if they can, to have an Iraq Americana, but the Iraqi people
have decided otherwise.”
* “People like Mr Hitchens are ready to fight to the last drop of other
people’s blood, and it’s utterly and completely contemptible”.
* “Mr Hitchens’s policy has succeeded in making 10,000 new Bin Ladens.”