Hitchens Admires Canada’s Afghan Effort

Media Appearances, Role of Government, Frontier Centre

CANADIANS should not let military casualties yank them from their course in Afghanistan, says a leading international political and cultural pundit.

“I’m full of admiration for what Canadians are doing in Afghanistan,” Christopher Hitchens said in a phone interview yesterday prior to his first-ever visit to Winnipeg.

The British-born writer, who lives in Washington, D.C., is best known for his vigorous defence of the American-led war on terrorism in such publications as The Guardian in England and Vanity Fair in the U.S.

“If we are beaten by the other side, which is quite possible, it won’t be a defeat for the Bush administration,” Hitchens, 57, says.

“It will be a defeat for everybody, a defeat for civilization in general.”

The Hitch, as he is known to both allies and adversaries, has been invited to Winnipeg by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a think-tank led by the right-tilting analyst Peter Holle. He will be the guest speaker tomorrow night at the Fairmont Hotel before 200 people who’ve anted up $75 each for dinner and to hear the intellectually pugnacious writer.

There are still a few tickets available. They can be purchased by phoning the FCCP at 977-5050.

Hitchens’ topic will not be international politics but rather the “busybody state,” which he sees as a woeful aspect of liberal democracies throughout the western world.

Governments should not regulate their citizens’ personal choices, he says.

In the U.S., for example, an 18-year-old can vote and go to war but cannot legally enjoy a glass of wine.

“It’s quite preposterous,” he says. “I can’t believe people put up with it.”

An unapologetic nicotine addict, Hitchens puts state-sanctioned non-smoking regulations in the “busybody” category.

“I know the difference between protecting non-smokers and imposing prohibitions on smokers, and the line has been crossed.” The “famous war on drugs,” as he calls the U.S. policy against those who choose to indulge in marijuana and cocaine, is his third major beef against state-imposed morality.

He encourages the Canadian government to legalize marijuana sales without fear of U.S. administrative reprisals.

“My feeling is that there are lot of people in the U.S. who would applaud that bit of common sense.”

Hitch-watchers, both friends and foes alike, draw parallels between him and one of his intellectual idols, the great British novelist and political journalist George Orwell.

Orwell, a socialist, fell out with the British left-wing during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Hitchens, who also called himself a man of the left and wrote a book called Why Orwell Matters, broke with his fellow travellers in the wake of Sept. 11.

Yet Hitchens is embarrassed at any attempt to compare him to the man who gave the world such novels as 1984 and Animal Farm.

“For one thing, he was a much better writer than I am,” Hitchens says. “He also suffered the physical and moral consequences of his beliefs. I’ve lost a few magazine jobs because of my principles, but that’s hardly the same thing.”

Hitchens, who has written books excoriating Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger, among others, is hesitant to offer an opinion about what he sees as his own virtues as a writer.

“I can be serious, but I’m not always boring,” he finally offers. “I can sometimes make people laugh. It almost kills me to say this, because it will stop being true.”

Militantly anti-religious, Hitchens says he is working on a new book called God is Not Great.

He says it will contain a chapter refuting the argument that atheism was responsible for more deaths in the 20th century than religion.

He calls his distaste for supernatural belief “the main thing in my life.”

He was raised by a Baptist father and a non-practising Jewish mother. He went to a Methodist prep school and was married in a Greek Orthodox Church, then later by a rabbi. But the cosmologies of the world’s monotheistic religions strike him not just as “preposterous” but actually distasteful.

“Imagine being supervised by some divine leader for all your life and even into eternity,” he says. “It would be like living in a celestial North Korea.”