Circulating anti-Galloway leaflets outside the debate hall, I was told to fuck off a number of times – an early indication of what the night would hold. Shortly I discovered that Hitchens had organized his own leafleting drive, including a thick, stapled booklet [pdf], robustly written and rigorously sourced, on Galloway’s oil-for-food dealings. Moments after securing my own spot on the line, I found myself face to face with Hitchens himself, sweating profusely, dangling a cigarette, coordinating his own flier distribution. “Do you have the fascism one? Ah, you need the oil one.”
Others have posted in-depth on the proceedings in the hall. Briefly, Galloway’s true believers were out in force, catcalling and jeering. But it must be said that Hitchens’s backers – and there were many – did not behave beautifully either. The shouting on both sides was ugly and counterproductive.
I have problems with Hitchens. My own view is closer to Mark Danner’s – that we are fighting the terror war on bin Laden’s terms, with disastrous results. Hitchens’s pro-Bushism did lead him astray last night, into embarrassing apologetics on the Katrina response, for instance. Hitchens also gives short shrift to domestic politics. Bush is trying to strip the rights of my gay and lesbian friends and family members, and Hitchens supported his reelection. On that point, he deserves a jeer or two.
But last night’s issue was Iraq, and I concur with Ben, a correspondent over at Harry’s Place. The sight of these comfortable Manhattanites applauding Galloway’s unequivocal support for the Iraqi “resistance” made me despair for the left, and quite frankly, for our species. The term “people of goodwill” came into my head; alas, there weren’t many of them in the room. This is now the litmus test for the decent left. Galloway and his cheering section have flunked it spectacularly.
I’ll leave you with this, from Hitchens (via the Popinjays), a riposte to some of the lustier heckling from Galloway supporters:
There are probably some people here among you who fancy yourselves as having leftist revolutionary credentials. As far as I can tell that you do from the zoo noises you make. And the scars you can demonstrate from your long, underground, twilight struggle against Dick Cheney. But while you’re masturbating in this manner, the Iraqis of the secular left… are fighting for their lives against the most vicious form of fascist violence that any country in the region has seen for a long time.
**Update: Welcome, Harry’s Place readers!
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