Fighting Words

My Endorsement and Osama’s Video

The news in Bin Laden’s comments had nothing to do with our election.

Correction, Nov. 1, 2004: Due to an editing error, Christopher Hitchens’ entry in the “Slate Votes” survey was mistakenly classified as an endorsement of John Kerry. As Hitchens explains below, he did not intend his contribution as a statement of support for either candidate. Slate apologizes to Hitchens for this error. Click here  to read the corrected survey.

The late Lillian Hellman was a ghastly piece of goods in numberless ways, but she did still have a percentage of courage and wit. At a campus event quite late in her life, when asked in a whiny way by a member of the audience “why have you not endorsed gay lib?” she paused briefly. Her thick and darkened spectacles were opaque. “The forms of fucking,” she finally declared, “do not require my endorsement.”

That would be vaguely analogous to my view of this depressing and trivial election campaign, in which I do not in any case yet have the right, let alone the inclination, to vote. When The Nation magazine was good enough to challenge me to contribute an article on the unthinkable case for Bush, I did what I could. But I added that Sen. Kerry has made enough formal commitment to regime change in Iraq to make the prospect of his election a thinkable one, also. When Slate invited me to kick in a paragraph on the same subject, I rephrased the same point in a briefer way. If I could choose the person whose attitude toward the immediate foe was nearest to mine, I would pick Bush (and Blair). But if I departed from the strictly subjective, and then considered the ways in which this administration has bitched things up, and further imagined what might happen to a Democratic incumbent who was compelled to get real, I could see a case the other way. You can even read what I said in Slate last week.

I had no idea then that the editors would or even could list me in the “Kerry” column, but I don’t see what difference it makes. I wrote what I wrote from the perspective of a “single issue” person. I don’t know whether to be touched or embarrassed by the number of e-mails I have had, beseeching me to come clean. Surely the “process” is not in so much trouble that my guidance, let alone “endorsement,” is required? Life and politics will persist, in this republic, while the republic’s enemies will continue to be toxic and lethal and protean. Neither electoral outcome can alter that. It’s absurd for liberals to talk as if Kristallnacht is impending with Bush, and it’s unwise and indecent for Republicans to equate Kerry with capitulation. There’s no one to whom he can surrender, is there? I think that the nature of the jihadist enemy will decide things in the end.


I am more morose about the dispelling of my once-promising induction about the demise of Osama Bin Laden. It had seemed to me that his people a) craved proof of his survival and b) had craved it enough to produce some bogus proofs while c) failing to come up with anything persuasive. Given this, and given that mere proof of life is inherently easy, and remembering how loquacious the diseased old buzzard used to be, I thought it was pardonable to speculate that his jolly voice had somehow been stilled.

Yet there he apparently was again, looking a bit distracted but nonetheless up-to-the-minute with the recycled taunts and jeers of Michael Moore. Who can imagine, as Bin Laden asserts, that the “Pet Goat” moment in Florida gave extra time to the 9/11 psychopaths, who were limited only by an air-traffic control delay at Newark airport? Still, I suppose it is assumed in al-Qaida circles that every little innuendo helps.

I do not believe that Bin Laden sends Da Vinci-style cryptography through his videos. (He seems to have more direct means of passing on his instructions.) But there are some not-so-cryptic elements in the latest sermon that have escaped attention. First, the open—and repeated—endorsement of collusion with Saddamists. This is stated twice. It is no less suggestive for being coupled with forceful attacks on the “infidel” ideology of “the socialists.” Notwithstanding their deformities, says Bin Laden, “there will be no harm if the interests of Muslims converge with the interest of the socialists in the fight against the crusaders.” This will not, of course, embarrass those who continue to believe that cooperation between “secular” Baathists and Islamists is improbable by definition. Nothing embarrasses such ideologues; neither the invocation of jihad by Saddamists nor the solidarity with embattled Baathists expressed by Bin Laden.

Then there is the prospective list of countries to be liberated by holy war. In the order given, these are “Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.” The last two on the list are old hat: Bin Laden is of part-Yemeni origin, and his loathing for the Saudi regime is notorious. It might also be assumed that he detests the Pakistani authorities, since they have assisted, however grudgingly, in his ignominious eviction from Afghanistan. Nigeria is of interest, because it is now only in the early throes of an attack by fundamentalist thugs who seek to impose sharia law on all Muslims and on a huge number of non-Muslims as well. You may remember their attempt to stone to death Amina Lawal, for her crime of having given birth to a baby. One might want to pay attention to this additional warning, of an attempt to turn a near-failed state (with large oil resources) into a full-fledged rogue one. Morocco has been the scene of a campaign of Islamist violence for some time: a campaign notable for the additional demand that Spain be reconquered for the one true faith. As for Jordan, I could be mistaken but I was struck by the remark of one analyst quoted in the New York Times who said that Bin Laden was running for re-election as the president of Islamic militancy. In that case, he might have been aware of the rival candidacy of Abu Musad al-Zarqawi, who began his career of crime with a declaration of war on the Jordanian ruling house.

Yet in every report  that I read, including in serious newspapers, the entire emphasis was on the possible effect of this ranting tape on tomorrow’s election. Parochialism like this, which is present in both parties, causes one to moan and whimper.