BPR Interviews: Peter Hitchens

Peter Hitchens is an English journalist and author who has published six books, including The Abolition of Britain,The War We Never Fought, and The Rage Against God. In addition, he writes for The Mail on Sunday and is a former foreign correspondent in Moscow and Washington. Widely known for his powerful rhetorical and argumentative style, Hitchens has published many polemical works and been a critic of political correctness. He has described himself as an Anglican Christian, a Burkean conservative, and a social democrat. He is the brother of the late Christopher Hitchens.

If the radicalization of ISIL and the birth of the group is at least partially a result of Western intervention, shouldn’t the US feel compelled to help now?  

I don’t know about help. I think there’s something to be said for recognizing you’ve done so much damage by intervening, this might be a moment to stop intervening. I’m not sure anything we’re planning to do would succeed. If you were serious and if the West were serious about fighting the Islamic State, then the forces on the ground that are most effective – such as the Syrian national army, the Assad army, and the Iranian militias and the Shia militias from Iraq – are the allies you would seek. And you would do it without scruple, because that’s what you’d have to do. As I ceaselessly say, during the Second World War, Britain and the US allied with the monstrous dictator Stalin because their absolute priority was the defeat of Hitler. And they didn’t scruple to do so; they knew what Stalin was, and they allied with him anyways because they knew it was the only way to beat Hitler. Similarly, if we were serious about beating ISIL we would need [to] align with the Iranians, the Iranian militias, the Shia militias, the Assad government, and the Kurds, but we don’t. On the contrary, we shy very much away from it and our position is hugely complicated by our alliance through NATO to Turkey, which is a very ambiguous position particularly for the Kurds, whose intervention in this whole thing has tended to be against the Kurds and not the Islamic State. So I’m not sure that our position is as firm as we like to claim it is. And if it is, I’m not sure if I particularly want to encourage [it].

Why should the US be willing to assist or support countries and leaders that we find morally deplorable?  

As a country, we have no particular scruples about butchers. We recently entertained in Buckingham Palace the Chinese president whose regime butchered untold numbers. He’s never apologized for it or shown remorse for doing it and he continues to live on the authority gained from doing that. We also entertained President Sisi of Egypt who massacred large numbers of people in Cairo, and quite recently we opened a naval base in Bahrain where the regime is constantly criticized for torturing and suppressing its political opponents. And we are in very very close communion with the Saudi government which is notorious throughout the world for its famous lack of freedom and tolerance and its vicious treatment of any kind of opposition. If we had the scruples that we claim to have, we wouldn’t have any business dealing with such people. But nations don’t have scruples about dealing with such people. If you could find me a country that was morally pure and never aligned with nasty people, you’d find me a nation that ceased to exist. If you want to exist as a nation, that’s the kind of thing you have to do. So to pretend you have scruples about Assad while having absolutely none about other butchers we align with is absurd.

What do you make of the debate about religion itself being a cause of terrorism? 

My own view is that utopianism of any kind is always particularly dangerous because once you believe that what you’re doing will undoubtedly make the world a better place, you license yourself to do practically anything. People who believe they are doing good are some of the most dangerous people on the planet, whether they’re the Bolsheviks or the Islamic extremists or whoever else it is who might be traveling with us in another era. Those are the people we must keep an eye on. There are so many Muslims who regard their religion as a recipe for doing good to their neighbors and being loyal to their families and generally behaving well that to make a generalization about Islam being generally a force for bad is just patently untrue.

Does the US have selective outrage concerning terrorist attacks in the West? Do we become disproportionately more upset about terrorism in, say, France than we do in the Middle East? 

I think it’s true to an extent. People will care, and a huge number of British people will visit France or Paris and they can imagine French people in France, who are in many ways very similar to us. It’s easier, therefore, to imagine what happened in Paris happening here. So naturally I think you’re going to be more imaginatively engaged by it than you would be if the same thing happened in Beirut or to the Russians. It’s natural. I don’t think anybody can be criticized for it; it’s in the nature of humanity that we’re like that. I don’t think any of us in our reasoned minds think that the outrage is any less because the person is a Lebanese person as opposed to someone that is French or British. I think we all know that we’re all one race, but naturally we will be more imaginatively engaged if these attacks happen to people who are closer to us in culture and geographically. It’s just so.

What advice would you give people who are fearful of global terrorism? 

People should live their lives as they see fit. I certainly don’t think people should be scared out of living their lives by these outrages. Terrorism is horrible when it happens to you or to anybody you know, or anybody you love, or to anybody. It’s terrible. But the truth is that it does not, and this is true of really huge outrages, it does result in the loss of territory, the destruction of the economy, or the introduction of anarchy into society. One of the main strengths of terrorism is when it panics a society which is attacked into taking measures which are out of proportion to the attack. If people are panicked into changing their behavior in ways which they do not wish to do, then the terrorists have undoubtedly gotten what they wanted out of the attack.

About the Author

Julian Jacobs '19 is a Senior Staff Writer and Interviews Associate at BPR concentrating in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE). He is a former Opinion's Columnist for The Brown Daily Herald and the Founding Editor-in-Chief of the Brown University Journal of Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (JPPE).

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