Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hitch should know better

This recent column by Christopher Hitchens is bound to confirm an article of faith of his fellow travellers: namely, that human rights groups and NGOs generally are anti-American just for the sake of it, if not because they’re inherently perverse, or even evil.

Hitchens’ rhetoric is, of course, characteristically effortless:

Even in a week that concentrated all eyes on the magnificent courage and maturity of the people of Cairo, a report from Kabul began with what must surely be the most jaw-dropping opening paragraph of the year. Under the byline of the excellent Rod Nordland, The New York Times reported: “International and local human rights groups working in Afghanistan have shifted their focus toward condemning abuses committed by the Taliban insurgents, rather than those attributed to the American military and its allies.” . . .

The story became more mind-boggling as it unfolded. One had to ask oneself what had taken the human-rights “community” so long. . . .

The turning point, in the mind of the human rights “activists,” appears to have occurred in late January, when a Taliban suicide-murderer killed at least 14 civilians in the Finest Supermarket in Kabul. Among the slain was a well-known local campaigner named Hamida Barmaki, whose husband and four small children were also killed. One wonders in what sense this was the Taliban going too far — women are killed and mutilated by them every single day in Afghanistan. Yet let the terror reach one of the upscale markets or hotels that cater to the NGO constituency in Kabul, and suddenly there is an abrupt change from moral neutrality.

Before joining Hitchens in his railing against the dastardly “moral equivalence” of those ironically quote-enclosed “activists,” it might be noted that Hitchens in his lazy reading of Nordland’s article seems to have missed the fact that, long before January, groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had been calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute war crimes committed by the Taliban.

Hitchens’ angle here, of course, is to retrospectively validate his long-standing support for the ever-lengthening war in Afghanistan. In a re-definition that renders the term concentration camp almost meaningless, he notes without irony that “during [the Taliban’s] period in power, it ran the country as a vast concentration camp,” etc.

No-one would deny the egregiousness of the Taliban’s authoritarian rule, which virulently and tragically metastasised tendencies already inherent in traditional Afghan tribal culture. But Hitchens’ looseness here with language is the hallmark of a partisan tract.

Hitchens should know better, and I believe he does and moreover is plainly capable of far better. But on certain topics, evidently requiring a retrospective twist, Hitchens can be quite unreliable.

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