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Christopher Hitchens on the 30 year anniversary of the Iranian hostage crisis

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

HH: But we are lucky today. It’s a Wednesday, and we begin with Vanity Fair columnist, Christopher Hitchens. Christopher, welcome back to the program.

CH: Very nice of you to invite me again.

HH: Well, I’m very, I’m hurt, Christopher. I’m very much hurt. You hold a premiere for Collision, your brand new movie with Pastor Doug Wilson, and I didn’t get invited to the premiere.

CH: Well, you should take it up with new St. Andrews University, the home of the distinguished pastor. I think I left the inviting to them.

HH: Well, they’ve obviously botched it.

CH: You know how modest and self-effacing I am.

HH: (laughing) Tell us about Collision. What is this about?

CH: Well, when I published my little book, God Is Not Great, incidentally now out in a very handsome paperback, very cheap, although well-designed…

HH: Just in time for Christmas.

CH: …in fine bookstores…exactly. I told my publisher that I didn’t want to do the usual sort of liberal, New York publisher bonanza, you know, Union Square, New York, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Seattle, Portland, all that, though I mean I did want to do it. But I wanted to go south and to ask for a debate at every stop, one of the faithful, and to launch it that way. And one of the better responses I got was from Pastor Wilson, who said why don’t we start with an e-mail exchange ever week on Christianity Today’s website, which opened its pages to us, and we’ll take it from there. And that exchange became a little book called Is Christianity Good For The World, which you can get from Canon Press, I think, and there’s now a film of our dog and pony show, as I shouldn’t call it, of our debates. And it’s a sort of road movie of us taking the debate to various places, usually Christian universities.

HH: Now do you and Pastor Wilson sit back and after the events that you do, have a beer or two and discuss the way of the world?

CH: Well, sure. I mean, we discovered early on, actually, in our written discussion before we’d met, that we’re both tremendous admirers of P.G. Wodhouse, for example, and I can never completely dislike anyone who has that kind of enthusiasm, and can quote from Bertie And Jeeves. It’s very important to me. And the other thing about the pastor that I admire is this. He comes right out and says it. If it isn’t true that there was a resurrection, and that this man was the son of God, then the doctrine would be wicked. He takes the same line as I quote C.S. Lewis as taking in my book. You can’t have this both ways, not a cafeteria question. The preachings would be weird and even immoral if the essential bit of it wasn’t true. So he’s willing to lay his claim properly like that, and not just shop around and dodge the question. And I’m very happy to debate with people like him. The name, for them, by the way, their own name is presuppositionalists. They come out and say we’re not evidentialists at all. Ontological and other proofs don’t really interest all that much. It is a matter of faith. And I won’t say I exactly respect that, because I would be slightly hypocritical if I did, but I do, in a different sense, admire it.

HH: Well, he’s absolutely correct. I am curious, Christopher. You know Richard Dawkins. I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago. He is far less confident in his atheism than you are.

CH: Really? Well, that must make me a very confident atheist.

HH: Well, he refuses to debate any and all comers, people like Dinesh D’Souza, who you debate routinely.

CH: Let’s not say routinely.

HH: That you are willing to debate often.

CH: I have a frequent debate partner with Dinesh, that’s true. Well, I don’t think it’s because Richard is afraid of anything, I’m bound to say. I mean, he does, I know, speak at meetings of the devout. He’s been in what he’s invited to do so. I think he, it’s possible. I haven’t ever actually really discussed it with him. I’m not sure he would enjoy it as much as I do.

HH: Clearly, he doesn’t.

CH: But then he’s a man, he really is a great teacher of biology and science, and everyone who studies the subject is enormously in his debt. He’s a truly great educator. And I think he feels himself personally attacked by those who deny the fossil record and the record of molecular biology and DNA and so forth. He’s sort of, he really has no time for this. And I, for my part, I’m content to leave the bulk of that argument in his very expert hands. I like to talk about the theology.

HH: And I just think that if you’re going to engage the world that believes passionately on a subject, you ought to be willing to engage the people who speak for that world, as you are. And that’s what I admire about it. But I do want to call people’s attention to Collision, the DVD. It’s available at, and I think you will enjoy it. Now let’s turn to the events of the day. Thirty years ago, the American embassy in Tehran was seized by Khomeinists, the Khomeinists remain in power, they are celebrating, they have celebrated today, Christopher Hitchens. And yesterday, Khamenei, the supreme leader, rejected out of hand the many overtures from the United States, and two specific ones from President Obama. Ought we now not to be done with the illusion of engagement with this regime?

CH: I don’t think it’s possible to do as the President tried to do in his open letter to Iran on Nowruz, which is the Persian rather than the Iranian new year, or rather the Persian rather than the Islamic new year, where he said that his hope was to bring the Islamic Republic of Iran, as he phrased it, into, back into the family of nations. I mean, the thing that keeps it out of the family of nations is precisely the fact that it is an Islamic republic that sends death squads as far away as Argentina or in Vienna to kill its opponents, or to attack Jewish people, that oppresses hideously its own people who are in rebellion against it, that has broken every single jot and tiddle of the Nonproliferation Treaty that it signed with full purpose in its heart of evading and destroying, and has in other ways put itself outside the pale. It’s a matter of solidarity, in my opinion, to say that the United States stands with those in Iran who want a government that represents the civilized tradition of the great history of Persia, and not this terrible imposition by force of a barbaric theocracy.

HH: Yesterday, as reported in the Jerusalem Post today, hundreds of tons of weaponry, ten times the size of the Karine A shipment of 2002, were seized by the Israeli Navy about a hundred nautical miles west of Israel, sailing under an Antiguan flag, three thousand rockets of various types headed to Syria and Hezbollah, obviously from Iran, Christopher Hitchens. At what point do you expect the Obama administration to recognize these people do not want peace with us, the government, not the people of Iran, but the government of Iran, do not want to engage, do not want peace, in fact, are bracing for war?

CH: Yes, and may even have a theological reason. I’m not absolutely certain about this, but I think there is some connection between the ridiculous figure of Ahmadinejad, scruffiest little despot, saying that he believes that the second Imam, excuse me, the hidden Imam, the 12th Imam, I mean to say, will come back in our lifetimes and redeem the world, a weird belief, as I know you know, however held, and trying to acquire apocalyptic weaponry. In other words, the great nightmare, never mind the Karine A stuff, and the Hezbollah and Hamas business, bad as it is, the great nightmare all of my life has been what will happen on the day that a messianic or fanatical outfit gets hold of apocalyptic weaponry? Well, we’re about to find out what that’ll be like, and some people are preparing in advance to be polite to them, and that we’d better get used to it, then, because we will soon live in a world where they can make us be polite.

HH: Is it fair to call the American policy at this moment towards Iran appeasement?

CH: Not if it’s designed to demonstrate that we’ve tried everything. I mean, I’m not against showing the world, and the international community, and the diplomatic community, and the press and a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, that look, we’ve tried everything, we’ve exhausted every avenue, we’ve made them very handsome offers. We’ve effectively said look, we’ll more or less build you a civilian nuclear program. We’d like Iran to have a civilian nuclear program. It will be less wasteful of oil, it would increase the prosperity of the country that’s been bankrupted and beggared by its theocracy, but we won’t have this abused for militaristic and terroristic purposes. That’s an incredibly fair offer.

HH: Yeah, but for six months, that’s fine. But hasn’t Obama become Neville Chamberlain?

CH: Well, he, I hope that the President, or at the least, some of those around him, have in their minds an image, do I mean image, a cutoff point in their minds where they say you know, we’re not going to be humiliated on this point. We will give it a good faith effort, but if it turns out that that interval is being used to run out the clock, and to simply to treat all the agreements Iran has ever signed with open contempt, then that will count very heavily in the balance in the end.

HH: Is there any evidence, and you’re an evidence lover, Christopher Hitchens, that the Obama administration has such a deadline in mind, has communicated…

CH: No, I don’t think there is any at all, and I’m reminded, because I live in Washington, D.C., and I’ve discussed this with a lot of people, a few years ago, if you asked this question to Bush administration people, they would always give you the same answer in the same words, which showed that it was an agreed line of the day. And you know what they used to say? We will not leave this question for the next administration.

HH: And sadly, they did, because this administration…

CH: I’m afraid they did. So remember, this has a long history.

HH: A long pedigree. I don’t defend that. But I think we’ve got to get ready for the fact that Obama is Chamberlain. Christopher Hitchens of Vanity Fair, always a pleasure, talk to you again soon.

End of interview.

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