Christopher Hitchens warns Americans and American media not to forget our ally in India
HH: But I begin with a story that’s rapidly leaving our screens and should not, and I do so with Vanity Fair columnist, Christopher Hitchens. Christopher Hitchens, welcome back. Are you amazed at how quickly the West seems not to want to discuss the outrage in Bombay?
CH: Yes, I’ve been very depressed by the parochialism of our media, and also by the incredibly insipid standard issue comments made by our political leadership.
HH: Now I have spent the last two days talking with Douglas Frantz, and then with Robert Kaplan, and others, Mark Steyn, and now you. This is a major challenge to civilization. India is, what, would you argue our most significant ally outside of Europe?
CH: Well, it’s our best newest ally, shall I say this. I mean, I’m not a complete fan of the Bush administration’s foreign policy as you know, but I think one thing it will be remembered for is realigning us correctly with India, and as against the previous Cold War-driven dependence upon the failed rogue state of Pakistan, which we know was the one that incubated our enemy, was the patron of the Taliban, and the umbrella for al Qaeda. A rogue and failed state with nuclear weapons is not a good ally to have. India, in contrast, is a large, well enormous, federal, secular, multi-ethnic, multicultural democracy, English speaking in at least its upper echelons, a positive counterweight to China, and to Russia, has been fighting against al Qaeda long before we ever heard the words al Qaeda, and is now perhaps the most important target in the sights of our deadliest foes. So we have a duty of solidarity to the people of India, with their democracy, with their secularism, with their pluralism, and against the hateful and evidently very well trained, and very well organized, and very well prepared gangsters, state supported gangsters, that seems to me to suggest, who are trying to destroy its cultural and economic heart.
HH: You raised the prospect that it could be Dawood Ibrahim, a noted crime boss who’s right now taking refuge in Pakistan, or the ISI. We’ll probably never know the answer to this, will we, Christopher Hitchens?
CH: Well, I think it’s very likely, though, that the main perpetrators are members of an extremist, al Qaeda jihad force in Kashmir.
CH: …which has always been another word for saying Pakistani state surrogate.
HH: Let me ask you, you bring up Kashmir, I have asked Kaplan and I have asked Frantz, what do you think is the solution in Kashmir?
CH: Well, I would, I would quite strongly suggest to people reading Salman Rushdie on this subject, especially his most recent novel. He is of Kashmiri origin, and like a lot of Kashmiris, wishes that there could be an autonomous Kashmir, whose neither necessarily part of India or Pakistan. It’s a victim of the terrible partition of India in 1947-48. One of the worst decisions ever made by any government, in this case, the British, was to allow India to be partitioned on confessional lines. They thought it would stop the fighting, instead of which it’s led to three subsequent wars, another partition of Pakistan into Pakistan and Bangladesh, genocidal partition, the acquisition of nuclear weapons by a rogue state, and many other woes, and still no peace in Kashmir. Kashmir for the Kashmiris is one solution. The only solution that cannot be allowed is the forcible removal from the Indian federation of Kashmir by Pakistan subversion and of others. If that happened, there’d be bloodshed in the sub-Continent that would make Rwanda look completely negligible.
CH: And this is what the Islamists are trying to bring about. That is their dream, and they showed us their dream nightmare in just a dress rehearsal for it in Bombay this week.
HH: I quote from your Slate piece of two days ago. “The Jewish disciples of Rabbi Schneerson may be relatively recent arrivals, but there have been Baghdad Jews in Bombay since records were kept, and Jews in India since before Christ, and not until this week has a Jewish place in India been attacked for its own sake, so to speak.” That’s really quite remarkable, and it also tells us about the nature of the enemy.
CH: It’s a terrible, terrible thing. There’s a very moving story in the New York Times this morning about the Bombay Jewish community that most people didn’t know, I think, until this happened, existed. It’s a very antique, very noble community that’s contributed a huge amount to the life of the city, and it is a remarkable fact about India that despite Hindu-Muslim strife, and all kinds of other sectarian horror shows, there has never been a pogrom in Indian history against its Jewish minority. Not once, not ever. We could say that with safety. And of course it can still be said no Indian spontaneously, no Indian or Bombay citizen has ever done such a dastardly thing. But the jihadists won’t rest until they can import that idea into India, too. And if you wanted to summarize the whole thing in one sentence, I suppose that would show how the word evil is the only one one can decently use.
HH: Let me ask you a little bit about Pakistan. Today in the Times of India there’s a writer saying President Zardari has trashed India’s list of twenty and questioning whether or not India ought to present it such a demand this quickly. There’s a story that truth serum’s going to be used on the terrorist, Azam Amir Kasab, the only one who’s left alive after the massacre of last week. And then Thomas Friedman suggests, “After all, if 10 young Indians from a splinter wing of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party traveled by boat to Pakistan, shot up two hotels in Karachi and the central train station, killed at least 173 people, and then, for good measure, murdered the imam and his wife at a Saudi-financed mosque while they were cradling their 2-year-old son – purely because they were Sunni Muslims – where would we be today? The entire Muslim world would be aflame and in the streets.” I think he’s right about that, but it doesn’t bring us any closer, I think, to understanding. What ought the United States to do vis-à-vis Pakistan in your opinion, Christopher Hitchens?
CH: Well, by the way, full marks to Thomas Friedman for pointing out how un-hysterical Islamic hysteria is, how cynical it is, how they fill the streets with writhing mustaches and bullies when there’s a rumor in Newsweek about a Koran being maltreated in Guantanamo. But they can look at this kind of blasphemy and profanity without stirring at all. It shows how totally cynical that is. Sorry, I had to get that off my chest. I’m not avoiding your question.
HH: Now to Pakistan.
CH: For the United States, it obviously is an exquisitely difficult move to make the shift that we have been making away from reliance upon a rogue, failed state that has nuclear weapons, and was using the Taliban to colonize Afghanistan, to give it strategic depth against India in Kashmir, and to make the alliance more solidly, publicly with India, including sharing with the Indians our nuclear technology to quite a considerable extent. I mean, a treaty, I think, is a resounding achievement for the Bush administration, and shows correctly what side we’re on. So solidarity with India seems to me to be culturally, politically, militarily, strategically, an absolute imperative, but I can perfectly understand that it is important not to make life any harder for those forces in Pakistan who are still sane, who are still secular, who still have some concept of civilization.
HH: Are you impressed with Zardari?
CH: No. I was impressed with his wife, his late wife, somewhat. I mean, she lied once to me with the most beautiful smile I think I’ve been lied to with by any woman.
CH: You won’t know what that means in my life.
HH: I can imagine, actually.
CH: When I asked her whether Pakistan was or was not trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and she absolutely fixed me with this topaz-eyed, wonderful grin and said no, absolutely not, how could you ask such a frightful question. She was a master manipulator, but she was a very, very brave person who absolutely understood that the worst enemy of Pakistan, and as of everyone in that sub-Continent, is Islamic jihadism. And she gave her life for it, and she knew every day that she was risking it. Her husband is not a patch on her, I’m sorry to say.
HH: Let me conclude by asking you, since you refer to Salman Rushdie, your friend, The Moor’s Last Sigh in your column, how does one begin to read Rushdie? Where do you begin? What’s the sequence you would recommend?
CH: Oh, well, the way to begin is really where his reputation begins, which is with Midnight’s Children, published now, gosh, nearly a quarter century ago, but an absolutely masterly fictional and yet realistic depiction of the terrible wound inflicted on the sub-Continent, especially on the city of Bombay, but on many other cities, too, by the disastrous British capitulation to religious sectarianism and the decision to partition India on confessional lines. We’re going to keep on paying, we’re paying now, we’re going to pay even more heavily for the mistake that he so brilliantly described.
HH: And if you want to advise a non-fiction work to anyone out there on how to get up to speed on India-Pakistan, where do you send them?
CH: Well, a very good book is by Ahmed Rashid, who was ahead of the game on this. He’s a very brave Pakistani journalist. The book is called Taliban. It was written before 2001, and it became very famous after it. It’s about what it says it’s about, but it’s also very much about the background of this in a way in which the India-Pakistan conflict determines the smaller one in which we’ve become so embroiled.
HH: With those recommendations, Christopher Hitchens, I will send people to your article in Slate, as usual, wonderful. Thanks.
End of interview.