Agam's Gecko
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Hitchens and Galloway DebateTHE GRAPPLE IN THE APPLE

here once was an event called the "Thrilla in Manila". There was also something in the long distant past called a "Rumble in the Jungle". But early this morning (Thailand time) I was very fortunate to be able to listen in on the clashing sounds of a very different sort of non-contact pugilism, this time originating from somewhere in downtown Manhattan. It was the long awaited face-off between Christopher Hitchens and George Galloway, debating over the issue of whether Iraq should have been -- or should not have been -- liberated from its decades-long night of sadistic tyranny. The proposition up for debate, as it was put to the house: "The March 2003 Iraq war was necessary and just."

But before anyone jumps to any conclusions about the framing of the proposition to that side of the argument rather than the other, I will note that the hosting and sponsorship of this event (as read out by moderator Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now!) was a list of "progressive" media, socialist and Arab-American organisations, think tanks for "social change" and so on. I was certainly curious to see whether Ms. Goodman would be a fair moderator and keep her own well known views on this issue out of it (the event was also touted as a part of her own book promotion tour, and alongside the two contenders she ended the night signing copies of her latest book, The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them). I thought she did well in not showing any favouritism -- although this only caused the post-debate Pacifica Radio commentators to criticise her for having been too soft on Hitchens. The pre and post debate anti-liberation polemics, spun by the Pacifica commentators and their single-sided assembly of pundits, seemed a bit too "over the top" to be considered as fair coverage of a debate -- but this was in all ways a far cry from the Harvard University debates in which the audience is admonished from any kind of applause or jeering, and where only the most sedate and dignified calls of "hear, hear" or "shame" are permitted. This event sounded as though it was broadcast from inside some sort of zoo, although I understand it was a venue known as the Baruch College Performing Arts Center.

Now to the contenders. Both men were in top form, and it was a no-holds-barred scrap almost from the outset. Galloway was as full of thunder as I've ever heard him, hyped right up and going full tilt boogie in his truly inimitable style. His problem was that as much as he could keep up the bluster for a full non-stop 15 minutes in his first segment (and the subsequent 10 and 5 minute segments each were allotted), there was precious little of any substance beyond the same catalogue of (Can't Seem to) MoveOn (Yet) style talking points, which we all must have memorised by now after 2 1/2 years of it.

Contrarily, Hitchens used most of his opening 15 minutes to deliver an eloquent and ethical rationale for liberation, based in large part on his own long and direct experience with Iraqis, and especially with Kurdish Iraqis -- experiences sufficiently powerful to have caused him to re-examine his own previous opposition to the first Gulf War in 1990. Equally passionate but without George's empty thundering bluster, Hitchens laid out the logical and compassionate case for liberation, enumerating many key points of fact which an amazing proportion of people on the other side of the issue remain blissfully unaware. Also to his credit, he preceded his opening presentation with a request for a moment of silence in honour of the estimated 160 Iraqis killed that very morning by the "Al Qaeda in Messopotamia" death cult whom some persist in calling freedom fighters. The victims were mostly the Shia Muslim innocent civilians against whom Zarqawi has now declared flat-out war, and who comprise over 60% of Iraq's population. The moment of silence didn't last long before bozos in the crowd, who presumably admire these murderers, started the catcalls. Hitchens graciously thanked them for their comments.

He saved only about two minutes of his opening time, for his first reference to Mr. Galloway's own record. Following his calmly delivered and persuasive case, it went something like this:

"Now I could have said this in front of any audience, and against any antagonist. But in my last two minutes I will have to say that I believe it is a disgrace that a member of the British House of Commons should go before the United States Senate Subcommittee, and not testify -- but decline to testify, and to insult all those who tried to ask him questions, with the most vile and cheap guttersnipe abuse. I think that's a disgrace. [supportive applause, quickly overwhelmed by a pandemonium of jeering] I've got one minute! And... it is worse than a disgrace... That's not coming out of my time. If you knew how you looked and sounded comrades when you do that, well you... the cameras can take care of it.

It is not just a disgrace, it is a crime that Mr. Qadaffi (a slip of the tongue, he means Galloway of course... heh...) has profitted from the theft of money from the Iraqi "Oil for Food Program", has told continuous lies about his profiteering from it and the foul associates that he made, at a time Iraqi children were dying and eleven billion from this program -- eleven billion -- went to the murderer and criminal and sadist and fanatic Saddam Hussein. How can anyone who's a business partner of this regime show their face in a city like this? And not content with it.... not content with it! Not content with it, he turns up in Damascus!

"The man's search for a tyrannical fatherland never ends. The Soviet Union's let him down. Albania's gone. The Red Army's out of Afghanistan and Czechoslovakia. The hunt persists! Saddam has been overthrown, and his criminal connections with him have been exposed -- but on to the next. On the 30th of July, in Damascus in Syria, appearing -- I've given it all to you on a piece of paper -- in front of Mr. Assad, whose death squads are cutting down the leaders of democracy in Lebanon as this is going on, to tell the Syrian people they're fortunate to have such a leader. The slobbering dauphin who they've got because he's the son of the slobbering tyrant who came before him. How anyone with a tincture of socialist principle can actually speak in this way, is beyond me and I hope ladies and gentlemen, far beyond you and far beneath your contempt. Thank you."
From this point in the proceedings, the stage was set for the fireworks to come. The energy stayed at a high level most of the way through to the closings, but it seemed to me that Galloway ran out of steam before Hitchens did. Indeed at one point he seemed to be pleading for it to be over! In my own biased opinion, Galloway demonstrated his celebrated gift for bombast with little if any actual substance, and Hitchens ate him for breakfast in a calm and collected manner. I doubt that many of the committed on either side of the issue would have changed their minds after hearing or watching this, but I suspect that any who were still persuadable by fair and rational argument, would have been far more likely to be swayed by the man on the affirmative side of the proposition.

The quip in my transcription about having "given it all to you on a piece of paper" is a reference to Hitchen's re-enactment that afternoon of his "Trotskyite popinjay" past, as he had run off copies of leaflets (available here in pdf if you'd care to run off some copies yourself) which he handed out to the arriving throngs from the sidewalk. He seems to feel that Galloway's record ought to be better known than it is. Maybe Galloway's upcoming tour with Jane Fonda over the next few weeks will help in that regard also.

Read Hitchens' pre-debate column in Slate, and then -- while it's still available -- listen to the event. If that link doesn't work for you, there are other links on the KPFT page. Be warned that the playlist came up with 7 files, and some of those are just the pre and post game Pacifica chatter interspersed with revolutionary anti-imperialist hip-hop or something. So if you've only got time for the meat, here's all you need: Part I and Part II. Each file is around 10 Mbyte and both are just under one hour.

And if anyone would like to watch the video, it is being played on C-SPAN 2's Book TV this weekend. Find the link to the video stream there, or from C-SPAN's homepage (near the bottom under "Live Streams"). C-SPAN 2 on Saturday, September 17 at 9:00 pm EDT and Sunday, September 18 at 12:00 pm EDT and Monday, September 19 at 5:30 am EDT. For international audiences, that translates as Sunday, September 18 at 0100 GMT and Sunday, September 18 at 1600 GMT and Monday, September 19 at 0930 GMT.

And finally, apologies for my long radio silence these few weeks. I'll try to get back into the groove with another post soon, perhaps tomorrow. My VIP guest flew out of the Big Mango last night, and is missed already.

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