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Christopher Hitchens on Osama bin Laden

Christopherhitchens_2010 On Monday, Amazon.com unveiled an essay by Christopher Hitchens on Osama bin Laden, "The Enemy." The essay is available as a Kindle single.

In it, Hitchens reflects on his thoughts on 9/11 through the news of Osama bin Laden's death in Pakistan. In classic Hitchens form, the essay is both thought-provoking and contradictory.

I thought then, and I think now, that Osama bin Laden was a near-flawless personification of the mentality of a real force: the force of Islamic jihad. And I also thought, and think now, that this force absolutely deserves to be called evil, and that the recent decaptition of its most notorious demagogue and organizer is to be welcomed without reserve....

I always argued that the threat from bin Ladenism was actually greater than was often alleged, since the mass indoctrination of uneducated young men with such ideas is in itself a lethal danger to society and to international order. However, I also wanted to argue that the menace of bin Ladenism was simultaneously being overrated. This was because, in common with fascism, it was also delusional and self-defeating ....

Although his references -- Friedrich Nietzsche, Susan Sontag, Bertolt Brecht -- may be more refined, Hitchens finds himself agreeing with the crowds who rallied in enthusiastic support after Bin Laden's death shouting "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!"

Amazon's Kindle singles combine short-form nonfiction and fiction into a single bestseller list. As of this writing, the list is topped by David Baldacci's short story "No Time Left," followed by Jon Krakauer's research-heavy article on Greg Mortenson's work, "Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way." Hitchens' essay "The Enemy," currently at No. 54, is $1.99.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Christopher Hitchens in 2010. Credit: Twelve Books

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"...thought-provoking and contradictory" .. I don't see the point on contradiction? Did you mean to say consistent?

The contradiction is that bin Ladenism was actually greater than people believed but at the same time was overrated.

No contradiction on Hitchens' part here; misunderstanding on the part of the reviewer is apparent, however. "Bin-Ladenism" is/was a force with the very real potential for mass destruction, but by nature is unstable and relatively small. the causes of terror will always be lesser than their effects; in this sense, Bin Laden was overrated. Considered apart from the fear he generated, he was a near pitiable man at the end. His ability to stoke such fear, though, and give it justification was what mattered. In this sense, he was both overrated and potentially catastrophic. The contradiction only emerges if you cannot follow the argument that Bin Laden was both, and I think Hitchens presents this clearly enough.

I saw no contradiction. Levels of complexity yes. Contradiction no.


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