By Oren Rawls

Published October 03, 2003, issue of October 03, 2003.
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The Liberal Case for Palestine: “The loss of Professor Edward Said,” Christopher Hitchens eulogizes in a September 26 posting to, “will be unbearable for his family, insupportable to his immense circle of friends, upsetting to a vast periphery of admirers and readers who one might almost term his diaspora, and depressing to all those who continue hoping for a decent agreement in his birthplace of Jerusalem.”

Quite a legacy indeed.

Said died last week of leukemia, leaving a world in which East and West seem to understand each other as little as they did when he penned his seminal work “Orientalism” in 1978. His beloved Jerusalem is still in Israeli hands, and what territory the Palestinians do have is run by venal leaders. To hear Hitchens tell it, all the agony could have been avoided had the clashing civilizations adopted the good professor’s refined sensibilities.

“If Edward’s personality had been the human and moral pattern or example, there would be no ‘Middle East’ problem to begin with,” laments the Vanity Fair columnist. “When talking to him about the various types of sacred rage that poison the region, one gained the impression of someone to whom this sort of fanaticism was, in every declension of the word, quite foreign.”

Many supporters of Israel, of course, would take issue with Hitchens’s charitable take on Said’s legacy, arguing instead that the Columbia literary scholar legitimized more than any other the perception of the Jewish state as a colonial enterprise. In linking cultural power with the political power to dominate, Said gave intellectual credence to the argument that Zionism is the wrong — and immoral — answer to the Jewish question.

Hitchens, for his part, reads Said in a more humanistic light.

“It was the downgrading of the Palestinians to the status of a ‘problem’ (and this insult visited upon them in their own homeland) that aroused his indignation,” he writes. “That moral energy, I am certain, will outlive him.”

* * *

The Conservative Case for Israel: While the Vanity Fair columnist was warmly eulogizing one of the left’s leading lights, his brother Peter Hitchens was forcefully promoting a decidedly different set of family values.

“Conservatives should support the State of Israel on principle, just as the globalist Left seeks to defeat Zionism on principle,” he argues in the October 6 issue of The American Conservative. “Despite its socialist appearance — kibbutzes, female soldiers, and the rest — Zionism is a profoundly conservative idea.”

Just another Bible-thumping Evangelical Christian waiting for Armageddon, right? Not quite. The columnist for the London-based The Mail on Sunday, who only recently discovered his Jewish roots, makes the very case in defense of Israel that Edward Said made famous against Israel.

“Israel is the last major European imperial colony on the face of the earth,” Hitchens declares. “This makes Israel the permanent ally, in the Middle East, of the world’s lawful and free countries.”

Tied by culture and law to the West, he argues, Israel will never be truly accepted in a region “where cousin marriage and tribal loyalty are normal.” As such, patriotic Americans should further develop the common political kinship and come to Israel’s rescue during its time of unprecedented need.

“Conservatism is realistic, honest, consistent, and opposed to cant,” Hitchens bluntly argues. “It takes the side of the particular and the ancient. It sees virtues in Western civilization against its rivals. It penetrates the disguises in which history advances itself and is not fooled by passing appearances. It does not seek perfection, but it does try to be principled. On all these grounds, and because that country is threatened as never before by shallow and ill-considered idealism, conservatism should consider Israel an ally.”

* * *

Goodbye Gluttony, So Long Sloth: For those transgressors who have plenty to repent for this Yom Kippur, the headline to a September 15 article in the Associated Press might have given a moment’s pause to conversion. Alas, “Pope Accepts Resignation of Cardinal Sin” was only reporting on the retirement of Filipino church leader and democracy advocate Jaime Sin.

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