Sunday 20 October 2019

RIP, Hitch

• One of the greatest public intellectuals of our time, the passionate and polemic journalist Christopher Hitchens, passed away last week aged 62 at the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston, Texas.

A man of staunch integrity, even in the face of grave aridity, Mr Hitchens made it clear that he did not feel he was engaged in a duel with cancer.

He painfully, yet honestly, articulated that chemotherapy felt like "drowning in powerlessness". In his column 'Topic of Cancer' in Vanity Fair, he expressed his animosity toward the cliche of battling cancer by asserting that "the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you" while undergoing chemotherapy.

One of the first words that comes to mind when hearing the name Christopher Hitchens is atheist, although he preferred the label anti-theist and hoped it would spread as a term among non-believers.

Mr Hitchens's strident and direct attacks on religious institutions and figures made him a popular iconoclast, especially on the video-sharing site YouTube, which facilitated the birth of a new verb, 'Hitchslap'. Mr Hitchens harshly criticised many public figures he had espied as malevolent. From Mother Teresa to Bill Clinton, if he felt you were a rotten character who was not being targeted accurately by the media, he was glad to take it upon himself to do so.

Although Christopher was notorious for defaming high-profile political and religious figures, let us not forget that he was an arduous defender of free speech and a loyal comrade. When the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on Salman Rushdie on February 14, 1989, after the publication of 'The Satanic Verses', Mr Hitchens defended his friend.

He emphatically supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with utmost integrity. Believing that the term terrorist was a stupid label to describe al-Qa'ida and Taliban forces, he instead dubbed them Islamo-fascists.

There is nothing that can assuage the feeling of loss that stemmed from the death of Mr Hitchens. He will, no doubt, live on through his beautifully worded columns, his charming interviews and his mesmerising books.

RIP, Hitch.

Oisin Keogh
Claremount, Oughterard, Co Galway

Irish Independent

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