Lebanon: Christopher Hitchens’ Beirut Scuffle Sparks Debate

Former leftist turned conservative writer Christopher Hitchens ran into trouble in Beirut last week when he attempted to deface a poster/memorial of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), a Hezbollah ally.

Versions of the event claim a heavily intoxicated Hitchens shouted obscenities at the party, ultimately resulting in an altercation with several SSNP members nearby.

Hitchens claimed to have been beaten by SSNP members who “had come out of nowhere.”

The confrontation exploded onto the blogosphere – reaching as far as The Huffington Post – with many Lebanese bloggers disagreeing as to who should take the blame.

Initially, there was doubt as to whether or not the altercation actually occurred. The Angry Arab News Service reveals that Lebanese police sources and the SSNP both denied the fight took place:

According to a Lebanese police sources cited in Al-Akhbar, Hitchens was not attacked in Beirut. And the SSNP also denied the story and said that they had no posters in Beirut. If this story is made up it would not be a first: remember that Hitchens claimed to have interviewed Abu Nidal, when there is no evidence whatsoever for that interview.

However, Qifa Nabki who attended the Hitchens lecture at the American University of Beirut that night confirmed the incident took place, but the beating was not as severe as Hitchens originally claimed:

Curious to see Hitch with a black eye, I headed over to the lecture which was entitled: “Who are the Revolutionaries in the Middle East Today?” The auditorium was crowded when he showed up, sans signs of SSNP punishment. He launched his talk by explaining that his real topic would be “The Ironies of History,” and proceeded to wax philosophic about the dangers of moral equivalency, the evil of Hasan Nasrallah, the greatness of Bush, the incoherence of religion, the need for secular nationalist revolutionaries, the white man’s burden, etc. It was signature late Hitchens: an arch and pompous parody of himself.

Elbowing my way to the front of the crowd after the talk, I managed to ask him whether the rumor was true. Had he, in fact, been beaten up in Hamra by the secular nationalist revolutionaries of the SSNP? It was, Hitchens confirmed. “They broke my glasses, tried to break my finger. They roughed me up.”

News of the incident was met with criticism of both the SSNP and Hitchens. The Blacksmiths of Lebanon blasted the SSNP for the fight:

In a remarkable show of versatility, the SSNP (Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, i.e. another outlet of Syrian “influence” in Lebanon) showed that not only could its thugs rough up local Beirut residents who rejoice over Syria's withdrawal from the capital and the country, but that they could also do it to foreigners who might be visiting the city and disapprove of their “swastika-like symbol” on posters plastered all over Hamra street.

Milder criticism of the SSNP comes from The Human Province, who writes:

The big news on the interweb from his trip is that he was beaten up by SSNP thugs for scribbling on their posters, as my friend Qifa confirmed with paparazzi flair after the lecture. I don’t really have much to say about that (in public), except that it’s shameful that the SSNP continues to run around beating people up with impunity.

Abu Muqawama condemned the SSNP's thuggery, but criticised Hitchens’ provocation:

This story has now been confirmed. Look, it's widely known that since the May 2008 events the SSNP guys have behaved like thugs in Hamra. But seriously, would you roll into East L.A. and start writing over gang signs? I mean, is that smart? C'mon, Brother Hitchens, we're rootin’ for you, but have a little walkin’ around sense. He was probably at De Prague. Where the wait staff is, like, 90% SSNP.

Following the confirmation of the fight, The Angry Arab News Service was scathing of Hitchens, and gave a full account of the incident:

I was just informed that the boring travel companion of Hitchens in Beirut, i.e., Michael Totten, confirms that Hitchens indeed tried to deface the SSNP's commemorative sign near Wimpy which notes the brave operation by Khalid `Alwan, a Beiruti young man, against Israeli terrorist soldiers who were sitting in the cafe defacing our capital. A small sign was mounted on the location of the brave operation.

Hitchens and his boring travel companion are making noises about the ideology of the SSNP and they have been referring to its “inverted” swastika. Now I have never been a fan of the SSNP and have been critical of its ideology, but the real Nazi party in Lebanon–for anybody who knows anything about Lebanon, which does not include Hitchens and Totten and that infamous Forbes writer who could not even get the date of March 14 right– is none other than the party that invited and hosted Hitchens in Beirut.

The right-wing Zionist apologists, Hitchens et al, were in Beirut at the invitation of the sleaziest political group imaginable: the so-called Now Lebanon media outfit (I call it Now Hariri), which is tied to Future (Hariri) media, which is tied to Quantum group which is tied to Lebanon Renaissance Foundation, which is tied to nepharious political projects in Lebanon with the stamp of Cheney-Bush-Hariri-House of Saud-Gemayyel.

The political coalition that hosted Hitchens in Lebanon include the Phalanges Party and Khoury's political affiliations are with the Lebanese Forces. So the closest to the Lebanese Nazis–the closest to the Nazis of the Arab world–are none other than the Phalanges and the Lebanese Forces, and one wonders if Hitchens heroic claims are true, why he was not seen defacing the crosses or the cedars of the true Lebanese Nazis.

In the Middle of the East also paints Hitchens as a supporter of Lebanon's March 14 coalition:

Also on this press junket was the by now utterly alzheimer-stricken Christopher Hitchens, who gave a lecture at the AUB last week where he managed to call feudal landlord and predictable weathervane Walid Jumblatt a ‘true revolutionary’ – the collective Lebanese audience nearly died laughing

I recently read his 2007 book ‘god is not Great – how religion poisons everything’, which, although it doesn’t contribute any new arguments or insights, is a highly enjoyable 300-page anti-religious rant annex atheist-manifesto. It is only marred by Hitchens’ irritating habit of  always trying to paint islam as just that little bit more irrational and destructive than christianity. And by every inane and wholly uninformed comment he makes to serve his neocon-allied March 14 paymasters in this country.

And in a lengthy rebuttal of Hitchens’ companion that evening, Michael Tottens, Nour at National Updates highlights the weakness of their arguments against the SSNP:

Michael Totten has a new entry here in which he tells his version of the “bravado” story of Christopher Hitchens being roughed up by members of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party after defacing one of their memorials. The story is filled with so many lies and distortions that I don't even know where to begin.

Michael Totten, Christopher Hitchens, and Jonathan Foreman, are three western neoconservative commentators and self-proclaimed intellectuals who can't read, speak, or understand Arabic, and who have never read any material on or by the SSNP, who nevertheless find themselves qualified enough to make judgments about the Party. It appears their entire display of arrogance was intended to make the claim that the SSNP is a Nazi tool of the Syrian regime employed in Lebanon to do the dirty work of Bashar al-Assad.

The most arrogant position by Totten and Co., however, is their justification of their own actions. That they went to another country and defaced a memorial there is treated as an act of heroism when in fact it was a criminal act of vandalism over which they would have been prosecuted in any other country. Had they done the same in the US they would have been arrested and at the very least fined for their offense. Had they committed vandalism in Singapore, they would have been caned.

Discussion of the incident is raging at The Huffington Post, with a comment left by AnthonyLee outraged at Hitchens’ complete disrespect for a foreign country by vandalising the SSNP poster/memorial:

For whatever reason the sight of the poster provoked offense or disagreement by Hitchens towards SSNP, in his capacity as visitor/guest, he acted recklessly and disrespectfully towards the sovereignty of the Lebanese People.

Emotions and sensitivities run deep with the citizens of Arab Nations, surrounding the perceived controlling “Western” ideologies and influences in the region. Our unwavering support of Israel's incursions into neighboring countries, breeds resentment and perhaps is an instigating factor in the Hitchens’ altercation.

HuffPo's/Forbes’ characterization of “Lebanese Thugs” having perpetrated the beating is unbalanced journalism. How about “Hitchens accosted and punished by Lebanese Vigilantes for vandalism” as a headline?


  • Ibn Verga

    Like usual first we have denial, “it did not happen”. then the victim became aggressor. The usual Muslim crap. You guys should finally learn how to act. On one side he was drunk. Normal people do not beat up drunks. Only consolidation I have that it took 3 Arabs to beat one British/American drunk. “God” help those guys if he was sober even with his fat pouch probably he would clean a floor with them.

  • Loula Koteas

    Why does the author feel that he has to refer to Hitchens as a former leftist turned conservative.
    Why must Hitchens be labeled this way? He does not label himself a conservatist. I find such labels reductionistic to the one labeled and a revelation of the author’s small mindedness in this case.

  • The question is why not? Why limit discourse? There is nothing erroneous in this article.

    He famously began as a left-wing writer, and famously turned ship a few years ago and aligned himself with neo-conservative thinking.

    How he critiques himself isn’t essential compared to the content he actually publishes, which has been far-and-wide conservative for several years now (bar his anti-religious stance).

    Small mindedness is for those who wish to limit discourse and selectively choose what is permitted for discussion and what is not.

    • Loula Koteas

      By being opposed to people being labeled is not an indication that I selectively choose what is permitted for discussion and what is not. Further, I do believe that it is small minded to reduce one to such labels.
      And I insist that labeling Hitchens conservative because he was/is not opposed to the Iraq war( a war that I personally am opposed to) is reductionistic.

  • From now on, I won’t leave my house without an over-sized sharpie. Just in case…

    • Loula Koteas

      Why is it so difficult for you to admit that pigeon holing Christopher Hitchens as a “conservative writer” is not only reductionistic but an unfair and inaccurate portrayal of a man who has a very progressive intellect? It is far more accurate for you to say that Mr. Hitchens has embraced some arguably right wing causes, notably the Iraq War. Instead, you decided to resort to sarcasm with your last comment. It’s a cheap shot.

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