This is an interesting discussion/debate from 2007. God is not Great had not yet been published ( Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man was just about to be released) but you can see him making the arguments he would use in the forthcoming God is Not Great. The topic of this debate was free speech, but it was necessarily about religion, as they were addressing the Salman Rushdie fatwa, the Danish cartoon incident, and other attempts to block free speech. He is at his sharpest. Good Q&A. A great watch.
I’m sure Hitchens would have had something to say about the events of this past week, regarding free speech. In Spain, police arrested street puppeteers for performances thought to be threatening. Also arrested were a poet and a rapper. These events are part of what some are calling an overreaction throughout Europe to terrorism fears, as explained in this New York Times article.
In the same week, the good leaders of Iran (through the state run media) upped the bounty behind the death fatwa on author Salman Rushdie, placed on Rushdie in 1989 for his terrible offense of writing a novel. As many of you know, Rushdie was a good friend to Hitchens, and Hitch went out on a limb at the time (when others did not) to defend his friend. Hitchens accepted the invitation to read passages from Satanic Versus shortly after the fatwa was declared (an narrowly escaped a pipe bomb at the event). Hitchens discusses the topic in this 2010 interview:
Yes, they are all nice faces, but beyond that, they are all trustees of Project Reason, an organization dedicated to spreading science and secular values, founded by Sam and Annaka Harris. Christopher was a trustee.
Project Reason is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. We seek to encourage critical thinking and wise public policy through a variety of interrelated projects. The foundation can convene conferences, produce films, sponsor scientific studies and opinion polls, hold contests, publish original research, award grants to other charitable organizations, and offer material support to religious dissidents and public intellectuals — all with the purpose of eroding the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world. While Project Reason is devoted to fostering critical thinking generally, we believe that religious ideas require a special focus. Both science and the arts are built upon cultures of vigorous self-criticism; religious discourse is not. As a result, religious dogmatism still reigns unchallenged in almost every society on earth—dividing humanity from itself, inflaming conflict, preventing wise public policy, and diverting scarce resources. One of the primary goals of Project Reason is to change this increasingly unhealthy status quo.
Please read more at http://www.project-reason.org/about/#sthash.h0wvHad9.dpuf
The site has trustee bios, but not much more. However, you can sign up to receive informational emails.
Hitchens and Rushdie shared a sense of humor, as Rushdie explains in this NYT interview. In Hitch-22, Christopher told about a game they played, [Book] Titles That Don’t Quite Make It, which is how the Hitch-22 title originated. Rushdie explains in this 2012 piece for Vanity Fair:
Hitch-22 was a title born of the silly word games we played, one of which was Titles That Don’t Quite Make It, among which were A Farewell to Weapons, For Whom the Bell Rings, To Kill a Hummingbird, The Catcher in the Wheat, Mr. Zhivago, and Toby-Dick, a.k.a. Moby-Cock. And, as the not-quite version of Joseph Heller’s comic masterpiece, Hitch-22. Christopher rescued this last title from the slush pile of our catechism of failures and redeemed it by giving it to the text which now stands as his best memorial.
When French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo was attacked on January 7, 2015, and 12 employees were gunned down because someone didn’t like the cartoons it published, I felt acutely, Christopher’s absence on the media circuit. While some were saying it was unwise for Charlie Hebdo to have published the cartoons in the first place (meaning they may have had it coming to them), I was glad to see that this time, many journalists and elected officials did speak up for freedom of speech (maybe this was a turning point?). As a staunch defender of the right to free speech (he described himself as a first amendment absolutist), Christopher certainly would not have been silent. Recall that he strongly defended Salman Rushdie, when a death contract was placed on him for writing a novel, and spoke out with conviction when Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, was stabbed to death after publishing cartoons some found to be offensive. If you are interested to know what Christopher might have said, here are three particularly relevant videos that may give us an indication (two brief talks, and one longer, good debate):
What do you think of freedom of speech for the theme of the first HitchFest?