thomas paine

thomas paine

Christopher Hitchens - A Matter of Principle

6d ago
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To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle. George Orwell http://www.dailyhitchens.com/2011/01/reflections-on-political-violence.html What impressed me about this masterly speech was not so much the case itself, with which I already agreed, but the "decent respect to the opinions of mankind" that it exemplified. A decision to resort to violence was not something to be undertaken without great care—and stated in terms that were addressed to reasonable people. From his prison cell, Nelson Mandela had joined the great tradition of the French philosophes, of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, of Marx and Engels in 1848, and of Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1930s—of men and women who felt the historic obligation to make a stand and to define it. This is occasionally done by governments, as well, though usually in less lapidary prose: The Atlantic Charter of 1941 showed that Churchill and Roosevelt needed a credible and honorable statement of war aims (including the outline of a future United Nations). And sometimes it's done by rogues and fanatics: The Irish rebels' declaration of independence in 1916 and Fidel Castro's address to the court in his History Will Absolve Me are full of ethnic mysticism and blood imagery in the first case and grand-opera self-dramatization in the second, but the words still have some power, and they testify to the same requirement: Those who advocate violence are assuming a great burden of responsibility. Now look at the grinning face of Mumtaz Qadri, the man who last week destroyed a great human being. He did not explain. He boasted. As "a slave of the Prophet," he had the natural right to murder Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, not even for committing "blasphemy" but for criticizing a law that forbade it for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. And this sweeping new extension of the divine right to murder not only was not condemned by the country's spiritual authorities; it was largely approved by them. No argument, no arraignment, no appeal—permission to kill anybody can merely be assumed by anybody, provided only that they mouth the correct incantations. This is only one of the many things that go to make up the hideousness of Islamic jihadism, but I believe that it has received insufficient attention. Amid all our loose talk about Muslim "grievances," have we even noticed that no such bill of grievances has ever been published, let alone argued and defended? Every now and then an excuse is offered, but usually after the bomb has gone off in the crowded street or the "offending" person has been eliminated. Sérgio Vieira de Mello was murdered, and the U.N. offices in Baghdad leveled along with him, because he had helped oversee the independence of East Timor. Many Australian tourists in Bali were burned alive on the same retrospective pretext. Or it could be a cartoon. Or an unveiled woman. Or the practice of the "wrong" kind of Islam—Ahmadi, for example, or Shiism. Or the practice of Hinduism. Or the publication of a novel. But the sinister, hateful thing about all these discrepant "causes" is precisely the fact that they are improvised and to a large extent unpredictable. That, and the fact that no effort is ever made to say precisely why the resort to violence is so immediate and its practice so random and indiscriminate.