Christopher Hitchens, perhaps cleaning himself for a trip to Mecca. Photo from Vanity Fair.
Despite his long history of unpredictable political and personal turns, Christopher Hitchens has completely shocked me with his recent decision to accept Mohammed as a prophet, a totally unexpected development coming so soon after his anti-theist polemic God Is Not Great.
The swaggering pundit made his devoutness evident in a very subtle fashion in an essay for Slate that touched on the controversy about Danish cartoons that mocked Mohammed. Hitchens wrote: “Not very long ago, [Kurt Westergaard] joined with other cartoonists in an open society in drawing some caricatures of the alleged ‘prophet’ Mohammed.”
Pay careful attention to the punctuation of that sentence. If you write “the alleged prophet Mohammed” that means you’re a disbeliever. If you go for simplicity and just use scare quotes to say “the ‘prophet’ Mohammed” you are again indicating a lack of faith. But Hitchens used both the word alleged and guarded quotes around prophet, indicating that he objects to who those who question Mohammed’s status as a messenger of Allah. This combination could be read as a double negative. Through this very sly grammatical trick, Hitchens is affirming his newfound faith. We can expect him to make the trek to Mecca fairly soon.
Or it could just be that Hitchens is now a clumsy writer with a sledgehammer prose style.
The Hitchens article by the way contains a fairly significant and telling error. He states that the only publications in America with the courage to print the Mohammed cartoons were “the conservative Weekly Standard and the atheist Free Inquiry — two outlets (for both of which I have written) with a rather small combined circulation.” He doesn’t seem to know or to remember that Harper’s, a very well known and generally liberal monthly, printed all the cartoons along with Art Spiegelman’s quite astute analysis. By ignoring Harper’s Hitchens is able to pretend that all mainstream journals were cowed, a typical example of how Hitchens is willing to forgo accuracy in order to turn issues relating to Islam into melodramatic morality plays.
(Thanks to Daniel Radosh for noticing Hitchens’s rhetorical overkill).