Uncivil Discourse: Mos Def and Christopher Hitchens on “Real Time with Bill Maher”
Heads up, y’all: this is not – repeat, NOT – an overly-intellectual or analytical post. I wanted it to be that at the outset. My favorite fellow dog-lover did an amazing breakdown/takedown on the issue of pronunciation, and I was really hoping that I could do something similar, if not quite as good. (Hey, I’m just sayin’, your girl knows when she’s outclassed!)
However, after having watched this clip for the gazillionth time over, I realized that there would be no way for me to approach this with anything resembling deconstructive objectivity. After mulling over why that was, I arrived at the conclusion that the reason is because I love Mos Def at exactly the same level that I despise Christopher Hitchens. So, any claims I made about being “fair and balanced” would be as phony baloney as the ones that Fox News makes. And honestly, at thirty-one, I’m trying to be less of an outright hypocrite. So…with all that said, I present my take on Def/Hitchens 2009.
0:06 The Coast Looks Clear: The clip begins with Mos Def asking what I feel is a perfectly valid question: does Al-Qaeda have a documented political manifesto, in the manner of other revolutionary groups.
0:39 The Voice of Reason: Salman Rushdie is quick to point out that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are two separate-but-related entities. Good on him.
0:51 The Fuckery Starts: Okay, let the record show that Chris Hitchens’ assholery shows when he is explaining what his understanding of Al-Qaeda’s mission statement is, as illustrated in the Bin Laden tapes (also available on YouTube). The camera cuts briefly to Mos Def at 1:01, giving the best under-cap-head-on-side-eye I have EVER seen. Congratulations, Chris: you have inspired his ire. ::: applauds :::
1:56 Chris Sets the Tone: Aaaand Mr. Hitchens manages to both put words in Mos Def’s mouth and a big ole foot in his own with that “Saying that elections are the work of the devil often means an undemocratic society.” Then he sidesteps by saying, “Oh, no, I’m saying that that’s what THEY say.“ And the subtext there is “…and you don’t want to be seen as aligning yourself with THEM and their whack job ideologies, now, do you?” I am fluent in the art of subtext reading, so I call bullshit. (This is not mere speculation on my part: towards the end of the clip, Hitchens confirmed this suspicion when he told Mos Def “I’ve met people like you before, I know how you think.” Really, Chris? “People like you”? Where is Al Sharpton when you need him?) Hitchens then goes on to say “[Al-Qaeda’s] objectives are to have everyone on their knees bowing in submission.” That’s not Al-Qaeda; that’s not even a proper reference to a caliphate, Islam or the Qu’Ran. That’s a dungeon party. So whatever, mane.
2:30 Okay Be Nice: I kinda wish Mos Def hadn’t talked over Salman Rushdie. Aside from the fact that it’s…well, rude, I’m wondering if Rushdie was put off enough about it to just kinda not step in when Hitchens took his prickmobile to full-throttle later.
4:38 Bill Maher Does Not Care About Radical Black People: “Assata Shakur? Who? I don’t who that is.” (*DEAD*) And now, a quick chapter of Black Radical history from Mos Def. Poor baby, this is the point at which he definitely succumbs to his frustration and views the whole panel as hostile.
5:48 Oh No You Didn’t!: Alright, calling Mos Def “Most Definitely” all snarky-like = a short walk to a long ass whoopin’. I’ve never seen anyone be this dismissive and openly disrespectful to any guest on his show. It’s galling to watch Hitchens goad him.
6:06 Aww, Sooky-Sooky Nah!: Bill loses control of the panel. Those worry lines have an expressiveness that always kind of fascinate me. I don’t know if he still smokes but you can tell that he did. Kids, quit before 35 or there is no undoing the dermal damage. Seriously, fuck it. Just get fat. You will still get laid.
6:13 Back the Fuck Up Chris: “I DO do research on my own account, so don’t start no shit, Mr. Hitchens. I’m from Brooklyn! I‘m not afraid of nothing‘!” <3 <3 <3
7:11 Oh, Dear, This Won’t Do: Poor Salman Rushdie, he actually looks a little scared, touching Mos Def’s arm. Imagined thought process: “Oh, my. I’ve heard about people from Brooklyn. This situation could escalate very quickly. Perhaps we can cut to a commercial? No, blast, it’s cable. Damn you, HBO!” And in my head Salman Rushdie sounds like Stewie Griffin. I realize that this is ironic on a number of levels.
7:18 Hitchens Tears His Ass For All Time: Guess what, Chris? The world is filled to bursting with people who don’t agree with everything your stankin’ ass has to say. That does NOT make those people, or their opinions, stupid. Quick hypothetical – would you be this much of a rancid dick with a White co-panelist?
7:26 Brills, Bills: Bill regains control of his own show. “Alright, Chris, let’s just say it was the scotch talking…”
7:34 Bill Reads From the Book of Regulations: “Chris, you just got beat up in Lebanon, let’s not have it here in Beverly Hills, too.”
…AND THE TAKE-AWAY
1.) When Mos Def was asking about Al-Qaeda’s manifesto, I think it would have been helpful for someone to point out that the Palestinian Liberation Organization, unlike Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, predated the successful faith-driven 1979 Iranian Revolution. People don’t always remember how significant a change that was, and how much it scared the beejeebus outta folks, but in these discussions not referencing it is fallacious because it makes it seem like all these “Muslim/A-rab/ terrorist/ululating” groups (God, I wish I had more than two eyes to roll) emerged from some ahistorical, chaotic, senseless ether. Also problematic are the conflations of notions such as “The Islamic/Arab world”… Iran, anybody? Contrary to what the Bernard Lewis/Samuel Huntington School o’ Politics would have us all think, “Radical Islam” (sigh) is not an ancient, embedded concept. It’s new, and if anything is to be blamed for it, it’s European colonialism and all of its ills. Not some kinda “screw-loose” gene specific to those nutty brown people. Fuck a duck.
2.) I’ve always liked Mr. Rushdie, more for his gorgeous intellect, elegant bearing and fortitude (seriously, the man is part human, part Teflon) than anything else. I’m ashamed to say that I found Midnight’s Children less-than-spectacular. But hey, when you can snag a woman like Padma Lakshmi , you don’t really need the approval of girls like me.
3.) Dante (Mos Def) and me need to start making li’l militant babies as soon as possible. They can talk like me. “Oh my God, like, seriously, I am so not gonna let your racist hegemonic agenda kill my buzz. You are, like, so nasty, and it is, like, so totally unnecessary! Revolution and junk!”
4.) I said this shit on Twitter but it bears repeating because it STILL blows my mind: Bill Maher drew a blank on Assata Shakur, huh? Hm. Maher’s “Not ‘Down’, Just Visiting” status is official. #rollcredits (Yeah, that’s right. I quote myself. I LOVE myself. If I don’t, who’s gonna?)
5.) Mos Def does not trust mainstream media. So? Is that a crime? A lot of younger people, critical thinkers, and bloggers especially just don’t anymore. For eight long years, any organization with a remotely critical stance of the Bush Administration felt its wrath in the form of everything from audits to Congressional hearings. Journalists and the editorial bodies they reported to became less interested in real reporting, and more interested in riding it out by toeing the line. When TIME Magazine named Bush the Younger the Man of the Year in 2004, it was a fucking wrap for me.
6.) Hitchens has a point about watching the tapes with an Arabic speaker. It’s just a good idea to do that, and if you want to get a better understanding of something without having the information be skewed by MSM’s angles, then you MUST do your own research. I still hate Hitchens’ jainky guts, though, and the fact that he deliberately provoked Mos Def and caused him to lose his temper was the nail in the coffin for me. The Rules of Engagement for debate for people of color are different: no matter how passionate we are about a topic, we are never permitted to raise our voices, or otherwise indicate a loss of composure. Because if we do, we are perceived as irrational and “angry” – and the validity of any points we make is compromised because of it.
7.) Bill Maher – while I don’t always like you, when you step up, you step up. Reallllly wish you weren’t a raging Islamophobe. Or a sexist arsehole to awesome progressive White feminists like Eve Ensler. Hm…weird that he’s always extra-polite with Black women, and most women of color, with the exception of the amazing Irshad Manji…and I suspect that had more to do with her defense of her adherence to her religion (Islam) than anything else. For what it’s worth, Maher made the Bush years bearable, and for that I’m eternally grateful to him. Hmmm. I dunno.
I guess I’ll keep watching.Explore posts in the same categories: Celebrity News, Current events, Media, mainstream, Pop culture, that's that BULLLLSHIT! comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.