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January 21, 2007

HITCHENS-NAFISI REDUX --- Updated

Christopher_hitchens Note to readers: please see the important Update at the end of this post for a correction:

A powerful odor of mendacity, to borrow Tennessee Williams' line, floats over the head of my old pal and recent sparring partner Christopher Hitchens (left), for anyone who has read Hitch's review of Nick Cohen's new book in the Times of London for December 21. 

In that review Hitch repeats a demonstrably false statement -- he writes of "Iranian feministAzar_nafisi  Azar Nafisi (right), who three years ago dedicated her book Reading Lolita in Tehran to Paul Wolfowitz."  Now, the book in question -- an unforgettable and elegant memoir that examines important issues of identity and intellectual freedom -- does indeed bear a dedication, but it is to Nafisi's family. And the dedication reads:

""In memory of my mother, Nezhat Nafisi
For my father, Ahmad Nafisi, And my family: Bijan, Negar and Dara Naderi"

I thought this whole matter had been put to rest in an exchange about it on this blog three years ago. Hitch's original assertion about Nafisi's alleged "dedication" of her fine book to Wolfowitz had been challenged by the journalists Danny Postel and Jason Vest in correspondence posted on this blog. Both Postel and Vest have written extensively on matters Iranian (I highly recommend Postel's new book, Reading Legitimation Crisis in Tehran: Iran and the Future of Liberalism -- the title of which is a tip of the chapeau to Nafisi.)

When Hitchens' original mis-statement about Nafisi's dedication -- which came in a profile of Hitch written by The Independent's Johann Hari -- was brought to his attention in 2004, Hitch claimed to me -- in an e-mail posted on this blog -- that " I may have condensed or elided verbally in my conversation with Hari, who is a fairly meticulous reporter," and that what he had meant to say was that a certain "Paul" (no last name given) whom Nafisi had included in her book's acknowledgements was Wolfowitz. That is in itself an admission that Hitch's earlier claim that Nafisi had "dedicated" her book to Wolfowitz was untrue.

In a comment at that time which Nafisi wrote to be published on DIRELAND, Nafisi said in part: " I do not wish to enter a debate that will reveal nothing of significance, but will serve to divert attention from the substance of my book-- that is focused on the role played by imagination in creating spaces within an oppressive reality-- and from the serious political issues we face today that should be only discussed seriously, thoughtfully and through debates.

"I would like to bring to your attention that many people in my acknowledgments do not have a last name, and as I mention in my note to Mr. Hitchens, these acknowledgements were personal tributes to individuals who came from very different political spectrums and held opposing political views, and my one time association with them in no way reflects my political biases, and if others do not respect my wish for privacy I have to respect it myself and not give in to pressure and innuendos.

"When I was in Iran, the regime and some in the opposition both fabricated and used people's 'associations' in order to divert attention from the real issues and debates, I found this degrading and reprehensible, I am not going to give in to this practice over here..." You can read all of Nafisi's commentary by clicking here.

For any honorable person, that should have put an end to the matter. But now, three years later, Hitch -- in a blatant act of recidivism -- once again attempts to imply (wrongly) that Nafisi is in the same pro-war camp of intellectuals as he is (Nafisi is on record as firmly opposed to any military attack on Iran, quite the opposite of the view taken by Hitch's new neo-con friends.) And this time, Hitch can't suggest he mis-spoke to a journalist or that the journalist got it wrong -- the lie he uses to traduce Nafisi is from Hitch's own pen. And he knows that what he wrote is dead false.

In the ensuing three years since Az Nafisi wrote those words for this blog, she has become a valued friend -- and I have learned to appreciate even more deeply the subtlety of her thought and the depth of her commitment to rigorous intellectual honesty. I cannot let Hitch's latest dragging her into the mud of yet another of his undifferentiated attacks on the left with his faux "dedication" go unnoticed.

Hitch, despite our profound disagreements these last few years on the war in Iraq, George W. Bush, and other issues (anyone wishing to read my debate with Hitchens on these matters for the L.A. Weekly may do so by clicking here), I've never taken your ecological engagements to include the recycling of demonstrated falsehoods. But here you are, signing your name to a statement which you know to be -- without contest -- untrue, in order to score a debating point. And as the old saw has it, everyone is entitled to his own opinions -- but not to his own facts.

Yes, a powerful odor of mendacity...How sad.

UPDDATE AND CORRECTION:

I am delighted to be able to report that the clouds have now dispersed around the head of Hitchens -- the mendacious paragraph originated with Nick Cohen and was parroted by the Sunday Times of London. Here's the explanation:

Hitch, in response to my e-mail to him (sent before the above was posted) wailing about the mis-characterization of Nafisi's dedication, eventually e-mailed me to say that the paragraph in question about Nafisi's dedication was not written by him, but added by the editors of the Times.

Further, although the 'graph appears in the Times' online version as part of Hitch's review, as it also does on Nick Cohen's blog (where the review was reprinted in full), an e-mail from me to Andrew Holgate, Deputy Literary Editor of the Sunday Times, has elicited the further explanation that in the print edition of the newspaper, the Nafisi 'graph does not appear as part of Hitch's review but as part of a section added at the tail end of the review by the Times' editors, just as Hitch informed me, and was separated from the body of Hitch's review by graphics. Here is the text of Holgate's e-mail in full:

"Dear Douglas,
Thank you very much for your email, and thank you for pointing out the odd alignment of copy on our website. I can confirm that the copy at the end of Christopher's piece (under the heading odd bedfellows) was not written by him at all, but was actually in an add-on box of additional information. It was very clearly separated off in a colour box in the newspaper edition. We have now taken that information off the web-site
to avoid any further confusion, and will issue a correction online later today.
Thank you for pointing out our mistake.
Yours
Andrew Holgate
Deputy Literary Editor, Sunday Times"

In a subsequent e-mail, responding to my question as to how the Times came to publish the falsehood about Nafisi's dedication of her book, Holgate says that "The material itself was taken directly and in good faith from the Nick
Cohen book...we will be issuing an online correction."

And Nick Cohen himself, whom I also e-mailed, has responded and said that he will ask his publishers to correct in his book's second printing his unfortunate error completely mis-representing the Nafisi dedication.

Let's hope that in future the Times will be more careful when putting authors' words online -- and that Cohen will learn to open a book and look at it before he characterizes it.

I'm gratified that my blog has played a useful role in getting the record corrected, and Hitchens' honor in this instance is thus intact.

Posted by Direland at 10:06 PM | Permalink

Comments

Hmm, perhaps a lesson learned? About pausing a wee bit before turning on your friends, and shouting "Off with their heads!"?

Posted by: allgore | Feb 4, 2007 3:13:44 PM

Reluctantly, but re the spam by ``goblin'', may I suggest that you start requiring commenters to enter a password from a graphic, as 'tis done on other blogs. I don't like it because I often get at least one letter wrong, and have to try two or three times, but it will cut down on garbage comments.

Posted by: Paul Lyon | Jan 24, 2007 10:56:16 PM

Well maybe the real villian here is Rupert Murdoch and his minion's total disregard for anything resembling the truth. Consider the Murdoch media's recent "Story" about Obama's schooling. Can't be too careful guys.

Posted by: richard locicero | Jan 23, 2007 8:30:08 PM

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