Christopher Hitchens on Osama bin Laden: "a near-flawless personification" of evil

What does America's best-known atheist think about the death of Osama bin Laden?

Hitchens calls the threat posed by bin Ladenism "greater than was often alleged" yet "simultaneously ... overrated."

What would America’s best-known atheist and the author of several controversial books – including “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” which contends that organized religion is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children” – think about the death of Osama bin Laden?

Pretty much what most Americans thought, it turns out.

Amazon unveiled Christopher Hitchens's “The Enemy,” an essay available as a Kindle Single reflecting on 9/11, Islamic terrorism, counterterrorism, and the news of Mr. bin Laden’s death in the now-famous Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound.

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For a man known for his excoriating critiques, confrontational style, and controversial editorials, Mr. Hitchens offers surprisingly conventional commentary in “The Enemy.”

Though there are no surprises in his essay, Hitchens takes readers along through his own thought processes on the meaning of bin Laden and his death. The effect is sometimes contradictory, usually thought-provoking, and for those familiar with Hitchens, generally unsurprising.

"I thought then, and I think now, that Osama bin Laden was a near-flawless personification of the mentality of a real force: the force of Islamic jihad," writes Hitchens. "And I also thought, and think now, that this force absolutely deserves to be called evil, and that the recent decapitation of its most notorious demagogue and organizer is to be welcomed without reserve.

"I always argued that the threat from bin Ladenism was actually greater than was often alleged, since the mass indoctrination of uneducated young men with such ideas is in itself a lethal danger to society and to international order. However, I also wanted to argue that the menace of bin Ladenism was simultaneously being overrated. This was because, in common with fascism, it was also delusional and self-defeating."

Part of Amazon’s Kindle Singles program, “The Enemy” can be purchased for $1.99. The book is about 5,000 words. The Kindle Singles program also includes works like David Baldacci's short story "No Time Left," and Jon Krakauer's article on Greg Mortenson's work, “Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way.”

Readers can get another taste of Hitchens’s thoughts on the legacy of bin Laden in a Slate essay in which he slams Pakistan for its alleged complicity in sheltering bin Laden and conjectures that though the “martyr of Abbottabad is no more,” the defeat isn’t enough to render bin Ladenism dead.

“The uniformed and anonymous patrons of that sheltered Abbottabad compound are still very much with us," writes Hitchens, "and Obama’s speech will be entirely worthless if he expects us to go on arming and financing the very people who made this trackdown into such a needlessly long, arduous, and costly one.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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