Caliph Omar, say hello to Peter Hitchens

Lest I might be accused of Islamophobia and summarily imprisoned (shot?), I don’t reject out of hand everything of Muslim provenance.

For example, I like the Moorish splendour of southern Spain, Avicenna, Persian rugs, Averroës, Lebanese food and Hafiz. I’m also greatly inspired by Caliph Omar’s terse explanation of why the Library of Alexandria should be burned.

“If these books say the same as the Koran,” he’s alleged to have said, “they are redundant. And if they say something different, they are dangerous.”

The story may well be apocryphal, but that doesn’t matter. For I’ve found the aphorism useful as a way of explaining my attitude to opinion pieces in our press and the people who write them.

Take Peter Hitchens for example, and, to paraphrase the American comedian Henny Youngman, please take him.

Whenever Peter delivers himself of views on Russia, his Trotskyist past shines through his conservative present. Putin, according to Hitchens, is the strong leader he wishes we had.

However, his idol is part of a package. If we accept him as an ideal leader, we must also accept having nothing but government-controlled media, an economy dominated by organised crime, millions of people half-starving, murder as a routine way of dealing with political opponents, government officials keeping ill-gotten billions in foreign banks, frequent acts of aggression towards neighbours, fixed elections – the lot.

Hence I put my Omar’s hat on and describe Hitchens’s effluvia on this subject as dangerously idiotic or idiotically dangerous, if you’d rather. Out comes a box of matches (only figuratively speaking, as I hope you understand before calling the police).

Yet on most other subjects Hitchens makes perfect sense, which is to say he agrees with me. That is yet another cause for a figurative auto-da-fé cum bonfire: everything he says I’ve probably said many times before.

For example, in his today’s blog Hitchens vouchsafes the information that, according to the former minister Andrew Lansing, Cameron’s negotiations with the EU are nothing but a planned fix, “right down to a fake table-thumping row with the French to make the Prime Minister look like John Bull.”

‘I told you so’ are among the most despised words in the English language but, at the risk of causing your contempt, here’s what I wrote on this subject on 25 June, following Her Majesty’s speech:

“The Queen, God bless her, doesn’t speak her own mind in public. She speaks the PM’s mind, in this instance Dave’s.

“That’s why one can’t really blame her for joining the campaign portrayed by the government as an epic struggle between David (Cameron) and Goliath (the EU).

“Against overwhelming odds, David claims to be swinging his slingshot loaded with the stone of reforms. The composition of the stone remains unknown, but then it’s only a tool.

“Any tool is designed to do a certain job, and Dave’s courageous efforts are no exception. The job is to get the Yes vote in the upcoming referendum, thus shutting up all those Little Englanders attached to our centuries-old sovereignty.

“The EU fanatics play along by playing hard to get, only to make Dave’s eventual ‘victory’ so much more effective. Thus a youthful French minister explained to Dave the other day that there’s no such thing as ‘à la carte Europe’.

“The culinary idiom comes naturally to the French, and they tend to use it with precision. True enough, no compromise is possible to the founding aspiration of the EU: a single European state.

“However, tactical concessions aimed at pacifying some restless natives are possible, indeed inevitable. When the time comes, Dave will bang his head together with the federasts, and they’ll figure out the sufficient minimum of concessions needed to swing the referendum the right way.

“Whatever it is, one can be certain that the concessions will be both meaningful and irreversible. However, to paraphrase Dr Johnson, the meaningful ones won’t be irreversible, and the irreversible ones won’t be meaningful.”

I almost feel sorry for Peter Hitchens. He just can’t win with me: everything he says is either wrong or redundant.

Still, he’s lucky that the laws of the land and my own pacific disposition combine to make the Omar solution impossible. If Peter ever burns, it’ll be from shame for having talked such utter nonsense on Russia.



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