NEW YORK (Reuters) - Already infamous for being the then-socialist who called Margaret Thatcher sexy and as the contrarian who loved George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, Christopher Hitchens now wants to rewrite the Ten Commandments.
Hitchens clearly is not afraid of taking on the big topics and in his new memoir, “Hitch 22,” the British-born journalist tackles everything from Iraq, the Middle East, Zimbabwe, wars and conflicts to his friendships with prominent authors such as Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie and Clive James.
When he is finished promoting the memoir, the avowed atheist plans to channel Moses and reinterpret the Ten Commandments. Call it a sort of sequel to his 2008 hit “God Is Not Great,” where his infamy soared after he took a break from knocking politicians and writers and instead picked a fight directly with God.
“Religion is the gift that keeps on giving,” Hitchens told Reuters in an interview, before rattling off a litany of failings of religious leaders.
Over a double-espresso and cigarette breakfast, Hitchens highlights his problem with the commandments, suggesting an omission from “Honor thy father and thy mother.”
“There is nothing to prohibit child abuse or rape or genocide, partly because ... (they) are about to be recommended in the next chapter (of the bible) on a grand scale.”
Warming up, he adds, “The first three commandments are all ... just about how to treat the boss with awe.”
Coveting thy neighbor’s wife? “It’s terrible,” he said. “It’s a thought crime.” Honoring the Sabbath? “Who cares about the Sabbath? That’s not a moral issue.”
As a journalist, critic and war correspondent, Hitchens, 61, made his reputation with his cutting pen and barbed repartee and his memoir is rife with his pointed humor.
He describes Argentine General Jorge Rafael Videla, who in the 1970s was responsible for the widespread torture, disappearance and murder of his opponents, as “Bony-thin and mediocre in appearance, with a scrubby mustache, he looks for all the world like a cretin impersonating a toothbrush.”
His book is also tender, including a touching chapter on his mother’s suicide. Critics have remarked how tenderly he expresses feelings for friends such as Amis — a platonic love he writes that was “the most heterosexual relationship that one young man could conceivably have with another.”
Hitchens admits to his softer side, saying, “I’m quite furry.” But instead of being called soft, he would rather people said that he was “a good lover.”
“That’s how I prefer to have it said. Do you think you could tease that in?” he said.
Like any memoir of someone who hob-nobbed with all society has to offer, there are plenty of juicy tidbits in “Hitch 22,” which was published by Twelve, part of Hachette Book Group Inc. There’s the Oxford party where he saw Bill Clinton, who he finds “sordid and shady,” munching on hash brownies.
And there is Thatcher slapping his bottom in public and calling him a “naughty boy.”
Hitchens dismisses criticism he moved from left to right to help Bush sell the public on the merits of going to war with Iraq in 2003 with what turned out to be bad intelligence about weapons of mass destruction.
“Saddam was an enemy of the civilized world and he should have been taken out a long time before,” said Hitchens, who retained his British citizenship when he became a naturalized American in 2007. “I have no regrets about that at all.”
Hitchens says he does not care about his legacy. “I don’t want to be vindicated posthumously. I want to be around to hear people say, ‘You were right about that and we were wrong.’”
He says he is most proud of the many books his A-list literary friends dedicated to him. His deepest professional regret was not writing more critically about Robert Mugabe before he assumed power in Zimbabwe.
“I knew that he was capable of becoming a monster but I did not think it was inevitable that he would,” he said. “I should have said more about the dark side of Mugabe than I did and ... I am rather ashamed of that.”
Any personal regrets?
“More people should have gone to bed with me,” he said.
Reporting by Mark Egan, editing by Bill Trott