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The world according to Hitchens

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The world according to Hitchens
Weighing in on future of Europe. '(The Russians) were waiting until they were strong enough to announce their intentions'

The recent Russian military strike in Georgia has suddenly shown Moscow to be as big a wild card in Europe's political future as the question of whether or not European countries will make a place for sharia law, says British-born author and political commentator Christopher Hitchens.

In a wide-ranging interview before his speech last night in Montreal on the future of Europe, Hitchens said preoccupation with the political implications of rising Muslim populations in Europe has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the apparent rebirth of Russian imperialism.

"(The Islamic question) has been eclipsed by the very sudden realization that the Russians were not just wasting or biding their time over the last 10 years, but under (leader Vladimir Putin) were waiting until they were strong enough to announce their intentions, which they have suddenly done (in Georgia)," said Hitchens, contributing editor of Vanity Fair and columnist for .

"We are now faced with Russian imperialism, not of the Bolshevist kind but of the much more traditional czarist, right-wing-chauvinist, Russian Orthodox Christian kind. It could be more menacing because it might be less amenable to reason or deterrence and therefore it could be less stable, less rational."

Hitchens elaborated on these same parallel plot lines of Russian and Islamic influence on the future of Europe in his 30-minute speech last night at the inaugural 357c Speakers Series at Ex-Centris on St. Laurent Blvd. The Gazette and La Presse are media partners in the speakers' series, which is to continue through next May.

Hitchens spoke with The Gazette for close to 30 minutes at Club 357c yesterday. Here are some highlights:

On whether he agrees with Bernard Lewis of Princeton University that rising Muslim immigration will probably make Islam the majority religion in Europe in 100 years and push the continent toward political chaos.

"Your fellow countryman Mark Steyn ... (formerly of the National Post) makes similar sorts of exponential projections, of which I am a bit dubious because they don't allow for various things: the number of Muslims who come to Europe to get away from (Islamic fundamentalism) or the number of Muslims who will be born (in Europe) who won't want to be treated as if they were at one with Pakistan. So you never know. There might be exemplary forces in the other direction (i.e, resulting in better integration)."

On how he has been described in the English-speaking world as a polemicist, essayist, commentator and pamphleteer, but very rarely as an "intellectual" in the more common French or non-anglo-American use of the word.

"There are two prefaces to the word intellectual that make people uneasy with it. In the English-speaking world, one of these prefaces is pseudo. People are nervous about being called an intellectual. They'd rather not be called one than be called a pseudo-intellectual. Even more bizarre is the preface public. As if one could be a private intellectual, a secret intellectual."

On what he thinks of Liberal member of Parliament Michael Ignatieff - like Hitchens in 2003, a left-wing intellectual who surprised people by coming out in favour of the invasion of Iraq. Hitchens has since moved to the political right; Ignatieff lost his bid in 2006 to become federal Liberal leader.

"I know Michael. He's never going to be a right-wing intellectual. ... I think he wished he had waited."

On the impasse within the Quebec separatist movement.

"My understanding of it is that now there are enough members of the francophonie - from places like Haiti - who don't want separatism that it is never going to happen now. It's always just off the boil. And thus you have to suspect that politicians who call for it are engaged in a certain amount of bravado - 'Hold me back before I tear the guy's throat out.' "



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