Shame on You, Rick Warren
Still more reasons to boot the huckster of Saddleback from the inauguration.
It seems to have been agreed by every single media outlet that only one group has the right to challenge Obama's promotion of "Pastor" Rick Warren, and that group is the constituency of politically organized homosexuals. But why should that be? Last week, I pointed out that Warren maintains that heaven is closed to Jews and that his main theological mentor was a crackpot "end-of-days" ranter. Why is this not to count against him as well? Do we need our presidential invocation to be given by a bigmouth clerical businessman who is, furthermore, a religious sectarian? Let me add a little more to the mix. In November 2006, Warren made a trip to Syria and was granted an audience with the human toothbrush who has inherited control of that country and all its citizens. Bashar Assad, the dictator of Syria, is also a religious sectarian—his power base is confined to the Alawite sect—and in the intervals of murdering his critics in Lebanon, he does not expect to receive very many distinguished American or European guests. Of late, the most eminent I can think of have been David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and George Galloway of Britain's so-called Respect Party, and I believe only Galloway—an old fan of Baathism in all its forms—got an audience with the Grand Toothbrush himself.
Whatever time Warren managed to get with the dear bristled leader was not wasted—you should check out the hilarious parody of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza that accidentally results from the official photograph—and whatever hospitality he received from the Syrian authorities did not go unreturned. "Syria," he told his viewers back home by video, is "a moderate country, and the official government rule and position is to not allow extremism of any kind." This is a highly original way to describe a regime that is joined at the hip with the Iranian theocracy, that is the patron of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and that is the official and unabashed host of the fugitive Hamas leadership whose military wing directs massacre operations from Damascus itself. (One might also add that the Syrian Baath Party's veteran defense minister, * Mustafa Tlas, published a book under his own name that accused Jews of using the blood of non-Jewish children for the making of those ever-menacing Passover matzos. I suppose it depends how you define extremism.)
According to an undenied report from the Syrian state news agency, SANA, Warren followed his Assad meeting with another get-together, this time with a mufti. The resulting press communiqué read like this:
The Mufti called for conveying the real image of Syria, national unity and its call to spread peace, amity and justice to the American people which the US has distorted their image throughout the world. Pastor Warren expressed admiration of Syria and the coexistence he saw between Muslims and Christians, stressing that he will convey this image to his church and country.
(As one who has spent time in Syria, I can confirm that the official translations are indeed of that abysmal level. But Warren cannot wriggle out in this fashion, because most of the worst of what he said was recorded and transmitted in his own voice.) Our good pastor also found the time to tell his captive audience—if I may use such an unoriginal phrase in a literal way—that 80 percent of his countrymen opposed the administration's policy in Iraq. Assume yourself, dear reader, to be one of that possible 80 percent. Did you ever ask to be spoken for by Warren, who was a guest of a regime that sponsors al-Qaida infiltrators in Iraq, or to see him denounce the administration in front of an audience of Syrians that had no choice but to listen to whatever it was told? For shame.
And a shame, too, that on Inauguration Day we may also have to stand still—out of respect rather than fear, it is true—and listen to a man who is either a half-witted dupe, a hopeless naif, a cynical tourist who does favors for the powerful, a religious nut bag, a cowardly liar, or perhaps some unappetizing combination of all five. I personally think that the all-five answer is the correct one, because you cannot just find yourself in Syria, smirking into the face of the local despot and being treated like a treasured guest. The thing has to be arranged, and these things take time. So what was the motive? Listen again to Warren's driveling broadcast for the folks back home at the megachurch:
In fact, you know Saul of Tarsus—Saul was a Syrian. St. Paul, on the road to Damascus, had his conversion experience, and so Christians have been here the longest, and they get along with the Muslims, and the Muslims get along with them. There's a lot less tension than in other places.
I can absolutely see what Warren hoped to get out of this sordid little trip, the evidence of which he vainly tried to conceal when it threatened to become embarrassing. He wanted to be on video for his open-mouthed followers as he posed "on the road to Damascus." And he didn't care what deals he had to make, with Baath and Toothbrush Central Command, in order to bring off such a fundraising coup. But now it's the sandals of Obama that are being exploited by the same tub-thumper, and one has not merely a right but a duty to object to having as an inaugural auxiliary a man who is a pushover for anti-Semitism, Islamic sectarianism, "rapture" theology, fascist dictatorship, 10th-rate media trade-offs, and last-minute panicky self-censorship all at the same time. Is there nobody in the Obama camp who can see that this is not just a gay issue? And is there no gay figure who can say that Warren is objectionable for reasons that have more to do with decency, democracy, and the Constitution? The televised, Bible-bashing entrepreneur is perhaps the single most unattractive and embarrassing phenomenon that modern American culture has ever produced. It would be nice if we could begin a new era in the absence of this racket and these racketeers, and if enough people can find their voices, we still may be able to do so.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Bashar Assad by Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images.