Polemicist Christopher Hitchens suffers a beat down in Beirut

During his visit to Beirut last week, Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens was apparently beaten up in a street brawl. Hitchens was reportedly defacing a poster for a pro-Syrian party in West Beirut as members of the party happened to be out shoe shopping in the same area.
Christopher Hitchens: neo-liberal columnist and author of the books "God is not Great" and "The Trial of Henry Kissinger." © Felix Clay

BEIRUT, February 20, 2009 (MENASSAT) - Vanity Fair columnist and well-known polemicist Christopher Hitchens was on the wrong end of an assault last week when a group of thugs associated with the pro-Syrian SSNP (Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party) assaulted him in west Beirut after he defaced one of their political posters.

(Editor's update: According to Lebanese police sources, Hitchens was not attacked in Beirut, an article in Al-Akhbar stated, which appeared after this piece was originally published. The SSNP also denied the story and said that they had no posters in Beirut.) 

Hitchens had been in Beirut for a series of lectures, and was walking down Hamra Street in the main west Beirut shopping district when the incident occurred.

Reporting about the incident, The Huffington Post (HP)  said, “Later that night, three of our "scoop" brigade--Jonathan Foreman, Michael Totten and Christopher Hitchens--got involved in a street brawl with some thugs of a Syria-loving skinhead party called the SNPN (editor's note: HP is referring here to the SSNP)…..The attackers had apparently come out of nowhere on posh Hamda (editors note: HP is referring to Hamra Street), where they had gone to buy shoes."

In Lebanon, fierce political statements and street posters are the markers that often signify undying political or material support for political parties or organized gangs.
According to reports, Hitchens suffered gashed knuckles and bruises from the SSNP members for defacing their party symbol, or the  “swastika flag” as the Huffington Post called it.

Hitchens, a controversial American writer, professor, and cultural critic has been heavily criticized by many on the left for his support of the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Beating sparks discussion

According to the Angry Arab News Service blog, Hitchens, was on his way home from a bar round with friends when he attempted to write “Fuck the SSNP” over the party's poster.

That statement proved unpopular with the SSNP members, who happened to be walking by at the time.

“"I was on the ground and getting it in the head." It was a miracle they didn't pull Kalashnikovs,” a shaken Hitchens was quoted as saying in a Forbes article.

Hitchens, a known opponent to the Syrian influence in Lebanon, was in Beirut on invitation from the Hariri-Saudi group to give a lecture at the American University in Beirut about present revolutionaries in the Middle East.

Hitchens' beating sparked heated discussions in online forums and blogs.

The Abu Muqawama blog compared Hitchens' act to defacing gang signs in Los Angeles.

“Look, it's widely known that since the May 2008 events (when Hezbollah along with various groups, including the SSNP besieged West Beirut for a week) the SSNP guys behaved like thugs in Hamra. But seriously, would you roll into East L.A. and start writing over gang signs? I mean, is that smart?” wrote Abu Muqawama.

One too many

The article on the Huffington Post generated nearly 800 comments.

While some support Hitchens and condemned the SSNP’s violent response, others believe the writer received the treatment he deserved.

“Although I do not condone violence, it seems what he got was fair and square. He’s one big highly-prejudiced blind hatemonger,” wrote JagHef.

Writer Tim Searl reacted to the Huffington Post’s description of the SSNP’s flag as a “swastika” and said he found Hitchen’s actions a violation of free speech.

“They (SSNP) are not self described Nazis. Their flag is not a Swastika. They are a pro-Syrian party that believe in separation between politics and religion.

Mr. Hitchens and his rightwing friends, on a trip funded by an anti-Syrian group decided to deface a pro-Syrian poster, in a country in which he chooses not to live. Clearly that is not the action of someone who believes in the freedom of speech. Defacing other people's political posters is denying them free speech,” he wrote.