The Malta Independent 17 November 2017, Friday

Interview with Peter Hitchens

Malta Independent Tuesday, 18 December 2012, 10:48 Last update: about 4 years ago

Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens is well known in the United Kingdom for his conservative views and blunt, no nonsense approach when discussing his beliefs, which tend to go against mainstream thinking in the media. When Colin Fitz discovered Hitchen’s connection with Malta (he was born here in 1951), he thought it was the appropriate time for an interview, considering the current local ‘dinosaur’ versus ‘liberal pig’ discussion.

What is your relationship with Malta?

Affectionate but distant. Since I was very small, I have been aware of my connection with the island. My parents were obviously happy there (my father was stationed at what was then HMS Phoenicia [Manoel Island submarine headquarters – Ed] from 1950 to 1952) and used to reminisce affectionately about it  A watercolour of a view towards St Paul’s Steps, commissioned by my father hung in all our houses when I was small and hangs in mine now. I treasure my splendid Maltese birth certificate, in English and Maltese, the size of a pillow case and signed by a police sergeant, and somewhere there is a copy of the Times of Malta in which my birth was announced. When I eventually returned as a conscious being, 30 and more years after being born there, I felt a strange sense of familiarity, something to do with the look of the sun on stone walls, and the quality of sound and light which only occurs on small islands in the Mediterranean, which I can only explain by assuming that as a baby I absorbed some part of Malta’s atmosphere and have never forgotten it. 

So you have you been back since your childhood…

I have been back twice. I remember a strange working visit to Valletta during the Bush-Gorbachev summit (1989), which was conducted in the midst of a severe storm, and once, nearly 30 years ago, for a brief holiday, during which I failed to find our old home in Valletta. It was mysteriously called ‘The War House’ , and famous in our family for being the scene of an accident in which my brother Christopher, then three years old, fractured his skull on the stone staircase, and nobody (including him) noticed for hours, until my mother was combing his hair. I was distressed to see that my actual birthplace, the old Blue Sisters Hospital in Sliema, was closed and shuttered. I did find one or two locations, by using pictures from my father’s old album, and he was pleased to see my more modern photographs of several places he knew well. I have never yet (to my regret) been to Gozo. I remember Malta as a very beautiful place, especially the Grand Harbour and Medina, and a very hospitable one.

Does Malta ever feature in your daily life or work nowadays?

Alas, not lately. I was sorry to see it swallowed up by the European Union, after striving so hard for independence from Britain.

You mentioned your brother, Christopher, who passed away last year – unlike you, he was a liberal and a world-renowned author of books such as God is not Great. What are your memories of him?

We fought a lot, partly because the place wasn’t big enough for both of us. I miss him a lot. He was my closest companion in my childhood, my oldest friend and the only person with whom I could share certain memories. He always wrote very fondly of Malta.

You actually started off as a left-wing Trotskyite as a student didn’t you?

Totally. I changed because I grew up and learned that the world was not as left-wing people pretend to themselves it is. Above all I learned that the simple desires of individuals, for peaceful homes, and to be able to sit under their own vine and their own fig tree, and to raise their own children in their own faith without anyone interfering, were the only ‘ideal’ worth pursuing. The secret of good government is to let men alone, not to tell them what to do.  

What forms of conservatism do you stand for, and what sort of liberalism are you against?

My conservatism is not political, but social, moral and cultural. I think many old things are old because they are good – cathedrals, the music of J.S. Bach, the Old Masters, Shakespeare, all these are incomparably better than the trash, or second-rate stuff which now infests music, architecture, literature  and painting.

I hate to see trees cut down, and find it hard to imagine what sort of person could imagine he has the right to destroy such a wonderful thing, which has taken so long to grow and can never be replaced. The same is often true of customs and virtues.

I am against anybody who would want to turn the world into a bare, treeless, concrete wasteland in which we all slaved in call-centres and sweatshops, travelling at the end of a weary day to cramped homes in which we gazed blankly at screens and consumed denatured foodstuffs, while our children were brought up (and indoctrinated in ideas that we do not share) by paid strangers. A ‘liberalism’ which destroys private life and cares nothing for beauty or tradition is just barbaric.

But I am for and alongside anyone who defends the freedoms of speech, thought and assembly, and the idea that, be ye never so high, the law is above you. These are the gifts that England gave to the whole world, and which it is now busy throwing away. I’m liberal as anything about them.

Your latest book is about the ‘war on drugs’ you say the UK never fought. Why did you take up this subject?

Because so many people in British public life were untruthfully, or (to be charitable, inaccurately) claiming that Britain’s drug problems stem from our strict anti-drug laws. This is a falsehood. Britain has decriminalised cannabis, de facto, and gone a long way towards decriminalising many other technically illegal drugs as well. Either they’re wrong or they’re wickedly peddling an untruth, with the aim of destroying what’s left of our drug laws and exposing the young, in particular to horrible dangers. Either way, I wanted to put them right.

How, in a nutshell, would you describe the illegal drug situation?

The possession of drugs is more or less decriminalised. This having been done, the legal pursuit of dealers and couriers is a useless activity, purely engaged in to give the appearance of adhering to international treaties on the subject. Something similar is happening in the USA, under the guise of ‘medical marijuana’ (a laughable  red herring). But the book is about Britain: I have not researched any other country.

What solutions do you offer?

None. Western civilization is committing deliberate suicide, and choosing to join the Third World in this and many other matters. The establishments of most Western countries (Sweden is a rare exception) long ago surrendered to drugs, and the people of these countries are either uninterested or complacent, or themselves heavily penetrated by the drug habit. It is another facet of the general collapse of the Christian religion.

How would you counter those people who say that a) marijuana is not particularly harmful b) that people should be allowed the individual choice of taking whatever drugs they like c) that being addicted to drugs is not a crime but a medical condition?

a) That they are dangerously wrong, as marijuana use is increasingly correlated with severe, irreversible mental illness, than which I can think of few worse fates.

b) That people who take it risk ruining their families’ lives as well as their own, not to mention becoming a lifelong burden on their fellow citizens, who will have to pay for their keep because they cannot support themselves. Drug taking is a thoroughly selfish act, but not one which affects only the drug taker. Its consequences are not limited to the drug taker.

c) There is no such thing as addiction. It is a concept invented to excuse human weakness. Nobody has to take drugs, and anyone can stop doing so if he wants. If this were not so, why do so many ‘addicts’ stop being addicts by their own volition? Brain chemistry may well change when people take these poisons, but it does not change so as to rob them of their will, or make them irreversibly dependent on these drugs to stay alive. It is harder to give up cigarettes than it is to give up, say heroin. Habitual drug takers become habitual (though not ‘addicted’) by deliberately and repeatedly breaking the known law. If the law were enforced, they wouldn’t do it. The more excuses we make for drug taking, the more drug taking we will have. This is demonstrably so over the last 40 years in Britain.

What has been the feedback to your books, including this one? Do you feel that support for your stances exists?

Mostly abuse, generally from people who have not read them. And yes, though this ‘support’ was once known as ‘common sense’.

Can you make a living out of being an author writing the sort of controversial books you do?

I don’t write books primarily for money (though one of my books did actually win me a rather wonderful advance). This is wise of me, because hardly anyone buys or reads them, and my ideas are so unpopular with left and right that they often don’t get reviewed, and when they do the review is often abusive. I have written five proper books, and published one compilation of old articles.

Why do you choose to tackle such subjects, and do you ever feel it’s too hard to go against mainstream media beliefs?

I hope that in time they might be read by those who need their reassurance, or who might see that there is sense in them. I have learned not to care about being shouted down, and sometimes to take it as a compliment, that somebody somewhere feels my ideas may threaten their complacency. Time is the only true judge of these things. Probably my books will be forgotten, as I will be, after I am dead. But every author has a secret hope that some part of his writing might outlive him. I choose my subjects, in general, because I get sick of conventional wisdom which is invariably wrong, and have a strong desire to tell the truth about matters where the truth is being ignored or suppressed.  

You are also well-known as a lay Christian who is not afraid of campaigning for a return to Christian values. What sort of Christianity do you endorse?

I am an old-fashioned broad church Anglican, 1662 Prayer Book, Authorised Version of the Bible, Hymns Ancient and Modern, uninterested in theological detail and whose faith is more or less summed up in Handel’s Messiah. All Christians are my friends and allies, unless they don’t want to be.

How do you feel about other religions and spiritual practices spreading in your country?

Oh, I think Christian countries and peoples must tolerate other religions, which often have important things to say to us, and be friends with their adherents, who are seeking the good in their own way, but not surrender the Christian nature of our cultures and morals.

How hard is it to maintain your faith, and declare it openly, in a modern age that seems to be embracing atheism?

Like leaping into a cold sea, bracing at first, exhilarating thereafter.

Is there any advice you feel you can give Malta on the subjects we have discussed?

No, I stick to offering advice to my own compatriots and my own country. Your country is your business.

Peter Hitchen’s six books are available via the Agenda website www.agendamalta.com, his blog on the Daily Mail website www.dailymail.co.uk, or other Internet book sellers

PETER HITCHENS ON HIS CAREER IN JOURNALISM

“My life has been unbelievably fortunate and enviable. Newspaper journalism has given me all I could have asked of it, and I am only sad that electronic media will probably eclipse newspapers in the end. I was lucky enough to see revolutions in Czechoslovakia and Romania, and to have seen at firsthand what Communism is actually like (now something people have forgotten). Out of my fascination with this other world grew an interest which would lead me to live with my family for more than two years in Moscow – in a grand Stalin-era block where my neighbours included the Brezhnev and Andropov families and a lot of KGB agents. One morning tanks came rumbling down my street, and that triggered the end, forever, of Soviet Communism, which once more I witnessed – I always remember the litter-bins full of torn-up Communist Party cards, many of them burning.

It’s a privilege so huge I keep thinking I have to pay for it by sharing the understandings of the world I gained from it, as I have tried to do in several books,  but those who haven’t seen these things don’t, alas, share the intensity of my fear that our wonderful , free civilization is at risk. I had never known, till I saw and lived in these places, how safe, happy and prosperous we were in our part of the world, or how vulnerable we were.

I tried for 20 years to get into North Korea (having stood at the Panmunjom border with the south and longed with all my heart to know what lay beyond the mysterious forests and the fences). It turned out to be, amongst other things, surprisingly beautiful, and utterly tragic. I long for its liberation, so that the poor people can eat properly and speak their minds – and also (a far smaller reason)  so that I can go back and find out what was really going on, as nobody was allowed to speak to me freely and I knew all the time that the truth was being concealed by my guides.  

I avoid war zones, and have only wandered into them by accident. They are terrible and fearful, and, having seen its face, I hate war now in a way that I wish I had done for much longer. People are far too ready to launch war in the belief that it will do good. Then only justification for it is self-defence.”

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS

Peter’s older brother, Christopher (1949-2011) was also a well-known journalist and author of several books. Ironically, Christopher’s views developed in a completely different direction than Peter’s, and he penned several books, among them God is not Great and a book critical of Mother Teresa called The Missionary Position. He spent some of his earliest childhood years in Malta and the island is mentioned several times in his articles, some of which are easily available online.

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