Christopher Hitchens Never Said That Memorable Line About Islamophobia

When I posted Sam Harris‘ interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali last week, one of the most memorable parts involved a line attributed to the late Christopher Hitchens:

Harris and Hirsi Ali speak at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention in Australia

A few weeks ago, Ayaan and I had a long conversation about her critics and about the increasingly pernicious meme of “Islamophobia” — which our inimitable friend Christopher Hitchens once dubbed “a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.”

It didn’t even cross my mind to double-check that quotation at the time, because it sounds very Hitchens-esque.

It stood out to Bill Maher, too, because he repeated it on Real Time Friday night:

Maher:… So, [Hirsi Ali] was going to speak at Brandeis, but she has called Islam the new fascism, so they said she could not speak. And they said she was Islamophobic, who, my friend Sam Harris reminded me today that our deceased friend Christopher Hitchens said, Islamophobic: a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.

Because to be “phobic” is to be scared of something that you’re not usually scared of, like the great outdoors. But to be phobic about honor killings, or throwing acid in girls’ faces, or marrying them off when they are eight-years-old…

The definition was spreading.

But one person on Twitter realized almost immediately that this was all a misattribution. Hitchens never wrote those words. He did:

Indeed, Andrew Cummins wrote the definition more than a year ago (and claims he said it online even before then):

To his credit, Harris got the message. His interview with Hirsi Ali now includes this update (emphasis his):

A few weeks ago, Ayaan and I had a long conversation about her critics and about the increasingly pernicious meme of “Islamophobia” — which our inimitable friend Christopher Hitchens once dubbed “a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.” [NOTE 5/11/14: This wonderful sentence seems to have been wrongly attributed to Hitch (who was imitable after all). I’m told these words first appeared in a tweet from Andrew Cummins. Well done, Andrew!]

Not to make too big a deal of this, but this is what skepticism looks like. When we make a factual mistake, and we’re confronted with the truth, we shouldn’t be afraid to admit it and correct it.

Your move, pastors everywhere.

(via John Sargeant, who deserves a lot of credit for getting this story to a wider audience)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X