The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Fact-checking Hitchens on Animal Farm

Get it on Amazon.comThis morning I read this piece by Christopher Hitchens on Animal Farm, George Orwell's classic work of political satire. It's always great to read Hitchens on this kind of stuff, because of his Orwell fetishism, and well because he's such a great writer when he writes about what he knows well, as opposed to endorsing late fascist1 dictatorships in the Arab world.

I have two issues with the piece. One is trivial. Hitchens offers this tantalizing morsel, but no interpretation:

There is, however, one very salient omission. There is a Stalin pig and a Trotsky pig, but no Lenin pig. Similarly, in Nineteen Eighty-Four we find only a Big Brother Stalin and an Emmanuel Goldstein Trotsky. Nobody appears to have pointed this out at the time (and if I may say so, nobody but myself has done so since; it took me years to notice what was staring me in the face).

That's fascinating, I had never noticed it. It's hard to believe that Orwell would have spared Lenin. But perhaps it's that Stalin and Trotsky emerged rapidly as the prime engines of the Bolsheviks, each carrying out acts of mass violence (first Trotsky as army commissar during the civil war, then Stalin in his own military decisions during the civil war and later as architect of command center economics and permanent political terror.) Too bad Hitchens doesn't elaborate.

(Update: a commenter points out that there is a Lenin pig, Old Major, who's the one who has the idea for the revolution. He dies at the beginning of the second chapter (just like the real Lenin!) but before the animals take over, so it's not quite chronologically accurate — or perhaps he's meant to represent not Lenin but something between Marx and Lenin.)

The second thing comes at the end of the article, where he hopes that Animal Farm will come to the countries it is currently banned in, such as China, North Korea, Burma or Zimbabwe. He also writes:

In the Islamic world, many countries continue to ban Animal Farm, ostensibly because of its emphasis on pigs. Clearly this can not be the whole reason – if only because the porcine faction is rendered in such an unfavourable light – and under the theocratic despotism of Iran it is forbidden for reasons having to do with its message of "revolution betrayed".

I don't think this has been fact-checked. The Wikipedia entry "List of banned books" says:

In 2002, the novel was banned in the schools of the United Arab Emirates, because it contained text or images that goes against Islamic and Arab values.

There's nothing on other countries. Reading Hitchens' article, you'd think that there are no Arabic editions of Animal Farm. In fact you can get a bilingual Arabic-English edition here (or download a digital version) and, I would assume, the regular Arabic one in bookshops in most countries (hopefully not all editions have as ugly a cover as the one on the right.) You can find an extensive Arabic wikipedia entry here. sells an "Egyptian Animal Farm" in Arabic, by Mohamed Morsey, adapting Orwell to an Egyptian setting.2 If you're a fan of the cartoon version3, you can get Arabic subtitles here.

I'd be willing to bet that Animal Farm is used in schools in various countries, too. If anyone has information on whether it is banned elsewhere, do let us know.


1. "Late fascist": A term I use to describe the political systems most of the Arab republics, in comparison to Franco's Spain or Salazar's Portugal in the late 1970s or similar regimes based on public mobilization where the original ideological edifice of the regime is spent. Will have to elaborate someday, but today it applies to Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Syria. Also in some respects Iran. I think it may well have applied to most Eastern bloc countries in the 1980s.

2. It's self-published, you can get more details here.

3. Watch it on YouTube or get it on torrent sites.