Teresa: Ghoul of Calcutta

[The article below is written by Christopher Hitchens in ‘For The Sake Of Argument’, a collection of essays & reports, June ’93. The article first appeared in The Nation, a US monthly magazine in Nov 1992. This was the first article that confirmed my suspicion about Mother Teresa.]

[Ghoul n. 1. An evil spirit that robs graves and feeds on the flesh of the dead.
2. A person who robs graves. (From Webster’s College edition)]

Ghoul of Calcutta

By Christopher Hitchens

This column heartily endorses Governor Brown’s campaign against Bill (Spoiler) Clinton for the Democratic nomination and urges its millions of loyal readers to call 1-800-426-1112. However, this column cannot sit idly by and tolerate Jerry Brown’s repeated encomiums for the woman calling herself ‘Mother’ Teresa of Calcutta, a dangerous, sinister person who properly belongs in the caboose of the Pat Buchanan baggage train.

I first encountered M.T. in Calcutta in early 1980. While touring one of the less fashionable quarters of the city, I scheduled a drop-by at the Missionaries of Charity in Bose Road. Instantly put off by the mission’s motto (‘He that loveth correction loveth knowledge’), I none the less went for a walkabout with M.T. herself and had a chance to observe her butch style at first hand. There was something in the way she accepted the kisses bestowed on her feet, taking them as no more than her due, that wasn’t quite adorable, but I held my peace until we got to the orphanage. Although built on a tiny scale in relation to the problem, this was in many ways an exemplary place. A small vacant cot told that one innocent hadn’t made it through the night. I was about to mutter some words of praise for the nurses and was even fumbling in my pocket when M.T. announced: ‘You see, this is how we fight abortion and contraception in Calcutta.’ Squeamish as I am on the abortion question, I had seen enough of Bengal to know that the last thing arguably the very last thing that it needs is a campaign against population control. M.T.’s avowed motive somewhat cheapened the ostensible work of charity and made it appear rather more like what it actually was: an exercise in propaganda. Propoganda for the Vatican’s heinous policy of compelling the faithful to breed, and of denying where it can the right of nonbelievers to get hold of birth control. I have met numerous relief workers in my reporting life, many of them battling in conditions far worse than Bose Road, but they have usually been doing the work for its own sake.

After this experience with the leathery old saint, I kept up an M.T. watch of sorts. I wasn’t surprised to see her turn up in Haiti a few years later, as a kind of paid confessor to the Duvalier gang. When Michele Duvalier started emulating Eva Peron in her enthusiasm for Potemkin clinics, M.T. was on hand to sanctify the vulturelike regime. ‘I have never seen the poor people being so familiar with their heads of state as they were with her,’ croaked M.T. approvingly. ‘It was a beautiful lesson for me. I’ve learned something from it.’ She then jetted off to Beirut to bind up Lebanon’s wounds as a guest of the Phalangists. THe ‘beautiful lesson’ imbibed in Haiti was soon to be shared with the long-suffering people of Albania. (M.T., whose family name is Bojaxhiu, was born in the Albaninan-speaking Yugoslav province of Kosovo and has been, since the death of John Belushi, the world’s most famous Albanian.) In August 1989 she made an official visit to the worst of all Stalinist tyrannies, as the personal guest of Nexhmije Hoxha, official widow of the dictator and a rival in tempestuousness to Michele Duvalier herself. M.T., who has long been allied with the more fanatical wing of the impassioned speeches about the ‘brothers and sisters’ of Kosovo. She certainly knew what she was doing. Ramiz Alia, Hoxha’s successor, had in his younger days been a member of the ultra-fascist Albanian Youth of the Lictor. Under the direct patronage of Mussolini and the Vatican, this outfit stood for the twin objectives of Greater Albania and the forcible conversion of the Balkans to Catholicism. M.T., having lent her imprimatur to the most thuggish elements of Albanian irredentism, spent the rest of her visit as the guest of Health Minister Ahmed Kamberi, and made a number of affecting remarks about the beauty and spirit of the children in Stalinist orphanages. No doubt the motto about lovers of corrections and lovers of knowledge was ready to hand.

Having prostituted herself for the worst of neocolonialism and the worst of Communism, it was an easy and worldly step to the embrace of the worst of capitalism. During the heroic period of the S&L bonanza, M.T. nursed at the ample tit of Charles Keating, of Lincoln Savings and Loan of California. According to Nan Goldin, who made the splendid PBS Frontline documentary use of a company plane’ from the ascetic Keating when he was at the height of his charitable powers. Patricia Johnson, Keating’s PR flack, recalls that Keating ‘carried in his pocket a crucifix that Mother Teresa had given him when they first met. And he carried it always.’ Another bargain for Mr. Keating. I wonder where the money is now.

Brave and honest humanitarian workers are to be found all over the globe, and though I have never met one, there are conceivably some modest and selfsacrificing missionaries also. How has the extrodinary deception of M.T. come to be perpetrated so widely? As far as one can determine, the M.T. myth began after a British poseur named Malcolm Muggeridge found himself in the steps of St. Paul. A likable old sinner in his way, Muggeridge took to piety and censure in his senescence and could usually induce the BBC to film him standing next to some phoney shroud or blubbering wooden statuette. Ready to spend time but not too much time among the lepers and beggars, Muggeridge got himself to Calcutta and struck pay dirt with a flying visit to Bose Road. And a star was born.

‘The Pope is still fornicating with the Emperor,’ wrote Dante in one of his pithier staves, and with M.T. one sees yet again the alliance between ostentatious religiosity and the needs of crude secular power. This is, of course, a very old story indeed, but when one surveys the astonishing, dumb credulity of the media in the face of the M.T. fraud, it becomes easier to understand how the sway of superstition was exerted in medieval times. Jerry Brown currently suffers from the ‘perception’ that he is somewhat rudderless intellectually. He couldn’t make a better move than dropping the hell bat over the side.

READ more articles on Teresa on this blog.

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