Friday, February 09, 2007

A is for Amnesty

I might turn these into an "alphabet of Decency" or I might not. Even if I do it will not appear in alphabetical order or a timely manner, because at present all I can thinkof is "C is for Chalabi" and "V is for Vietnam".

As the name change above suggests, we are a) no longer following Nick Cohen in the kind of comprehensive manner of the recent past and b) taking on a wider role with respect to the "Wide World Of Decency". We are therefore giving ourselves an "amnesty" on writing a full review of the book. I still quite honestly can't read it; it really is like being cornered in a bar by someone who feels himself to have been poorly treated in a dispute with his neighbour over the location of a fence. I'm dipping in, taking subjects from the index to see if they've been treated well.

I think that the treatment of Amnesty International has to be considered a touchstone for whether this is an honest book (and more widely, whether the Euston Manifesto[1] movement is an honest movement). Amnesty International is a really very honest and small 'd' decent organisation, and if you're trying to screw Amnesty International, then in my view there is by that token something wrong with you.

Specifically, it has to be counted a test of Nick's sincerity, because Amnesty International has specifically done what Nick claimed the "liberal left" ought to do. Ever since the war, Amnesty has been supporting human rights in Iraq. They are specifically campaigning for prosecutions to be brought against Baathist torturers and killers. Amnesty has led the way in supporting civil rights and the rights of women in the Islamic world. Nick has himself used Amnesty as a source in the last two years, for a 2005 piece on striking Iranian bus drivers. So, in other words, they have clearly not "gone berserk" in Nick's sense. They opposed the war and they strongly criticise the human rights abuses of the war on terror, but they also criticise Islamic regimes and they cannot possible be interpreted as supporting the Taliban or the Iraqi insurgents.

So what kind of a writeup do they get?

They are mentioned on 8 pages of the book. I might as well enumerate rather than summarise:

P52: "Human Rights Watch established itself as an alternative to Amnesty International on the strength of its investigations into Iraq". Basically a passing mention.

P312: "The non-governmental organisations the liberals most admired - Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Medecins Sans Frontieres - had successfully raged against oppression and mass suffering and become 'players' in global politics." Neutral to negative - the context is that human rights had become the language of international relations, but it is leading into Nick trying to suggest that a concern with human rights would :per se make you a supporter of the Iraq War.

P314: "Saddam Hussein was against everything represented by Amnesty International" context is mildly negative; recognising the importance of Amnesty as a moral standard for the Left, but preparatory to accusing them of hypocrisy.

P321: Not actually mentioned on this page, but it's the start of a five page passage that mentions them a few times.

P322: "Five years ago, if you could have asked journalists, diplomats, academics and victims of oppression themselves who they would have trusted above all others to stay sober in a crisis my guess is that they would have nominated Amnesty International" (and other mentions within the same paragraph). An introductory passage to the main theme …

P323: "Strictly speaking, Amnesty should have kept its mouth shut". Context is Tony Blair quoting Amnesty's dossier on Iraq in 2002 and Amnesty complaining about "opportunistic and selective" use. Amnesty has no right to a privileged interpretation of its own work, it means whatever a reader says it means, apparently.

"So in true Virginia Woolf style, Amnesty […] pretended that both sides were equally bad" This is the introduction to the "gulag" quote posted below, which continues onto page 324.

P324: "Irene Khan, Amnesty's Secretary General, showed that a twenty-first century cultural relativism could be as condescending [as colonialists - bb] when she told the Financial Times that 'if you look globally today and want to talk about human rights, for the vast majority of the world's population they don't mean very much. To talk about freedom of expression to a man who can't read the newspaper, to talk about the right to work to someone who has no job, human rights mean nothing to them unless it brings some change on these particular issues'". Nick gives no context to this remark and indeed allows the impression that it was a general statement of Amnesty's views. Actually, Ms Khan was at the time talking about why Amnesty had joined the Make Poverty History campaign. On p325, Nick claims that "I don't know what went through the minds of Amnesty's officers" and surmises that "You can blame Bush and Blair for creating a mental climate were even Amnesty International thought that human rights don't mean very much if you wish …". In fact the context was crystal clear in the original FT interview, although not in the extracts published on Normblog and Harry's Place at the time.

P325: "Human Rights Watch, which made its name as a rival Amnesty with its investigations into Iraq: No real mention of Amnesty here, although this bit is where Nick lays into HRW for writing the document "Iraq: Not A Humanitarian Intervention".

And that's it. Despite the fact that Nick knew that Amnesty had continued to stand up for human rights against Islamist oppression, because he had quoted them in the Iranian bus drivers piece, if you read "What's Left", you would get the impression that they had lost their minds in 2003 and given up on human rights ever since. I therefore conclude that Nick's claim that he is not merely having a go at people for being right on Iraq when he was wrong, is false, because his claim that he does not have a quarrel with leftists who opposed the war but who have demonstrably continued to show concern for the oppressed in Islamic totalitarian states is falsified by his extremely negative and in my opinion unfair treatment of Amnesty International.

[1] I am now drawing a distinction, because I think that Decentism is a wider political movement incorporating mangerialism, social-authoritarianism, and other things that Aaro believes in. The specific project of being a cunt about the war is not one that I think can be pinned on DA himself, albeit that this is largely because he has shut up about it, and with the qualification that his writings on the Lebanese war last year were pretty damn bloodthirsty.


Blogger ejh said...

I think that Decentism is a wider political movement incorporating mangerialism, social-authoritarianism, and other things that Aaro believes in

I think so but it may be as well to observe that it bears a strong resemblance to the Atlanticism of the old Labour Right: it also has the same self-chosen enemies and most of the same friends.

2/09/2007 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

yes, and "Cold War Liberalism" in the USA is a first cousin.

2/09/2007 06:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

Mais non! Decentism is more complex than that! It varies from old fashioned Kissingerite hawks like Oliver 'I'm on the Left, honest' Kamm to the bizarre Decent-Leninists on 'Drink Soaked Trots'. Really I think Cohen is more representative of Decentism (or at least the blog version of it) than the relatively moderate Aaronovitch. Has Aaro even signed the Euston Manifesto?

2/09/2007 07:39:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Well, yeah, but Cold War Labour could be pretty vile as well (and wasn't such a simple phenomenon either). Anybody who had experience of, say Kate Losinska and her chums in the old CPSA will kow what I mean.

2/09/2007 09:26:00 PM  
Blogger StuartA said...

Having attempted, and even finished, my own review of Cohen's book, I can understand your &mdash frankly all too convenient — excuses for not doing a full review. For a start, the book is a rambling mess, with little effort made to interrelate the chapters. But the real problem was the sheer volume of nonsense. Even taking the notes is exhausting, as has already been shown on here. I think he's counting on it all eventually washing over, with the reviewer believing there must have been something worthwhile in there.

2/10/2007 01:52:00 AM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

Peter Kilfoyle on Nick in this week's Tribune:

"Having read it, I felt quite sad putting it down. It was like one of those family get-togethers where one member has too much to drink and decides to tell everyone else exactly what he thinks of them."

2/10/2007 01:52:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

christ he's nailed it has Peter Kilfoyle. That's exactly what it is - a Scouse wedding.

2/10/2007 02:46:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

That's why I stopped getting drunk...

2/10/2007 07:45:00 PM  
Anonymous redpesto said...

christ he's nailed it has Peter Kilfoyle. That's exactly what it is - a Scouse wedding.

A Scouse wedding where one family member decides that to shout about he really loves Man United all along?

2/12/2007 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Philip said...

B is for Baathism, D is for Decent, E is for Enlightenment, F is for Fukuyama, G is for Good Thing, H is for Humanitarian, I is for Illegal, J is for Justice, K is for Knacker, L is for Logic, M is for Managerialism, N is for Nothing (as in learned, forgotten, remembered, etc. etc.), O is for Occident, P is for Prima donna, Q is for Qutb, R is for Relativism, S is for Socialcohesionasapriorityovercivilliberties, T is for Taliban(ism, isation, ists, take your pick and good luck to you), U is for Universal Human Values, W is for What's (Right in What's Left?), X is for eXtremism, Y is for Yoof, Z is for Zion.

Don't mention it.

2/12/2007 09:51:00 PM  
Blogger roGER said...

Nick is a hard line "My beloved Israel right or wrong!" type of guy so naturally Amnesty international and Human Rights Watch are going to get a good kicking.

Both organisations have dared to suggest Israel may not be quite the beacon of light and humanity and kindness that Nick thinks. Therefore in Nick's twisted mind they are morally dubious and probably antisemetic liars who will do anything to kill innocent Jews.

Nick isn't entirely stupid and knows that saying such a thing would get him thrown swiftly into the "Mad Mel" ridicule-pit and nobody would ever take him seriously again.

Hence he quotes out of context and suggests these two fanatasic organisations have lost their moral compass etc etc etc.

2/13/2007 04:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if Roger can justify his claim that Nick is "a hard line 'my beloved Israel right or wrong' type of guy". Just one 'my beloved Israel right or wrong quote' from any one of Nick's many articles will do for the moment.
Failing any such evidence, it couldn't be that Roger is led astray by Nick's "my beloved Israel" surname, could it?
Come on Roger, let's see the colour of your money.

2/13/2007 09:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


2/14/2007 10:51:00 AM  
Anonymous gingsters pork pie said...

Nick Cohen once wrote (October 7, 2001):

I'll plead guilty first to the 'anti-Semitism.' Last week the Israeli officer corps degenerated into clique of banana-republic colonels. They disobeyed judges and politicians by declaring the West Bank a 'closed military zone' where villages could be bulldozed and unarmed children shot. The Foreign Ministry accused the military of conspiring to subvert the fragile truce. Shimon Peres, the Foreign Minister, denied a sensational but credible report that he believed the army's chief of staff was planning to 'liquidate Arafat'.

The colonists on the West Bank and Gaza, who the soldiers are protecting, know the Lord is with them. They cite Deuteronomy, which tells the Jews: 'For ye shall pass over Jordan to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God giveth you, and ye shall possess it, and dwell therein.' They add that anyone else who crossed the Jordan after 70AD has no right to be there - a doctrine which would allow the Welsh to invade Surrey. The despair of secular Arabs caught between jihad and Deuteronomy is that of the Poles trapped between Hitler and Stalin.

2/14/2007 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Well done, anonymous: what I was thinking but better expressed.

2/14/2007 03:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, Roger?

2/14/2007 07:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


2/15/2007 11:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Roger....Oh never mind. I think we all know what was going on there.

2/15/2007 08:23:00 PM  
Blogger roGER said...

Hello Anonymous, sorry but I don't come here as often as you do.

If you really want to attract my attention next time, why not post a little comment on my blog?

Regarding your challenge:

"I wonder if Roger can justify his claim that Nick is "a hard line 'my beloved Israel right or wrong' type of guy"."

Well I qualify that by saying:

"Nick isn't entirely stupid and knows that saying such a thing would get him thrown swiftly into the "Mad Mel" ridicule-pit and nobody would ever take him seriously again."

So why did I say it?

Because Nick currently believes the following:

1) That "Anti-Semitism isn't a local side effect of a dirty war over a patch of land smaller than Wales."

Of course it isn't, but does anyone doubt a fair and comprehensive peace settlement of the israeli/Palestinian conflict wouldn't reduce the anti-semitism by a huge amount?

2) "Iraq is the only country in the Arab world with a strong, democratic movement."

A flat lie. Palestine has had several elections, so has Iran, Algeria still has the remains of one despite French 'assistance' in supressing the winning party in the 1990s.

3)'Why is Palestine a cause for the liberal left but not China, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Congo or North Korea?'

The implication being that the liberal left is anti-semitic and the lie that we don't care deeply about those countries.

4)"The Palestinians need help [but] you shouldn’t ask too many questions about the helpers."

Nice smear, Nick, nice smear.

5) "[There are] the histories of the links between Nazism and the Arab world in the 1940s"

Indeed there are, and very small and completely inconsequential they were too.


These attitudes and beliefs put Nick firmly in the company of the Zionists, including the more extreme ones like Mad Mel Philips, and Daniel Pipes of Peace.

But as I said, Nick is far too sensible to explicitly state what he believes.

2/22/2007 05:42:00 PM  

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