Monday, February 05, 2007

A mother's understanding counts for a lot, I'm sure

I know I'm posting too much. I know I haven't found links for either the Telegraph or Sunday Telegraph reviews. Nor have I seen the one by James Delingpole in the Hate Mail on Sunday. Links will be posted if I find them.

Peter Wilby has a very critical review in the Observer. There's one stand-out passage for me:

The Damascene moment - about which this book is frustratingly uninformative - followed shortly afterwards. "My pieces weren't written in good faith," Cohen states. "I wanted anything associated with Tony Blair to fail because that would allow me to return to the easy life of attacking him."

My emphasis: I should have said earlier that Deborah Orr gets Nick (and he linked approvingly last Thursday) but Anthony Daniels (whom he quotes today) doesn't. Nick's book isn't - as Daniels seems to interpret it - about the left being all bad, but he's criticising what Sartre called 'mauvais foi' (lit 'bad faith' but better translated as 'self deception' or 'false consciousness') and this criticism of members of the left is not new. (IIRC, Marx does it as well.) I find it interesting that Nick accuses his former self of this as readers have noticed that Nick's archetypal leftie is less straw man than a portrait of of N Cohen Esq 1980-2002.

Yesterday I wrote, "Daniels' review looks favourable, and Nick may take is as such." Nick to his credit doesn't.

Nick Cohen is an unusual journalist whose work has an unusual aroma - that of thought.

I thought that was a silly thing to write, but I didn't want to be overly pedantic about the style a review was written in. Nick is unimpressed.

Hmmm…not so sure about this. Does thought have an 'aroma', and if so what does it smell of, neurons, grey matter?

So good for him. He also links to Ruth Dudley Edwards in Saturday's (not the Sunday) Telegraph. It's not an informative piece: if you want to know about Islam terrorism, read Richard Clarke who knows enough about it that Usama bin Laden put out a contract on him. This is all she has to say about Nick.

[Abdul Saleem's] defence [lawyers] should have pointed out that he was merely stating the obvious. He and his kind believe that through intimidation, conversion and out-breeding, the United Kingdom – and the world over – can be brought under Sharia law.
I take Islam - a religion which, at its best, greatly improves the lives of its adherents - and Islamism - its pernicious fringe - very seriously. The Qur'an is beside my bed, along with Bruce Lawrence's The Qur'an: A Biography; I've just finished Karen Armstrong's hagiographical Muhammad and its antithesis, Robert Spencer's The Truth About Muhammad; I try vainly to persuade visitors to watch my DVD of Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West; Michael Gove should pay me commission for having persuaded so many people to buy his Celsius 7/7; I've just ordered Nick Cohen's What's Left?: How Liberals Lost Their Way to join the pile of Islam-related books on my to-read pile, which I have little time to address because, in addition to working for a living, I spend at least two or three hours a day reading about Islamic matters or talking to similarly obsessed friends and colleagues at speeches and seminars.

There is an interview with Nick online (hooray!) in the Sunday Times.

"If my mother goes with about half of it I will be very pleased. She doesn't like the radical religious right at all but she saw radical Islam right away as a threat. She didn't support the war. Nobody I knew supported the war," he adds in mock gloom. "She does understand my arguments, though." Well a mother's understanding counts for a lot, I’m sure.

Even apart from the interviewer's snark (and that was Martin Ivens not me), it's a somewhat weird interview.

It was consistent hatred of Saddam Hussein’s "fascist" regime over decades that led Cohen to support the invasion. It was the plight of Iraqi asylum seekers and left-wing exiles living in Britain that taught him to loathe the regime. "There is a delegation of Iraqi trade unionists coming to my launch party. They (their families and friends) have been slaughtered by fascists. The idea that liberals would want Iraq to fail to give Bush and Blair bloody noses appals me. They just don't care about the consequences for the people."

Well how many liberals or leftists (or conservatives for that matter) wanted Iraq to fail rather than predicting that it would? I think that we've made Iraq worse not better - and this was a consequence which was predictable with a little foresight.

He chides the "parochialism" of the liberal left. "It is difficult to defend your country against foreign threats if you are a critic of the status quo. What that led people to say is that 'Britain is as bad as fascist Germany' or 'Al-Qaeda is bad, but look at the Christian right in America'."

"It is difficult to defend your country against foreign threats if you are a critic of the status quo" is it? There was some writer who was critical of the status quo and was actually a sergeant in the Home Guard (because he was too unfit and old for anything else). Oh what was his name?

Once upon a time every teenager curious about politics and recent history would have Orwell's Homage to Catalonia on his or her bedside table. As part of the author’s unsentimental education in the realities of political struggle, Orwell watches as the communists savage other leftist parties in the Spanish civil war. They attack his own outfit, the POUM militia. Perhaps the book is no longer read today. Its message about the danger of embracing all leftists, even totalitarian ones, as part of the progressive "tribe" still needs to be hammered home.

The lesson that the "book is no longer read today" would be more convincing if there was a movie about similar events. Plot summary:

He joins an international group of Militia-men and women, the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista). After being wounded he goes to Barcelona, where he decides to join another group of fighters. They remain in Barcelona and end up fighting other anti-fascist groups.

And that was directed by Ken Loach who was was elected to the national council of the Respect coalition. I guess he knows the story, so that can't be it.

Not surprisingly, What's Left also gets a hostile notice from Spiked alias the Revolutionary Communist Party (if you don't believe me, there are two footnotes - both refer to old RCP pamphlets). I can't say a great deal in praise of the arguments, but the invective contains two veritable hits.

Nick Cohen’s What's Left? shows he is the Princess Diana of journalism, always reducing political comment to personal psychodrama.

And

Nick Cohen's book takes its place with the autobiographies of Robert Kilroy Silk and Derek Hatton as one of the worst books I have ever been asked to review.

Oh come now.

12 Comments:

Blogger Backword Dave said...

"was a movie about similar events" should of course read "wasn't a movie about similar events". And now because Google wants to upgrade I can't get back in. So golden silence from me.

2/05/2007 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Well how many liberals or leftists (or conservatives for that matter) wanted Iraq to fail

Well, I certainly did: but not because I wanted to give somebody "a bloody nose", but because I didn't want them to do it again. One reason for this is that I cared about the population not just of Iraq, but of all the other countries in which the US might subsequently choose to intervene.

My generation of leftists (Bennite, CND) came into political awareness after the end of the Vietnam War and we took it for granted that it had been a good thing that the US had been defeated there. It would have been better had they not intervened in the first place, but as they had, better they should lose than win.

This applies in Iraq as well, I think: though Christ knows it's going to be a smashed and brutal place whatever happens now. Of course a functioning democracy would be a far better solution, but as any functioning democracy in any Arab country would almost certainly be opposed to the US, that wasn't actually a possiblity, was it?

2/05/2007 02:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

I wonder if RDE's interest in Islam or the Qur'an extends to having learned Arabic, or having read commentaries about Islam from Arab sources. The books she claims to have read or be reading around the topic of Islam are all books written by and for mainstream western audiences, with the exception of the Qur'an itself. They don't indicate to me a deep interest in Islam or Islamism, and neither does the level of understanding demonstrated in the article itself.

2/05/2007 02:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

PS the Wilby review was in the Guardian rather than the Observer. It's quite good, but I don't think Nick's book has had the evisceration it really deserves yet, save for Cous Cous Kid's work on Chapter 4 below. I'm holding out for something good to turn up in the LRB.

2/05/2007 03:07:00 PM  
Anonymous GeorgeS said...

Isn't the use of the term "bad faith" also ironic because, for Blair, he can say or do anything as long he does it in good faith. Because, for these narcissists, personal belief, or belief in their own profound goodness, is all that counts.

2/05/2007 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger Backword Dave said...

GeorgeS, you're right with regards to Blair. Still I believe that Nick is arguing that the leftists he hates are suffering from either 'self deception' or 'false consciousness'. (Scare quotes because I cannot be precise about what either term means.)

ejh, my first reaction was that I agreed with you. I certainly didn't want them (I mean Blair or Bush) to do it again. But no, I never wanted Iraq to fail. The costs were too high - clearly to us, with soldiers stuck there, and to the Iraqis, of whom an unreasonable number have died. The consequences of this war have been horrible - and worse than not going to war would have been (and that would have been bad).
And - I know this sounds smug - but they haven't learned have they? It failed, and they still want to do it again in Iran.

2/05/2007 09:55:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I know what you mean. They insist on learning lesons as slowly and expensively as possible. For Christ's sake, I wanted them to be defeated but not like this. But on the other hand, they couldn't have succeeded, not least because (as I said above) what they wanted was only a functioning democracy if it had been a pro-US democracy, which it could not have been.

It's their own silly fault. They can't say they weren't warned.

Mind you I don't think they will invade Iran. They may very well attack it (or get Israel to do it) though which will be almost as stupid.

2/06/2007 08:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

"Perhaps the book is no longer read today. Its message about the danger of embracing all leftists, even totalitarian ones, as part of the progressive "tribe" still needs to be hammered home."

Is that really Orwell's message in Homage to Catalonia ? Insofar as it has an overall message at all it would seem to be how bad the Communist leaderships and newspapers were. It's been a few years since I read it, but I think Orwell would have maintained that the alliance with the Communists was necessary. He certainly doesn't criticise the anarchists or the POUM for allying with them.

2/07/2007 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Well, it gets mentioned a fair bit where I live (and I actually ordered a new copy which arrived, by coincidence, yesterday). Mind you I live in Huesca, which city Orwell beseiged: there's a Ruta Orwell for the tourists to the south near Alcubierre, where Orwell was when he first arrived at the front.

I'd be surprised if it ever stopped being read: the celebrated description of Barcelona is one of the great passages of socialist writing.

Incidentally, doesn't Orwell write somewhere that Stalin was better than Hitler to the point of being worth fighting for the one against the other?

2/08/2007 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Anyway, they're still reading The Road To Wigan Pier.

2/08/2007 11:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

Orwell didn't think Stalin would let the Communists take power in Spain, but he thought that the war had made democracy impossible and would inevitably result in a kind of fascism in Spain. He stayed in favour of a Republican victory because he thought that if the government won the 'fascism' would be less bad than if Franco won.

2/08/2007 07:09:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

He writes in a review in December 1937 that that [whatever happens] "there is no hope of democracy in Spain when the war is over" and that Franco would probably win.

As it happens, while searching about in my Volume One of the Collected Esaays (etc) for the right quote, I also found him describing the belief that Communism and Fascism are the same thing as "a vulgar lie". Don't tell the Decents!

2/08/2007 07:23:00 PM  

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