Friday, February 02, 2007

Questions to Accompany a Reading of Chapter Four of Nick's Book, #8

Before attempting the next few questions, you might want to review John Vidal's article here

Q38. The Decents have a characteristic mode of arguing which goes like this: “Yes, Israel is doing bad things, but other people are doing bad things, so you shouldn’t necessarily be concentrating quite so much on the bad things that the Israelis are doing. In fact, your decision to concentrate quite so much on the Israelis reflects rather badly on you. And the fact that we say this should in no way be construed as apologising for Israel’s bad behaviour.” In the article, Vidal makes a similar move: what’s going on in Zimbabwe is indefensible, but it isn’t quite so unusual, looked at in a global perspective, and so perhaps we should ask about quite why it’s Mugabe who gets singled out for opporobrium here, rather than other developing world governments, and the international agencies like the World Bank which fund projects which require mass evictions? Why is this way of arguing to be applauded when the Decents do it, but not when John Vidal does it?

Q39. Nick implies that Vidal thinks that “anyone who showed solidarity with Zimbabweans [is] a hypocrite”. Do you think Vidal believes this, or that this is the underlying message of his article?

Q40. Some people might say that Vidal’s analysis of what is going on in Harare is mistaken. They think that Mugabe’s evictions were mostly about political control, and that the regime was expelling poor people in Harare who supported the opposition MDC and relocating them to shacks in rural areas firmly under ZANU-PF control, for example in Operation Murambatsvina. Do you think this kind of criticism of Vidal’s argument is plausible, or do you think it’s better to make the kind of criticisms Nick is making here, implying instead that Vidal is a moral imbecile? Do you think Nick’s line of criticism – with illuminating bits like, “This one clumsy sentence revealed all the symptoms of the sickness of the radical left at the millennium” - opens the way to more sensible kinds of political analysis of the situation in Zimbabwe, or not?

Q41. Nick writes, p.118, that “The failure to agree on a name was symptomatic of a wider confusion.” Do you think this criticism of the anti-globalization crowd is persuasive, coming from a man who is representative of the pro-war left / pro-liberation left / B-52 Liberals / anti-totalitarian left / Cruise-Missile Liberals / Decent Left / Eustonites / [insert preferred name for his gang here]?

Q42. When Nick implies that Western leftist feminists are going to sell Indian feminists down the river (or whatever he thinks they are going to do), do you think it might be a good idea to examine the practices and politics of organisations like the International Society Against Dowry and Bride-Burning in India which hasn't, as far as I can tell, faced opposition from liberal and feminist groups in the West, where it organizes? Indeed, Eve Ensler, who is the kind of person the Decents like to beat up on, owing to her opposition to the war in Iraq, and that kind of thing, has spoken out strongly against violence against women in India. Do you think Nick would also do well to study feminist groups like Jagori and Sangat, which are well connected outside India, or Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which also have relevant opinions on the matter? Or do you think that the opinions he provides in these pages are sufficiently well grounded that he can afford to ignore all of this?

Q43. Nick writes: [p.122] “Now try a thought experiment and suppose that the organizers of refuges in Delhi and Bangalore were to combine with like-minded women across the subcontinent and appeal to Western feminists for support. India is a democracy, but democratic politicians can be wary about tackling traditional prejudices and losing conservative votes. Foreign pressure can force them to face abuses they would rather ignore…” Do you think what’s going on in Nick’s imagination is a good basis for grounding informed and responsible political judgements?

I think I'm going to stop here, before I go mad. Still, that’s 43 questions(assuming I haven't messed up the numbering too badly) to accompany about thirty pages of Nick’s text. I’m sure you can come up with more of your own. It’s not hard.

7 Comments:

Anonymous gingsters pork pie said...

Thank you for all this work: solid, intelligent, witty, effective.

My own copy of What's Left is thoroughly scarred and scored by exasperated comments, exclamation marks, and questions. What a shameless and shamelessly bad book.

Am interested by Cohen's recent and so far overlooked admission that the anti-war crowd were right
http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/nick_cohen/2007/01/post_1032.html

"You would never guess it from what the critics are saying, but the story of the Stop the War coalition fills just half of one chapter in a 13-chapter book ... I go to great lengths to separate decent people from the scoundrels who lead them. I put their arguments as well as I can, and say they were right in all respects except one: they couldn't support their comrades in Iraq once the war was over."

2/02/2007 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Stop him! Stop him before he asks again!

2/02/2007 02:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Backword Dave said...

Q42 Doesn't Nick think elsewhere that India is a pretty good example of democracy? I seem to remember that some Decent or other has argued that India - like Israel - is a lone democracy surrounded by 14th century caliphate states or worse and armed only with a large modern army and nuclear weapons. Or something like that.

Anyway, I believe that India, with an information-based economy, nuclear weapons and power, a space program, world class universities, and a parliamentary democracy, has a pretty good case for being thought as in the West? Sure it's not perfect, and there are people from other countries who go there to criticise its human rights. The same happens to be true of the US (with death row for example).

If Nick really thinks "India is a democracy, but democratic politicians can be wary about tackling traditional prejudices and losing conservative votes" does he supply a credible reason why society changed quite drastically in the West. It really does seem to me that he's saying that Indian democracy needs a good shake from outside; but only a moral imbecile would consider the same for the US.

2/02/2007 03:58:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

That's Hichens, isn't it? Argues in favour of strong support for India in his notorious review of Steyn. Curiously fails to notice that the major threat to secular democracy in India isn't small extremist Muslim groups but a very large extremist Hindu party.

2/02/2007 04:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

"Like other Bains-inspired parties, the then CPE(ML) took the Chinese side in the Sino-Soviet split, thus being endorsed by Albania, then allied with Maoist China, and opposing both the capitalist West and the Soviet bloc. As a result, it supported the Three Worlds concept promoted by Beijing, which for a time in the 1970s meant it adopted the position of backing NATO as a bulwark against Soviet "social-imperialism"." - Wikipedia entry on the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)

The roots of Decentism exposed?

2/02/2007 09:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

Although of course Paul Berman would probably locate the root of Decentism in some probably not even there impulse buried deep in Henry James or something like that...

2/02/2007 09:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Cian said...

http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviews/politicsphilosophyandsociety/0,,2003998,00.html (Peter Wilby reviews Cohen in the Guardian):
"This is not the first time the European left has dug itself into an embarrassing hole, Cohen argues. Its opposition to the war effort during the Hitler-Stalin pact, its collaboration with the Nazi occupation of France, its denial of Srebrenica...Readers may object that only small sections of the left (and not always the same sections) were responsible for these crass misjudgements, just as only a few leftists have hailed the suicide bombers of Iraq as liberationists. But Cohen won't have it."

Words fail me. This book is clearly too stupid to bother reading.

2/03/2007 05:22:00 PM  

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