Sunday, January 21, 2007

Nick inveighs from the pulpit (part MCXVIII)

Once upon a time, a rat exterminator had a bright idea of how to solve the rat problems of central London. A thermonuclear device would do the trick, at least for a time. Some people objected, pointing out that the destruction of human life, historic buildings, economic disruption etc would be too high a price to pay for such a measure. The rat exterminator regarded such people with scorn: they were campaigning to save the rats, he claimed.

Well, in a way he was right. After all, they were opposing a policy that would have eliminated the rats. In a similar fashion, Nick (for it is he) labels those who opposed the Iraq war as opposing the overthrow of a fascist regime.

As for the rest, perhaps Aarowatch should just stop bothering with Nick. The extracts from his forthcoming book are just what we've come to expect: claims that "the left" and "liberals" believe the disgraceful proposition P, just on the basis that some leftist or liberal somewhere has been recorded as uttering P. etc etc etc

One line I did think worthy of comment:

"Why will students hear a leftish postmodern theorist defend the exploitation of women in traditional cultures but not a crusty conservative don?"

Who is the target of Nick's attack here? Richard Rorty? Michel Foucault? I really don't know. But I do know this. That any "don" teaching a course on multiculturalism, toleration or justice has a duty to inform his or her students both of the liberal universalist line promoted by people like Brian Barry and also of existence of the various relativisms. Perhaps Nick has bought into a David Horowitz-style fantasy in which "leftish postmodern" lecturers simply announce some weird line to their students as "the truth". My experience is that most university teachers do their best to get their students to think through the arguments for and against a position. Nick thinks teaching is like preaching. But then he also seems to think that journalism is preaching. Maybe he should have become a vicar, or an Imam.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

isn't it lucky, by the way, that there are no more Iraqi refugees attempting to come to the UK, and that we have a generous asylum policy for the ones that do? I'm sure Nick would have checked a fact like that.

1/21/2007 11:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any mention of the leading 'liberal-left commentator' who opposed the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan? No, thought not.

1/21/2007 01:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should have at least supported the democratic process after the war.

Nick outlines some hypcorisies on that left that need airing. You like to think you're so morally superior but much of your thinking is rather Kissingerite - geopolitics is your number one priority.

1/21/2007 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

I'm impressed by how much you know about me Frank. Like Nick, you have a wonderful ability to discern the beliefs of people on "the left" even in the absence of evidence. Why don't you email the good people at Harry's Place, they may have a berth for you.

1/21/2007 06:31:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Frank, you make exactly the same points, in the same words, as "Mike" on Harry's Place. You two should get together.

On Cohen, he says: "Why is Palestine a cause for the liberal left, but not China, Sudan, Zimbabwe, the Congo or North Korea?", I notice he doesn't include Saudi Arabia. In fact from being a vocal opponent of the regime, he hasn't mentioned it since 2003. Why the silence?

1/21/2007 07:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that Mr Hitchens has a review of Mr C's latest book in the Sunday Times.

I'm in no mood to read it, my doctor tells me to relax more. Any views?

1/21/2007 07:39:00 PM  
Blogger Sonic said...

Hitchens review here,,2102-2550492.html

You'll be amazed to find out he agrees with every word.

1/21/2007 08:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the Congo". This is a place which, like "the Sudan", hasn't existed for really quite a long time. The countries are called "Congo", "Democratic Republic of Congo" and "Sudan". The use of the definite article signals to a careful reader that the writer is both ignorant and nostalgic for Empire.

(an Africa-pedant writes)

1/21/2007 08:47:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

That's the Hitchens' review that ends:

Odd bedfellows

In one telling example, Cohen cites the work of Iranian feminist Azar Nafisi, who three years ago dedicated her book Reading Lolita in Tehran to Paul Wolfowitz.

This is just untrue, and Hitchens knows it as Nafisi wrote to him to say so (which was covered on this very blog). He must have repeated it deliberately. And Cohen didn't do much researching.

1/21/2007 09:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"much of your thinking is rather Kissingerite" - Frank

Right, the people who are opposed to destructive military adventures are the Kissingerites, of course.

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

How often do the decents write about those countries? How much do they write about Palestine? Could it be that the ratios are actually pretty similar?

1/21/2007 09:50:00 PM  
Blogger Sonic said...

Good point Matthew, I've expanded on it here with links and things.


1/21/2007 09:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How often do the decents write about those countries? How much do they write about Palestine? Could it be that the ratios are actually pretty similar?

I suspect those countries will start appearing on the Decents' radar at the same point that the US government starts advocating a war against them, at which point their regimes will become so intolerable that war cannot be delayed for literally one day longer than America deems necessary. The Decents' uninterest in Iraq prior to the war is disguised by the fact most of them only started blogging in 2002-03, but certainly there is very little evidence of e.g. Norman Geras having said anything about Iraq until the time came to invade. Even now, you will find little discussion of the minutiae of the conflict on the leading Decent weblogs.

1/21/2007 10:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read Nick over breakfast, my girlfriend was a-feared for my sanity. The whole piece seems to be a series of straw men, set up one after the other so Our Nick can mow them down with the righteous sword of his brilliant analysis. One in particular which had me shouting at the newspaper was

"On 15 February 2003 , about a million liberal-minded people marched through London to oppose the overthrow of a fascist regime."

There are some missing words, Nick, like "illegal", "violent", and "externally imposed".

I also noticed (in one of the boxed extracts which don't seem to be online) that he quotes Anne Atkins approvingly - surely a sign that he's jogging along the trail blazed by Mel "certifiable sane" Phillips.

1/22/2007 10:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Why will students hear a leftish postmodern theorist defend the exploitation of women in traditional cultures but not a crusty conservative don?"

Nick obviously forgot to include the adjectives 'lesbian' and 'French' to get a nap hand of boo-words. It's also a false opposition because the 'crusty conservative don' might simply say 'these people are savages, what else do expect them to do?'

That said, if a university were to give Nick an honorary doctorate, he could do the job himself.

PS: I remeber the 'support the democratic forces in Iraq' line from my brief visits to the Harryettes' site last year. I still wonder whether that meant either 'support whichever ethno-religious sectarian faction got votes and seats', or 'support some bunch of vaguely left-of centre parties' that have no chance of forming a government, let alone getting into the Iraqi parliament'.

1/22/2007 10:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So why did I march through London on Feb 15th 2003?

1 Because Blair and others were saying that Iraq was a threat, had WMD, etc etc: yet the assertions were becoming more and more unbelievable, the logic more bizarre - it really wasn't proven that Iraq was a threat and it looked like Blair would take us to war even if Blix found nothing and the Security Council wouldn't support it

2) There was almost no information from the US administration or the UK Government about what kind of regime would come after regime change

3) Experience has taught me that when the West gets involved in other people's affairs, there is a tendency to leave the job half done

4) Experience has also taught me that this Western involvement in other people's affairs tends to leave behind collapsed states or failed/failing states (eg Afghanistan, early 1990s) perhaps because the West (esp the USA) has forgotten the importance of States

5) Getting involved militarily on other countries' affairs is against international law.

And what happened/ The UK/US invaded Iraq. WMD were not found. Iraq was in no position to threaten anyone. However the Iraq State, already weakened by sanctions, collapsed (and four years later the UK and US does not even seem to recognise that it has caused the collapse of the State in Iraq). Into the vacuum of a collapsed State have poured a whole alphabet soup of militias and criminal gangs and sectarian parties. This isn't surprising: if the State loses its monopoly of violence and security provision this is what happens, and people look to such groups to provide a small measure of security against other gangs/militias etc.

So, the US/UK invasion has created a Hobbesian nightmare in Iraq. Nick jumps to the conclusion that if I oppose the US invasion I support these "terrorists". Faulty logic, Nick: I know next to nothing about these groups and even if I knew more I am unlikely to support them. They just happen to be the inevitable result of an invasion that made the Iraq state collapse, and in today's context has created an adventure playground for Al-Qaida to train in.

Back in February 2003, Nick would have liked us to ignore all the propaganda about WMD, and would have liked us to trust the USA to create a utopia in Iraq. Events would seem to have proved Nick wrong.

1/22/2007 12:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick's going to do a Guardian live chat about his book Wed 24th Jan, 2.00pm.

Q: Nick, why do you have an obsession with Kate Winslet and traffic wardens?

Possible A: The fact that you ask this question shows you support for fascists in the greatestzzzz.... (guess the rest)

1/22/2007 01:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember around the time of the Iraq invasion Cohen did online chat on the Guardian website with Jonathan Freedland. Freedland seemed moderate and reasonable whereas Cohen, IIRC, was abrasive and sarcastic and generally rude to people who didn't share his point of view. This has also been a characteristic of his occasional contributions to blog comment threads.

1/22/2007 01:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The review by Hitchens is a bit sad , as Nick has turned himself into a kind of Happy Shopper Hitchens. It reads a bit like "look at my gimp performing".

Speaking, incidentally, of the Descent of the Decents, did anyone else notice Oliver Kamm (volunteer proofreader of Nick's book) launch an unprovoked attack on Jonah Albert, a curator at the National Gallery, who had the temerity to suggest efforts be made to increase black attendance ? Kamm said this showed "there is one black British man too many in the field of arts administration, namely Mr Albert", suggested he be sacked, and headlined the whole piece "Caliban's return", implying , I guess that Jonah Albert is like the crazed, ugly, uncivilised native of Shakespeare's play - all a bit like Jade Goodie with a grammar school education

1/22/2007 03:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"did anyone else notice Oliver Kamm ... launch an unprovoked attack on Jonah Albert"?

The drink-soaked trots certainly did, and ripped him a new one for his trouble:

1/22/2007 04:16:00 PM  
Blogger Sonic said...

More on dedicationgate...

1/23/2007 01:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fallhammer here, with a more thematic name.

"You should have at least supported the democratic process after the war."

I think most if not all of us are whole-heartedly in favour of democracy but there are a few problems with that.

1) Our 'support' would have made not a jot of difference on the ground.

2) At each stage the warmongers were loudly claiming that the 'democratic process' vindicated the invasion and trumped the hollowness of any of the other excuses for the war (and that the insurgency was about to run out of steam).

3) Democracy is about far more than just elections. General law and order, media freedom (without journalists being murdered all over), freedom of association (such as unions), a good independent judiciary, and a whole bunch of other things are also required.

4) We had good reasons to suspect that the real goal of the process was the installation of a tame neo-liberal regime and the application of a patina of legitimacy to the other things the occupation authorities were trying to do, e.g., putting control of The Oil into the right hands.

5) We knew that the occupation authorities had ultimate control. The democracy was being imposed from outside by people who largely had very little understanding of the country.

6) Er, that's all for now.

We would have been fools to unequivocally declare support for 'the democratic process' as it was being carried out in those conditions.

1/23/2007 07:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what to make of an extract which claims that socialism is dead at a time when there is a huge (and apparently successful) swing to socialism all over South America. Nor what it says about Nick's preoccupations that seems aware that capitalism as practised has been more successful for some groups, than others (the often repeated statistic about the decline of the median wage in the US, for example). I'm guessing that when he says "it is very hard to imagine a radical left-wing alternative", that this is a personal, rather than universal, statement. Its all starting to look a little Paul Johnson. I wonder if Nick likes being spanked?

1/23/2007 05:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God help me I read the second extract. A mix of US propaganda, a very half-hearted acceptance that the US might have fucked up the occupation (which he tries somehow to pin on the left), meaningless platitudes (wtf does it mean for the left to offer support? What has Nick done, other than bravely write a column for generous renumeration), a straw man left (or left-liberals - whoever they are), unfounded slurs aimed at Muslim organisations.

Not once did he actually engage with the strong arguments against the war. Rather he picked on the flakes, the nutcases and his own strawmen. I wonder if he's aware of the strong case and is avoiding it, or if he's convinced himself that there are no strong arguments to be made. I'm guessing that the latter bunker mentality holds, but who knows.

1/23/2007 05:54:00 PM  

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