Sunday, February 14, 2010

A bunch of smug, far lefty, middle class faggots

Because I'm lazy, this week's Nick Cohen watching is brought to you by Malky Muscular:

Is it just me, or is Nick basically calling everyone who disapproves of torturing people a bunch of smug, far lefty, middle class faggots?

Shorter Nick: Don't you lot know there's a war on? Unfair?

Most of the British do not behave as if they are at war. ...

Only the atmosphere of phoney war can explain how Amnesty International

How do people behave when their country is at war? Jane Austen's first three novels were written and, as they featured contemporaneous characters presumably set, during the Napoleonic Wars. Who can forget the immortal scene where Warden Hodges forces Mr Darcy to prove he is not a French spy at blunderbuss point? Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach open in July 1962, in other words during the period building up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, yet the protagonists worry about bonking rather more than practicing their Bert the Turtle routines. (Or as they had it in 'Man Men' 3.3 "We could have died." "But we didn't!") Jonathan Coe's splendid The Rotters' Club is partly about the Birmingham Pub Bombings which happened in 1974 - in other words at the same time as Martin Amis' Dead Babies; Amis's title is ironic, it was of no interest to him whatsoever that his countryfolk of roughly his age were blown to bits. How do people behave during wartime? They pretty much carry on, go the Mud Club, to CBGBs...

Ah, what Nick wants is a real war, hygiene of the race, and all that...


Blogger flyingrodent said...

Reading it again, I think my assessment is only a little bit unfair on Nick.

Really, I'm struggling to slip a Rizla inbetween Nick's column and Con Coughlin's ludicrous OMG judges = suicide bombers with wigs argument earlier this week. The difference seems to be one of tone rather than content - Coughlin just says directly what Nick implies with harrumphing.

And I think Nick's attitude here speaks volumes about the almost entirely Decent-led response to the Gita Saghal case. Recognising that massive, US-run black prison networks, torture, murder and disappearance are all like, wrong and bad, man, is merely a pro-forma intro to a series of furious, polysyllabic denunciations of an organisation that was set up specifically to expose extra-judicial detention torture, murder and disappearances.

Shorter - If Nick's going to gild the torture lily like this, he really has no right to have his opinion on Amnesty's behaviour taken seriously.

2/14/2010 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Yeah, that's right, IMO. I meant to link to Coughlin, and the takedowns by Alex Massie and Alex Deane.

I think Nick's argument comes down to "Amnesty must be careful of who they're seen with" when the point of Amnesty is to oppose extra-judicial detention and capital punishment regardless of who is being detained. Nick's forgotten old Pastor Niemoller: if they come for you, and you're not on my side, you can piss off. Amnesty have to stand up for some unpleasant people; that's what they do. Next, Nick will attack doctors who have knowingly saved the lives of terrorists and tyrants. Damn that Hippocratic oath.

2/14/2010 11:44:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Assuming that the far left has not taken control of Amnesty, and that may be a generous assumption

there's not enough :facepalm: in the world.

That article feels like a succession of two-sentence online comments from some troll - possibly a few different trolls - which have been packaged together. There's no argument to it whatsoever.

All it had to do in the case of Guantánamo Bay was stick to the idea that suspects should not be held without trial and without the protections of the Geneva Convention. Instead, it collaborated with former Guantánamo inmate Moazzam Begg

So the problem is that rather than campaign theoretically they actually got someone who'd been held there to speak at some of their events. The tortured grammar in that sentence demonstrates the problems with the opposition to this, just like Toube's oddly un-smoking gun.

Every third-rate political pundit has ruled that we cannot say that we are in a "war on terror"

Does he still not understand the problem with that phrase?

politicians will not allow us to say that we are in a "war against radical Islam" because they have to pretend that religion does not motivate religious extremists

I'm pretty sure that's not the reason. Possibly the reason for the lack of willingness to use that phrase is that it's pretty hard to go to war against a global, fairly unpopular, ideology; and that if it were true we'd have to start bombing the opposition parties in Egypt as well as Saudi. We end up with this, too:

defenders of clerical fascists who want to do everything in their power to suppress liberals, most notably liberal-minded Muslims.

So Begg isn't actually a clerical fascist - his crime seems to have been giving one of these clerics an easy ride in an interview.

Cohen feminism-spotting ahoy:

Gita Sahgal, head of Amnesty's gender unit, and one of the most principled feminist writers I have read

Where, exactly, has Cohen read her, I wonder? He hardly seems to have had much time for postcolonial theory in the past.

reading on...

They could equally become so disillusioned that they give up, and in a time of liberal betrayal that would be the greatest betrayal of all.

I can't help thinking back to Nick's own track record in 'supporting' human rights organisations - which amounts to, er, consistently badmouthing them in print, often by fundamentally misreading their statements, along with actually writing articles in support of torture - and wondering where the betrayal, and the 'bloody hypocrisy', to quote the facebook page that Nasty Nick (who hates online campaigns, remember) set up, resides.

I have to take issue with the McEwan discussion above - both OCB and Saturday are dreadful books, but they're both directly concerned with 'liberals in times of war/national crisis'. Saturday is, more or less, a book supporting intervention in Iraq, through the (I think pretty offensive) concluding metaphor of giving life-saving brain surgery to someone who's tried to rape your daughter; OCB is meant to be a critique of these ostensibly pro-CND people and their misguided sexual hangups which dominate their lives. just like Amis in his recent novel, McEwan fucks it up by inventing a past that bears no resemblance to historical fact in order to take cheap shots, but what do you expect.

2/14/2010 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

"Gita Sahgal, head of Amnesty's gender unit, and one of the most principled feminist writers I have read"

I think it's just a missing comma, so

"Gita Sahgal, head of Amnesty's gender unit, and one of the most principled feminist writers, I have read"

2/14/2010 01:41:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

I notice here that the fact Gita Saghal can't find a human rights lawyer willing to take up her case is fresh evidence in teh Bigest Librul Betrayal Evar...

...Which prompts the question, why does she want a human rights lawyer to represent her, rather than an employment lawyer?

Law and human rights are one of my pet issues, so I can guess it's probably because from an employment angle, she doesn't have a leg to stand on - denouncing your employer to News International is clearly a disciplinary issue.

Further, Amnesty isn't a public authority, so there's no legally-enforceable case against suspending her - note that the "legally-enforceable" part here is crucial to her case, and not some pedantic technicality.

Finally, the only reason I can see for wanting an HR lawyer is the argument that Amnesty should accept that they're denying Saghal's right to free expression. This is based on no recognisable legal concept, but does make sense if you believe that Amnesty's basic mission means it should take HR concepts more seriously than every other org or company on Earth.

I can understand and even endorse this argument, but it surely strays into the kind of "(x) should be held to a higher standard than (y)" territory that would usually have the Decents speaking in tongues.

I really suspect it's just another opportunity to bash the hell out of human rights lawyers generally as unprincipled friends of terrorism, which is a cretinously counterproductive gambit if you're genuinely concerned about human rights issues.

I've said this before and I'll say it again, but the Decents' ideal scenario is to concern-troll HR orgs into adopting their weird, one-eyed politics and, failing that, crush them utterly in the hope that a more politically acceptable HR movement pings into existence thereafter.

It's an idiotic strategy from every angle, and I think it's important that - regardless of whether Saghal is right or not - people reading about this issue should be told who is pushing it, and why.

2/14/2010 01:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Martin Wisse said...

That "principled feminist writer" bit is one of Nick's old tics, isn't it? He seems to use it whenever some vaguely liberal high profile woman agrees with him on the importance of the war on terror and how awful those liberals are in opposing western torture.

2/14/2010 02:13:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

God that standpoint piece is bad:

Our heroine has been punished for speaking out, she is being denied the basic right to legal representation, surely Amnesty will act as a court of final appeal and give her a hearing?

What is he on about here? I'm guessing that she's being denied the right to legal representation because nobody thinks she has a case. And yes, surely she needs an employment lawyer.

the Decents' ideal scenario is to concern-troll HR orgs into adopting their weird, one-eyed politics and, failing that, crush them utterly in the hope that a more politically acceptable HR movement pings into existence thereafter.

This is why i think cohen's final statement evinces so much chutzpah - he's saying Human Rights is important but his only output on HR involves criticising people who work in that field.

As I've said before, 'one of the most principled feminists in Britain' is Nick's code for 'woman who has recently said something i agree with'. It's not so much to do with the war on terror as him coming across a statement he likes the look of. He fairly obviously had never read, maybe had not even heard of, Saghal until last week; he calls her a writer but her principal occupation is not, and has never been, writing. I think this is part of trying to shift the goalposts into yet another phoney freedom of speech issue.

2/14/2010 03:09:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

OC @3 Fair point re 'On Chesil Beach' (I confess I've not read it - from what I know, it seems like an extended riff on Larkin's 'Annus Mirabilis'); one of Nick's bizarre arguments (to me) is this "phoney war" one. How would we act in a real one? Clearly, to Nick, (and this is the analogy I should have used) this is how the population should behave in time of war:

A new poster had suddenly appeared all over London. It had no caption, and represented simply the monstrous figure of a Eurasian soldier, three or four metres high, striding forward with expressionless Mongolian face and enormous boots, a submachine gun pointed from his hip. From whatever angle you looked at the poster, the muzzle of the gun, magnified by the foreshortening, seemed to be pointed straight at you. The thing had been plastered on every blank space on every wall, even outnumbering the portraits of Big Brother. The proles, normally apathetic about the war, were being lashed into one of their periodical frenzies of patriotism. As though to harmonize with the general mood, the rocket bombs had been killing larger numbers of people than usual. One fell on a crowded film theatre in Stepney, burying several hundred victims among the ruins. The whole population of the neighbourhood turned out for a long, trailing funeral which went on for hours and was in effect an indignation meeting. Another bomb fell on a piece of waste ground which was used as a playground and several dozen children were blown to pieces. There were further angry demonstrations, Goldstein was burned in effigy, hundreds of copies of the poster of the Eurasian soldier were torn down and added to the flames, and a number of shops were looted in the turmoil; then a rumour flew round that spies were directing the rocket bombs by means of wireless waves, and an old couple who were suspected of being of foreign extraction had their house set on fire and perished of suffocation.

2/14/2010 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger Sarah Ditum said...

Nick gets a gold star for combining the self-aggrandising "Nick Cohen is what a feminist looks like" argument with the sneery throwdown of metrosexual as an insult. ("Ha ha liberals, you wouldn't really like him because he's not *metrosexual* enough for you and your gay-for-human-rights friends.") Nothing says not-a-sexist like mild homophobia.

2/14/2010 05:50:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I was going to mention the Larkin poem actually - what McEwan seems to have done is to assumed that the situation detailed in that poem applied to prretty much everyone in Britain at that time. What that means is that pretty much everything historical, in what is a fairly well-researched novella, feels totally bogus - from the accounts of going to see bands in Soho bars (replete with oddly obvious errors of musical history) right up to the main character's masturbatory habits, the source of the entire plot but so utterly unbelievable that the whole thing evaporates when you start to think about it. It's an inutterably dreadful book; i have no idea how anyone could even have taken it seriously, let alone allowing it onto the Booker shortlist. Though Saturday is even worse...

I don't even understand the 'phoney war' argument in Cohen's piece. So we are really at war, with both islamism and 'terror', this is his point, isn't it. But it just doesn't make sense, either in terms of history or philosophy. Someone deciding that they hate Britain doesn't automatically make the country at war with them.

He goes on:

promoting human rights is a hard and often thankless task that has to be done regardless of the consequences

hm, for me the implications of that passage are clear - it's still all about Iraq for Cohen; he is still, at root, at exactly the same place he was when he attacked Human Rights workers over elf n safety in Iraq. The problem with the piece, as per fucking usual, is that Cohen has invented the opinions of the 'bonkers' people he is attacking - his is a deeply one-sided reading of both the legal judgments and the AI case which is why his conclusion reads so weirdly - what is 'the price we have to pay' in the AI case? if anything, Cohen's fantasy-world AI is a case of 'pain without gain', much more so than if Begg is invited as a speaker occasionally. Decencts - and Cohen in particular - so often dress up the easy way out they've chosen (eg you can support the war on iraq but you're blameless when it goes pear-shaped as those who opposed it said it would) as some sort of incredibly difficult decision, on a par with - more admirable than, in fact - something like actually going out to Iraq to work for an NGO.

2/14/2010 05:53:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I'm still not clear what Nick's actually arguing for. But is he accusing Norman Geras of being "Pollyannaish"? I may have misunderstood Nick, but it seems that "Pollyannaish notion" = moral absolute. Aren't relativists the baddies?

2/14/2010 06:42:00 PM  

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