Monday, October 08, 2007

Here we go again

There is a new edition of Nick Cohen's 'What's Left' out and this gave the Guardian the chance to yet again unleash a hostile reviewer in their paperbacks section. To be so irritating in such a small space takes a special quality. The reviewer, Aimee Shalan, repeats familiar misreadings. For example, this is could have been lifted from any number of negative reviews.

Cohen depicts those opposed to the invasion of Iraq ... as perverse defenders of fascism.

This is where comprehension skills would help. Cohen actually writes sympathetically of most, but not all, of those who opposed the war - what really gets to him are those who, once the war was over, failed to support democratic institutions, such as trade unions and secular left parties, and instead romanticised Islamist and Ba'athist terrorists fighting against the establishment of an Iraqi democracy. Methinks he has a point (and over at the Drink-soaked Trots there is an excellent post by Scoop Shachtman which might also give pause for thought).

It's the final paragraph that takes the biscuit.

Having denounced the left for failing to confront persecution unconditionally, he ends by making Israel the exception, declaring that the occupation, humiliation and collective punishment of the Palestinian population are evils worth fighting until you ask the question: "What is anti-semitism?" All of a sudden, it's fine for human sympathy to be conditional and double standards are apparently acceptable.

Once again, this is the complete opposite of what Cohen has written. The convoluted logic of the paragraph seems to be utterly dismissive of anti-Semitism. One of the key points of Cohen's book is that some 'leftism' hides its anti-Semitism behind a critique of Israel, whereas what Shalan is repeating is the old accusation that allegations of anti-Semitism are used to deligitimate criticism of Israel. Cohen is scrupulous in distinguishing between the two and makes evident a persistent and unpleasant anti-Semitic streak in left thought (and you can find it in 19th Century socialist tracts as well).

Compare this review with Cohen's latest call for clarity in the Observer about how the use of the passive voice in reporting the conflict in Iraq clouds the attribution of responsibility in a way in which the active voice would not.

'What's Left' is one of the better contributions to a growing critique of ill-thought out and muddled thinking that is a prominent feature of the contemporary political scene. This review is a prime example of what it is up against.

2 comments:

Larkers said...

"Having denounced the left for failing to confront persecution unconditionally, he ends by making Israel the exception, declaring that the occupation, humiliation and collective punishment of the Palestinian population are evils worth fighting until you ask the question: "What is anti-semitism?" All of a sudden, it's fine for human sympathy to be conditional and double standards are apparently acceptable."

I have read this paragraph three times but I am at a loss to grasp what is being advanced by way of an argument. Perhaps someone will enlighten me. I have never read Cohen denouncing the Left however.

Inter alia, it is a devastating situation for the Left that The Guardian has sunk to this level.

Anonymous said...

I've been waiting for an excuse to buy this book, this new edition provides the perfect oppertunity! :-)