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What planet is Nick Cohen on?


11:19 pm - March 18th 2009

by Sunny Hundal    


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Sunder Katawala has written a reply to Nick Cohen’s article in The Observer this weekend. In fact, a reply is not really a satisfactory word. Sunder tears apart Nick Cohen’s poorly written article with great force. He completely eviscerates it. If this was Menace 2 Society, which I watched yesterday, Sunder would have taken out an Uzi 9mm and destroyed the whole joint. You get my point.

This has become Nick Cohen’s latest game: to attack the liberal-left by using ‘liberal Muslims’ as his proxy. It would be funny if this wasn’t a national newspaper column expressly aimed at influencing the govenment’s Preventing Violent Extremism strategy. So, let’s play that game.

NGN
In late 2005 I met Sunder and said I wanted to publish something big challenging the ‘community leaders’ and the hold they had over race & faith politics. He fully supported it and, once I had put together a ‘manifesto’, went with me to the Guardian to put forward the case that they needed this to expand the debate. A week long debate followed the launch of the New Generation Network, and my article, and I’m proud to say that the ‘community leaders’ edifice fell apart soon after.

The hilarious thing is that Nick Cohen seems to have forgotten about all this, even though his close colleagues signed it. Instead we’re treated to the tired old argument, put forward by the pro-war commentators who call themselves lefties, that the left keeps betraying liberal minorities. Bullshit would be the nice way of putting.

In fact, Sunder lists a whole bunch of Fabian events and debates where Nick and others have taken part.

So to say that the left neither has these debates or is afraid of challenging Islamists is not only laughable, but just downright rubbish.

Policy Exchange
Nick Cohen talks up the rightwing think-tank Policy Exchange. The same one that:
1) Got caught out with forgeries during an investigation, threatened to sue the BBC, and then limped away quietly.
2) Who’s director Dean Godson made excuses for the fact that Sadiq Khan was bugged because apparently he was ‘Islamist friendly’
3) Is intensely hypocritical on free speech.

Frankly, anyone who goes near Policy Exchange now is tainted by association, especially given the think-tank’s obvious agenda and its director’s illustrious past.

Cheap shots
Shiraz Maher and Ed Husain are relatively new to these debates, so they can be excused for rehearsing arguments that are a couple of years old and have been made by many on the left since. Nick Cohen has no excuse, unless of course he’s just using it to attack the left.

The NGN manifesto expressly said: “Racial prejudice is no longer the preserve of white people and has become much more complicated,” and was signed by a lot of people, including many liberal Muslims.

And yet he quotes Ed Husain as saying:

Who on the left stands on the side of Muslims who want to support secularism and pluralism? Do they think that fascists only have white skins?

Heh. Ed wasn’t around then so I can excuse him. But for Nick to put this out there innocently is being disingenuous, to say the least.

Furthermore, the anti-Islamist crowd has been supported by many on the left, not just the Fabians. Don’t forget that it was Catherine Fieschi (then at Demos) who was instrumental in helping the Quilliam Foundation early on. I wrote in support of it. Others on the left including Zia Sardar, Johann Hari, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, myself, Rehna Azim and the BMSD crowd have been critical of Islamists for a long time. These are old arguments.

Nick is just regurgitating them for a cheap shot, and that too just so he can look at the brave defender of liberal Muslims. I’m afraid that boat sailed a long time ago. The best way to prevent the polarisation in recent years would have been to argue against the invasion of Iraq and New Labour’s wave of anti-terrorism legislation that followed. Except Nick, was a cheerleader for both.

Time to switch
And lastly, don’t forget the time he praised his new friend Anthony Browne for standing up “for free speech and against liberal alliances with radical Islam”. Hah! Anthony Browne! This was of course a couple of years after the very same Nick Cohen attacked one Anthony Browne for his barely disguised racism.

It’s obvious Nick is happy to switch allegiances for political expediency. It’s time he also stopped pretending he’s on the left too, it’s getting a bit tiring to be honest.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,Realpolitik ,Terrorism ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Earth.

The manifesto expressly said: “Racial prejudice is no longer the preserve of white people and has become much more complicated,” and was signed by a lot of people, including many liberal Muslims.

I always enjoy your robust attacks on the racist , sexist and intolerant attitudes of minorities Sunny in the same spirit as I enjoy the sight of flying pig swooping majestically through fluffy cirrus at sunset. I think your defence of appeasement of Sadamm Hussein on the grounds it was good for avoiding polarisation is a bit of a reach as well
Its rather an interesting piece though it would be good to see a reply .

3. organic cheeseboard

don’t forget Nick Cohen’s unequivocal praise, only a year ago, of a certain Hassan Butt…

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/mar/23/islam.uksecurity

Funnily Nick doesn’t mention him in this new Observer article.

4. Mike Killingworth

Many thanks Sunny. I’ll leave Cohen alone – the phenomenon of an able journalist moving rightward across the political spectrum is hardly new.

I was particularly interested in the links you provided, and above all in the one that led me to Sadiq Khan’s Fabian Lecture (in 2006). I have no problem with any of what he said there, but there was one thing he missed out which troubles me a little.

AFAIK, each and every Muslim terrorist and/or extremist adheres to a particular form of Islam – Wahhabism. This is of course the strand of Islam which is the state religion of Saudi Arabia, and there is no doubt that some of that country’s wealth is being used to promote Wahhabism elsewhere in the Muslim world, including among Muslims in the West.

Again AFAIK Khan and other “liberal Muslims” are always very careful not to mention it by name. Yet it seems to me that if they wish to promote a positive image of Islam with the rest of us, this is precisely what they should be doing. They clearly do believe that Wahhabism is a misunderstanding of their religion (I nearly wrote “perversion”) but they do not tell us why it has such a hold on so many Muslims (although thankfully not in this country) or how we – whether Muslim or not – should relate to it.

I fear that until this issue is properly addressed, those who hold to the “clash of civilisations” argument – which I suppose now includes Cohen – will hold the floor. This is particularly troubling now that the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team has for the first time offered a piece of evidence for that argument.

It may of course be that “liberal Muslims” feel that this approach would be counter-productive, but if so it would be interesting to know why.

Plenty of Muslim terrorists/extremists adhere to other branches of Sunni Islam, and plenty more (think Hizbullah) are Shia. I suspect many don’t really adhere to any kind of Islam at all, because when you take out all the bits they don’t like, i.e. all the bits about respecting others, having no compulsion in religion, etc., there isn’t a great deal left.

@Rayyan ( hopefully,with the web-sites kind permission.For the uninitiated;)
“because when you take out all the bits they don,t like, ie.all the bits about respecting others,having no compulsion in religion ,ect

The “tolerant”verses of the Koran were “abrogated”( God changed his mind ) at the end of the Meccan period,when Mohammed became militarily stonger.
Regards

7. Kardinal Birkutzki

“What planet…on”. When ones sees that type of headline one is virtually always alerted to the possibility that the article will be hot-headed, hyoped-up ill-considered and biased. And, lo and behold, Liberal Conspiracy doesn’t disappoint once again…..

What planet is Nick Cohen on?

Planet Business-As-Usual-For-Nick-Cohen

Step One – Nick makes some ridiculously overblown allegation about “liberal betrayal”, often based on material lifted from Harry’s Place;

Step Two – Nick reads a response that details his many, many factual and logical errors;

Step Three – Nick ignores the response entirely; posts unrelated material that proves absolutely bugger all and pretends he was actually talking about something else, usually an unnamed and nebulous “Islamist-appeasing liberal left”.

Step Four – “I rest my case”.

Outside of Mel Philips, I have a hard time thinking of a working journalist who relies so heavily on anecdotes, spurious conjecture, smears by association or telepathic powers of mind reading.

9. organic cheeseboard

He’s posted another response now.

Apparently, in direct contrast to his previous post, he wasn’t actually talking about the Fabians *at all* (even though he mentioned them by name and wrote a very long blog post outlining his non-existent case against them, all lifted verbatim from harry’s place).

The fact that the Fabians responded to hisbeing mentioned in his work as fascist-appeasers, however, and that they detailed the myriad flaws in his logic, is now Nick’s proof that they appease facism! Apparently evn posting rebuttals to Cohen’s claims proves that you are a terrorist-appeaser.

and Oliver Kamm, who seems to be Nick’s personal bodyguard nowadays, has weighed in – according to Ollie, pointing out that Iraq was cited by a 7/7 bomber as *one of* the reasons for the attacks (ie not the only reason) is anti-democratic, too.

I’m not sure what’s going on over on Planet Cohen (orbited by the moon of Kamm), but it certainly doesn’t involve reading, or thinking.

10. Nick Cohen

Sunny, this is completely ridiculous. Read what I wrote. The piece is about the appeasement of Jamaat-i-Islami, a far right party you ought to oppose, by such noted lefties as the Lord Chief Justice, Prince Charles and Her Majesty the Queen. At the end I go through a list of feminists, Bengali socialists and British liberals who are disillusioned by the failure of the Labour government to stand by them rather than their enemies. In passing in the penultimate paragraph of a 1000 word piece, I quote Shiraz Maher saying that an investigation he has done into misogynist, racist, anti-semitic, anti-democratic and anti-enlightenment groups would not have been published by a left-wing think tank, which is true, in my view.
And you all run around screaming with demented rage.
Sit down and have a nice cup of tea, dear.

11. organic cheeseboard

I quote Shiraz Maher saying that an investigation he has done into misogynist, racist, anti-semitic, anti-democratic and anti-enlightenment groups would not have been published by a left-wing think tank, which is true, in my view.

based on what? The entire point of the Fabian response to your piece was to point out how wrongheaded, and how detached from the realm of facts, this view is, Mr Cohen.

The fact that your initial response was to run off to Harry’s Place to copy and paste a load of tangential stuff, including a rather regrattble piece of childish mudslinging from Martin Amis, none of which proves anything about the Fabian Society – before accusing your detractors of being hysterical – says it all.

And in any case, after the first post you said ‘I rest my case’. Not quite good enough, was it, in retrospect, Nick?

I fully expect to see a one-eyed, pro-Cohen account of all this in the next Private Eye by the way. Maybe under the byline of ‘Ratbiter’.

Sunny, this is completely ridiculous. Read what I wrote.

Oooh, let’s! Let’s!

The death threats from Islamists [Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s] espousal of feminism brought earned her nothing but insults from Dutch leftists and English liberals. She ended up working for a conservative institute in Washington because her natural allies would not offer her their protection and support.

Except that criticism from Buruma and Garton Ash appeared months after it was announced that she’d work for the AEI.

When I asked Shiraz Maher, the co-author of the Policy Exchange report, why he had not offered his work to the leftish Fabians or Institute for Public Policy Research, he guffawed. They would never print what he wrote.”

Except that, as Sunder Katwala wrote at length, there’s no particular reason to believe this.

Sure, some lefties might have a more sceptical attitude than you towards those who appear to be opposing radical Islamism. But, then

If Butt and Malik are prosecuted, how the jihadis will laugh at the stupidity of a country that can’t tell its allies from its enemies. ‘Look,’ they will say to their recruits, ‘look at what happens to Muslims who go over to their side. Are they thanked? Are they honoured?

maybe that’s wise.

Incidentally, it is nice to be able to question writers in the comments thread, isn’t it.

* Katawala

Nick,

You write an article claiming that the liberal left is betraying moderate muslims. You hold up Policy Exchange and Ed Husain as examples of people who are doing the right thing and quote their view that the Fabians would never publish their material, a view which you implicitly endorse in your article (and explicitly endorse above despite Sunder providing substantial evidence that this is incorrect). Therefore is it not reasonable for the reader to infer that the reason the Fabians would not publish such material is that they are part of the liberal left which is betraying moderate muslims?

And do you think it surprising that many of the liberal left are going to be less than sympathetic towards you when you are constantly portaying us a terrorist-hugging, extremist-appeasing, Jew-hating traitors to the liberal cause?

More from me on consistency Cohen, drawing on Sunny’s excellent case of whether Anthony Browne is a dangerous extremist, a brave liberal, or both, and neither, and all of the above at the same.
http://www.nextleft.org/2009/03/consistency-cohen-will-nick-now.html

Of course, the major point is that those of us doing serious work for the last four years (including Sunny, Fabians, IPPR, City Circle and so many others) do want Nick Cohen and others to give some profile and effort to that, instead of talking bollocks.

I believe that Ed Husain and the Quillam Foundation are likely to prove one important voice, assuming they will be attempting to engage seriously with the liberal-left rather than just writing lucrative columns denouncing it. (Ed Husain is a Fabian, as it happens, whereas we have not had any contact from Maher, and nor have IPPR). And I welcome that and will engage with it – democratically, which will often means reasonable and legitimate disagreement about means even when broad ends are shared – if they engage seriously with the rest of us. As long as we don’t send the message that you have to have been an extremist to have something to say about the common citizenship we need to root out extremism, because that would be wrong, counter-productive and unfair to all of those who have had a strong consistent commitment to democracy.

So maybe there is some bridge-building and democratic arguing to be done, which might one day provide Nick Cohen with a route back to constructive advocacy, as well as highlighting where we all fail. (Just because he sometimes wildly missing the target – as with his extreme generalisations, and unwarranted attack on us – I don’t think that means that none of his targets are significant ones). There should be common ground on extremism, without calling the rest of us extremists and appeasers when we are not, and Sunny in particular has always been good on that too, in my view.

“In passing in the penultimate paragraph of a 1000 word piece, I quote Shiraz Maher saying that an investigation he has done into misogynist, racist, anti-semitic, anti-democratic and anti-enlightenment groups would not have been published by a left-wing think tank, which is true, in my view.”

Well, the fact that this your view is made clear by it being in a column with your name attached to it. The point Sunder Katwala was raising was about the connection (or lack of it) between your instincts and prejudices and the real life facts of what the Fabian Society have been doing.

The impression I get from this exchange is that on the ‘ignoring liberal Muslims’ charge, anyone on the liberal-left is not only guilty until proven innocent, they’re guilty until imbued with the mystical power to reverse deeply ingrained default positions.

The piece is about the appeasement of Jamaat-i-Islami, a far right party you ought to oppose

I have no sympathy at all for the Jamaat lot, but I’m afraid trying to pretend that you were just criticising them won’t wash Nick.

This article, as many of your recent articles, was about bashing the left because apparently they’re too soft on Islamists for you. So you not only ignore all the work that has been done in the past but also that the left has actually been quite vocal in defending traditional liberal values.

It seems you don’t want to listen Nick, hence your gruff dismissal of Sunder’s reply. Why don’t you ask Shiraz or Ed if they’ve had support from me. Why not ask Shiraz if he’s ever contacted the Fabians or IPPR?

And lastly, could you please explain your turnaround on Anthony Browne?

Not going to delete Mr. Cohen`s comment Sunny ?

19. Conor Foley

Haha, even the Bible of Decency thinks he’s lost it.

21. douglas clark

I used to buy the Observer, back about a dozen years or so, because Nick Cohen wrote truth to power. It was the only reason I bought it.

Nick, whatever happened to you?

You said this ré Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

The death threats from Islamists her espousal of feminism brought earned her nothing but insults from Dutch leftists and English liberals.

Not from me it didn’t. And I think of myself as a liberal. Scottish liberal right enough, does that make a difference?

Why do you assume that the Islington party set ever were truly liberal?

It seems to me that it is you, and they, that have changed, adopting a new political philosophy, because it is the fashion of the day. You follow a few others down that path, Hitchins, for instance. Or in our own back yard, David T.

It seems to me that you swallowed, hook, line and sinker, the Euston Manifesto concept of robust liberalism and have been unable to surrender that opinion ever since. It has merit, but it also has huge flaws, the Iraq death toll being one of them.

Nick, what happens to journalists of a certain age?

You’d know, better than any of us.

Nick, whatever happened to you?

I sense an element of sadness and despair in this question which I share. It’s not just the writer Nick has become which saddens me, but also that we have lost the writer he used to be. This is apparent if you read the article linked to above attacking not just Anthony Browne but the government’s record on the treatment of asylum seekers. It’s an excellent, powerful and well argued article and Nick was consistently excellent on this issue in the government’s first few years in power. Now he moans because we are squeamish about deporting people who might be subject to torture.

And he didn’t just swallow the Euston Manifesto line on muscular liberalism, he helped write the bloody thing. Which reminds me of another volte-face:

From the EM
We reject without qualification the anti-Americanism now infecting so much left-liberal (and some conservative) thinking.

From the New Statesman in 2002
Why it is right to be anti-American by Nick Cohen

25. Douglas Clark . You seem yo object to liberalism , would you please explain. Personally , I have become confused about the use of the word “Liberal”.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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