brushes aside

Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a British journalist, author, and political commentator. He was educated at Hertford College, Oxford, where he read PPE. He began his career at the Birmingham Post and Mail before joining The Independent as a reporter. He now writes a weekly column for The Observer, and a regular column for the London Evening Standard. Since May 2008 he has been the television critic for Standpoint magazine, a magazine launched by an alliance of writers across Left and Right committed to "the defence of Western Civilisation". Until June 2007 he contributed regularly to the New Statesman, but departed and sued the magazine. Cohen has written three books; Cruel Britannia: Reports on the Sinister and the Preposterous (1999), a collection of his journalism; Pretty Straight Guys (2003), a highly critical account of the New Labour project; and What's Left? (2007), which he describes as the story of how the liberal left of the 20th century came to support the far right of the 21st. The Orwell Prize for political writing shortlisted What's Left? in 2008.

Cohen argues he promotes left-wing democratic secular humanism, and is regarded by some supporters as belonging to the intellectual tradition of radical writers such as George Orwell and Albert Camus. Hitherto a strong critic of American foreign policy describing himself as "anti-American" early in 2002, in November that year he announced his support for the invasion of Iraq and denounced the left for, as he saw it, "anti-Americanism" and failing to address Islamist ideology. "The left... has swerved to the right," he wrote. His critics have argued that he has in fact swerved to the right himself, and labeled him a neoconservative, pointing to his praise for Paul Wolfowitz and George W. Bush, and his decision to write for FrontPage magazine, where he complained the ultra-conservative David Horowitz was "too soft" on liberals. Cohen now seems to accept this, writing that he is "turning... into a Tory.

In 2006, he was a leading signatory to the Euston Manifesto, which proposed "a new political alignment" in which the left opposes what the signatories describe as terrorism and anti-Americanism - terms which Cohen in 2002 had described as "propaganda insult[s]."

He is an advisory board member of Just Journalism, an independent organisation that aims to promote accurate and responsible reporting about Israel in the UK media.

Domestic politics

Though most widely known for his views on foreign policy, he first came to wide attention for his commentaries on domestic politics. In the 1990s, he was a critic of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the 'New Labour' project, which he argued at that time was based on image, not principle. He told the British television network, Channel 4: "You get this picture of the leadership of this country, people in the heart of power, Blair, Campbell, Powell all in Downing Street, all worried intensely and working intensely about the Prime Minister's image. This is the government of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They really ought to have better things to do with their time ... Apart from Tony Blair's image, his sincerity, his integrity, there's no ideology behind it, beyond the standard neo-Conservative ideology of the day, and so his integrity is kind of all they've got. However, of late he has been an enthusiastic supporter of Tony Blair, writing: "If Europe’s leaders have any sense, they will make him the first president of the European Union."

Cohen writings on British issues, include pieces on education policy, civil liberties, and inner-city racial tension. He has been a consistent opponent of the introduction of identity cards, has declared his support for grammar schools, claiming that those schools supported social mobilityt and has attacked the increasing involvement of the private sector within public services.

Cohen argues that he takes a broadly libertarian viewpoint on civil liberties issues. In particular, he has been a consistent opponent of the introduction of identity cards, which he described in 2004 as a "counterproductive, authoritarian and ruinously expensive folly" . He has also attacked the misuse of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, arguing that they "have created a new outlet for the small-minded and allowed them to treat people who would once have been dismissed as unlucky or unconventional or simple-minded as villains. However, in a 2006 article headlined "We have to deport terrorist suspects whatever their fate", he criticizes the British government for its reluctance to deport terror suspects to states that are known to commit torture, saying they should prioritize "national interests".

He has also frequently written on the topic of inner-city racial tension, arguing that British liberals have discouraged racial integration. In the aftermath of the Birmingham riots in October 2005, he recalled his time as a reporter for the Birmingham Post & Mail during the Handsworth riots twenty years before, and drew pessimistic conclusions from events in the interim period, writing: "I can see no more urgent task than taking the fight to those on the right and the left who are busily piling bricks on ghetto walls. If they're not stopped, I don't like to think what Handsworth or the rest of the country will be like in 20 years. He has written on the relative success of the British National Party at the 2006 local elections, arguing that, "if polite society stuffs British citizens into hermetically sealed boxes and labels them as the blacks or the Muslims, it is not so strange that people should decide to be the whites and vote accordingly." .

On economic issues, Cohen argued against increasing economic inequality for most of his career, but his opinions have changed. In January 2007 in the Evening Standard he argued that couples earning £100,000 per annum (the richest 2 percent) were finding it difficult to survive financially in London due to the pressures of school fees, house prices and council tax, and unless the governing Labour Party addressed their concerns it would lose the next general election. He has subsequently praised the Conservatives' tax proposals, particularly their policy to raise the level at which inheritance tax is levied from £350,000 to £1m. The Conservative Party, in Cohen's opinion, have fairer and more progressive tax proposals than their opponents on the left. The headline to this article, reproduced on Cohen's own website, said he was "turning... into a Tory.

Cohen currently has no declared party political allegiance; he has said that he has never been a member of any political party other than the Labour Party. He initially suggested, however, that he would vote Conservative to defeat Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral elections, on the grounds that Livingstone had shaken hands with Hugo Chavez who has in turn shaken hands with Robert Mugabe. In the end, he voted for the Liberal Democrat candidate Brian Paddick, while directing his criticisms entirely at Livingstone.

He also suggests in his book What's Left that the prioritisation of single mothers for council housing "provides a perverse incentive for single motherhood" and says that "the liberal professionals of the welfare state were aggravating the poverty and racism they said they opposed".

Cohen, Islam and the "war on terror"

Before the lead-up to the Iraq war, Cohen had been a fierce critic of UK and U.S. foreign policy. In a 2001 article headlined "Why it is right to be anti-American", he wrote: ""Anti-Americanism" is a transparent slur that libels and subverts the best of American freedom. It's a propaganda insult that is as contaminated as "terrorist". Right-wingers in London and Washington use it shamelessly to suggest that those who are not happy with their abysmal status quo are the moral equivalents of blood-drenched murderers." He said the US "needs to be fought" and "there is little about modern America to be for." These criticisms continued for some months after the attacks of September 11, 2001; he opposed that year's Afghanistan war and, in November 2001, argued that Tony Blair had "pinned a large target sign on this country" in his alliance with the U.S. in the war on terror. .

Later in 2002 and through 2003, Cohen had a change of heart. After the large-scale February 2003 anti-war demonstration in London, he was particularly critical of those human-rights, feminist and gay-rights activists who marched alongside Islamist groups, whom he accused of homophobia, anti-Semitism and misogyny. Cohen attacked the Stop the War Coalition for its perceived attitude toward Iraqi dissenters: "Iraq is the only country in the Arab world with a strong, democratic movement. Yet I wonder how many who marched yesterday know of the dissenters' existence. The demonstration's organisers have gone to great lengths to censor and silence ... The Socialist Workers Party, which dominates the alliance, was happy to cohost the march with the reactionary British Association of Muslims. The association had blotted its copybook by circulating a newspaper which explained that apostasy from Islam is 'an offence punishable by death'. But what the hell. In the interests of multi-culturalism, the SWP ignored the protests of squeamish lefties and let that pass. The Trots aren't Islamophobes, after all. The only Muslims they have a phobia about are secular Iraqi Muslims who, shockingly, believe in human rights."

He has been particularly critical of George Galloway, the Respect MP, whom he has likened to Oswald Mosley, and the Respect coalition more generally, which is linked to the Stop the War Coalition and the Socialist Workers Party. He has also criticized Ken Livingstone, the London mayor, for his association with Islamist clerics such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi. For Cohen, the "principled left" is a thing of the past.

The hit of the season is Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, a sort of Fox News for liberals. Among the many clunking contradictions and honking errors, one unforgivable scene stands out. Moore brushes aside the millions forced into exile and mass graves by Saddam Hussein, and decides to present life in one of the worst tyrannies of the late 20th century as sweet and simple. Boys scamper to barber shops. Merry children fly kites. Blushing lovers get married. At the end of the film, leftish audiences in America and Europe show they are more than prepared to forgive and forget. They rise to their feet and applaud.
In his switch to support for the wider war on terror, as led by George Bush, Cohen cited Paul Berman's book Terror and Liberalism as a major influence: "The only time I realised I was charging up a blind alley was when I read Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism. I didn't see a blinding light or hear a thunder clap or cry 'Eureka!' If I was going to cry anything it would have been 'Oh bloody hell!' ... I was going to have to turn it round and see the world afresh.

Opponents of Cohen's position on Iraq have pointed to his support of the Iraqi National Congress in the run-up to war, and his praise for its leader Ahmed Chalabi, the alleged conduit for much of the inaccurate pre-war intelligence. As the possibility of war with Iraq emerged in early 2002, Cohen promoted the INC as 'an inspiring resistance group' and criticised its 'shunning... by right-thinking, Left-leaning people', as well as by the CIA and State Department:

Many in the INC believe that what truly infuriates the CIA is that Chalabi is a cultured businessman, who speaks English better than most Western politicians. He argues with style and force against the INC’s detractors on the US networks and in Congress and the Washington think-tanks. George Tenet, who, incredibly, remains the CIA director after his failure to protect his country on 11 September, is the leader of the faction in Washington which loathes the INC… In Washington, the State Department, which has stopped funding the INC after disputed accusations of fraud, and the CIA take no notice of the threat and support the ‘nicer Sunni tyrant’ option. Paradoxically, the greatest supporters of the civilian movement are the military in the Pentagon. The struggle between the departments is underway, but the balance of forces is against the INC. A democratic Iraq would give the subject peoples of the Gulf monarchies ideas above their station.
Cohen repeated his praise of the INC in a number of columns leading up to the war, describing it as a "a loose and fractious coalition, but one which, for all its faults, is committed to democracy. Even before revelations of the role played by Chalabi and the INC in providing dubious intelligence, Mark Seddon argued: "Cohen's faith in the shambolic Iraqi National Congress, presided over by a convicted fraudster, Ahmad Chalabi, is horribly misplaced."

Critics also point to his attitude to George W. Bush, which has evolved concurrently with his views on foreign policy. He wrote in January 2005: "In the long-run the only solution is for the global move towards democracy to get moving again. In these strange times, the only person who believes that this is possible or desirable is George W. Bush. In his inauguration address last week he announced that the 'survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.' And was feared and hated by right-thinking people the world over for saying so. After meeting Paul Wolfowitz in London, Cohen wrote: "I was clearly in the presence of real power...I was in the presence of a politician committed to extending human freedom.

The left-wing journalist George Monbiot sees Cohen as failing to seriously condemn human rights abuses committed by the American and British governments in Iraq. He wrote that Cohen and other liberal hawks "accused those who opposed the war of caring nothing for the welfare of the Iraqis. Given that they care so much, why has none of these hawks spoken out against the use of unconventional weapons by coalition forces?" He later noted that Cohen wrote in 2002, "Former lefties can make a good living in the media by attacking their ex-comrades - I'd do it myself if the price was right."

In response to criticism of the Iraq on the invasion of Iraq, Cohen has argued, "If you say it is illegal to overthrow a genocidal tyrant, then you have to say that genocide is legal.

In 2007 the journalist Johann Hari reviewed Cohen's book What's Left in the American Dissent magazine, where he called for Cohen and others (like Hari himself) who supported the Iraq war from a left-wing perspective to admit they had been wrong and had profoundly misunderstood neoconservatism. Cohen argued that Hari's review was "deceitful", a "fairytale", "Maoist" and "a nervous breakdown in print". Hari called this response "bizarre" and offered quotes from Cohen which he argued backed up his claims, accusing Cohen of "a baffling denial of his own words". Soon after, they were both nominated for the Orwell Prize, which Hari won.

Cohen's criticism of liberals and their response to the war in Iraq and global terrorism is not just limited to those in the UK. In September 2008, Cohen in a book review in Frontpage Magazine described David Horowitz, the reviewed book's co-author and FrontPage's editor-in-chief, as an 'patriot first and foremost' and said that he provided 'ample evidence' that the American left had committed treason by giving comfort to the enemy in a time of war. However Cohen argued that the book's criticism of American liberalism did 'not go far enough'.

See also


External links

Cohen's work



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