Nick Cohen wrote an article in the Spectator that’s paywalled for most of us, but thank Ceiling Cat he also published it on his Substack site, “Writing from London.” It was originally called “Why the far Left supports Hamas“, but the title was changed when the piece moved to Substack. The original title was more accurate!
This is Cohen at his best, though I haven’t followed him regularly. If you do, subscribe to his site.
First, the observation:
It’s not often that Brits can say that the US is behind the UK. But in understanding the dynamic between the successors to the old socialist left and radical Islam, US thinkers have years of catching up to do. It is not as if American commentators are wrong or uninteresting, it is just that, unlike their counterparts in Europe, they have not begun to come to terms with the Islamisation of the worst strains of left-wing politics, and the wider consequences for the progressive cause.
Moderates in the US were pushed into taking a stand after the glorification of murder at a demonstration organised by the New York chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America on 8 October. Mark that date. I hope when historians look back on these times they will notice that in the US and across Europe, the white far left and radical Islamists were organsising rallies to celebrate the attack on Israel. No Israeli retaliation had taken place on 8 October. The blood of the dead was not even dry, Demonstrators were not protesting against an Israeli assault on Gaza city but in favour of the murder of Jewish civilians.
I hadn’t realize that many demonstrations in favor of Palestine preceded any Israeli retaliation, and thus were really either demonstrations of favor of Hamas and what it did, or anticipatory demonstrations damning Israel for what it might do. Given the timing, the obvious celebration of some of them, and my unfamiliarity with any anticipatory demonstrations, you can’t discount a motivation the these protests celebrated the killing of Jews.
I won’t reproduce Cohen’s whole analysis of “Why the far Left supports Hamas” (the original title), but here are a few trenchant paragraphs. His main idea is that Hamas (and Palestine) provides the Far Left with a cause it needs: a cause so pressing that it demands war and killing. Bolding below is mine:
The most imperialist country in the world is Russia, but the far left cannot oppose it because Putin is anti-western, and that is all that matters to them. Most people think that climate change won’t bring a radical reordering of society — “we’re just going to build some solar panels and electric cars and stuff,” as Smith puts it. There doesn’t seem much mileage in shouting about neo-liberalism given that it died in the 2008 crash.
In these circumstances, the Palestinian cause offers a way out of end-of-history ennui. Israel could be described as a colonial state, albeit one founded by refugees fleeing fascism. The struggle against it appeared to fit a classic pattern.
And, as Smith nicely emphasizes, by supporting Hamas, the far left could draw a dividing between itself and the rest of the US progressive movement. A useful tactic because, if you are running a political or religious sect ,you need your members to believe in something that most people will regard as insane: supporting the mass murder of Israeli teenagers, hailing your church’s leader as God’s chosen, insisting that Joe Biden stole the election from Donald Trump. Sect members not only prove their loyalty to their leaders. [sic] Crucially, they cut themselves off from friends, family and acquaintances, who in normal circumstances might moderate their thinking and point out that the slogan “from the river to sea” means the ethnic cleansing of every Jew living between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean, as Hamas has just proved in the most brutal fashion imaginable.
. . . You can mock and denounce the far left as much as you like, and I have done my fair share of both. But the connection to ultra-reactionary regimes and movements did not bother Labour party members who voted for Corbyn to be their leader – twice! You can blame Labour members as loudly as you like, and I have done my fair share of that too. But the fact remains that if you want to support the Palestinian cause, you have to accept at some level that the most dynamic anti-Zionist force is Hamas not one of the dying secular and socialist parties, and work out how to deal with that uncomfortable fact.
It is not, therefore, just sinister and stupid far-left sects who are caught in a conflict of principles. Unless they are very careful many progressives will find themselves ignoring the victims of Hamas crimes against humanity as Tilda Swinton, Steve Coogan, Charles Dance and 2000 other artists did when they signed a petition condemning Israel that did not even mention the slaughter by Hamas that started the war.
Note that the UN did that, too, as you saw in the previous post. Cohen also digs up an old quote from Hitchens:
The far left copes with radical Islam by celebrating Hamas. At times it seems many progressive people cope with radical Islam by pretending it does not exist. They cannot look at the Hamas founding charter and see its Nazi-era conspiracy theories about Jews or examine how it enforces a reactionary dictatorship on the people of Gaza. They just talk as if it is not there.
Writing in 2008, the ex-Marxist Christopher Hitchens said that “The most depressing and wretched spectacle of the past decade, for all those who care about democracy and secularism, has been the degeneration of Palestinian Arab nationalism into the theocratic and thanatocratic hell of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, where the Web site of Gaza’s ruling faction blazons an endorsement of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
In the end, Cohen says “the radical Islamist movement. . . is visibly dying” and suggests that perhaps Palestine will one day “be represented by people you need not recoil from in disgust.” One can hope. . .