Nick Cohen on the embrace of Islamism by the “progressive” Left

October 30, 2023 • 12:30 pm

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. . .

7 thoughts on “Nick Cohen on the embrace of Islamism by the “progressive” Left

  1. American progressives do not understand the Islamist-far left because once you sign up for one dimension of the New Left war, such as climate, or Critical Theory, you can only order from that menu henceforth. What Lionel Shriver has called “prix fixe politics”. Cult members don’t get to choose.

    So tearing down pictures of kidnapped people is ‘justified’ if you believe that evidence that your cult is wrong cannot be allowed to exist.

    1. Wrt “prix fixe politics”, some Canadian leftists suffered a kind of sticker shock earlier this month when the 1 Million March 4 Kids

      showed that much of the opposition to gender ideology in schools came from Muslim parents. Surprisingly most Canadian news media and institutions sided with the gender Borg and against the hijab moms (Justin Trudeau basically called them stooges of American Republican agents provocateurs).

      For all those pink-haired nonbinary zoomers it’s a big relief to cheer for Muslims in Hamas and ignore the social conservatives here at home.

  2. Also worth reading:
    Simon Sebag Montefiore: The Decolonization Narrative Is Dangerous and False. The Atlantic, Oct 27, 2023
    It does not accurately describe either the foundation of Israel or the tragedy of the Palestinians.

    1. Yes, worth reading Peter. The Decol. Movement is dangerous and for larger reasons.
      One cavil, and this quotation needs context lest I mis-imply it. It’s true as far as it goes concerning Israel:

      Politics in [the United States and the United Kingdom] is filled with prominent leaders—Suella Braverman and David Lammy, Kamala Harris and Nikki Haley [and I would add the non-prominent Jagmeet Singh in Canada] —whose parents or grandparents migrated from India, West Africa, or South America. No one would describe them as “settlers.”

      But the aboriginal decolonization movement ginned up by the UN explicitly does describe them as settlers (at least the ones who live in North America), equally with all people who were born here whether their ancestors arrived in the 1600s, or just last week. It’s a recognized academic term employed to de-legitimize all people who didn’t walk in from Siberia. Even black Africans brought to America against their will don’t belong here, nor, ironically, do the thousands of Muslim immigrants and white liberal students calling for the “decolonization” of Israel. They will all be dispossessed and ethnically cleansed just as will the Jews in Israel if the decolonizers get their way.

      Israel and Jews everywhere, of course, face the greater existential threat from the fraudulent decolonization movement and that must be our priority now. The decolonizers don’t want to stop there, though. Now we know it really isn’t a metaphor.

  3. I don’t believe it’s only antisemitism at play in the reactions displayed by the progressive left. The problem with the left is its ardent adoption of postmodernist thought… the emphasis of a relativism that allows other extreme worldviews to supposedly hold an equal validity to Western conventions, and their attendant actions to be judged within the perspectives of that alternative worldview. This is combined with postmodernisms general disdain of rationality, inclination to side with anyone seen as a victim in a power relation or issues of identity. This combined with a large dose of virtue posturing defines the progressive left.

    1. I think a lot of what is behind the lefts actions is the joy of punishment. College professors and others being attacked and threatened for what? What they said? The color of their skin? Their opinions? The reasons often don’t make sense and they often don’t have to. It’s an orgy of hate that has become more obvious in this country. It’s called polarization. But I think it is “the joy of punishment” (from “Determined”) and not some noble urge.

  4. “Israel could be described as a colonial state, albeit one founded by refugees fleeing fascism.”

    This is fine as far as it goes. But the citizens of Israel include about 4 million Mizrahi Jews and about 2 million Arabs (more than half the population of the country) whose ancestors have always lived in that part of the former Ottoman Empire. The whole decolonization narrative is nuts from that pov. Isn’t it?

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