Johann Hari Replies

Johann Hari Replies

[Johann Hari published “Choosing Sides” in Dissent‘s Summer 2007 Issue. The following debate between Nick Cohen and Johann Hari will appear in the forthcoming Fall 2007 Issue. –The Editors]

NICK COHEN’S RESPONSE is perplexing, characterized as it is by daft hyperbole (I’m Maoist now?), denial of his own statements, and arguments that he knows I agree with and have done more to advance than he.

It’s disappointing he doesn’t try to defend his positions or engage with any of my arguments, despite the fact I tried hard to fairly summarize his case. For example, he simply repeats his claim that the Iraq War marked a radical break with Henry Kissinger’s influence on U.S. foreign policy—and, to sustain this, he ignores the lengthy part of my review pointing out that Kissinger is now, according to Bob Woodward, “the most senior foreign policy adviser to [Bush] outside the administration.” This information doesn’t fit into his Manichean polemics so, rather than defend his case, he simply pretends it isn’t so.

He asks, “What kind of left is it that shrugs as Iraqi trade unionists are butchered or Iranian feminists are persecuted?” As Nick knows, I have been asking this very question longer and more persistently than he has. While he was opposing the war to depose the Taliban, I was traveling to the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and later Iraq, where I have supported persecuted feminists and backed underground gay groups. I received a slew of Islamist death-threats after I worked undercover at Britain’s most extreme mosque and then appeared on the Islam Channel to expose and challenge the anti-Semitism, homophobia, and totalitarianism of jihadists. So it is deeply strange for him to write, “Every now and again Hari manages to shake himself out of his world of make believe and acknowledge that we’re up against a fascist enemy.”

As anybody who read my review is aware, my criticisms of his book do not consist of a denial that jihadis are a fascistic enemy who must be defeated. We both agree that Islamists are a monstrous foe who would kill us both given the chance. (I am gay; Cohen is ethnically Jewish.) Where we disagree is on how to defeat them. Cohen’s preferred tactic—enthusiastically supporting the Bush strategy—has actually enlarged and spread jihadism, as every major study of the phenomenon shows. One of my Iraqi friends is now living in a Basra neighborhood where Taliban-style militias beat women who walk onto the street without a veil and stone adulteresses. This is the consequence of the war Cohen still claims was necessary and worthwhile in his columns. The caveats he quotes in his response constitute literally a few hundred words out of tens of thousands backing Bush enthusiastically, as anybody who reads his book will see.

I am puzzled that Cohen will not defend his own writing, instead denying ...


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