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Braving the wrath of latte man

AUTHOR and journalist Nick Cohen should be a darling of the Left. He regularly contributes to the New Statesman and The Observer in Britain and made a name for himself as a longstanding critic from the Left attacking Tony Blair's triumph of style over substance.

But something happened to Cohen between the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, which he vehemently opposed, and the anti-war rallies of 2003. Cohen's leftist coterie had airbrushed from their memories everything they knew about the brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime and the principles of solidarity with the oppressed.

Cohen thought that once Saddam had been toppled, the liberal-Left would back Iraqis building a democracy and denounce the slaughter of innocent Iraqi civilians by "insurgents" hell-bent on building either a Baathist state or a "godly global empire to repress the rights of democrats, the independent-minded, women and homosexuals". But around the world among the liberal-Left the consensus was that there was only one target with blood on his hands - the "world's No.1 war criminal, George W. Bush".

"Eventually," Cohen writes, "I grew tired of waiting for a change that was never going to come and resolved to find out what had happened to a Left whose benevolence I had taken for granted."

The result is an incisive book, published last month in Britain and this month in Australia, What's Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way, which denounces as moral bankruptcy the tendency of some in the liberal-Left to end up as apologists for fascist governments and movements. Cohen's ambition is to show how the Left of the 20th century ended up supporting the far Right of the 21st century.

Inspired by US writer Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism, Cohen ranges over the history of the Left during the past century, examining the relationship between the Left and fascism. Cohen finds the roots of this behaviour in the Nazi-Soviet pact, when Marxists openly supported fascism and declared democracy the enemy. He surveys the defence by some in the Left of Slobodan Milosevic and his ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo, Noam Chomsky's defence of Pol Pot, Michel Foucault's support for the Islamic Revolution in Iran, tacit support for the perpetrators of 9/11, the Madrid bombing, London's 7/7 and the attribution of ultimate responsibility to the US.

The Australian Left has not been immune to this topsy-turvy logic, which pursues Betrand Russell's fallacy of the superior virtue of the oppressed to ridiculous conclusions. Clive Hamilton, executive director of the Australia Institute, was one of the few on the Left even to admit that it was in the interests of the world that democracy should succeed in Iraq but his caveat was that the US should be humiliated in the process.

"The bloody nose that the US has received in Iraq has severely dented the confidence of the neo-cons and that can only be good for the world," he wrote for Foreign Policy in Focus, a US left-wing think-tank, in July 2005.

The Australian Left's impassioned campaigns on behalf of David Hicks and "Jihad Jack" Thomas are part of the impulse to apologise for those who by their own admission support the violent imposition of Islamic fundamentalism but decry loud and long the slow and imperfect functioning of the US judicial and legislative processes in the unfamiliar area of the international laws of war.

Cohen, like Christopher Hitchens, Melanie Phillips and David Aaronovitch, stands in the proud English tradition of writers such as George Orwell who came from the Left and dared risk its wrath criticising it. He is a signatory of the Euston Manifesto, a document created last year by those on the Left disillusioned by its drift to support the far Right. It set out the principles which the Left should stand for - democracy, freedom, equality and internationalism, and those which it should condemn - tyranny, terrorism, anti-Americanism, racism, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

Cohen worried it was so bland that it would sink without a trace. In fact, it launched a tidal wave of support and dissent. "It was a symptom of liberal life that a statement of the obvious produced by obscure men and women in a London pub could cause such a fuss." In denouncing the failings of the Left, Cohen made an unwanted discovery - its anti-Semitism.

A headline on The Guardian website, "David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen are enough to make a good man anti-Semitic", was challenged by an enraged reader who protested against the inherent bigotry and demanded the headline be rewritten as, "David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen are enough to make a good man, or woman, anti-Semitic."

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