Cohen cantThese days I'm not a fan of Nick Cohen -- "leftists" who are more conservative than the conservatives are not my favourite commentators, so I note with glee that he seems to be dwindling into a Melanie Phillips-type windbag. For instance, what the fuck is this?
Multiculturalism inevitably breeds sectarian identities? Does it? And if it does, is that a bad thing, as Cohen seems uncritically to be saying?
I suppose acknowledging diversity does lead to recognition that different people have different identities. Cohen is arguing that it leads to pigeonholing people in carefully marked boxes. (Not that Cohen would dream of that: the strong hint in his writing here and elsewhere is that Muslims are all antidemocratic, antisemitic, anti everything Cohen "stands for" -- he could almost actually be Melanie Phillips on this subject.) People like to belong though. They like to be a thing or another thing. Particularly groups such as Muslims, who have a religion that emphasises universal brotherhood (although sadly not universal sisterhood to the same degree). But the "white" box that Cohen is identifying does not include all whites, obviously. It basically includes chavs. And they will respond to a notion of shared identity that people like me do not recognise, because they are too thick to think about who and what they actually are. They are generally tied to place and circumstance, so microshifts in their fortunes are not escapable. They do not really understand the forces that shape their lives, so they are always willing to listen to a narrative that explains them.
But having a recognisable identity has value for many. If you are of Serb origin, it is helpful that you can recognise other Serbs, who share culture and ethos with you. You can argue, and I'm sure Cohen does, that one should abandon those things as soon as becoming a member of a blended society, but people don't. I'm not suggesting that Serb ghettoes would be a good thing, but a Serbian club is. Having something in common with other people is a basis for friendship and support. What exactly is wrong with that?
The BNP are crap pollies and the people who voted for them are shown to be idiots by their bumbling? This is just plain dim. People don't vote for a BNP candidate because they feel they will be well represented in the council by him or her. You could only write this nonsense if you didn't actually know any chavs, or actually any normal, everyday people of any sort. People do not see councils as representing them, being part of what they are part of, or anything like that. They see them as something completely separate from them, something that sometimes serves them, sometimes gets in their way. They vote BNP because they don't like living with loads of dark people. They would like them to go away and take their weird food with them.
The comparison with the IRA is apt, but not for the reasons Cohen thinks. People identify with the core message of the IRA. That identification does not dwindle because the IRA are vicious thugs. In the same way, Cohen supported and still supports the invasion of Iraq, because he saw core values in the mission that he could get behind. He has not abandoned that support just because the war has been sorrily mishandled or even because the locals want us out of there. (A conclusion he might have drawn when he saw the very large crowds of dancing, cheering Basranites, happy to see UK soldiers' dying when their helicopter was shot down -- these people are not necessarily rounded up by provocateurs; rather, they seem to have gathered spontaneously quite quickly after the crash. You could conclude that they will jump on any opportunity to show us how little they want us there.) It's interesting that he mentions the Mafia. The latter has a great deal of support among the people of Sicily and southern Italy. But they are no friends of the people. Far from it. So why? I doubt Cohen has given a moment's thought to that question. Generally, insurgents of any kind cannot survive if the population does not support them. And that support is rarely engendered by what they do, much more often by what they stand for, so far as the people can discern it.
Respect play to Muslims and that's bad? Well, they are trying to create a base in the East End, where there are many Muslims. Ignoring their concerns would be bad politics, surely? On the one hand, Cohen slams the BNP for being politically cackhanded, and on the other slams Respect for having nous.
I should not be too unkind to Cohen though. He is a talking head, not a thinker. Most of his readers just won't think about what he is writing. It's nod-along stuff. The BNP make very easy targets, and it's not difficult to find something to laugh at in people that clownish. But, as so often in Cohen's commentary, there is no deeper analysis, no sign of any actual thought. There is no real attempt to find an answer to why the BNP are elected. It's easy to suggest that it's because the BNP appeal to a "white" identity. Well, yes, that's clear. It's what they would say about themselves. We could call that level one analysis. Sadly, Cohen rarely ever bothers going even to level two.