Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Worst. Column. Ever

Once upon a time Nick Cohen actually wrote good columns. They were often powerful, quite often coherent, and sometimes persuasive. Once upon a time Nick Cohen was worth reading but that time is long, long ago now.

Even by his own recent standards though, his latest 'effort' in the Observer, is painfully bad. The subject is Darfur, and in his ongoing efforts to blame every problem in the world on anyone who might be plausibly part of the anti-war left, he trots out the following utter jaw-dropping paragraphs:

In truth, it is getting late in the day for any kind of peacemaking. Until now, Darfur has been hobbled by the two external disabilities: the torpor of the United Nations and European Union and the reliance of the victims of the war on aid agencies.

At first glance, it looks outrageous to accuse aid workers of contributing to the crisis. Brave men and women are risking their lives to keep the two million refugees alive. Last week the Disasters Emergency Committee launched an appeal for the public to support them. The rainy season is coming, the coalition of charities said, and will bring with it the double curse of swollen rivers, which will cut off refugees from aid, and flood waters spreading diarrhoea and malaria.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that you shouldn't contribute, but you should do so with the knowledge that among the burdens the victims of unfashionable massacres endure is the media relying on the aid agencies for news. Unfortunately, the agencies' commitment to emergency relief prevents them from blaming the perpetrators. They can criticise their own democratic governments incessantly because Benn won't order MI5 to frogmarch the senior staff of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, say, into Belmarsh prison and rough them up. But you will search Cafod's website in vain for condemnations of Zimbabwe, Sudan or any other state that responds to criticism by silencing its critics.

The stupidity to words ratio in those three paragraphs leaves me struggling to figure out just where to start...but here goes:

First up, it's simply untrue to state that, "you will search Cafod's website in vain for condemnations of Zimbabwe, Sudan or any other state that responds to criticism by silencing its critics". As various commenters underneath Cohen's article point out Cafod details the Sudan crisis in full while it has this to say about Zimbabwe.
Poor governance: Zimbabwe’s Government stands accused of oppressing opposing voices, and harming the judiciary and media.

There is evidence of a significant number of abuses of basic human rights, widespread corruption, and little respect for senior politicians.

A little bit more digging finds further criticism such as this joint bishops letter. (Hat tip Damo70 in Guardian comments).

Equally ridiculous to me is the statement that the media relies on aid agencies for news of the Sudan conflict. If this is true then Cohen ought to be writing a column of congratulations to Aid agencies: the Sudan is surely one of the world's best published conflicts. Compare it to various conflicts in the former Soviet Union, for example.

The one thing that Cohen is right about is that aid agencies do face a difficult choice between advocacy which may see them ejected from a country and humanitarian work. What he utterly fails to consider though is that right now, in the Sudan, it is aid agencies that are keeping literally hundreds of thousands of people alive. Would he really prefer that they got themselves kicked out of the country and left the people their to die for the sake of possibly being the catalyst for an alternative solution that doesn't actually appear to exist?

I guess its just lucky for Cohen that he doesn't live in the real world and actually have to deal with these dilemmas.

For more critique of Cohen's piece see: Conor Foley and Aaro watch 1 & 2.

No comments: