Nick Cohen

Most people find it easiest not to think for themselves

In these polarised times, those on both the left and the right are falling for simplistic narratives at the expense of a more complex, moral and truthful view of the world


Damon Albarn at Glastonbury (BBC Music via Youtube)

July 03, 2024 10:11

At the Glastonbury festival last weekend Damon Albarn called to the audience: “Are you pro Palestine? Do you feel that’s an unfair war?”

“Yes,” came the thunderous reply.

Of course it did. Ask those questions at any progressive forum and the answers are preordained. There would be shock if anyone cried, “Actually, I am pro-Israel”. One can imagine punches being thrown.

Kneecap, the Irish rap band, performed alongside slides reading: “More than 20,000 children have been killed by Israel in nine months”, “The British government allows this” and “Free Palestine”.

Throughout the event, Palestinian flags waved in the crowd.

No one on stage mentioned the young people at the Supernova Succot Gathering on October 7. Their festival in southern Israel was a miniature version of Glastonbury. The audience was a part of the same global music culture as Albarn, and shared its inclusive, egalitarian spirit. Of all Israelis, they were the most likely to be leftists with a well-merited contempt for the right-wing and indeed far-right-wing government in Jerusalem.

Hamas terrorists arrived and began a systematic massacre. Women were raped before they were murdered. Men were shot dead on the spot. Hamas had the escape routes covered and riddled cars with bullets as the survivors tried to flee.

Try to imagine what went through their minds in their final minutes. How is this happening? Why me? Where the hell are the defence forces?

Now try to imagine terrorists, filled with disgust at the support the British government offers Israel, attacking Glastonbury. Pick-up trucks smash through the security fence. Gunmen land from paragliders by the pyramid stage. They rape, mutilate and murder everyone they can find. They imitate Hamas and execute 360 festivalgoers in all, kidnapping some 40 hostages (far more if one takes into account the relative numbers at the two festivals).

I do not believe that liberal-minded people would have much time for those who said that, somehow, the Glastonbury festivalgoers had it coming; that, because they were British, they should therefore expect to receive punishment for the real and imagined sins of their government. Global stars would announce their outrage. Acts on stage at festivals around the planet would pause and ask the audience to remember the dead.

I could bounce off the silence of the music industry at the murder of Jews and go on about its double standards. But denunciations are meant to change people’s minds. And what is horribly clear today is that most minds will not be changed. Double standards are the way of the world now, and no amount of argument can rid us of them.

To the far left and much of the post-colonial world, Israel is an occupying power and any violence, including war crimes, is justified in the struggle against it. If civilians are raped and murdered, who cares?

“Violence is a cleansing force,” the anti-imperial philosopher Frantz Fanon opined in 1961. “It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction.”

And if anti-imperialism in its banal, dumbed-down post-Marxist dotage 50 years on means leftists supporting not only violence but an ultra-reactionary movement such as Hamas, so be it.

Most people who say they are “pro-Palestine” aren’t remotely like that, however. They wouldn’t know the difference between Frantz Fanon and Franz Ferdinand. They are like Damon Albarn. They just think this is an “unfair war”, simply on account of the fact that Israel has vastly superior forces.

Their mild protests appear benign. Yet the consequences can be surprisingly grim. They include a startling embrace of hypocrisy. Progressives are all for women’s rights, except the rights of Jewish women at an Israeli music festival, and antisemitism in the UK and the rest of the West can be dismissed as a natural reaction to Israeli brutality; an overreaction, perhaps, but an understandable one in the circumstances.

As I write this, I am sure I am carrying JC readers with me.

But what about the pro-Israel side? How many who deplore the rise of antisemitism are demanding that enough aid is delivered as a matter of overwhelming urgency?

How many are demanding an end to civilian casualties, a credible rebuilding plan for Gaza after the war, or any plan for Gaza once the war is over because, let’s face it, Netanyahu has no plan for Gaza, any more than he has a plan for the West Bank beyond its colonisation?

How many people go out of their way to defend civil liberties when right-wing Jewish organisations demand the banning of peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstrations?

Good people do, of course. Just as good people on the left always make sure they acknowledge the deaths of Israeli civilians and demand the return of hostages.

But most do not. We are caught in a dangerously binary world, where concern about antisemitism leads to backing for the worst elements in Israeli politics, while support for the Palestinian underdog leads to silence about antisemitism and the fascistic nature of Islamist politics.

Simplistic and deceitful political narratives are everywhere in this frightening moment. And what is most frightening is that so many people cling to them because they find simplistic certainties preferable to thinking for themselves.

Nick Cohen is the author of the ‘Writing from London’ Substack. Find it at:

July 03, 2024 10:11

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