Archive for ‘You Can’t Read This Book’

February 15, 2014

Twenty five years on from Rushdie we are too frightened to say we are scared

British publishing is now such a neurotic and hypocritical business there are stories it cannot cover. Nor should it try. When journalists, writers and artists can’t be honest with their audience, when they can’t even be honest with themselves, silence is preferable to the damage their double-standards bring.

Last month our media commemorated the imminent anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie by trying and failing to report the threats to the life of Maajid Nawaz, the chief executive of Quilliam Foundation. In a vindication of Kipling’s “once you have paid him the Dane-geld/you never get rid of the Dane” fanatics are after Nawaz not because he satirised the founding myths of Islam, as Rushdie did, or projected sexist verses from the Koran on to a naked woman’s body, as Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali did, but because – brace yourselves – he tweeted a picture of Jesus saying “Hey” and Muhammad saying “How ya doin’?”


September 10, 2013

Review of You Can’t Read This Book: Nick’s book is perhaps one of the best I’ve read all year

Review of You Can’t Read This Book

Huffington Post

Cohen has indeed produced a page turner of epic proportions and thus is finally the political read I’ve been waiting for.

Read the whole thing

March 27, 2013

Corporate codes of silence

From Index on Censorship


Democracies have many faults. Their leaders can blunder as badly as dictators. Their citizens can be just as foolish as anyone else. A cursory knowledge of history will teach you that there is nothing inherent in the natures of the Americans, British and Danes, say, that makes them superior to the Iranians, Chinese and Zimbabweans. They are just as likely to follow disastrous policies; just as susceptible to manias.

After they have blundered however, the benefits of living in an open society should assert themselves. Democracies face the truth of what they have done, and see their faults clearly. They hold the guilty to account. They find new ways to ensure that they do not repeat old mistakes.

In short, they reform, and show that not only are democracies freer countries than dictatorships, but that they carry within them a self-correcting mechanism.

That is the theory in any event. The practice is another matter

Anyone looking for the reforms the great crash of 2007/8 produced will squint until their sight goes. True, the regulators tightened the Basel rules on what capital banks must hold to help them through panics, and President Obama enforced the “Volcker Rule” to limit big banks’ speculative proprietary-trading activities. That’s about it, however. Even if you do not wish to diminish these modest changes, and I accept they are important in limited ways, you have to admit that the roaring financial crisis has produced a legislative mouse.

The banks that were too big to fail, have not been broken up into separate retail and casino businesses. They can still leverage deposits and call on the taxpayers to bail them out when the gambles fail. Bankers are still carrying on collecting bonuses whenever they can, even when the taxpayers have bailed them out. No one can say with confidence that the system has reformed itself.

The greatest failure to my mind does not lie in the loss of nerve that has produced such timid banking reforms, but in the refusal to challenge the secretive, hierarchical culture that imposed such calamitous costs on society. (And will do so again) The omission should surprise no one. Managerial censorship is so pervasive and so accepted that most people do not think of it as censorship at all. It seems as natural and as impossible to challenge as the weather. For all that, it is the only form of censorship you are likely to experience.

March 13, 2013

In praise of free speech

Review of You Can’t Read This Book

I have been meaning to put up a review of Nick Cohen’s polemic on free speech, You Can’t Read This Book, for some time. First, the book is readable. If I were still teaching the modules on political thought that I used to deliver as part of our part-time degree programmes at Hull, it would be a set text. There is a premium to be placed on accessibility for getting people thinking about abstract political ideas and Cohen delivers. Secondly, he has no illusions that there is a technological fix for free speech. The Internet is just as potent a weapon for surveillance as it is for free expression. Cohen argues for the supremacy of politics over technology. Third, he includes the workplace as well as the public sphere, using the memorable phrase, “Every time you go into your workplace, you leave a democracy and enter a dictatorship.” The damaging impact of managerialism is a worthy target of his scorn. But the final strength is down to his decision to avoid a conservative trap, political correctnes

Read the whole thing

February 8, 2013

You Can’t Read This Book wins Polemic of the Year


You Can’t Read This Book by Nick Cohen won the Polemic of the Year Award at last night’s Political Book Awards. This is the second year of the awards, which celebrate and reward excellence across all areas of political publishing.

Carry on reading

December 24, 2012

Observer Books of the Year 2012

An Abby Wright illustration of a women reading a book outside in the snow

Julie Burchill And Nick Cohen’s You Can’t Read This Book (Fourth Estate) confirmed him – as if there was any doubt – as the most righteous and irresistible political polemicist living.

Carry on reading

November 19, 2012

Theocrats, plutocrats, bureaucrats and other enemies of human freedom

Video of a speech to Oxford Brookes University on freedom and its enemies based on my book on censorship You Can’t Read This Book.

You can watch it here

September 6, 2012

“A hymn to individuality” Review of You Can’t Read This Book

You Can’t Read This Book
Nick Cohen
Fourth Estate, 2012, £12.99

Whether it is a collection of columns or original work like this, a new book by Nick Cohen is an event.
Read the whole thing

August 15, 2012

A furious attack on the draconian

Review of You Can’t Read This Book
British Journalism Review
By Cristina Odone

Vaclav Havel once said that he believed in “the power of words to change history”. The former Czech president, dissident and playwright lived at a time and in a place when even the “Frank Zappa Songbook” of 1966 was deemed so subversive, citizens who bought it risked arrest.
Communism has collapsed, but don’t be lulled into thinking censorship is over, warns Nick Cohen. Supposedly liberal democracies are almost as terrified of words as their Communist enemies were. Zappa’s lyrics about “Catholic Girls” — “Catholic girls
Do you know how they go?
All the way
That’s the way they go
Every day
And none of their mamas ever seem to know”

would still be published today; but what if they referred to the daughters of China’s Communist party elite? or if Zappa had poked fun at Mohammed in one of his songs?

August 2, 2012

Defending Your Right to Offend Me

Cohen, in this book goes some way to reclaiming our right to be offended: by bigotry, misogyny, small-mindedness, institutionalised mediocrity, and Hitchens’s concept of the “literal mind”. Cohen may be a “fundamentalist” for free expression, but he makes a compelling argument that free speech and open debate are, in the final sum, for the benefit of all. In an atmosphere where cries of “free speech” are too often caveated with that fatal “but”.

Read the whole thing


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