The Truth Won’t Out

Review of You Can’t Read This Book
By Sonia Purnell
Literary Review

NICK COHEN’S book opens with a quotation from the late Christopher Hitchens about how ‘ideas and books have to be formulated and written by individuals’. It is just as well that we have individuals such as Cohen, who are sufficiently bloody minded – as Hitchens himself was – to strike out against conventional wisdoms and a wilful collective complacency. As Cohen’s work amply demonstrates, we in the West believe ourselves to be free but when it comes to freedom of speech we are anything but. Even legitimate criticism can leave us financially ruined or dead.
After Parliament gave judges the power to develop a right to privacy in 2000, the judiciary saw fit to reject England’s tradition of open justice with a breathtaking disdain for the past. They built a wedding cake of suffocating injunctions and superinjunctions, to the point, Cohen observes, that ‘the censors censored the fact of censorship’. Fred Goodwin, now stripped of his knighthood because of the way he disastrously steered the Royal Bank of Scotland to near collapse, was able to persuade a court to suppress reporting of his extra-marital affair with a subordinate. Although he was in charge of a publicly traded bank employing tens of thousands of people and responsible for the savings and prospects of many more, the courts ruled that the relationship was private and could not be revealed without fear of going to jail.
Once, England and her thinkers, such as John Milton or John Stuart Mill, were known as passionate defenders of freedom. Yet now our courts’ reputation overseas is for their eagerness to prevent unwelcome truths about the wealthy and the powerful from being aired. No wonder foreigners flock to these shores for our particularly alarming brand of rich man’s justice. Continue reading

Focus on ‘free’ world’s blinkers and censors

Review of You Can’t Read This Book
By J P O’Malley
Jewish Chronicle

His analysis of moral hypocrisy is first-class. If you believe we are living in an unprecedented time of freedom, in the cyber and physical worlds, do read this book and dare to be challenged.

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You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom by Nick Cohen: review

Review of You Can’t Read This Book Censorship in an Age of Freedom
The Telegraph
By Jonathan Heawood
Of course you can read this book if you want to. But, as the Observer journalist Nick Cohen argues with passion and wit, there are many important books you cannot read, not because they have been banned but because they have not been written. Their authors have been forced into self-censorship through fear of violence, financial ruin or death.
Pre-publication censorship is rare in today’s world. But there are many other ways of silencing writers. The most effective is fear. For all the advances of secularism, democracy and new technology, the forces of religion, wealth and the state continue to suppress ideas and information. In fact, as Cohen argues, censorship has become more powerful over the past 20 years, not less.
Carry on reading

Who is afraid of the written word? Almost everyone it seems.

Review of You Can’t Read This Book
The Hindu
You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom is the somewhat self-consciously rhetorical title of a new book by British journalist and free speech campaigner Nick Cohen. Mercifully, nobody has yet called for it to be banned but it’s still early days and in the current climate of intolerance who knows when someone, somewhere might invoke “hurt feelings” to try and suppress it.
Carry on reading

Prescribed Reading

By Anthony Julius
Review of You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom
You Can’t Read this Book. You can, of course. And you should. Cohen is right about everything that matters. So I am ready to forgive his disparagement of, variously, English lawyers, the lawyers, the legal profession (who “served the Russian oligarchs as attentively as the shop girls in the Harrods Food Hall”),and not to mention the English judiciary (“which hit its nadir when it allowed David Irving to sue Deborah Lipstadt”) and the law of precedent.

Cohen assembles a miscellaneous group of relatively recent censorship events, and makes a compelling narrative out of them. He writes about, among other such cases, the Rushdie affair, the hounding of the Indian artist M.F. Husain, the suppression of Sherry Jones’s The Jewel of Medina, the Danish cartoon “crisis”, the South Park abstention from the use of Muhammad images, the reception of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s books, the sentencing to death for alleged blasphemy of the Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, and the subsequent murder of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, the Amnesty whistleblower Gita Sahgal, Fred Goodwin’s privacy injunction, the Trafigura toxic dumping case, the Rachel Ehrenfeld Funding Evil case, the Simon Singh “trick or treatment” case, and some prosecutions under the anti-terror laws.

Taken together, they are evidence, first, of a resurgence of the unloveliest aspects of religion, supported by the theft of universalist language in defence of particularist causes; second, of the emergence of a global culture of denunciation, aided by the internet; and third, of the oppression by the plutocratic of investigative writers, relying on new or newly extended laws protective of their undeserved privacy and reputation. All this finds expression in censorship.
Carry on reading

Nick Cohen’s timely polemic exposes the myth of freedom of expression in Britain with great insight and verve

Review of You Can’t Read This Book
By Denis MacShane
The Observer
ne of the comforting myths of our times is that we have seen a massive expansion of freedom of expression. Perhaps a price has been paid in the explosion of inequalities between and within nations and in religious wars harking back to the 17th century. But, what the heck, these are regrettable side-effects of a much freer, better informed world.
Twitter and Facebook, together with fearless journalists and human rights lawyers, have massively expanded the boundaries of freedom, so the argument runs. Look at Iran, Egypt, Libya or China. Surely social media and the inventors of Google and Wikipedia have dumped the censor in the dustbin of history.
Nothing could be further from the truth, argues Nick Cohen in the latest of his counterblasts to conventional wisdom. Cohen is the most stimulating – if at times infuriating – columnist in our national press, largely because you never quite know where he is going to end up. He lashes the stupid left as much as the smug right. He ferrets about in the lower reaches of politics to find disturbing symptoms of what should not be happening. He has a sense of history and literature, in contrast to the dominant political generation of PPE graduates who have read every page of the Economist since they were at Oxford, but have never opened a novel.
Carry on Reading

Books: Is it naive to believe that we live in a time of unparalleled free speech? Patrick Kane investigates one journalist’s take on the subject

By Patrick Kane
Friday 3rd February 2012.
Review of You Can’t Read this Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom – Nick Cohen

I remember almost every moment of my Cambridge admissions interview – the awkward pauses, the stammering and the sheer terror. When answering a question on the importance of free speech, I cited the oft-referenced quote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. My interviewer immediately stopped and asked me whether I really believed that.

Nick Cohen’s You Can’t Read This Book asks the same question, forcing us to examine our consciences and to take another look at free speech, both in historical terms, and in the world today. Cohen challenges the reader to reassess whether Western culture actually embraces free expression, or whether it shies away from the challenges that it inevitably brings. The journalist pulls no punches covering state intrusion, religion and the cost of delivering the truth to the masses: it’s clearly an issue that the author feels strongly about, judging by the venom he pours upon numerous institutions that come under his careful examination, but his skilful manipulation of the written word makes for arguments that combine the theoretical and the anecdotal.
Carry on reading