Nick Cohen

How does your own oppression affect how you see the oppression of others? Nick Cohen spoke pungently against the antisemitism in the Labour party; why does he hate on any expression of disapproval of transphobia? Why can he not see that transphobia is as vile?

Antisemitism is the stain on Christianity- from Matthew’s Gospel, “His blood be on us and on our children”, through the German Crusade in 1096, when French and German peasants destroyed Jewish communities in Speyer, Worms and Mainz, through the Blood libel to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, antisemitism besmirches European civilisation. It survives in QAnon, where the Moneyed elites allegedly ruining the world are said to be Jewish, rather than owners and senior executives of fossil fuel companies.

Antisemitism exists in obsessive form, where all an individual’s anger and resentment is channelled at Jews, and in a widespread, mild form, involving distaste. So does transphobia.

There is antisemitism in the Labour party, chiefly in the milder form, but by the time Chris Williamson MP was accused, his wrongdoing was to say that the response to antisemitism was overblown, and he was tainted by guilt by association with antisemites. That was enough for him to be suspended as an MP and silenced. His talk at Brighton Friends Meeting House was cancelled, according to Jane Dawson, head of BYM external communications, because of threats of violence. Nick Cohen tweeted, “You can be an anti-racist or you can be a supporter of the Labour party. But you can’t be both.”

I respect Cohen’s opposition to Labour, even if his work against them helped get the most appalling government of my lifetime elected, so why does he not notice transphobia? Instead, he amplifies it. He wrote for The Spectator, the British Breitbart (the two share writers) to claim JK Rowling was not transphobic. He wrote of the transphobic novel Troubled Blood “nothing is made of the fact that the killer wears a wig and a woman’s coat as a disguise when approaching one of his victims”. This is a “tiny detail”. Well, why put in the detail? Could it possibly be linked to Rowling’s transphobia? One victim? The Guardian’s direct quote referred to victims. Cohen made no mention of Rowling’s transphobic screed, as if his memory does not stretch back to June. Rowling can’t make a serial killer real enough to be repulsive in himself, so she is forced to put in details, and one of them is that Creed dresses female when seeking victims.

It’s a common tactic. Minimise and deny the transphobia, find something unpleasant in the reaction and inveigh against that. Cohen then quotes at great length the more angry and unpleasant tweets against Rowling. Every British national newspaper is a willing platform for transphobia. Trans people objecting to it are outside, shouting, and some have to shout loudly for attention, and some people shouting may be trolls attempting to amplify discord. Though he admits “What the hell are they screaming about now?” is a recurrent thought when he turns on Twitter, and though we know how abusive the transphobes can be, he incites hatred against all trans people objecting to Rowling by quoting the worst of us.

On abuse, Judith Butler puts it perfectly:

if we are going to object to harassment and threats, as we surely should, we should also make sure we have a large picture of where that is happening, who is most profoundly affected, and whether it is tolerated by those who should be opposing it.

I was going to write about the person in an oppressed group who only sees his own oppression, and can therefore oppress others. We should object to the oppression, not to the action against oppressors. In Cohen’s case it is not so simple. He recognises that “The novel’s descriptions of how men condescend to Robin Ellacott, how they send her lewd pictures, grab her, talk over her, and refuse to accept her opinions because they are from a woman” relate to real life. The problem is that he sets feminism against trans women, where in the real world feminists support trans women.

Cohen directly states a transphobic myth, “the safeguards or lack of them governing the clinics that offer hormone suppressing drugs or surgery”- as if NHS doctors give dangerous treatment without due cause.

Experience of oppression is no guarantee that you will recognise it in other circumstances. Cohen’s self-righteousness, and use of a platform like The Spectator to punch down at his innocent victims- me- don’t make me object to his work against antisemitism, but they do make me hate him.

2 Oct 2021: Cohen claims that accepting that trans women are women means “anti-Darwinian obscurantism”. I don’t deny biological sex, it’s the cause of my birth. But, trans women exist. The people opposed to material reality are the ones who say we don’t, that it’s a feeling, that (particularly in children) it’s a passing phase, that we’re not serious, that our feelings don’t matter.

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