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Nick Cohen
Tuesday 30th March 2010
The Liberal Defence of Pedophilia

Ophelia Benson has the worst job in the blogosphere. She reads the papers of cultural studies and post-colonial academics - and given their  obscurantism she often must be their only reader - and explains how intellectuals who affect a liberal style, are imbued with reactionary ideas. The regurgitators of received wisdom hate her for it. As I mentioned in an earlier piece in Standpoint,  she was on the receiving end of the fullest stomach load of bile literary London puked  up last year.

Undaunted, she carries on.

Here she is on a disgraceful effort by the Cambridge Review of International Affairs to turn a defence of the men who abuse women into a left-wing cause, by denigrating the efforts of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, a feminist group which tries to give Afghan girls education, healthcare and the right not to be forced into "marriage" before they are 16 (as half Afghan girls are).

   "I've been reading an article called 'Canadian Women and the (Re)Production of Women in Afghanistan,' she says and quotes the abstract.

Focusing on the prominent group Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WAfghan), this paper looks at the role its advocacy assumes in the context of the "War on Terror". In Canada as in the United States, government agencies have justified the military invasion of Afghanistan by revitalizing the oppressed Muslim woman as a medium through which narratives of East versus West are performed. While CW4WAfghan attempt to challenge dominant narratives of Afghan women, they ultimately reinforce and naturalize the Orientalist logic on which the War on Terror operates, even helping to disseminate it through the Canadian school system. Drawing on post-colonial feminist theory, this paper highlights the implications of CW4WAfghan's Orientalist discourse on women's rights, and tackles the difficult question of how feminists can show solidarity with Afghan women without adhering to the oppressive narratives that permeate today's political climate.

Then, and I don't know how she has the patience, she goes to the body of the text to gives us an example of the professor in action 

By deliberately attempting to mask the problems that are always associated with representation, and the inconsistencies that inevitably arise within categories of experience, CW4WAfghan's use of personal anecdotes both confirms and conceals their own ideology. Reproducing the oppressive gesture of imperialist feminism, their homogenous image of Afghan women reduces them to the role of "generalized native informants", who Spivak asserts, "sometimes appear in the Sunday supplements of national journals, mouthing for us the answers that we want to hear as our confirmation of the world."

'Tell that to the little girls in Ethiopia who don't want to be raped into marriage at age eight, Ophelia concludes, 'and the women who used to be little girls and remember what happened to them. Tell them they are 'mouthing for us.'

She's right to be furious, and I think I can guess, and I can guess the response which will hit her as I have experienced it many times myself. "But this post-modern academic/ leader of the anti-war movement/ guilt-ridden, violence-loving white apologist for clerical fascism, does not represent the liberal mainstream," right-thinking, left-leaning people say. "How dare you? How dare you pick on him/her and imply that there is something sick in liberal England (or liberal Canada for that matter)?" In the past, I have countered with Keynes's assertion that ideas from obscure corners diffuse through society so that, "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back."

   Now I am not so sure Keynes' was right because his causation can be reversed. The readers of Cambridge academic journals, like much of the rest of the liberal middle class do not want to  make a stand against violent misogyny because that would force them to confront violent men closer to Cambridge than the Taliban. They want the easy life and to avoid taking responsibility. On this anti-Keynesian reading, far from being forerunners of a coming intellectual trend, the Cambridge Review of International Affairs is a follower, which takes existing deformities in the thinking of comfortable people in rich countries to their logical conclusion. I shouldn't have to add that in doing so intellectuals provide an essential service to the wealthy. By dressing up selfishness in left-wing party clothes, they allow the smug to assert that it is not only convenient but also politically reputable to ignore the suffering of others.

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May 1st, 2010
1:05 AM
Cultural studies doesn't have to be obscure. I'll start that revolution myself if I have to.

DTK Molise
April 25th, 2010
7:04 PM
First off I would like to say that I am with Bob on this one: an excellent critique. Nick Cohen is now so firmly entrenched in his hobby of creating straw men that an article like this comes as no surprise. The author of the original piece is attempting to challenge how a specific NGO is rooted to the Canadian government and this relationship is then used as a tool of government policy - how you then derive your argument from that is hard to fathom. I do not think that the Professor is arguing for "violent misogyny". If Mr. Cohen seriously thinks that the multifaceted and complex realities of Afghanistan are going to be solved by Western people or states "making a stand against violent misogyny", as he states, then his lack of knowledge and insight is even more astounding than I first thought.

norman clemo
April 25th, 2010
5:04 AM for more information. 2009/12/04 How Pedophilia Lost Its Cool Mary Eberstadt December 2009 Excerpt: The reason that the monstrous crime of pedophilia matters is simple: In an increasingly secular age, it is one of the few taboos about which people on both sides of the religious divide can agree. It remains a marker of right and wrong in a world where other markers have been erased. And that is also the reason that the questions surrounding the attempted extradition of Roman Polanski for a 1977 child rape briefly became the Rorschach tests of our times. Sophistication vs. prudery, the morality of the 1970s vs. the morality of today, European artistes vs. American law, Hollywood vs. Middle America: Given just how many cultural and moral buttons were punched by the case, it’s small wonder that l’affaire Polanski generated commentary as voluminous and passionate as it did.

Wynn Wheldon
April 22nd, 2010
9:04 AM
Academics such as the author here cited are driven by hatred of their own rather than by the love of others.

April 14th, 2010
9:04 AM
sorry but ophelia benson doesn't have the 'worst job in the blogosphere' - it's a hobby. She has the worst hobby in the blogosphere. but overall this piece is just ascattergun rant, incredibly badly-written, so much so that i can't work out the point of the last two paragraphs at all. The Hari link is priceless. Fan of his now, are you Nick?

April 5th, 2010
12:04 PM
Interesting that the report from Ethiopia linked to by Benson is by Johan Hari, who went there to expose what is happening to Ethiopian women. Oh but wait, isn't Johan a "maoist" and a de facto supporter of Islamism according to you, Nick, just because he criticised your warmongering? Better think again before criticising braver and more consistent journalist than you.

March 31st, 2010
3:03 PM
Since Ophelia Benson doesn't really *explain* anything about the article in the piece you link to (other than that she doesn't "like it"), I thought I'd take the trouble to read it myself. It's not too difficult if you have a background in the social sciences, which is presumably why they printed it in a limited-circulation journal aimed at other academics in the field rather than, say, the New Statesman. The article actually criticises a single NGO working in Afghanistan, focusing on its close relationship with the Canadian government. Apparently the activities and arguments of the former are used to justify and promote the latter's role in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. How you've made the leap from this to a "Liberal Defence of Pedophilia" I don't know, but I suspect you'd find it hard to explain yourself if pressed for details.

Max Dunbar
March 30th, 2010
7:03 PM
I really do wonder how Ophelia can stand reading this stuff even from a critical position. I used to comment on pro-faith left stupidity a lot but I slowed down on it because it was just so boring, predictable and depressing. Ophelia has the patient of a secular saint.

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About Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom (Fourth Estate) and What's Left? How The Left Lost Its Way (Harper Perennial). Living With Lies, a collection of his writing for Standpoint, is available as an ebook. 

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