Most helpful positive review
85 of 93 people found the following review helpful
You should read this book.
on 25 January 2012
`Do you believe in free speech? Are you sure?' So asks Nick Cohen in this important and timely book. Through a combination of righteous indignation, mordant wit and searing polemic, he shows how the ideals of Milton, Mill and the Enlightenment - those of freedom of expression, conscience and the free, enquiring mind - are being undermined, indeed, deliberately attacked, by a derisory and intellectually inadequate group of religious fundamentalists, oppressive corporations, quack scientists, timid politicians and self-satisfied academics.
Cohen effortlessly takes us through some of the defining freedom of speech issues of our time: the Salman Rushdie and Danish cartoon affairs; the impressive figure of Ayaan Hirsi Ali throwing off the chains of obnoxious religious chauvinism only to encounter the gently ruminating herd of cloistered academia; the near-dictatorial conditions employees face the moment they step into the workplace, and the dangers faced by whistle-blowers in the face of managerial and bureaucratic incompetence; the absurd entity that is Britain's chiropractor lobby; and the vicious counter-attack against the liberating forces of the Internet, reminding us that oppressive nations are perfectly capable of utilising the net as well as its citizens.
Along every step of the way, as Cohen shows, there is seemingly always a constituency just waiting to be offended into action. Readers will already be familiar with perennially grumpy and stony-faced theocrats like the Ayatollah Khomeini, calling as he did for the assassination of a private citizen in a sovereign country for publishing a work of fiction which he had not read, and probably could not have read. Perhaps more surprising for some will be a certain kind of bien pensant figure, one who is never more at ease and exquisitely complacent when seeking to delegitimise the champions of free thought and expression.
The notion of tolerance has been twisted into meaning we should avoid offending others at all cost. Being offended is now one of the chief addictions of our culture, giving rise to and sustaining the truly totalitarian idea of pre-censorship. Cohen's articulate and lively distillation of this worrying tendency, why it all matters, and what we can do about it, is a fine reproach to the demagogues, the theocrats, the useful idiots, the closed minds and the impregnably humourless of our time.