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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 May 2015
Freedom of speech explored, from many angles. It shouldn't be taken for granted. Salman Rushdie's book 'Satanic verses' is discussed, and the appalling treatment at the hands of Islamist threats and the coercion by those in the West, when bookshops across the West withdrew copies because of those threats. Censorship by religious fanaticism. Khomeini's fatwa amounted to a head of state ordering the execution of a private citizen in a foreign country for writing and publishing a work of fiction; when put like that it sounds absurd and because it's absurd it should have been ignored, but it wasn't. Blasphemy laws are discussed: 'Confusing ethnicity - which no one can change - with religions or political ideologies - which are systems of ideas that men and women ought to be free to accept or reject.' 'The Rushdie affair was not a 'clash of civilisations' but a struggle for civilisation'. He adds that if another writer today came along with a book similar to The Satanic Verses no-one would dare publish it, and he states that 'free societies are not free because their citizens are fighting for their freedom, they are free because previous generations of citizens have fought for their freedom.' 'censorship is at its most effective when its victims pretend it does not exist', as in the Rushdie affair. All credit to British artist Grayson Perry for admitting then that ' I have not gone all out attacking Islamism in my art because I feel the real fear that someone will
slit my throat.'
There are some words about the wealthy: 'Extreme wealth is creating societies in which it is harder to hold economic power to account' and 'they are unshakeable in their belief that they are entitled to their wealth, and have every moral right to resist attempts to reduce it.' Some interesting words about the modern workplace: 'Every time you go into your workplace, you leave a democracy and enter a dictatorship' - how very true!
'Anyone who has worked in a hierarchical organisation must have noticed that bravery is rarely on display when a superior enters the room'.
The internet has opened up the entire world to an element of freedom not seen before, but the author adds this warning: 'Authoritarian regimes and organisations do not just censor the Net - they mine it for information. On a scale greater than any other communications technology, the Net offers states the power to spy and entrap.' 'The main targets of oppressive regimes are not always psychopaths or potential revolutionary leaders, however. Ordinary citizens concern them as much.' 'The knowledge the state is watching you, or might be watching you, is a powerful deterrent against activism.'
This is an excellent book to read if you are concerned about threats to freedom and free speech. We shouldn't be complacent about it, it can be taken from us. We must recognise the signs and stop it before it starts.
Jonathan Nicholas
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on 27 July 2013
While in general the book did not tell me what I already knew,it did confirm my concern about self-censorship in particular. I find it disturbing that, for example, liberal leaders within the church have taken it upon themselves to remove Israel Today magazine from their reading resources. Why? Lest it offends any muslims. Did any muslim complain about the display of the magazine? No. It was removed IN CASE they were offended. Pathetic. It is this kind of 'you can't read this' self - censorship that disturbs me especially since it is carried out by those who profess to be liberal. This behaviour is at the pedestrian level of censorship if you like. Nick Cohen draws upon higher level examples in order to convey the top down drip drip effect of censorship that has now embedded itself in public discourse across all levels. In particular any challenge to Islam, global warming and immigration (though he does not go into this latter topic mores the pity because it is a highly sensitive subject at present and will be for a long time to come). As a post - graduate social science student I'd commend any student to obtain this book amongst others too numerous to list as an antidote to the Marxist/feminist/postmodernist drivel that is conveyed by the university text books.
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on 28 March 2018
An interesting book but laboured. I found myself skipping through seemingly endless repetition especially in the middle chapters. I got the message; UK libel law is terrible and the internet isn't the oft touted solution to democratising society. Stop battering me around the head.
Polemic is hard work to read, some respite would be appreciated.
I can still recommend the book, it's worth the slog.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 March 2014
At the time of writing this, the Turkish leader Erdogan is clamping down on access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, modern "apples of knowledge" which he presumably fears are undermining his authority. Yet, if you regard the UK as a bastion of free expression, Nick Cohen will undermine your complacency.

Organising his material under the main heading of "God", "Money" and "State", Cohen moves from the ayatollah-supported death threats against Salman Rushdie, who dared to use fiction as a tool to satirise certain aspects of Islam, through the suppression of whistle-blowers who would have forewarned us of the recent Icelandic banking collapse foreshadowing those in the US and Britain, to the illusion that the web will sound the death knell of censorship in repressive regimes - the latter may become yet more successful by using technology to track down and crush opposition.

The author's subjective and polemical style often seems more suited to disillusioned-with-the-left-and-liberals popular journalism than a book in which one hopes to find balanced analysis. For instance, he describes British judges as being drawn from "the pseudo-liberal upper-middle class who have no instinctive respect for freedom of speech or gut understanding of its importance". Then there is his repeated attack on Western radicals who "either dismiss crimes committed by anti-Western forces as the inventions of Western propagandists or excuse them as the inevitable if regrettably blood-spattered consequences of Western provocation. The narcissism behind their reasoning is too glaring to waste time on". But Nick Cohen has found time to expand on the crimes of Charles Manson and Roman Polanski, salacious digressions from his main point, in this case to expose the excessive protection offered by British courts to those, often foreigners, rich enough to buy protection from criticism by exploiting libel laws and hiding behind super-injunctions.

Cohen seems particularly exercised by the Western liberals who appear to him to have put more emphasis on respecting Islam than on protecting the rights of individuals like Rushdie to freedom of expression. Although I tend to agree with Cohen's views, I was disappointed that he did not show more understanding over people's very understandable fear of losing their lives, or those of their loved ones, if they dare to take a stand. I was also troubled by his apparently somewhat partisan attitude to the rights of Israel, and lack of an at least even-handed examination of the role of Wikileaks overall.

This book covers important themes, it provides telling examples for those too young to have read about them in the press, but I had hoped for a more objective style together with a more systematic and synthesized approach to defining and discussing censorship, made all the more necessary by the inevitable "dating" of this kind of book, which, for instance, misses out on the potential debate over the role of Edward Snowden.

Quotations from some of the pioneers of tolerant thought make some of the best points, like Jefferson who wrote in 1776 with timeless clarity: "no man shall be compelled to support any religious worship.. nor suffer on account of his beliefs....but ...all men shall be free by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of Religion."

Yet, of course, apart from the lack of specific reference to women, at the time, Jefferson still owned slaves........
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on 19 January 2015
A fine writer once again illuminating the craven grovelling of supposed liberals before theocratic and retarded thugs. Time and again, someone faces death threats for speaking out against the injustice and violence in Islamic societies and many supposed liberals side with the thugs. I knew of several examples of this but Cohen shows how this has even poisoned such fine institutions as Amnesty international.
As for the rest of the book, if anyone doubts that UK libel law needs serious overhaul, then you should read it all again.
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on 23 February 2013
In this book Nick Cohen shows us how freedom, privacy and justice have been bought for the rich at the same time as taking it away from the rest of us, and how it IS being covered up.
I came away from this book knowing that the UK needs to be out of the Human Rights Act and have it's own constitution.

We live under the illusion of freedom of speech and that truth & justice always prevail, but the reality is that privacy and freedom are only for the super rich, and tings will only get wworse for the rest of us if it is not stopped now.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 March 2015
I've read him in columns but this was the first time I've picked up one of his books and I was glad I did. He raises a number of excellent points to get your blood up and in reading this I got turned onto at least one other great book, so thanks for that. Oh and please note that the town of Paisley in Scotland has never, is not and probably will never be a suburb of Glasgow.
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on 14 February 2015
A must read book for everyone who cares about individual and political freedom. It is remarkable that it was published before the Charlie Hebdo murders and before Samsung warned customers about their "listening" TV's! Nick Cohen is not a prophet of doom, or fantasy theorist, he is just a journalist who is prepared to think sometimes against the grain.
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on 23 March 2018
Really well written and researched. Thought provoking and challenges everyone really liked it
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on 2 May 2015
Under present circumstances, this is essential reading. Cohen's coverage is wide and intelligent. He tears political correctness and self-censorship apart. Critical opinions in the wake of Charlie Hebdo.
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