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"), 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.
Cohen is right about this, and right about many other things too. He is right that censorship is one thing, not other things. He is against the inflation in meaning of words that insists that everything is censorship — because then nothing is censorship. It is not, for example, mere manipulation, or "spin". He is also right to distinguish between types of censorship. Serious or "true" censorship is characterised by its removal from the censored person of all choice. At the extreme, it kills. It is now, commonly, a form of terror. There is, then, the censorship that hurts (his subject) and there are other types, somewhat less consequential, such as editorial suppressions. Notwithstanding these important discriminations, however, loyal readers of Nick Cohen should not despair. He has not lost his polemical edge. He does not flinch, say, from comparing the English judiciary to the secret police in a dictatorship.