Sunday, August 17, 2008

Johann Hari and the Seven Seals of Dacre

Reading articles by Johann Hari reminds me of old articles by Nick Cohen. Both can be witty and eloquent writers, and obviously have (in Hari's case) and used to have (in Cohen's case) lots of contacts with leftie people who told them interesting things which they then wrote about.

Nick Cohen's decline from interesting leftie columnist to right-wing hack has been well chronicled over here. One amusing marker of this was Watching how he broken one by one the 'Seven Seals of Dacre'. The idea behind the Seals of Dacre are that every time you adopt a bizarre and counterfactual view which is also believed by Melanie Phillips, a seal breaks open, and when all seven are broken, the Vaults open and an army of ghouls rush out and drag you off to write a column in the Daily Mail (or in Nick's case the Evening Standard).

I haven't been tracking Johann Hari's progress in this way until recently, but I reckon he has broken at least two Seals in recent weeks.

Number one was 'cutting poor people's benefits actually helps them because they become less dependent', in this charming piece about how the government's welfare reforms were good based on a sample of his friend Andy. It came complete with a side order of 'lefties ought to support this right-wing policy because the Tories would be worse' served up in such a sanctimonious way that even I found it hard to stomach.

And the second seal of Dacre went last week with an abomination of a piece called 'We need to stop being such cowards about Islam'. It has an internal logic to it as long as the reader accepts the premise that in Britain people are intimidated and not allowed to criticise Islam. This is pretty much the textbook definition of a 'bizarre and counterfactual view also held by Melanie Phillips'. I guess it might be true if you exclude, say, trivial niche publications such as the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the BBC's 'Have Your Say' site.

Again with the sanctimoniousness, Hari confesses that one reason he was worried about writing the column was that he feared for his physical safety. Now say what you like about Richard Littlejohn, but at least he doesn't tell us all how physically brave he is being when sticking it to the Muslims. There is a bit of 'I live in the East End, so I know that fears of discrimination are overstated, whatever the statistics might say', which is pretty weak stuff from the former Young Journalist of the Year. And it is odd that the particular subject of Hari's column, which is apparently such a taboo that 'you cannot read about it except in the Koran and the Hadith' turns up 700,000 hits on google.

Critical, rational discussion of Islam is happening all the time, in Britain and around the world, whatever commercial decision a particular American publisher chooses to make about one particular book. But there is a difference between doing an impression of Melanie Phillips and taking part in this discussion. Still, I guess no opinion columnist ever went hungry by being the left-winger prepared to 'speak truth to the powerless'.

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