Book of the year is surely What's Left? by Nick Cohen. I read it twice in draft and strongly urged the author, when he was wavering on the question, not to cut the extensive material on the long-defunct Workers' Revolutionary Party, its late leader Gerry Healy, and Healy's portrayal in an absurdly didactic play from the 1970s by Trevor Griffiths, The Party. I was delighted that Nick took my advice and has referred again to Healy in The Standard today. The reason for recalling Healy - a corrupt and brutal rapist - is his association with an undeservedly prominent political figure (if nominally only a municipal one) in our own day:
Early in his career, [Ken] Livingstone formed an alliance with a Trotskyist sect called the Workers' Revolutionary Party. It’s remembered now for having Vanessa and Corin Redgrave among its cultists, when it should be known as the nastiest organisation on the late 20th century Left. The WRP spied on Iraqi dissidents for Saddam Hussein and took money from Colonel Gaddafi. Its primary purpose, however, was to worship the sect’s leader: Gerry Healy, a squat little Hitler – and a rapist to boot. In 1985, 26 women members came forward and accused him of ‘cruel and systematic debauchery’ on party premises.
Only the Redgraves and Healy’s most adoring fans stuck by him after that. Tellingly, Livingstone was among them. At Healy’s funeral in 1990, he dismissed the abused women as conspirators. Their testimony was a part of a “sustained and deliberate decision by MI5 to smash the organisation”.
Then as now it wasn’t enough to argue with those who disagreed with him. Criticisms can never be legitimate. There always has to be a scandalous motive. In 1990, those who upset his allies were the pawns of a dark plot by the security services. In 2007 they are racists or Islamophobes. The years pass, but his frenzy never fades.
A few months ago, Norman Geras wrote an interesting post on the case of Norman Finkelstein and academic freedom. Finkelstein had been denied tenure at DePaul University, and Norman was critical of this decision on various grounds. I've read two of Finkelstein's books and found them shrill and unscholarly. (In one of them, Finkelstein affected to have refuted Daniel Goldhagen's admittedly insupportable thesis about ordinary Germans' responsibilities for the Holocaust. Remarkably, Finkelstein was unable to read in German the documents he claimed Goldhagen had misrepresented.) But the reason I felt Norman was right to criticise the denial of tenure to Finkelstein was the reason the university gave for its decision. To penalise an academic for "deliberately hurtful" scholarship is to misunderstand how knowledge advances. It was a disgraceful decision.
But it's worth paying attention to Finkelstein's arguments for another reason. In an interview published this week, Finkelstein invokes an extraordinary analogy to his being denied tenure:
Afterward, Finkelstein says, he lost seventeen pounds. “People saw me wasting away,” he says. A student group held a hunger strike; Chomsky and others defended him. One of his colleagues made him a mix CD with tracks like “I Will Survive” and “What’s Goin’ On?” “I’m an old fan of the Negro spirituals,” Finkelstein says. “I was going around singing to myself, ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there?’ That’s how I felt. I was being crucified by the end.”
There isn't much ambiguity there. Critics of Finkelstein's tendentious writings on the Holocaust "industry" and the Israel-Palestine conflict are, in his view, Christ-killers. Finkelstein has suffered an injustice, but that doesn't make him any more reputable a public intellectual.
Another case of the denial of employment was reported by the Boston Globe this week:
The battle between science and creationism has reached the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where a former researcher is claiming he was fired because he doesn't believe in evolution.
Nathaniel Abraham filed a lawsuit earlier this week in US District Court in Boston saying that the Cape Cod research center dismissed him in 2004 because of his Christian belief that the Bible presents a true account of human creation.
I recommend you read the story to gain an insight into how the most unexceptionable of decisions can be twisted into bogus claims of the infringement of liberty. Mr Abraham is free to believe whatever creation myth he likes. But if he accepts myth rather than science, and prefers dogma to critical inquiry, then he's plainly incompetent to engage in scientific research bearing directly on evolutionary biology. I trust his complaint will be summarily thrown out.
The Jewish Chronicle reports on another unmeritorious complainant:
HOLOCAUST-denier David Irving claims he is preparing to serve court papers on the American historian he unsuccessfully sued for libel in London’s High Court eight years ago.
This week, the JC learned that the discredited historian, who last year served part of a three-year sentence in an Austrian jail for breaching the country’s Holocaust-denial laws, emailed Deborah Lipstadt informing her he intended to institute unspecified court proceedings against her.... He would not divulge why he was planning to bring his latest threatened action, but confirmed that they were not related to libel.
My reader David Irving has a predilection for bluster. He wrote to The Times a few months ago to complain about an article of mine that accurately remarked that his book on the bombing of Dresden had been discredited. I suppose it's a small mercy that the racist faker plainly doesn't any longer dispute the judgement of Mr Justice Gray that he is "a right-wing pro-Nazi polemicist" whose political agenda "disposes him, where he deems it necessary, to manipulate the historical record in order to make it conform with his political beliefs".
Speaking of David Irving, I should report that my unsolicited correspondent one Jonathan Burgess, who wrote to me of Irving's supposed prescience, appears to have abandoned altogether his threats of libel action after I described him - plainly accurately - as a racist. Likewise another litigiously minded nutter, the pseudonymous Joseph Ball, whose exculpation of the record of Chairman Mao I likened - again, plainly accurately - to Holocaust denial. My estimable libel lawyer appears thus to have got to the end of the year without having been called on to respond on my behalf to any complaints about material on this site or elsewhere. Readers may recall that previous complainants have included the pro-Milosevic blogger and female impersonator Neil Clark, whom I exposed for misrepresenting source material to one newspaper and then lying directly to another newspaper in a forlorn attempt to cover it up. Life has been marginally less interesting this year in the absence of Mr Clark's extensive threats and enterprisingly original attempts to bring them to fruition, but I settle for the outcome nonetheless.