25 FEBRUARY 1989, Page 39

High life

Phony war


our-letter words are banned from this column. Seven-letter words might just slip through. However hard I have tried, I've been unable to come up with a more fitting word to describe one Richard Cohen than asshole. Cohen is a bearded jerk and wimp who writes for the mendacious Washington Post. Needless to say, he is a bleeding-heart liberal, and as great a phony as one can find in the city of phonies that's called Washington. The reason I am writing about such an inelegant man in the elegant pages of The Spectator is because Cohen last week attacked Mrs Thatcher for . . . not threatening to go to war if 'one hair on Rushdie's head is touched by someone working for Iran or seeking to claim the bounty'. This came from a man who was not only against the war in Vietnam but also a great respecter of the rights of muggers, murderers, and drug dealers. Why the sudden change? Cohen is a hypocrite and a Thatcher-hater, just as Pinter and Rushdie were until they had to go to her for help.

And speaking of Salman Rushdie, I want to put in my two cents about him. As one who has paid the consequences for my various libels as well as my one crime, I find his initial posturing and Muslim- baiting appalling in view of his recent climb-down. From what I can tell by listening to him describing England as a racist police state, he is an unpleasant and arrogant hypocrite. But his arrogance dis- appeared the moment the Ayatollah flashed his scimitar.

Well, Sal baby, this simply won't do. If someone wrote that my mother was a prostitute — the old lady being a saint and having slept with one man in her life — I would make sure that his knee-caps dis- appear and then dare a jury to convict me. The man who wrote it would be taking a chance, and so would I in teaching him a lesson. But you, Sal, want it both ways.

Personally, I think the miserable Rush- die should be protected, but so should the rights of millions who believe in Islam not to have their prophet insulted. Rushdie thinks England is a police state, yet he has written an extremely sympathetic little book about Sandinista Nicaragua. What he should get is a good beating for extreme opportunism and hypocrisy, just as the ghastly Lew Wasserman and Martin Scorsese should have done after making the film The Last Temptation of Christ.

Once upon a time, when honour was more important than profits, men went to war over what they perceived to be an insult to their dignity. Cohen the jerk wants Maggie to threaten war because it suits him politically. He knows she will do no such thing, thus he can score a few points against her. The fact that Jimmy Carter refused to fight after the Ayatol- lah's act of war against America in 1979 is beside the point for the jerk. Ditto in Rushdie's case. If a virulently anti-semitic book was published, the outcry for its suppression would be deafening. The fact that Islam is not a popular or vote-getting religion in the West does not mean a writer has the right to insult it, and if he does he should bear the consequences. After all, the sainted editor censors me week in and week out when I spell the Ayatollah Ayatoilet. Why shouldn't Sal be censored too?

But hypocrisy is nothing new. Especially among politicians. This week in Washing- ton, I've had to listen to that ludicrous Sam Nunn speaking like a mother superior about John Tower's drinking. If there's one good reason to confirm Tower, it is be- cause he drinks and chases women. And one good place to send Rushdie for safe- keeping is Nicaragua. If Mrs Thatcher did that I would give up both women and drink.