Noam Chomsky appears to be joining his one-time co-author Edward Herman in loaning legitimacy to denial of (or outright cheerleading for) the genocide in the former Yugoslavia. David Adler notes on his Lerterland blog an Oct. 31 interview with The Chom in the UK Guardian, entitled, with refreshing skepticism, “The Greatest Intellectual?” Writes Adler, in comments bracketing some incriminating, alarmingly stupid quotes from the interview:
It’s not news that Chomsky, like some others on the far left, is a Bosnia revisionist, supporting dubious claims that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated. But in this particular interview, Chomsky reveals his shabby intellectual and journalistic standards with heightened shamelessness:
[Chomsky] is asked to lend his name to all sorts of crackpot causes and [his wife] tries to intervene to keep his schedule under control. As some see it, one ill-judged choice of cause was the accusation made by Living Marxism magazine that during the Bosnian war, shots used by ITN of a Serb-run detention camp were faked. The magazine folded after ITN sued, but the controversy flared up again in 2003 when a journalist called Diane Johnstone made similar allegations in a Swedish magazine, Ordfront, taking issue with the official number of victims of the Srebrenica massacre. (She said they were exaggerated.) In the ensuing outcry, Chomsky lent his name to a letter praising Johnstone’s “outstanding work”. Does he regret signing it?
“No,” he says indignantly. “It is outstanding. My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough. It may be wrong; but it is very careful and outstanding work.”
How, I wonder, can journalism be wrong and still outstanding?
“Look,” says Chomsky, “there was a hysterical fanaticism about Bosnia in western culture which was very much like a passionate religious conviction. It was like old-fashioned Stalinism: if you depart a couple of millimetres from the party line, you’re a traitor, you’re destroyed. It’s totally irrational. And Diane Johnstone, whether you like it or not, has done serious, honest work. And in the case of Living Marxism, for a big corporation to put a small newspaper out of business because they think something they reported was false, is outrageous.”
They didn’t “think” it was false; it was proven to be so in a court of law.
But Chomsky insists that “LM was probably correct” and that, in any case, it is irrelevant. “It had nothing to do with whether LM or Diane Johnstone were right or wrong.” It is a question, he says, of freedom of speech.
In reality, it is a question of trying to delegitimize, by any tawdry means necessary, the West’s subsequent use of force in the Balkans. Here is Chomsky, champion of justice, trifling with the deaths of nearly 8000 innocent people—Muslims at that.
Now, we may have some differences with Adler. We don’t feel the US use of force in the Balkans was “legitimate.” The 1999 bombing of the Pancevo gasworks and the Belgrade TV station were war crimes too, and in any case the bombing only prompted the Serb militias to dramatically escalate their attacks on Albanians. But we thoroughly share Adler’s outrage at The Chom’s “trifling with the deaths of nearly 8,000 innocent people.” And yeah, Muslims at that.
As for Diane Johnstone’s “outstanding” journalism: Josh Mason, a former editor at In These Times, explains in an online PEN forum why she got sacked from that publication:
We felt we couldn’t publish her stuff not only because she was insisting that there was no Serb role in the slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia after the facts were long in, but because her friendship with Milosevic’s wife Marjana Markovic, going back to her time as student in Yugoslavia in the ’60s, colored her writing to the point of dishonesty. For instance, in a piece on the Serbian opposition, she presented Ms. Markovic’s party as Serbia’s main democratic opposition.
Egad! Marjana Markovic’s Yugoslav Left party was actually allied with Milosevic’s ruling Socialist Party of Serbia, and she was held as intellectual mastermind of her husband’s “Greater Serbia” ideology. Pretty sad that anti-war folks in the West (including Chomsky?) got taken in by the happy couple’s cynical use of words like “left” and “socialist” to mask their fascist project (in the style of the Strasser Brothers).
For those who wish to be disabused of their illusions, “The Left Revisionists” by Marko Attila Hoare on Balkan Witness deftly demolishes Johnstone’s vile apologias for fascism and ethnic cleansing. It also has a few choice words for The Chom.