As we noted in November, Noam Chomsky appears to have utterly lost his moral compass in his advancing years, jumping on the Bosnia revisionism bandwagon and, in one unsavory incident, engaging in blatanly censorious behavior towards a writer who dared to challenge him. His legions of supporters seem incapable of grasping the irony of this recent episode: On Oct. 31, The Guardian ran an interview (“The Greatest Intellectual?”) in which writer Emma Brockes called him out over a letter he signed in defense of Diana Johnstone, whose claims in the Swedish left-wing journal Ordfront that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated had sparked a storm of (well-deserved) protest. Defending Johnstone on free speech grounds (that is, defending her right to publish) would be legitimate, even if an ill-chosen battle. But in the interview, Chomsky went further, praising her disingenuous and distorted claims as “very careful and outstanding work.”
From there, the story only gets worse—much worse.
Brockes (or her editors) did take a few unfortunate liberties—such as a prominent pull-quote presenting Chomsky’s words in support of Johnstone following a question he was never actually asked in the verbatim (“Q: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated? A: My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough”). Chomsky seized on this to protest the interview in a letter to The Guardian in which he stated: “Even when the words attributed to me have some resemblance to accuracy, I take no responsibility for them, because of the invented contexts in which they appear.” But the contexts were not “invented”—Johnstone explicitly and repeatedly asserts that the massacre was exaggerated, and routinely refers to the “Srebrenica massacre” in quotes (e.g. in her Ocotber 2005 piece in Counterpunch). Worse still, when his letter was published alongside one in support of Brockes by Kemal Pervanic, a survivor of the Omarska concentration camp, Chomsky shot off another letter protesting this juxtaposition as an attempt to (in The Guardian’s paraphrase) “undermine his position.” Chomsky’s supporters flooded The Guardian with e-mails and letters in defense of their hero.
The Guardian capitulated in the most pusillanimous manner. It ran a retraction, and pulled the interview from its website. Adding insult to injury, it also ran a response by Johnstone to Brockes’ interview—even after the interview itself was no longer available to online readers! This response distorted Brockes’ words to a far greater degree than Brockes (or her editors) had distored Chomsky’s. It was entitled “The Bosnian war was brutal, but it wasn’t a Holocaust.” Brockes had never called it a “Holocaust.”
In other words, Brockes was censored by Chomsky and his supporters far more effectively than Johnstone had been in the incident which prompted Chomsky to sign the letter in her defense! One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. (Ironically, Brockes’ original text is preserved for posterity—with Chomsky’s response—at Chomsky.info, “The Official Noam Chomsky Website,” after the pro-Chomsky letters campaign had resulted in it getting pulled from The Guardian’s website.)
An even more obvious irony that the Chomsky sycophants are oblivious to is how much their “logic” mirrors that of the imperialists they love to hate. As we pointed out on the Srebrenica ten-year anniversary last year, Chomsky’s longtime colleague and one-time co-author Edward Herman is also dedicating himself to “debunking” the massacre these days, and his revisionist screeds have been run on the supposedly “progressive” ZNet (which has also given the genocide-apologist Johnstone a homepage). Chomsky himself, in his essay “Lessons from Kosovo,” draws a distinction between “worthy victims” (e.g. Bosnians and Kosovars) and “unworthy victims” (e.g. Palestinians). Yet Chomsky and his followers have merely reversed this logic, rather than dispensing altogether with the hideous concept of “unworthy victims.” The suffering of the Bosnian Muslims is as invisible to them as that of the Palestinians and Iraqis is to the dominant propaganda machine that Chomsky has dedicated his life to dissecting.
Unfortunately, there seems to be practically no principled, single-standard thinking on these matters. Virtually no voices on the anti-war left have challenged Chomsky, Herman, Johnstone and their ilk.
The best critique of Johnstone’s vile genocide-denial is “The Left Revisionists” by Marko Attila Hoare of Cambridge University, on the Balkan Witness website. Dr. Hoare now takes on the Chomsky-Brockes controversy, in an essay entitled “The Guardian, Noam Chomsky and the Milosevic Lobby.” The essay delineates further censorious behavior by The Guardian: when Hoare and other scholars sent a letter to the paper outlining Chomsky’s distortions, it was eviscerated by the editors before publication. When they published the uncensored text on the website of the Balkans Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), a letter in response their letter was sent in—which BIRN, demonstrating a greater committment to free speech than The Guardian, printed in its entirety. Dr. Hoare points out that many of the response letter’s signatories (Vera Vratusa, George Szamuely, Nebojsa Malic) are also signatories to the “Free Slobodan Milosevic!!!” petition at the website of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic (ICDSM). Ed Herman’s work is also featured prominently on the ICDSM site.
The problem with all this is that Dr. Hoare’s new essay appears on the website of the ultra-interventionist Henry Jackson Society, which lists among its core principles: “that as the world’s most powerful democracies, the United States and the European Union – under British leadership – must shape the world more actively by intervention and example; that such leadership requires political will, a commitment to universal human rights and the maintenance of a strong military with global expeditionary reach…” The Society is named for the late longtime Washington state senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, who, as his official biography puts it, was a “dogged supporter” of the war in Vietnam. Talk about worthy and unworthy victims!
The Society’s “Geo-Strategic Sections” include a link for the “Greater Middle East,” featuring essays on such worthy victims as the Ahwazi Arab minority of Iran and the Coptic Christians of Egypt. Significantly, it includes no link for Latin America—where countless ethnicities (Maya, Nasa, Quechua, Mapuche) are oppressed by the allies and proxies rather than the adversaries of US imperialism. The oppressed are entitled to take their allies where they can find them, but we hope that the Iranian Arabs and Egyptian Copts realize that, like the Bosnians and Kosovars before them, they are being used as ideological cannon fodder.
Predictably, Scoop Jackson was also a bitter opponent of restoration of land rights and other elementary reparations for the victims of the USA’s own direct internal ethnic cleansing, the Native Americans. The national weekly Indian Country Today, on its “Rating the Presidents” page, points out that Jackson was to the right of Richard Nixon on this question, remaining intransigent on Nixon’s proposals (prompted by the American Indian Movement’s 1969 protest occupation of Alcatraz Island) to return certain usurped lands to the reservations.
So the moral high ground on Bosnia is ceded to the most hubristic proponents of the new ultra-imperialism, who are utterly blind to the victims of “the world’s most powerful democracies” and their client states.
Boy, does all this ever make us feel lonely.