Saturday, July 17, 2004

The Political Economy of Holocaust Denial

Chomsky's association with Holocaust denial is rarely mentioned in the American press (its much more commonly cited in France, where the scandal originated), and represents one of the ugliest points in Chomsky's career.  In the late 1970s, in response to attacks on a French university professor named Robert Faurisson, Chomsky signed a petition which contained the following statement

[Faurisson] has been conducting extensive research into the 'Holocaust' question. Since he began making his findings public, Professor Faurisson has been subject to a vicious campaign of harassment, intimidation, slander, and physical violence in a crude attempt to silence him.
Faurisson was one of France's most outspoken and prominent deniers of the Holocaust, and Chomsky's support for him, and in particular the language of the petition he signed, caused an uproar.  This was exacerbated further by the publication of an essay by Chomsky defending Faurisson as the preface to one of Faurisson's books.  Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz challenged Chomsky to a debate on the issue, and describes Chomsky's defense as follows
[Chomsky] tried to dispute the fact that he had authorized an essay he had written in defense of Robert Faurisson to be used as the forward to Faurisson’s book about Holocaust denial, but again had to back down. Chomsky took the position that he had no interest in “revisionist” literature before Faurisson had written the book. When confronted by Robert Nozick, a distinguished philosophy professor who recalled discussing revisionist literature with him well before the Faurisson book, Chomsky first berated Nozick for disclosing a private conversation and then he shoved him contemptuously in front of numerous witnesses.
Its worth noting the background of Chomsky's beleaguered professor and where his "extensive research" has taken him; the following is from Deborah Lipstadt's excellent study Denying the Holocaust
According to Faurisson the "so-called gassings" of Jews were a "gigantic politico-financial swindle whose beneficiaries are the state of Israel and international Zionism." Its chief victims were the German people and the Palestinians...He asserts, for example, that the German army was given "Draconian orders" not to participate in "excesses" against civilians including the Jews; consequently, the massive killings of Jews could not have happened...Faurisson interprets the Naxi decree which mandated that Jews wear a yellow star on pain of death as a measure to ensure the safety of German soldiers, because Jews, he argues, engaged in espionage, terrorism, black market operations, and arms trafficking. German soldiers needed a means to protect themselves against this formidable enemy. He even had am explanation as to why Jewish children were required to start wearing the star at age six: They too were engaged in "all sorts of illicit or resistance activities against the Germans" against which the soldiers had to be protected.(p. 9)
Faurisson also claimed, and sought to prove, that the Anne Frank diary was a fraud (p. 233). Along with this portrait of Faurisson, Lipstadt paints us a fascinating picture of some of his more interesting allies
Though Faurisson and most of his admirers are on the political right, they and their activities have been abetted by an extreme left-wing revolutionary group, La Vieille Taupe...Originally a bookstore, it has become a publishing house that shelters an informal coterie of revolutionary types. Under the direction of its proprietor, Pierre Guillaume, it has distributed periodicals, cassettes, comic books, journals, and broadsheets all attesting to the Holocaust hoax. Guillaume is France's leading publisher of neo-Nazi material.(p.10)
Guillaume is a personal friend of Chomsky and has served as one of Chomsky's French publishers
Guillaume begins by telling us that he first met Chomsky some time in 1979, having been introduced by Serge Thion [a French sociologist who has claimed that the Holocaust is exagerrated - Benjamin], another member of the VT group...Guillaume told Chomsky about Faurisson at this meeting...Guillaume proceeds to tell us how helpful Chomsky has been to the VT movement in other ways. At a time when the VT movement suffered from ostracism on all sides, when, moreover, Chomsky could have published a French version of his Political Economy of Human Rights (written with Edward Herman) with a French commercial firm, Chomsky nevertheless stood by his friends of the VT and published his book with them. He, Guillaume, would have understood had Chomsky wanted to keep his distance from the VT in public. But no, Chomsky proved steadfast.
The fact that a man claiming to be an advocate of peace, justice, human rights, etc.; a man who regularly ascribes Nazistic tendencies to any and everyone of whom he disapproves; has shown himself remarkably sanguine at the prospect of supporting, defending, even collaborating with the Nazis' modern day political heirs, ought to raise more eyebrows than it does.  Or perhaps, in Chomsky's case, we've simply gotten used to such epic acts of hypocrisy.  There will be more on this subject soon.