Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Mostly Final Results

Looks like Likud got whacked even worse than I thought. Its now the fifth largest party in the Knesset, behind the Shas Party. The Kadima results can’t be happy for the party hopeful either, but I think apathy had something to do with it. Everyone was convinced they would win in a landslide, which probably contributed to the low turnout and correspondingly low result. I’d say Shas will almost certainly be in the next government. Haaretz’s take:
With the vote on 99.5 percent, Kadima had a less than expected 28 seats. Labor held at 20 seats, and Shas rose to 13, making the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party the third largest faction in the Knesset.
Netanyahu made a surprisingly good, somewhat teary-eyed speech on television last night, pledging to rebuild the movement, but he’s always been better at speaking than anything else. Likud may be on the way to breakup and replacement by Yisrael Beitenu or a new rightwing coalition.

Ironically, Shas’s showing may make it easier for Olmert to form a coalition, if he can bring in Shas, Labor, and Gimlaim as a social justice coalition, he can edge out Yisrael Beitenu and avoid a stalemate on the issue of territorial compromise. One thing is certain: this was a bad day for capitalism in Israel. All the parties dedicated to the welfare state and its expansion did surprisingly well, and Peretz will likely claim some sort of a mandate for his economic policies. Of course, Israel was born a socialist country and old habits die hard. The question will be whether Peretz tries for a return to Old Labor’s hard-core statism or a Third Way-style option in the Tony Blair tradition. Nonetheless, I shall have to face my professor’s unfortunate gloating today, never a good sign. Well, vox populi vox dei.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Some First Minute Thoughts

Clearly, the two big winners tonight are Amir Peretz and Avigdor Liberman.  Both Labor and Yisrael Beitenu far outperformed expectations.  Labor probably already has its eye on the Prime Minister’s office in the next election, but it depends how far Peretz can get with his social-welfare policies and how well the public ends up receiving them.  Everyone wants more money for social-welfare until it starts wrecking the economy.  If Peretz goes too far, it could come back and bite him the next time around.

As for Yisrael Beitenu, its clearly taken the rightwing vote which was traditionally the Likud’s.  Everyone disaffected by the withdrawal from Gaza seems to have taken it out on Likud more than any of the other parties.  Eleven seats for a party which won its biggest victory just a few years ago is an astounding collapse.  It has to be placed at the feet of Bibi Netanyahu, who seems to have developed the worst political instincts of any politician in Israeli history.  Even when he does the right thing, he does for the wrong reasons.  Nobody trusts him, even the people who agree with him.  You never know in this country, but his political career is probably over.  Its too bad, he’d make a good spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.

Kadima has to be a little disappointed with the results.  They should have gotten five or six more seats, but a lot of that can be put down to the absence of Sharon.  On the other hand, it could be said that the only reason they got that far was the party’s association with Sharon, a memory that may have passed by the time of the next elections.  Clearly, Olmert was not an attractive or charismatic leader.  Personally, I’m much fonder of Tzipi Livni.  She talks a little weird, but she’s intelligent and a relatively straight talker.  Plus, it’d really piss off the anti-Israel left if we had a female Prime Minister.

But all that’s for the future.  At the moment, its fairly clear that Kadima will form the coalition, Olmert will be Prime Minister, Amir Peretz will have a major cabinet seat and Shas will probably get in somewhere. A coalition with Yisrael Beitenu might happen, but I don’t see it lasting if Olmert intends to go ahead with his withdrawal plans, which Labor will demand of him.  Shas may end up being left out of the coalition in favor of some of the smaller parties, but who the hell knows at this point?  Its definitely going to be an interesting few weeks over here.

Preliminary Results

The preliminary results just came on the news.  32 seats for Kadima, 22 for Labor, 13 for Yisrael Beitenu, 11 for the Likud, 10 for Shas.  The rest is divided among the smaller parties.  This means several things.  First of all, the loss of Sharon clearly put a bad dent in Kadima.  They could have had ten more seats if he had been the party leader.  Second, Amir Peretz is going to be a major factor in the next government.  He’ll get the Interior Ministry, almost for certain.  Israel is heading socialist as far as domestic policies are concerned.  Third, the “right bloc” that Netanyahu was hoping for with Yisrael Beitenu is not going to happen.  Fourth, Netanyahu is finished.  Stick a fork in him, he’s done.  And it’s all his own damn fault.  Fifth, the next government will probably be Kadima-Labor-Shas, barring unforeseen developments, which are more than likely in a country like this.  Sixth, unilateral withdrawals will continue.  Labor is naturally dovish and Kadima has already stated its support of withdrawals from parts of the West Bank.

Biggest surprise?  Besides the collapse of the Likud, it has to be Gimlaim, a party dedicated solely to senior’s issues, which got an amazing 6 seats.  Pensions will shortly be going up.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Necessity of Distinction

Courtesy of Azure magazine, I have found this extraordinary article by French New Philosopher Andre Glucksmann. Glucksmann was one of the first French intellectuals of the ’68 generation to break with his colleagues’ traditional catechism, attacking Soviet oppression of dissidents and supporting Ronald Reagan’s deployment of Pershing missiles in Europe. Here, he grapples with the new totalitarianism and its stance on cartoons of Mohammad and Holocaust Denial.
[N]ow [radical Islam] has all of Europe in its sights, which it accuses of having a double standard. The European Union allows the Prophet to be denigrated with impunity, but it forbids and condemns other "opinions" like Nazism and denial of the Holocaust. Why are jokes about Muhammad permitted, but not those about the genocide of the Jews? This was the rallying call of fundamentalists before they initiated a competition for Auschwitz cartoons. Fair's fair: either everything should be allowed in the name of the freedom of expression, or we should censor that which shocks both parties. Many people who defend the right to caricature feel trapped. Will they publish drawings about the gas chambers in the name of freedom of expression? Offence for offence? Infringement for infringement? Can the negation of Auschwitz be put on a par with the desecration of Muhammad? This is where two philosophies clash. The one says yes, these are equivalent "beliefs" which have been equally scorned. There is no difference between factual truth and professed faith; the conviction that the genocide took place and the certitude that Muhammad was illuminated by Archangel Gabriel are on a par. The others say no, the reality of the death camps is a matter of historical fact, whereas the sacredness of the prophets is a matter of personal belief.
When the Islamist fanatic affirms that Europeans practise the "religion of the Shoah" while he practises that of Muhammad, he abolishes the distinction between fact and belief. For him there are only beliefs, and so it follows that Europe will favour its own.

Civilised discourse analyses and defines scientific truths, historic truths and matters of fact relating to knowledge, not to faith. And it does this irrespective of race or confession. We may believe these facts are profane or undignified, yet they remain distinct from religious truths. Our planet is not in the grips of a clash of civilisations or cultures. It is the battleground of a decisive struggle between two ways of thinking. There are those who declare that there are no facts, but only interpretations - so many acts of faith. These either tend toward fanaticism ("I am the truth") or they fall into nihilism ("nothing is true, nothing is false"). Opposing them are those who advocate free discussion with a view to distinguishing between true and false, those for whom political and scientific matters – or simple judgement – can be settled on the basis of worldly facts, independently of arbitrary pre-established opinions.
Refusing to face the cruellest historical facts, on the other hand, heralds the return of cruelty. Whether the Islamists - who are far from representing all Muslims – like it or not, there is no common measure between negating known facts and criticising any one of the beliefs which every European has the right to practice or poke fun at.
What is at stake here is not only the freedom of the press, but also the permission to call a spade a spade and a gas chamber an abomination, regardless of our beliefs. What is at stake is the basis of all morality: here on earth the respect due to each individual starts with the recognition and rejection of the most flagrant examples of inhumanity.
This extraordinary essay cuts to the essence of one of the issues which caused me to start this blog: the absolute importance of distinctions. The Chomskyite phenomenon is most horrifying in its negation of distinctions, its annihilation of the possibility of thought. No utterance of the good professor represents this better than this one on the subject of Holocaust Denial, which represents precisely the horror of which Glucksmann speaks.
I'm saying that if you believe in freedom of speech then you believe in freedom of speech for views you don't like, I mean Goebbels was in favour of freedom of speech for views he liked, right, so was Stalin. If you're in favour of freedom of speech that means you're in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise, otherwise you're not in favour of freedom of speech.
Of course, neither Goebbels nor Stalin was in favor of freedom of speech, which is why they killed so many for daring to exercise it. Nor can the issue even be raised in relation to totalitarian societies and their leaders, who do not accept a right of free speech in the first place. In fact, the essence of the totalitarian society is the denial of any natural rights pertaining to the individual and, ultimately, the existence of the individual himself. This holds true as well for totalitarian political cultures, such as neo-Nazism, radical Islam or, for that matter, your average Chomskyite. Most importantly, however, the denial of the Holocaust is not a view which one “despises” or “favors.” It is not a view at all. It is an expression of intellectual psychosis, of the anti-historical unreality which is the inherent product of the totalitarian mind. There is a distinction between this and a view which one dislikes or disagrees with. Whether you think Holocaust Denial should be banned or not, it cannot be addressed on the same terms as one would address a statement in favor of a flat tax. To address Holocaust Denial as though it were simply another point of view which any reasonable or decent person might hold is, inherently, to annihilate reason itself, and thus, all the rights to which reason has given birth. One can say that Holocaust Denial should not be banned, or that men should not go to jail for it, but to argue that we are honor bound to grant it the same respect as any other political statement, or that we are nothing but censorious dictators if we do not do so, is a crime against both freedom and speech. It negates them both by rendering them meaningless. In doing so, it makes power the only arbiter of truth, and renders us all silent.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Another Anti-Chomskyite on the Guardian Controversy

I have been asked to publish this article, which originally appeared on It is an excellent critique of the Guardian’s treatment of Chomsky’s stance on Bosnia. As I have already written, I consider the Guardian’s craven capitulation to Chomskyite censorship on this issue to be one of the most disgraceful displays of journalistic spinelessness I have ever witnessed. Enjoy, and judge for yourselves:

Chomsky's Genocidal Denial

By Marko Attila November 23, 2005

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2

In the realm of politics, there are those of us who wear our hearts on our sleeves: proud of what we stand for, we are not afraid to state our positions as clearly as possible, so there is no danger of misunderstanding; we call a spade a spade, and are ready to face the music. On the other hand, there are those who are embarrassed by their own position: they dissemble; muddying the waters so that what they really think is vague and hidden; when confronted by those who recognise them for what they are, they lash out in fear and shame, denying what everyone knows to be the truth.

Two very interesting parallel cases were highlighted in the Guardian newspaper on 17 November. It was reported that David Irving was arrested in Austria for the crime of Holocaust denial. Irving is well known as a Holocaust denier and Hitler apologist, yet when accused of this by the historian Deborah Lipstadt, he attempted to sue her for libel, resulting in his crushing courtroom defeat. Yet he apparently remains ashamed to accept the label that he has inevitably earned. According to the Guardian: ‘Mr Irving has said he does not deny Jews were killed by the Nazis, but challenges the number and manner of Jewish concentration camp deaths. He has questioned the use of large-scale gas chambers to exterminate the Jews, and has claimed that the numbers of those who perished are far lower than those generally accepted. He also contends that most Jews who died at Auschwitz did so from diseases such as typhus, not gas poisoning.’ In other words, lacking the moral courage to say proudly ‘Yes, I deny the Holocaust !’, Irving seeks refuge in the claim that he is merely concerned with the accuracy of details and interpretation. Thus, the Holocaust denier does not merely deny the Holocaust; he denies his own denial. Of course, no rational person would accept such a plea at face value.

On the same day (17 November), a new twist emerged in another saga of genocide-denial: the Guardian printed a grovelling apology to Noam Chomsky for a none-too-flattering interview with him carried out by the award-winning journalist Emma Brockes, published by the Guardian on 31 October, in which Brockes cites Chomsky as having said that the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 was 'probably overstated' and was not even an actual massacre. Chomsky prides himself on being a resolute champion of freedom of speech; on this ground, he has defended the right of Holocaust-deniers to publish what they want; and condemned Britain’s libel laws. Yet faced with Brockes’s exposure of his position, he and his circle of fans retreated from their pro-free-speech position, and organised a campaign of denunciation of Brockes, bombarding the Guardian with letters of complaint, and eventually bullying this spineless newspaper into issuing an unequivocal apology and retraction.

In his letter of complaint to the Guardian, published on 2 November, Chomsky writes: ‘As for her [Brockes’s] personal opinions, interpretations and distortions, she is of course free to publish them, and I would, of course, support her right to do so, on grounds that she makes clear she does not understand.’ Yet as a result of the Chomskyite campaign against Brockes, the Guardian readers’ editor reported on 17 November: ‘The Guardian has now withdrawn the interview from the website.’ Just fancy that ! More shamefully still, the Guardian also apologised for having published a letter by Kemal Pervanic, a survivor of the Serb concentration-camp Omarska, alongside Chomsky’s on 2 November. Pervanic said he was ‘shocked by some of the views of Noam Chomsky in the article by Emma Brockes’s.’ Yet in the words of the Guardian readers’ editor’s grovelling piece of self-criticism: ‘While he has every sympathy with the writer [Pervanic], Prof Chomsky believes that its publication was designed to undermine his position, and addressed a part of the interview which was false... With hindsight it is acknowledged that the juxtaposition has exacerbated Prof Chomsky’s complaint, and that is regretted.’ So much for respecting the right of a concentration-camp survivor to state his opinion.

The irony is all the greater, as the Brockes interview revolved around Chomsky’s defence of the writer Diana Johnstone, allegedly on the grounds of supporting freedom of speech. In 2003, the left-wing Swedish magazine Ordfront published an interview with Johnstone, which repeated her revisionist, genocide-denying views of the Bosnian war. This provoked massive outrage on the part of members of Ordfront’s editorial board and readers, leading to resignation of the editor and a public apology by the magazine for the pain it had caused to Bosnian genocide survivors. Johnstone’s Swedish publisher apparently withdrew its agreement to publish her book. This, in the eyes of Chomsky, consisted of a violation of Johnstone’s ‘freedom of speech’, though nobody had prevented her from disseminating her views through other magazines or publishers; indeed, her book has been published in the UK by Pluto Press, and her articles are available all over the internet, should anyone wish to read them. Nor, it should be said, was Johnstone murdered, tortured or driven out of her home, like hundreds of thousands of Bosnian citizens in the 1990s, whose rights Chomsky has never got round to championing. But assuming the right of a Western author not to have her writings rejected by publishers on political grounds is a more worthy cause than the right of Balkan untermenschen to life and limb, it remains to be seen whether Chomsky’s fellow left-wing libertarians will engage themselves in defence of Brockes as forthrightly as they did in defence of Johnstone.

What was it about Brockes’s interview that so rattled Chomsky ? Chomskyite ire focused on the question-and-answer headline that introduced the interview:

Q. [Brockes]: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated ?

A. [Chomsky]: My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough.

This was a paraphrase, rather than a literal quotation, and one that was written by the newspaper rather than by Brockes herself, and for which she therefore cannot be held responsible. Nevertheless, it accurately summed up the essence of the matter: Chomsky had supported Johnstone, who claimed that the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated. In his open letter to the Guardian of 13 November, Chomsky claimed it was simply a matter of defending freedom of speech: ‘The truthful part is that I said, and explained at length, that I regret not having strongly enough opposed the Swedish publisher's decision to withdraw a book by Diana (not ‘Diane,’ as the Guardian would have it) Johnstone after it was bitterly attacked in the Swedish press... In the interview, whatever Johnstone may have said about Srebrenica never came up, and is entirely irrelevant in any event, at least to anyone with a minimal appreciation of freedom of speech.’

Chomsky therefore claimed his defence of Johnstone’s freedom of speech had been misrepresented as denial of the Srebrenica massacre. Indeed, Brockes’s portrayal of Chomsky’s alleged denial of Srebrenica was at the heart of Chomsky’s complaint. According to Brockes, Chomsky claimed ‘that during the Bosnian war the ‘massacre’ at Srebrenica was probably overstated.’ Brockes elaborated thus on Chomsky’s style: ‘Chomsky uses quotations marks to undermine things that he disagrees with and, in print at least, it can come across less as academic than as witheringly teenage; like, Srebrenica was so not a massacre.’ Chomsky’s outraged response was that ‘with five minutes research on the internet, any journalist could find many places where I described the massacre as a massacre, never with quotes. That alone ends the story.’ The Guardian readers’ editor accepted the validity of Chomsky’s complaint, and threw in an apology to Johnstone for good measure: ‘Ms Brockes’s misrepresentation of Prof Chomsky’s views on Srebrenica stemmed from her misunderstanding of his support for Ms Johnstone. Neither Prof Chomsky nor Ms Johnstone have [sic] ever denied the fact of the massacre.’

The big question is, of course, does Chomsky really deny the Srebrenica massacre ? Or, if he does not deny it outright, does he put such a spin on it that he denies it to all intents and purposes ?

Johnstone, for her part, denies it to all intents and purposes. Her book, Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions (London: Pluto Press, 2002) puts the words ‘Srebrenica massacre’ in quotes (p. 106). She then goes on to argue: ‘In trying to understand what happened at Srebrenica, a number of factors should be taken into account.’ These are, she argues, that Srebrenica and other ‘safe areas’ had ‘served as Muslim military bases under UN protection’; that the ‘Muslim military force stationed in Srebrenica - some 5,000 men under the command of Naser Oric, had carried out murderous raids against nearby Serb villages’; that ‘[Bosnian President] Izetbegovic pulled Naser Oric out of Srebrenica prior to the anticipated Serb offensive, deliberately leaving the enclave undefended’; and that ‘Insofar as Muslims were actually executed following the fall of Srebrenica, such crimes bear all the signs of spontaneous acts of revenge rather than a project of ‘genocide’'. Furthermore: ‘Six years after the summer of 1995, ICTY forensic teams had exhumed 2,631 bodies in the region, and identified fewer than 50. In an area where fighting had raged for years, some of the bodies were certainly of Serbs as well as of Muslims. Of these bodies, 199 were found to have been bound or blindfolded, and must reasonably be presumed on the basis of the material evidence to have been executed.’ She concludes: ‘War crimes ? The Serbs themselves do not deny that crimes were committed. Part of a plan of genocide ? For this there is no evidence whatsoever.’ (pp. 109-118).

To sum up Johnstone’s position on Srebrenica: she blames everything that happened there on the Muslims; claims they provoked the Serb offensive in the first place; then deliberately engineered their own killing; and then exaggerated their own death-toll. She denies that thousands of Muslims were massacred; suggesting there is no evidence for a number higher than 199 - less than 2.5% of the accepted figure of eight thousand. And she eschews the word 'massacre' in favour of 'execution' - as if it were a question of criminals on Death Row, not of innocent civilians. It is as if she were to claim that less than 150,000 Jews, rather than six million, had died in the Holocaust; that the Jews had provoked and engineered the Nazi killings; that these killings had been 'executions'; and that the Jews had then exaggerated their death toll. She is ready to excuse the Srebrenica killings as retaliation for Oric’s earlier killings of Serb civilians - but does not mention that Oric’s crimes took place long after the war had already begun and Serb forces had begun slaughtering Muslims all over Bosnia. She does not mention how Srebrenica became an ‘enclave’ in the first place: through Serb aggression against, and conquest of, East Bosnia in 1992, and the killing and expulsion of the Muslim population that this involved - against which the Srebrenica Muslims were temporarily able to hold out as an 'enclave'. All in all, this can reasonably be called denial; insofar as it is not complete denial - she recognises less than 2.5% of the massacre - it is an apologia for the Serb forces. The Guardian readers’ editor’s claim that ‘Neither Prof Chomsky nor Ms Johnstone have [sic] ever denied the fact of the massacre’ is, therefore, at least half untrue.

But what about the other half, i.e. Chomsky ? An open letter to Ordfront, signed by Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy and others, stated: 'We regard Johnstone's Fools' Crusade as an outstanding work, dissenting from the mainstream view but doing so by an appeal to fact and reason, in a great tradition.' In his personal letter to Ordfront in defence of Johnstone, Chomsky wrote: ‘I have known her for many years, have read the book, and feel that it is quite serious and important.’ Chomsky makes no criticism here of Johnstone’s massacre denial, or indeed anywhere else - except in the Brockes interview, which he has repudiated. Indeed, he endorses her revisionism: in response to Mikael van Reis's claim that 'She [Johnstone] insists that Serb atrocities - ethnic cleansing, torture camps, mass executions - are western propaganda', Chomsky replies that 'Johnstone argues - and, in fact, clearly demonstrates - that a good deal of what has been charged has no basis in fact, and much of it is pure fabrication.'

In the same letter, Chomsky makes much of an allegedly positive review of Johnstone's book in a British foreign-affairs journal: 'I also know that it has been very favourably reviewed, e.g., by the British scholarly journal International Affairs, journal of the Royal Academy.' He then continues, with his own idiosyncratic logic: ‘I don’t read Swedish journals of course, but it would be interesting to learn how the Swedish press explains the fact that their interpretation of Johnstone’s book differs so radically from that of Britain’s leading scholarly foreign affairs journal, International Affairs. I mentioned the very respectful review by Robert Caplan, of the University of Reading and Oxford [sic]. It is obligatory, surely, for those who condemn Johnstone’s book in the terms just reviewed to issue still harsher condemnation of International Affairs, as well as of the universities of Reading and Oxford, for allowing such a review to appear, and for allowing the author to escape censure.’ The essence of what Chomsky is saying, is that Johnstone received a positive review in a respectable scholarly journal, therefore her book must be good.

There are, first of all, a number of distortions in Chomsky's claim: International Affairs is the journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, not of the 'Royal Academy'; the RIIA is a para-governmental think tank, not a scholarly institution, therefore it makes no sense to describe International Affairs as 'Britain's leading scholarly foreign affairs journal'; the reviewer was Richard, not Robert Caplan; and his review of Johnstone's book was far from being as positive as Chomsky suggests. Caplan wrote: 'Diana Johnstone has written a revisionist and highly contentious account of Western policy and the dissolution of Yugoslavia... Yet for all of the book's constructive correctives, it is often difficult to recognize the world that Johnstone describes…The book also contains numerous errors of fact, on which Johnstone however relies to strengthen her case... Johnstone herself is very selective.'

Indeed, Caplan was overly polite in his criticisms of what is, in reality, an extremely poor book, one that is little more than a polemic in defence of the Serb-nationalist record during the wars of the 1990s - and an ill-informed one at that. Johnstone is not an investigative journalist who spent time in the former Yugoslavia doing fieldwork on the front-lines, like Ed Vulliamy, David Rohde or Roy Gutman. Nor is she a qualified academic who has done extensive research with Serbo-Croat primary sources, like Noel Malcolm or Norman Cigar. Indeed, she appears not to read Serbo-Croat, and her sources are mostly English-language, with a smattering of French and German. In short, she is an armchair Balkan amateur-enthusiast, and her book is of the sort that could be written from any office in Western Europe with access to the internet.

The quality of Johnstone’s ‘scholarship’ may be gauged from some of the Serb-nationalist falsehoods she repeats uncritically, such as the claim that the Serb Nazi-collaborationist leader Draza Mihailovic formed ‘the first armed guerrilla resistance to Nazi occupation in all of Europe’ (p. 291) - a myth long since exploded by serious historians (see for example Jozo Tomasevich, War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945: The Chetniks, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1975, pp. 124, 137). Or Johnstone’s claim that Croatia in 1990 ‘rapidly restored the symbols of the dread 1941 [Nazi-puppet] state - notably the red and white checkerboard flag, which to Serbs was the equivalent of the Nazi swastika’ (p. 23) - a falsehood that can be refuted by a glance at any complete version of the Yugoslav constitution, which clearly shows that the Croatian chequerboard - far from being a fascist symbol equivalent to the swastika - was an official symbol of state in Titoist Yugoslavia (see, for example the 1950 edition of the Yugoslav constitution, published by Sluzbeni list, Belgrade, which shows the Croatian chequerboard as a Yugoslav symbol of state on p. 115; or the 1974 edition published by Prosveta, Belgrade, which shows the Croatian chequerboard - in full colour - at the start of the text). It would require an entire article to list and refute all the numerous errors and falsehoods in Johnstone's book; Chomsky praises it because he sympathizes with her political views, not because it has any scholarly merit.

Perhaps it would be unfair to label Chomsky a Srebrenica massacre-denier simply because he praises uncritically Johnstone’s massacre-denying book and endorses its conclusions. A fuller picture of Chomsky’s views on Srebrenica, however, can be gleaned from his interview with M. Junaid Alam of Left Hook on 17 December 2004, where he states that ‘Srebrenica was an enclave, lightly protected by UN forces, which was being used as a base for attacking nearby Serb villages. It was known that there’s going to be retaliation. When there was a retaliation, it was vicious. They trucked out all the women and children, they kept the men inside, and apparently slaughtered them. The estimates are thousands of people slaughtered.’ The key words here are ‘retaliation’, ‘apparently’ and ‘estimates’; the slaughter 'apparently' took place; the thousands killed were mere 'estimates'; they were, in any case, simply 'retaliation' for earlier Serb crimes. Note that while Chomsky raises doubts about the fact and scale of the killings, he is absolutely categorical that they were retribution for earlier Muslim crimes - the slaughter apparently took place, but if it did, then it was definitely retaliation. Read carefully, nothing that Chomsky says actually contradicts Johnstone's massacre-denying claims cited above.
Chomsky then goes on to compare the Serb behaviour favourably with that of the Americans in Fallujah: ‘Well, with Fallujah, the US didn’t truck out the women and children, it bombed them out.’ Chomsky does not mention the thousands of Bosnian women and children raped and murdered by Serb forces in other parts of Bosnia; nor those blown to bits by the Serb shelling of Sarajevo and other Bosnian towns, choosing instead to focus on the sparing of the women and children of Srebrenica. Johnstone, too, makes much of this: ‘one thing should be obvious: one does not commit ‘genocide’ by sparing women and children’. In fact, the Nazis began the systematic extermination of Jewish adult males in the USSR in 1941 before they began the systematic extermination of Jewish women and children, and the Nazis, unlike the Serb forces a half century later, were not being restrained by the democratic Western media.

Chomsky again compared Serb behaviour at Srebrenica favourably with American behaviour at Fallujah in his article ‘Imperial Presidency’ (Canadian Dimension, January/February 2005, vol. 39, no. 1), where he wrote of ‘Srebrenica, almost universally described as ‘genocide’ in the West. In that case, as we know in detail from the Dutch government report and other sources, the Muslim enclave in Serb territory, inadequately protected, was used as a base for attacks against Serb villages, and when the anticipated reaction took place, it was horrendous. The Serbs drove out all but military age men, and then moved in to kill them. There are differences with Falluja. Women and children were not bombed out of Srebrenica, but trucked out, and there will be no extensive efforts to exhume the last corpse of the packrats in their warrens in Falluja. There are other differences, arguably unfair to the Serbs.’ Not quite massacre denial, it is true; more of a massacre minimisation - since Chomsky nowhere recognises the figure of eight-thousand Muslim dead, it is entirely possible that he reduces the massacre to the fraction suggested by Johnstone, and therefore denies it to all intents and purposes. And he is certainly at pains to contrast 'the Serbs' favourably with the Americans.

One might criticise Brockes for not giving a more nuanced portrayal of Chomsky’s vague yet complex view of the Srebrenica massacre - were it not for the fact that Chomsky is notorious for the deliberate use of obscure and confusing language, designed to muddy the waters as to his real views, and the use of verbal trickery aimed at confusing his opponents. Take his 2001 exchange with Christopher Hitchens over the question of whether the US bombing of Sudan’s pharmaceutical factory in 1998 was a crime equivalent to 11 September:

Chomsky stated: ‘That Hitchens cannot mean what he writes is clear, in the first place, from his reference to the bombing of Sudan. He must be unaware that he is expressing such racist contempt for African victims of a terrorist crime, and cannot intend what his words imply.’
Hitchens replied: ‘Since his [Chomsky’s] remarks are directed at me, I’ll instance a less-than-half-truth as he applies it to myself. I ‘must be unaware’, he writes, that I ‘express such racist contempt for African victims of a terrorist crime.’ With his pitying tone of condescension, and his insertion of a deniable but particularly objectionable innuendo, I regret to say that Chomsky displays what have lately become his hallmarks.’

Chomsky then pulled his sleight-of-hand: ‘Hitchens claims that I accused him of a ‘propensity for racist contempt.’ I explicitly and unambiguously said the opposite.’

Given such word games and obfuscation, Chomsky should hardly complain when an earnest interviewer fails to interpret his well-camouflaged position as he would have it. Had he so wished, he could have avoided the entire imbroglio with Brockes by telling her unambiguously: ‘I recognise that several thousand Muslim civilians were massacred by Serb forces at Srebrenica in 1995'. Yet one rather suspects he wanted to have his cake and eat it: to put forward a ‘position’ that was compatible with those of the outright deniers, like Johnstone, but that nevertheless allows him formally to deny being a denier himself.

Instead of taking responsibility for his own insincerity and double-talk, he chose to punish the messenger - Brockes. He has then failed on two occasions - his letter published in the Guardian on 2 November and his open letter to the Guardian of 13 November - to state categorically that the massacre occurred in the way that it is understood to have done: as a massacre of several thousand innocent Muslim civilians by Serb forces. Nor is it true what Chomsky claims, that ‘with five minutes research on the internet, any journalist could find many places where I described the massacre as a massacre, never with quotes.' I have not yet discovered a single text on the internet in which Chomsky describes Srebrenica as a 'massacre'; if such a text exists, it is not as easy to find as Chomsky claims. Chomsky’s actual position on Srebrenica must remain an open question until he can actually bring himself to speak and write in plain English - for which nobody should hold their breath. Under these circumstances, the Guardian readers’ editor had no need to issue its apology, and had no right to impugn the journalistic professionalism of Brockes. It is to Brockes, not to Chomsky, that the Guardian should be apologising.

The outrage of Chomsky and his fellow-travellers over his portrayal as a Srebrenica massacre-denier is particularly ironic, given that several of these fellow-travellers are themselves overt Srebrenica deniers. Chomsky is notorious for having gone on record in 1977, in an article co-written with a certain Ed Herman, as claiming that Khmer Rouge atrocities were being exaggerated by the Western media (‘Distortions at Fourth Hand’, The Nation, 25 June 1977). Recently, the same Ed Herman founded a ‘Srebrenica Research Group’ to propagate the view that the Srebrenica massacre never happened. In his essay ‘The Politics of the Srebrenica Massacre’, Herman writes that ‘the evidence for a massacre, certainly of one in which 8,000 men and boys were executed, has always been problematic, to say the least’. Herman concludes: ‘The ‘Srebrenica massacre’ [note the quote marks] is the greatest triumph of propaganda to emerge from the Balkan wars... But the link of this propaganda triumph to truth and justice is non-existent. The disconnection with truth is epitomised by the fact that the original estimate of 8,000, including 5,000 ‘missing’ - who had left Srebrenica for Bosnian Muslim lines - was maintained even after it had been quickly established that several thousand had reached those lines and that several thousand more had perished in battle. This nice round number lives on today in the face of a failure to find the executed bodies and despite the absence of a single satellite photo showing executions, bodies, digging, or trucks transporting bodies for reburial.’

In this way, Chomsky’s close collaborator Herman unashamedly holds a view that Chomsky is outraged to have attributed to himself. Both Chomsky and Herman are regular contributors to the website ‘ZNet’ - a haven for neo-Stalinist die-hards, several of whom are outright Srebrenica deniers. The publication of Herman’s above-cited article was greeted with uncritical approval by ZNet blogger David Petersen, who praised its ‘powerful analysis’. The same Petersen then reacted with outrage when Brockes attributed the same Srebrenica-denying view that he himself endorses to his comrade Chomsky, describing her interview as ‘lies, smears and more lies’. Just fancy that ! If to deny the Srebrenica massacre is shameful - which it is - why do Johnstone, Petersen and Herman do so ? But if they really think that the Srebrenica massacre did not happen, or was vastly smaller and more justifiable than is usually claimed, why should they be so outraged at Chomsky being described as a denier ? The answer brings us back to where we began: the Chomskyites and ZNet people are, at heart, embarrassed by their own position. In this, too, they resemble the controversial British historian recently arrested in Austria.

In this debate over whether or not Chomsky denied a massacre, it is important not to lose sight of something more damning and much less controversial: that Chomsky quite openly denies that genocide took place, either in Srebrenica or in Bosnia as a whole, and makes no bones about putting the word 'genocide' in quotes - this despite the fact that an international tribunal, established by the UN, has convicted a Bosnian Serb general of aiding and abetting genocide in Srebrenica. Indeed, the genocide-denial of Johnstone, Chomsky and their circle goes far beyond questioning the Srebrenica massacre. Chomsky was among those who supported the campaign in defence of Living Marxism (LM), the lunatic-fringe magazine that accused the news agency ITN of fabricating the existence of Serb concentration camps in Bosnia, on the basis of the writings of Thomas Deichmann, an amateur journalist and supporter of the Serb-nationalist cause. Deichmann claimed the camps in question were merely 'detention centres', and - although he had never visited them himself - presumed to know them well enough to claim that the pictures ITN had taken of them were deliberately intended to 'mislead' the Western public as to their true nature. ITN sued LM for libel, and the magazine was unable to produce a single witness who had actually seen the camps at first hand, whereas eye-witnesses such as Vulliamy testified as to their true, horrific character. LM's resounding defeat in the libel trial has not stopped Johnstone, in a recent commentary on the Chomsky-Brockes affair in the left-wing American magazine Counterpunch, from repeating LM's already discredited lies: "The issue raised by LM had to do with the way photographs taken at Trnopolje camp, by focusing on a thin man on the other side of a wire fence which in reality did not surround the Muslim inmates, but rather the ITN crew itself, was used to create the impression that what was happening in Bosnia was a repetition of a Nazi-style Holocaust." The campaign against Brockes has therefore simultaneously become a campaign to rewrite the history of the Bosnian war to deny that genocide took place.

Chomsky's denial that genocide took place in Bosnia, even after it has been established in international law that it did, and even after LM's lies about Serb camps were exposed as such in a British court, marks him down as a revisionist in the mould of Irving; the general thrust of Brockes’s exposure of him was therefore bang on target. In pandering to him, the Guardian has besmirched its own reputation and insulted the survivors of the genocide. Ironically, it was Guardian journalists such as Vulliamy and Maggie O'Kane who were in the forefront of bringing the genocide to light in 1992. That the Guardian - with this proud record - should have chosen to betray Brockes, its own journalist, by apologising on her behalf to an unabashed genocide-denier, means that this newspaper is now collaborating in the revisionist re-writing of the history of the Bosnian war.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


To be a Jew is to live with the fact that strange people you have never seen and don’t even know exist want to kill you.  Every one us, consciously or subconsciously, has to find some way to make peace with this.  When you read articles like Michael Totten’s report from the Kurdish genocide museum, that peace is disturbed.  The fact that the Jewish people have survived a genocide is not the only reason for a Jewish state, but it is one of them, and it is a good one.  I am more and more convinced that it is also one of the very good reasons for a Kurdish state as well.  They’ve waited long enough, and they deserve to be able to say “never again” and know that they have the power to make sure of that.  In short, they’ve earned it.