A FEW days ago, Guernica magazine accused me of not citing sources when I criticised Noam Chomsky. I responded by posting a source-ridden chapter from my What’s Left (you can read the book here and the extract on Chomsky here) which detailed the shifty way in which Chomsky and all those who imitate him excuse crimes against humanity they cannot blame on the West.
The extract described at length Chomsky’s role in boosting deniers of the holocaust, Pol Pot’s genocide and the Serb massacres of the Bosnian Muslims. I am a charitable man, so I have to assume that Guernica‘s Joel Whitney is either very dim or extremely busy. For he says, ‘after reading Cohen’s response, I wondered if he proved Chomsky’s point for him. The problem was that Cohen’s response only weighed in on the very general question of Chomsky’s “influence”.’
Er, no it did not. Read it yourself and you will see a discussion not of general influences but of specifics; for instance, of how the apologists for Serbia constructed a conspiracy theory to explain away the massacres of Bosnia’s Muslims. Perhaps Whitney did read it, but lacked the mental ability to understand it. Perhaps he was in such a hurry to get on with whatever journalists at Guernica get on with that his distracted mind just flicked over the page and did not take in the words. (He mentions using a search engine rather than his own eyes, so I suspect that may be the case.)
In any event, the crimes of Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Slobodan Milosevic did not trouble him, and Whitney went on to upbraid me for not talking about Chomsky and radical Islam rather than Chomsky and European Nazism, Cambodian communism and Serbian nationalism. In particular, he said, I need to justify my claim that Chomsky believes that America was to blame for the 9/11 attacks and if westerners were “better and nicer” people – which was my phrase, not Chomsky’s – we would be safe.
I assume Gurenica does not have access to a cuttings library or the Internet, if it did it would have been a matter of seconds for Whitney to get hands on the relevant material. I will help the poor man out, and point him to this interview, Chomsky gave shortly after 9/11 to his Serb nationalist friends on Radio Belgrade . Read it and notice.
1. Chomsky presents Osama bin Laden as a leader with genuine grievances who
‘is bitterly opposed to the corrupt and repressive regimes of the region, which he regards as “un-Islamic,” including the Saudi Arabian regime, the most extreme Islamic fundamentalist regime in the world, apart from the Taliban, and a close US ally since its origins…Like others in the region, he is also outraged by long-standing US support for Israel’s brutal military occupation, now in its 35th year: Washington’s decisive diplomatic, military, and economic intervention in support of the killings, the harsh and destructive siege over many years, the daily humiliation to which Palestinians are subjected, the expanding settlements designed to break the occupied territories into Bantustan-like cantons and take control of the resources, the gross violation of the Geneva Conventions, and other actions that are recognized as crimes throughout most of the world, apart from the US, which has prime responsibility for them. And like others, he contrasts Washington’s dedicated support for these crimes with the decade-long US-British assault against the civilian population of Iraq, which has devastated the society and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths while strengthening Saddam Hussein – who was a favored friend and ally of the US and Britain right through his worst atrocities, including the gassing of the Kurds, as people of the region also remember well, even if Westerners prefer to forget the facts.
Well I too oppose Saudi Arabia, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Iraqi Baathism, but that does not mean I support Hamas, Hezzbollah or al Qaeda. Can Chomsky say the same? He can if he supported the 2003 Iraq war, which overthrew Saddam, or at the very least allied with those Iraqis who wanted something better after 35 years of a fascist dictatorship while condemning the follies of Bush and Blair. It is highly unlikely that he did because as I say in What’s Left.
…in Chomsky’s universe the West was at fault whatever it did. If it intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo, it was wrong. If it imposed sanctions against Saddam’s Iraq, it was wrong. And if it colluded with Turkish, Israeli or Indonesian oppression, it was wrong again…Such freewheeling denunciation left foreign ministers with no options, as it is clear that ultimately the West cannot easily reject military intervention, sanctions, and appeasement all at the same time.
The only remaining option is to be nicer and better people – to use the phrase which so seems to irk Whitney and Chomsky – and become isolationists. But can we?
2. Alert readers will have noticed something else about Chomsky’s interview with Milosevic’s hacks: avoidance of the nature of clerical fascism.
The U.S., and much of the West, prefers a more comforting story,’ he says. ‘To quote the lead analysis in the New York Times (Sept. 16), the perpetrators acted out of “hatred for the values cherished in the West as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious pluralism and universal suffrage.” U.S. actions are irrelevant, and therefore need not even be mentioned (Serge Schmemann). This is a convenient picture, and the general stance is not unfamiliar in intellectual history; in fact, it is close to the norm. It happens to be completely at variance with everything we know, but has all the merits of self-adulation and uncritical support for power.’
Who is being uncritical here? Radical Islam wants to subjugate the women, kill the Jews, kill the homosexuals, kill any Muslim who wants to change his or her faith and establish a caliphate. Of course it hates feminism, democracy and universal human rights, and will attack them wherever it can and whatever we do. As Europeans are finding out, even if we become isolationists we are still targets.
Chomsky can’t see it because, as Oliver Kamm of the Times said in a recent article on America leftists flirtations with Pol Pot
I don’t, as it happens, regard Chomsky as an apologist for the Khmer Rouge or for other appalling regimes. I regard him as a sophist possessed of reflexive anti-Americanism. It’s because his position is an article of faith that he’s so unreliable when it comes to describing the actual sins of omission and commission in American foreign policy. In his position, factual accuracy is secondary (his writings on the Balkans, for example, are an intellectual disgrace). His method is, as I’ve referred to, sarcasm and insinuation. He is different from his associate Edward Herman, who is best known these days as a crude denier of Serb war crimes, notably the genocide at Srebrenica.
Kamm’s analysis is surely right, but he is being too kind to Chomsky for he misses how much encouragement such arguments give to those who will kill Bosnian Muslims or Iraqi Kurds. Chomsky and all those like them talk as if they are operating in a closed world, where the only malign force is America. They can’t see, or rather don’t want to see, the whole planet, where there are forces just as dark and on occasion darker than western democracy.
Meanwhile, what more can I say of Joel Whitney? He works for a magazine called Guernica, which sounds as if it draws inspiration from the anti-fascist tradition. Yet he reads or skims over a long account of Chomsky’s excuse making for holocaust denial, the killing fields of Cambodia and the massacre at Srebrenica – the Guernica of our day – and still cannot bring himself to ask one hard question of his hero. I ask him in the spirit of true friendship, Joel, when are you going to realise you are wasting your time and your talent on worthless people? Get out while you still can.