Chomsky’s Implication with Revisionism Regarding Bosnia: A Response to the Edward S. Herman and David Peterson Article “Smearing Chomsky” – Part I
Perhaps it was easier for Herman and Peterson’s article Vulliamy’s Smears at Counter Punch, Monthly Review, and Media Lens to link to a blog that receives little attention from its creator because they just might pass under the radar in that manner or perhaps it was due to the post’s Google rank, but either way it has come to the point where I cannot ignore the attempt to dismiss the valid issues that Ed Vulliamy raises in his open letter. Also, I am perplexed that Herman and Peterson would go so far as to have everyone believe that through my blog Vulliamy’s Open Letter to Amnesty International was started and further circulated. I doubt that my semi-moribund blog, which receives occasional spurts of informational CPR, has that much influence.
More importantly though, the real issues within the letter are being circumvented with ad hominem attacks and fallacies as well as being used to propagate revisionist views. Through this analysis (and another to follow) I hope to dispel some of these fallacies and revisionist views and hope that some common ground or resolve can finally be reached.
First, let us discuss the issue of Brockes’ Guardian article that Ed Vulliamy refers to in his open letter. While it is true that article was retracted and The Guardian issued an apology to Chomsky for the misrepresentation within the article, the issues regarding Chomsky’s support of revisionist views and his opinion that Ed Vulliamy was “probably wrong” in regards to the Trnopolje have not been dispelled by Chomsky in his formal complaint to The Guardian (however, it should be noted that Chomsky did object to the whole article based on the one misrepresentation that he does defend). Nor are the issues solely based on the Brockes’ article, but are also based on Chomsky’s own confirmations about defending Johnstone’s free speech.
Certainly, Chomsky has the right to defend Johnstone’s freedom of speech. He has the right to agree with her and reflect that agreement in his public opinions, which he certainly does as will be demonstrated later. However, Chomsky cannot be afforded the luxury of having opinions that go both ways. In Chomsky’s formal complaint, located on Chomsky’s own site, he states:
“In the open letter, readily available on the internet (and the only source), I went through the charges one by one, checked them against the book, and found that they all ranged from serious misrepresentation to outright fabrication. I then took — and take — the position that it is completely wrong to withdraw a book because the press charges (falsely) that it does not conform to approved doctrine. And I do regret that “I didn’t do it strongly enough,” the words Brockes managed to quote correctly. 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.”
Further, The Guardian states in its own retraction:
“Both Prof Chomsky and Ms Johnstone, who has also written to the Guardian, have made it clear that Prof Chomsky’s support for Ms Johnstone, made in the form of an open letter with other signatories, related entirely to her right to freedom of speech.”
Interestingly, Chomsky’s own site which offers several hyperlinks in his reprint of the Brockes’ article offers no link to the “readily available on the internet” open letter which is at the heart of the issue. It is 2009, 4 years later, and through extensive digging I came up with no open letter defending Johnstone on my own, but was forwarded this link. These are some highlights with my commentary from what I am told is the formal complaint to Ordfront (italics bold: Chomsky; italics: commentaries; normal font: Samaha):
“I have known her for many years, have read the book, and feel that it is quite serious and important.”
In my personal opinion that statement goes above and beyond defending Johnstone’s freedom of speech and is an introduction to endorsement of Johnstone’s work which is highlighted in other portions.
“(1) ‘According to her it cannot be a matter of genocide when women and children are spared. But to me it is obvious that genocide and crimes against humanity have been committed in Srebrenica…’”
“Reference is apparently to Johnstone’s statement (p. 117) refuting the claim that the charge of “genocide” is demonstrated by the fact that the Serbs who conquered Srebrenica offered safe passage to women and children. In response to this absurd claim, she writes: “However, one thing should be obvious: one does not commit `genocide’ by sparing women and children.
I do not see how her entirely appropriate comment justifies the charge in (1)”
Can someone explain to me how Johnstone’s comment does not justify the charge in (1)? It certainly appears to me that Johnstone is at the very least insinuating genocide denial and that Chomsky’s referral to Johnstone’s quote as “appropriate comment” has the appearance of supporting that insinuation.
Furthermore, I am not aware of any definition of genocide that exempts an action from genocide because one gender was spared. Instead, an act of genocide has taken place if one gender of the target population is specifically targeted for extermination and the other is left alone. The reason for this is: if one gender is eliminated procreation amongst the target group is hindered which is part of a systematic plan and recognized by the UN. Furthermore, Lemkin, who coined the word genocide further details that complete destruction of a group does not need to take place. This faulty logic of genocide being exempt because women and children have been spared has been attempted at the Krstic genocide trial and has failed. The court has ruled that the females and children being spared has no bearing on whether or not genocide took place.
“3) ‘Johnstone asserts that more effort has gone into exaggerating the number of dead than into identifying and caclulating the actual number of victims, that there was never any real wish to find out how many were killed and who they were. She suggests that several thousand hade fled and survived.’”
“I read that section too. I am aware of no evidence — of course, meaning evidence available to her at the time she wrote — that the statements she actually made in this regard (as distinct from those attributed to her) are incorrect.”
Chomsky should have the academic integrity to distinguish the actual statements that Johnstone made as opposed to the statements that were “attributed to her”. We should keep in mind that these statements are made in November of 2005. If Johnstone has suggested that thousands fled and survived, then the onus is upon Johnstone to prove those allegations since during the time of her writing thousands of bodies had already been discovered in mass graves. Evidence and trials have already established the contrary. At this point it is not a matter of innocent until proven guilty since a record of the event has been established. The burden of proof lies with Johnstone – it is simply not acceptable to place this burden of proof on others and reflects poorly on the academia that insists otherwise.
“’… the revisionist author Diana Johnstone, foreground figure in the slander-convicted magazine “Living Marxism”. She insists that the Serb atrocities – ethnic cleansing, torture camps, mass executions – are western propaganda. That is also what Slobodan Milosevic and his ilk profess. Thus the Ordfront left is suddenly travelling in the same compartment as postcommunist fascism.’”
“But putting that aside, let’s now consider his reasoning. 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. For van Reis, this is outrageous.”
Again, this certainly appears to be a clear endorsement of Johnstone’s revisionist views.
“A final comment on “genocide.” People are free to use the term “genocide” as they please, and to condemn Racak and Srebrenica, say, as genocidal if they like. But then they have a simple responsibility: Inform us of their bitter denunciations of the incomparably worse “genocide” carried out with the strong backing of the US and UK at the very same moment as Racak. Say, the massacre at Liquica, with perhaps up to 200 civilians murdered, one of many (unlike Racak), in a country under military occupation and hence a grave war crime (unlike Racak), and in this case simply a massacre of civilians, without even a pretext of resistance (again unlike Racak).”
This is circumstantial rhetoric that has no place within the defense of freedom of speech. More so, I find it extremely disturbing that an academic would use sarcasm by saying that the term “genocide” can be used liberally, to refer to Racak and Srebrenica as “say, as genocidal, if they like”, implying otherwise, and then refer back to “200 civilians” and imply that Liquica does qualify as a genocide.
Mr. Chomsky, I have lost friends and family due to Serb aggression on Bosnia and I am not an academic, however I have always been careful in the way I use the term genocide in terms of the aggression that took place on the Bosnian population. This is not a term to be taken lightly, nor is it a term that should lose all meaning due to academic inclinations or political tactics. Perhaps the 200 civilians that were killed in Liquica qualifies as a genocide, to be honest I am not informed of the matter to the same extent that you are informed, but myself and the whole of Bosnia are aware of the over 8,000 that lost their lives at Srebrenica. Perhaps you feel the need to incorporate Srebrenica into your global power and media package, but realities usually have no perfect boxes to fit into. Instead we are left to sorting the pieces and trying to make sense of it all.
Certainly, the examples and quotes provided here demonstrate that the issues Ed Vulliamy presents in his Open Letter to Amnesty International are valid regardless of the lack of citations and quotations within his letter. It should also be noted that I do not believe that the letter was intended to read as a new media format with hyperlinks.
To conclude part I, Chomsky claims to be simply defending freedom of speech on one hand and supporting revisionist views on the other; this is problematic. Perhaps though, common ground lies in the very issue of revisionist views. Chomsky clearly demonstrates his own dislike of misrepresentation and fabrications in his own open letter to the Guardian regarding the Brockes article. In this case though, the accuracy or inaccuracy puts history at issue, which in turn discourages or facilitates future atrocities on the Bosnian population. I can’t imagine that anyone would want to facilitate another “massacre” (quotes are mine for emphasis – I consider the worldview of Srebrenica as genocide to be acceptable).
Although, I feel that the issue of Trnopolje, one of many camps of the war, and the ITN/LM/Knightly fiasco brought up by Herman and Peterson with all of its misrepresentations and fabrications is a red herring which has repeatedly been debunked and is irrelevant to the issue of Amnesty International inviting Chomsky to speak at a human rights event – I will focus on the issue for the purposes of personally recording the continued propagation of these fallacies, along with the facts that disqualify the argument for my blog in part II.