Mladic, Chomsky, The Guardian and Srebrenica: Time for an apology

July 10, 2015 at 7:52 am (apologists and collaborators, Bosnia, capitulation, censorship, Chomsky, conspiracy theories, genocide, Guardian, history, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", serbia, stalinism, truth)

Above: genocide denier Chomsky

Today’s Guardian carries an excellent piece by Natalie Nougayrede calling what happened at Srebenica twenty years ago a genocide and denouncing Putin for attempting to re-write history. In 2005 the same paper bowed the knee to genocide-denier Noam Chomsky, who like much of the so-called “left” was an apologist for the genocider Mladic and his boss Milosevik:

More guilty parties: from Micharl Deibert’s blog (2011)

I first became aware of Chomsky’s, shall we say rather unorthodox, views of the Bosnian conflict in connection with a campaign he and his supporters launched against the talented young British journalist Emma Brockes, whose October 2005 interview with Mr. Chomsky in The Guardian caused a great deal of controversy. Among other tough questions, it asked about Chomsky’s relationship with what The Times (UK) columnist Oliver Kamm quite accurately described as “some rather unsavoury elements who wrote about the Balkan wars in the 1990s.”

The furor at the time centered around Ms. Brockes confronting Chomky with the fact that he had lent his name to a letter praising the “outstanding” (Chomsky’s own words) work of a journalist called Diana Johnstone. Johnstone’s 2002 book Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions (Pluto Press), argues that the July 1995 killing of at least 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica was, in essence (directly quoting from her book), not a “part of a plan of genocide” and that “there is no evidence whatsoever” for such a charge. This despite the November 1995 indictment of Bosnian Serb leaders Mladic and Radovan Karadzic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for “genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war” stemming from that very episode and the later conviction by the same tribunal of a Bosnian Serb general of aiding and abetting genocide in Srebrenica.

Johnstone also states that no evidence exists that much more than 199 men and boys were killed there and that Srebrenica and other unfortunately misnamed ‘safe areas’ had in fact “served as Muslim military bases under UN protection.” In 2003, the Swedish magazine Ordfront published an interview with Johnstone where she reiterated these views. Chomsky was also among those who supported a campaign defending the right of a fringe magazine called Living Marxism to publish claims that footage the British television station ITN took in August 1992 at the Serb-run Trnopolje concentration camp in Bosnia was faked. ITN sued the magazine for libel and won, putting the magazine out of business, as Living Marxism could not produce a single witness who had seen the camps at first hand, whereas others who had – such as the journalist Ed Vulliamy – testified as to their horror.

In fact, as recently as April 25, 2006, in an interview with Radio Television of Serbia (a station formerly aligned with the murderous and now-deceased Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic), Chomsky stated, of the iconic, emaciated image of a Bosnian Muslim man named Fikret Alic, the following:

Chomsky: [I]f you look at the coverage [i.e. media coverage of earlier phases of the Balkan wars], for example there was one famous incident which has completely reshaped the Western opinion and that was the photograph of the thin man behind the barb-wire.

Interviewer: A fraudulent photograph, as it turned out.

Chomsky: You remember. The thin men behind the barb-wire so that was Auschwitz and ‘we can’t have Auschwitz again.’

In taking this position, Chomsky seemingly attempts to discredit the on-the-ground reporting of not only Mr. Vulliamy – whose reporting for the Guardian from the war in Bosnia won him the international reporter of the year award in 1993 and 1994 – but of other journalists such as Penny Marshall, Ian Williams and Roy Gutman. In fact, Vulliamy , who filed the first reports on the horrors of the Trnopolje camp and was there that day the ITN footage was filmed, wrote as follows in The Guardian in March 2000:

Living Marxism‘s attempts to re-write the history of the camps was motivated by the fact that in their heart of hearts, these people applauded those camps and sympathized with their cause and wished to see it triumph. That was the central and – in the final hour, the only – issue. Shame, then, on those fools, supporters of the pogrom, cynics and dilettantes who supported them, gave them credence and endorsed their vile enterprise.

In his interview with Brockes, Chomsky stated that “Ed Vulliamy is a very good journalist, but he happened to be caught up in a story which is probably not true.”

In a November 2005 column, Marko Attila Hoare, a Senior Research Fellow at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Kingston (London), wrote thusly:

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.’

Pretty astounding stuff, huh? But, faced with a relentless campaign by Mr. Chomsky and his supporters The Guardian, to its eternal shame, pulled Brockes’ interview from its website and issued what can only be described as a groveling apology that did a great disservice not only to Ms Brockes herself, but also to former Guardian correspondent Vulliamy and all those journalists who actually risked their lives covering the Bosnian conflict, to say nothing of the victims of the conflict themselves.

The caving-in focused on three points, the chief of which appeared to be the headline used on the interview, which read: “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.”

Though this was a paraphrase rather than a literal quotation, the fact of the matter was that it did seem to accurately sum up the state of affairs: Chomsky had actively supported Johnstone, who in turn had claimed that the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated and not part of a campaign of genocide. The Guardian brouhaha prompted, Kemal Pervanic, author of The Killing Days: My Journey Through the Bosnia War, and a survivor of the Omarska concentration camp, to write that “If Srebrenica has been a lie, then all the other Bosnian-Serb nationalists’ crimes in the three years before Srebrenica must be false too. Mr Chomsky has the audacity to claim that Living Marxism was “probably right” to claim the pictures ITN took on that fateful August afternoon in 1992 – a visit which has made it possible for me to be writing this letter 13 years later – were false. This is an insult not only to those who saved my life, but to survivors like myself.”

Chomsky complained about that, too, forcing The Guardian to write in its apology that, ignoring the fact that it was Chomsky’s characterization of the Serb-run camps that seemed to outrage Pervanic the most, “Prof Chomsky believes that publication (of Pervanic’s letter) 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 Emma Brockes (whom I have never met), in this instance, at least, was silenced.

But the history of what happened in the Balkan wars should not be so easily silenced and re-written. With Ratko Mladic, predator and killer, now in custody, Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy and the others who have sought to deny justice to the victims of Bosnia’s killing fields should apologize to those victims for working so long to make the justice they sought less, not more, likely.

8 Comments

  1. Paul Canning said,

    Don’t forget the behaviour of Medialens. Quite a few still think they have cred. https://dissident93.wordpress.com/medialens/

    And another one burnt was George Monbiot, who sounded like a rabbit caught in headlights when he dared question The Master.

  2. Steven Johnston said,

    A disgraceful business indeed. Though I didn’t agree with ITN suing LM and forcing them to close. Although LM was full of **** and it’s lies deserved to be exposed I did feel that a big organisation should have just ignored an obscure magazine that no one took seriously.
    I’m glad the truth came out and the reputataion so Chomsky, Ali and Roy took a battering.

  3. Steven Johnston said,

    “Chomsky was also among those who supported a campaign defending the right of a fringe magazine called Living Marxism to publish claims that footage the British television station ITN took in August 1992 at the Serb-run Trnopolje concentration camp in Bosnia was faked.”

    To be fair I’d have done the same…but understood that LM were the liars not ITN. But I still believe the LM had the right to print what they did. Whatever the reason(s) behind that stance LM should have been defended. Villify them for what they wrote but don’t take away their right to freedom of speech.

  4. John R said,

    Yet again, we should not forget the SWP. Straight from the Stalin School of Falsification, they had Nato bombing the Bosnians, rather than them intervening to protect them from Serbian aggression.

    http://archive.workersliberty.org/wlmags/wl61/eyeleft.htm

    It shouldn’t surprise us if they do an updated one with America bombing the Kurds.

  5. mark taha said,

    LM -magazine I miss.It often annoyed but never bored me! I remember pro-Serbs in the 80s and early 90s including not only Stalinists but Julie Burchill(she was then a Stalinist Thatcherite Zionist), Sir Alfred Sherman, Alan Clark and far Right south African magazine South African Patriot. I remember being incensed at that supercilious Foreign secretary Douglas Hurd talk of a “level killing field”-did he prefer an unlevel one?

  6. Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

    My recollection is that there was a prison camp and the cameras focussed on a skinny looking guy. But it was not what we know as a Nazi Concentration Camp. It would be a bit stupid to allow cameras in. I know a few soldiers that served in the Balkans and not many have listened to them and their experience. The fact is that all the protagonists would have committed genocide given the chance. The fire power of the allies prevented this. And to the best of my knowledge firepower demonstrations are given just to remind them of what happens if they go back to their old ways.

    • Suada said,

      “But it was not what we know as a Nazi Concentration Camp”

      The assertion that Serb camps were not as bad as Auschwitz or Belsen represents one huge straw man. No, Serb concentration camps were not (thankfully) industrialised factories of death on the scale of the Nazi death camps. They were, however, camps in which tens of thousands innocent civilians were imprisoned and systematically murdered, tortured, beaten and raped simply for the crime of their ethnicity. They were not equivalent to Auschwitz. They were not wholly dissimilar to it either. Auschwitz and Omarska were both types of concentration camp.

      Although these camps were not equivalent to the worst of Nazi concentration camps in their scale or purpose, when the full historical context of their operation is taken into account, they are not so radically different as to be totally incomparable, as LM claims. LM’s invocation of the memory of the Holocaust served merely as an attempt to belittle contemporary atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to diminish their significance.

      ” It would be a bit stupid to allow cameras in. ”

      Karadzic was forced to allow media access to a small number of camps after he talked himself into a corner at the Geneva Conference. Direct documentation (not available in 1992) indicates that the RS authorities at the highest level actively tried to conceal the conditions of the camps from journalists, who in any case were not allowed access to most of their facilities. Despite these attempts at concealment, the journalists were able to discover information that clearly indicated a pattern of abuse.

      “The fact is that all the protagonists would have committed genocide given the chance.”

      This is rather odd (and frankly racist) a-priori reasoning.

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