The Guardian's (or rather its Readers’ Editor’s) incapability in reading critically (if at all) the writings of Noam Chomsky and Diana Johnstone on Bosnia is a serious matter. If it weren’t so serious, there would be something wry in my receiving so many emails from admirers of Professor Chomsky which insist indignantly that Ms Johnstone cannot be termed a denier of Serb war crimes, because she acknowledges that Serb war crimes took place.
If you are thinking of writing to me along similar lines, please think carefully before doing so. Someone who denies that war crimes took place is not necessarily giving the answer ‘zero’ to the question ‘how many died?’ Recall, for example, that in the Lipstadt/Penguin libel suit brought by the pseudo-historian David Irving five years ago, “Irving radically modified his position: he accepted that the killing by shooting had been on a massive scale of between 500,000 and 1,500,000 and that the programme of executions had been carried out in a systematic way and in accordance with orders from Berlin” (The Irving Judgment, 2000, p. 116). Even the world’s most ostentatious denier of the greatest crime in modern history does not deny a deliberate programme of mass killings.
The relevant question in the case of Diana Johnstone’s writings is whether she systematically downplays the nature and extent of Serb atrocities in Bosnia. The relevant question about Chomsky’s attitude to Ms Johnstone is whether he endorses her conclusions. On both of these issues, the evidence is clear. As I have said, I shall return to this subject as soon as I am able to.
What is less serious, and goes beyond mere wryness, is Chomsky’s own judgement on his terrible ordeal of having been asked tricky question by his Guardian interviewer, Emma Brockes. One of my regular correspondents points out that Chomsky has compared his plight at the hands of Ms Brockes to the murder of Jesuit priests in El Salvador. Does Chomsky really say that? Chomsky assuredly does, on his blog at ZNet:
[B]ear in mind that while this case [the Guardian interview] was extreme, it’s close to a historical universal that dissidents are subject to ugly treatment, which takes various forms: vilification, defamation, slanders, lies in more free societies where the power to coerce is limited: imprisonment or exile in the old Soviet Union; in a US dependency, like El Salvador, having your brains blown out by an elite battalion armed and trained by Washington. Nov. 17 was the anniversary of the brutal execution of six leading Latin American intellectuals, Jesuit priests, in El Salvador in 1989, by the Atlacatl brigade, which had already compiled a vicious record of slaughter of the usual victims, bringing to a symbolic close the hideous decade in Central America that opened with the assassination of an Archbishop who was a “voice for the voiceless” while saying Mass, by similar hands. Since we are the agents, it passed in silence. Imagine if something remotely similar had happened at the same time in, say, Czechoslovakia. That does really merit comment, to put it mildly.
The full story is incomparably worse, and there are many others like it. Those, I think, are the topics that should concern us when we consider the modes of silencing dissent in Western societies.
Noam Chomsky is the world's top public intellectual.