I have devoted much time over the last few days to assessing The Guardian’s correction to Emma Brockes’s interview with Noam Chomsky, and the newspaper's withdrawal of that interview from its site. I’m sorry not to have written more speedily, but necessarily this has been a painstaking exercise. The inquiries are now complete and the evidence is in place. This, in broad terms, is my conclusion.
I have been reading Chomsky for around 25 years, and in that time have read, I believe, every political book he has ever written or (as many of them comprise undemanding ‘interviews’) otherwise produced. I wrote the ‘anti' piece for Prospect magazine’s coverage of its poll for top global intellectual last month, in which I detailed Chomsky's record of sophistry in political judgement and sharp practice in the handling of source material. I hope at some point to write a volume evaluating Chomsky’s entire political output. But, while counting myself well-informed on his works, I had still not fully appreciated till this past weekend how insubstantial are his objections to the Guardian interview, how tawdry were his interventions on the Balkan wars of the 1990s, and how excessively generous has been my previous assessment of his position. The Guardian’s correction requires a point-by-point analysis to be appreciated properly. I can however conclude summarily that it ought not to be referred to as a correction, because its characterisation of Chomsky’s stance is manifestly not correct.
At this stage, I shall not be setting down in detail the conclusions that I, working with two other writers who have experience of Chomsky’s methods, have come to. The reason is that we hope our evidence will generate a correction – a real one this time – to The Guardian’s ‘correction’, and the proper course in making that case is to present it in private rather than publish it beforehand. In the meantime, I’ll draw your attention to two relevant pieces of information about a central aspect of this case.
The first is an article published today by Cambridge historian Marko Attila Hoare on the web site of the Henry Jackson Society (of which I’m a signatory). Dr Hoare is a specialist in Bosnian history and a former war-crimes investigator of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, who has worked on the case against Slobodan Milosevic. He writes:
[T]he 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.
This leads to the second piece of relevant information, which I alluded to in my last post. The Guardian’s correction, written by its readers’ editor, Ian Mayes, states: “Both Prof Chomsky and Ms Johnstone… 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.” Mayes states that The Guardian accepts this claim. Yet if you consult Chomsky’s ‘open letter’ to Ordfront in 2003 you find a diferent line. Referring to Serb war crimes, Chomsky states (emphasis added): "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."
And for a succinct assessment of Ms Johnstone’s writings on this subject, see Dr Hoare’s article. You might want to consult also, for a representative sample of her arguments, her brief comment on - and having close family and friends who witnessed the outcome of similar atrocities in the earlier (Bosnian) war, I find it grotesque to have to type these words - 'The Racak Hoax'.
I have over the last few days received a great deal of abusive mail on this subject, and I have replied to each in turn with the same observations. Every judgement I made in my post rebutting Chomsky’s complaints is correct (and I have challenged my correspondents to find a single factual error), and understated; Chomsky's support for Diana Johnstone is not “related entirely to her right to freedom of speech”; and Chomsky has clearly distorted the independent source he cites as having favourably reviewed Ms Johnstone’s book.
This is all I have to say on the matter now in public. Be assured that the case is being worked on in private, and minutely.
UPDATE: Diana Johnstone has a 'right of reply' today (23 November) in The Guardian, in which she says, of the newspaper's 'correction': “Despite this welcome retraction, the impression might linger from Ms Brockes's confused account that my work on the Balkans consists in denying atrocities.”
To quote Marko Attila Hoare:
To sum up Johnstone’s position on Srebrenica [in her book Fools' Crusade]: 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.
In addition to this, and to Ms Johnstone's remarks on the 1999 massacre that she calls 'The Racak Hoax', consider her recent piece 'Srebrenica Revisited', 12 October 2005, in which she condemns "shrinking the concept of "genocide" to fit the circumstances"; explains the atrocity as one part of the exigencies of war ("War is a life and death matter, and inevitably leads people to commit acts they would never commit in peacetime"); and - more than that - depicts it as a normal part of warfare ("this was, then, a 'massacre', such as occurs in war when fleeing troops are ambushed by superior forces").
When you consider, further, that Chomsky has endorsed the accuracy of Ms Johnstone's conclusions, and not merely her right to publish them, you can see immediately that The Guardian's 'correction' of Emma Brockes's interview cannot be correct. But, as I say, this case will now be presented in private, by me and others.