Not everyone will find this item fascinating, but it's worthy of a note for the record. A new interview with Noam Chomsky appears in something called January magazine. As is almost, though not quite, invariable in interviews with the sage of MIT, it is not hard-hitting ("he has provided an ongoing, devastating critique of power, empire and oppression", and so forth). This observation is also typical of Professor Chomsky's adulators: "The opposition Chomsky has engendered ranges from simple vitriol to abject hysteria, including bizarre accusations of Holocaust denial and sympathy for Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge."
See here, comrade. I know of no significant critic of Chomsky's political writings - say, Steven Lukes or Adam Roberts - who who has levelled a charge of Holocaust denial or sympathy for the Khmer Rouge. These accusations are straw men, the construction of which serves to obscure what is genuinely disturbing in Chomsky's political writings. This is that Chomsky does not see what is distinctively heinous in Holocaust denial and the genocidal campaign of the Khmer Rouge.
Chomsky's notorious defence of the Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson in 1981 was far from being an unexceptionable libertarian argument for free speech, as Chomsky liked to present it. On the contrary, Chomsky took issue with the obvious conclusion that Faurisson was an antisemite. Chomsky wrote: "As far as I can determine, [Faurisson] is a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort."
Chomsky was at pains to say that he was unfamiliar with Faurisson's writings, but he certainly knew enough about them from secondary sources to be aware of Faurisson's racism and pro-Nazism. Note that in the second of his pieces that I've linked to, Chomsky acknowledges having read an article by the historian and anti-racist campaigner Pierre Vidal-Naquet dissecting Faurisson's writings ("I was considerably more surprised to read in Esprit (September 1980) that Pierre Vidal-Naquet...."). The article by Vidal-Naquet is this one (in English here); it is not possible for an honest reader of this masterly exposition to dispute that Faurisson is an antisemitic bigot.
But rather than persist with arguing that the Earth is round, I'll make just this observation. Chomsky makes free use of such accusations as racism and complicity in state crimes. In this interview in 1988, for example, he described Thomas Friedman of the New York Times as an "astonishing racist and megalomaniac". Here is Chomsky, in 2001, accusing the political theorist Jeffrey Isaac of "support for state violence". And here he is, in 2006, accusing, well, me of "tacit acquiesence in horrendous crimes".
You see the pattern here? It is one that runs through Chomsky's output. Friedman, Isaac and I are, in varying ways, advocates of liberalism. We are condemned by Chomsky in the terms I've quoted. But when writing of a man who undeniably is a racist, and who really is guilty of acquiscence in horrendous crimes, Chomsky eschews such language. Robert Faurisson's life's work is the denial, by fraudulent polemical techniques, of the greatest crime of our age. He appears to Chomsky, let us recall, a "relatively apolitical liberal of some sort".
All of this is, however, by way of preamble to the only significant point in the interview with Chomsky. It's well worth quoting. The first paragraph is by the interviewer. The second quotes Chomsky directly:
Mainstream media’s superficial reportage on Cambodia cast the lethal Khmer Rouge as arising without cause. Chomsky and colleague Edward Herman’s postulation was that the Khmer Rouge’s rise and eventual reign of terror -- far from appearing, in essence, out of nowhere -- was firmly a product of the American campaign of mass destruction in southeast Asia.
“The story about the Khmer Rouge ... I suspect must be the best, most careful, accurate” chronicle. “Nobody’s found a thing [that’s inaccurate]. If we were to rewrite it now, we’d do it exactly the same way.”
My word: Chomsky would write of the Khmer Rouge today exactly as he wrote of it in the 1970s. Well, this is what he and his collaborator Ed Herman did actually write about the Khmer Rouge at the time, in an article in The Nation in June 1977. (I have discussed here, with I hope the proper measure of incredulity and revulsion, more recent commentaries by Herman on the genocides at Srebrenica and in Rwanda.) They refer pointedly to "alleged Khmer Rouge atrocities" (emphasis added), and take issue with a comparison of Pol Pot's rule to Nazi Germany. They suggest that it is "more nearly correct" to compare Cambodia to "France after liberation, where many thousands of people were massacred within a few months under far less rigorous conditions than those left by the American war [in Indochina]".
This is so extraordinary that it bears repeating. Chomsky expressed these sentiments in 1977; and, on his own account, he would write exactly the same again today. To invoke a phrase of the master sophist himself: perhaps no more need be said.