Tuesday, May 22, 2012

War crimes, and those who deny them

With Ratko Mladic in the dock in the Hague and warlords' friend Tomislav Nikolic winning the elections in Belgrade, it is time again to remember the atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia two decades ago, but also the sides people took. 

At the time, the Tory media and the John Major government (who largely pursued a policy of neutrality, appeasement and realpolitik) span the conflict as the re-emergence of ancient atavistic racial hatreds, with all sides as bad as each other.

This line found had a ready audience on the Stalinophile left, who had seen the Titoist one-party state as a progressive bulwark against such tribalism (much as some “anti-imperialists” have viewed Ba’athist Iraq and Syria, and even Gadhafi’s Libya), and played to a left-wing pro-Serbian sentiment formed in WWII, which (wrongly) framed the Serbs as anti-fascists and the Catholic Croatians and Muslim Bosniaks as Nazi collaborators.

Key figures on the left, many of whom now have very influential positions in our media world, played a major role in denying, minimising or downplaying the violence perpetrated by the Serbian side. To talk about this brutality (mainly inflicted against Muslims) was to buy into some “Western” or “imperialist” narrative.

The deniers and minimisers included the magazine LM, then recently rebranded from Living Marxism and the outlet of the Revolutionary Communist Party. When the Guardian’s Ed Vulliamy and ITN’s  Penny Marshall and Ian Williams exposed the Serb-run concentration camp at Trnopolje in northern Bosnia, LM claimed they were fabricating evidence.

ITN sued LM for libel, which put it out of business. It now trades as Spiked, and its commentators have high profile roles in the establishment media, regularly appearing on the BBC and given columns in papers such as the Times and Telegraph. As Michael Mosbacher puts it, they have taken the long march through the institutions – rather more successfully, we might add, than other Marxist groups who have followed the Rudi Dutschke dictum.

They have been supported over the years by the cranky pseudo-anarchist celebrity professor Noam Chomsky. Chomsky has given comfort to Milosevic’s regime and its apologists: “[Milosovic] did all sorts of terrible things, but it wasn’t a totalitarian state. I mean, there were elections, there was the opposition…” Chomsky once told Serbian television. It is worth re-reading what Vulliamy said in 2009 when Chomsky was invited to speak by alleged human rights defenders Amnesty:
Prof. Chomsky was not among those (“Novo” of Germany and “Living Marxism” in the UK) who first proposed the idea that these camps were a fake. He was not among those who tried unsuccessfully (they were beaten back in the High Court in London, by a libel case taken by ITN) to put up grotesque arguments about fences around the camps, which were rather like [Frederick] Leuchter’s questioning as to whether the thermal capacity of bricks were enough to contain the heat needed to gas Jews at Auschwitz. But Professor Chomsky said many things, from his ivory tower at MIT, to spur them on and give them credibility and energy to spread their poisonous perversion and denials of these sufferings. To use the analogy of Holocaust denial, he was more David Irving than Leuchter - the man with academic pretentions, doing it all from a distance, and giving the revisionists his blessing. And the revisionists reveled in his endorsement. In an interview with the Guardian, Professor Chomsky paid me the kind compliment of calling me a good journalist, but added that on this occasion (the camps) I had “got it wrong”.
Got what wrong?!?! Got wrong what we saw that day, August 5th 1992? (I didn’t see him there.) Got wrong the hundreds of thousands of families left bereaved, deported and scattered asunder? Got wrong the hundreds of testimonies I have gathered on murderous brutality? Got wrong the thousands whom I meet when I return to the commemorations? If I am making all this up, what are all the human remains found in mass graves around the camps and so painstakingly re-assembled by the International Commission for Missing Persons.

Chomsky disciples Edward Herman and David Peterson have also claimed that the “Western” narrative about what happened in Yugoslavia (as well as the genocide in Rwanda) is mere propaganda. Their book, The Politics of Genocide, has a foreword by Noam Chomsky and an endorsement by John Pilger. In a column last year, George Monbiot demolished the core arguments they make there

Today, Monbiot argues in the Guardian that "On trial beside Mladic in The Hague is a disturbing case of infectious idiocy and denial which the left can no longer ignore". (The version on his website is fully footnoted, and supported by expert statements ; I've put clickable versions of his hyperlinks into the bottom of this post.) He describes how Chomsky, Pilger, ZNet’s publisher Michael Albert and others have continued to defend Herman and Peterson and their lies.

Pilger, for instance, said that “Chef Monbiot is a curiously sad figure. All those years of noble green crusading now dashed by his Damascene conversion to nuclear power’s poisonous devastations and his demonstrable need for establishment recognition – a recognition which, ironically, he already enjoyed.”

Bizarrely, because Monbiot and Vulliamy write for the Guardian, these uber-radicals have now decided that the Guardian is part of the demonic Amerikkan coalition of the willing trying to destroy heroic truth and resistance. (Herman and Peterson responded to Monbiot’s last column on this with over 16,000 words and 93 footnotes, including the claim that because Emma Brockes and Ed Vulliamy make the same spelling error they must be conspiring. Chomsky’s allies at CounterPunch actually described the Guardian as “a dangerous cult” and “a thought police for the internet age”, although this was also for publishing Andy Newman’s criticisms of Gilad Atzmon’s antisemitism as much as for its Yugoslavia line.)

Monbiot concludes:
The people I criticise here rightly contend that western governments and much of the western media ignore or excuse atrocities committed by the US and its allies, while magnifying those committed by forces deemed hostile. But they then appear to create a mirror image of this one-sided narrative, minimising the horrors committed by forces considered hostile to the US and its allies. 
Perhaps this looks to you like the kind of esoteric infighting to which the left too often succumbs, but this seems to me to be important: as important as any other human rights issue. If people who claim to care about justice and humanity cannot resist what looks to me like blatant genocide denial, we find ourselves in a very dark place.

One interesting irony of all this is that so many of those who defended the Serbs and were so callous towards the Muslim Bosnians and then Kosovans have posed as the friends of Islam in the current century, while many of those who were in solidarity with the Bosnians and Kosovans have been denounced as Islamophobes. As Hitchens later said:
“at that time, when they were real, Chomsky wasn't apparently interested in Muslim grievances. He only became a voice for that when the Taliban and Al Qaeda needed to be represented in their turn as the victims of a "silent genocide" in Afghanistan. Let me put it like this, if a supposed scholar takes the Christian-Orthodox side when it is the aggressor, and then switches to taking the "Muslim" side when Muslims commit mass murder, I think that there is something very nasty going on. And yes, I don't think it is exaggerated to describe that nastiness as "anti-American" when the power that stops and punishes both aggressions is the United States.” 
In fact, in denying Serb violence against Yugoslav Muslims, these “anti-imperialists” find themselves sharing a political space with counter-jihadis like Pamela Geller, who so hate Muslims anywhere that anyone who kills them is given a positive spin.


However, that may not be odd for the Spiked crew – who like to defend Geller’s comrades the proto-fascist English Defence League. Spiked have also recently been busy constructing “Marxist” arguments for the Sun’s Page 3, “contrarian” denunciations of mental health rights, “radical” dismissals of women’s rights and rape case anonymity, and “libertarian” attacks on gay civil partnerships.

Oh, and Spiked also take contrarian lines on various environmental issues, which they have in common with Alexander Cockburn of CounterPunch – so it is another irony to see Pilger dismissing Monbiot’s claims about genocide by reference to Monbiot’s support for nuclear power!


Responses to Herman and Peterson cited by Monbiot

Further reading

When John Pilger was my hero; Why I hate Noam Chomsky; Why Spiked are destroying Britain. More on Chomsky, on Bosnia, on Spiked, on CounterPunch


jams o donnell said...

Chomsky, hmm I'm glad I vowed never to read another word he wrote after making the mistakes to take a course in psycholinguistics in my second year at university.

As for the Spiked rabble, they are a bunch of attention seeking ringpieces who spew out crap that deserves less attention than a Richard Littlejohn column.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Monbiot vs Chomsky? I will be....

I thought such things could never happen in real life, and here we are. Is Monbiot getting a life finally?

Unbelievably it's the second time I see something positive said about him - on the same day!


Richard Sanderson said...

Splendid stuff Bob, I am hoping the falling out with Monbiot will at least give some followers of the Cult of Chomsky pause for thought...

flyingrodent said...

Chomsky has given comfort to Milosevic’s regime and its apologists: “[Milosovic] did all sorts of terrible things, but it wasn’t a totalitarian state. I mean, there were elections, there was the opposition…”

Uh, does this mean that Serbia was a totalitarian state at that time? It's not really my area of expertise, but some clarity may be needed here. Either that, or a redefinition of "given comfort".

Anton Chigurh said...

It was all precipitated by the Germans recognising Tudjman's Croatia. Now why would they have done that? Oh...

bob said...

Chomsky has given comfort to Milosevic’s regime and its apologists: “[Milosovic] did all sorts of terrible things, but it wasn’t a totalitarian state. I mean, there were elections, there was the opposition…”

Uh, does this mean that Serbia was a totalitarian state at that time? It's not really my area of expertise, but some clarity may be needed here. Either that, or a redefinition of "given comfort".

Milosevic came to power initially through a palace coup within the Communist party in the dying days of what was a totalitarian state, using anti-Muslim/anti-Albanian racism to gain support on the street for his behind the scenes manoeuvrings in the Party. Although he helped oversee a transition to multi-party democracy, he continued to censor and bully the media, e.g. making ridicule of Serbia an offence punishable for 3 years. Most of the elections held in the 1990s were characterised by fraud and intimidation.

However, my claim that Chomsky "gave comfort" to this regime was not simply based on this suggestion, but on the stuff I go on to quote Vulliamy and Monbiot talking about: his softcore denialism about Serb violence in the 1990s.

But even the RTS interview (note: RTS was established as a propaganda arm of the Milosevic regime in 1992, hence its targeting in the 2000 anti-regime riots) contains lots of horrible material. Sure, Chomsky criticises Milosevic. But I’ve just re-read the first half of the interview, and in this first alone Chomsky:
* claims that the NATO action against Serbia was BECAUSE it “was the last corner of Europe which had not subordinated itself to the US-run neoliberal programs”, i.e. portrays Milosevic as a somehow resistant figure, when in fact Milosevic presided over the rapid neoliberal dismantling of the social side of the Serbian state before the wars began.
* claims that Serb violence was actually the fault of the KLA – “who were coming in as they said, you know, to try to incite a harsh Serbian response, which they got”
* asserts CIA support for the KLA in 1998, without mentioning that the US embargoed the KLA and considered it a terrorist entity until late in the year
* lies about what he sneeringly calls “the photograph of the thin man behind the barb-wire”, without bothering to name the man (Fikret Alic) or the camp (Trnopolje) – he agrees it was fraudulent and clakims the photo was basically fabricated and the camp a refugee camp
* Repeatedly defers to Philip Knightley’s analysis of the photo as the real expert view, while ignoring the testimony of people like Vulliamy, Penny Marshall or Ian Williams, who were actually at Trnopolje and Omarska
* claims the photograph changed the course of war when in fact it took a year after the photo til NATO sent sailors to the region and a further year before any military action
* collapses the seven years from the photograph to NATO intervention over Kosovo in the words “Well, you know, that's when Kosovo came along”
* makes a big deal of the claim that there had been no genocide in Kosovo, without mentioning that there had been genocide already in Bosnia, which must be taken into account in assessing the NATO response as war brewed in Kosovo.

Anonymous said...

Why no links to articles rebutting Monbiot? Seems rather one-sided to me

bob said...

Chomsky is perfectly capable of defending himself (altho I think his position is indefensible); it's not like he doesn't get huge amounts of fawning attention in the media and across the blogosphere. I'm not the BBC, and see no reason to provide even-handed access to all sides. This is one sided because this is my blog, and I believe one side is right and the other wrong.