All schoolchildren take note: one reason it is really important to learn how to read well is because if you don't, you might grow up and make a real ass of yourself in public, and do so repeatedly, all because of inadequate reading skills. Of course, learning how to read well is no protection against pathological dishonesty. As to what explains Oliver Kamm--that he can't read or he's a pathological liar--it is really hard to know.
To recap: The Guardian published a smear piece on Noam Chomsky by a juvenile journalist, one Emma Brockes, which intentionally misrepresented his positions and views; the reader's editor for the publication agreed, apologized to Professor Chomsky, and withdrew the entire interview from the web site, thus acknowledging it for the piece of tabloid trash that it was. (Will Ms. Brockes drop it from her resume, one wonders? Or perhaps she'll list it with a parenthetical afterwards explaining "withdrawn by The Guardian because dishonest and incompetent"?)
This has created a conundrum for professional Chomsky-hater Oliver Kamm, who had defended the original smear, and so was suitably humiliated by the fact that the publication in question acknowledged the correctness of the complaints, going so far as to take the remarkable step of removing the interview from its web site. Mr. Kamm's "response" to this turn of events reads almost as a parody of someone who can't respond on the merits, and so can only flail and posture:
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.
Instead of stating his conclusion, however, he proceeds to the following:
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...
Curiously, no one had contested Mr. Kamm's credentials as a Chomsky-hater.
But, while counting myself well-informed on his works...
At least Mr. Kamm has one strong supporter!
...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.
Still nothing of substance, just an increase in the rhetorical volume.
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.
One plausible translation of this odd display would be as follows: "Having been publically humiliated by the Guardian's decision, and unable to respond on the merits, I'm hoping enough time will pass so that enough of the public will forget what an untrustworthy buffoon I am and I can go back to smearing Chomsky as though I had some credibility." Further evidence for this translation of Mr. Kamm's real meaning comes from the concluding line:
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.
As one correspondent put it, this is "a lot of pretentious, pompous, pseudo-forensic windbag tripe." It's actually not even grown-up: qua rhetoric, it's an embarrassment.
If we peel away the sophomoric posturing about secret and on-going research etc., there are actually only two substantive points offered by Mr. Kamm, only one of which is actually his own. The bulk of his substantive "reply" is given over to citing someone else's research, that of Dr. Marko Attila Hoare, a research fellow at Cambridge. Dr. Hoare, to whom we'll turn in a moment, is also a bit heavy on rhetorical posturing, and also has some rather striking lapses in reading skills, but at least his response has some content (apparently Dr. Hoare was able to complete his secret research in time to share it with the public!).
Let us recall, first, the content of the Guardian's corrections and apologies:
The readers' editor has considered a number of complaints from Noam Chomsky concerning an interview with him by Emma Brockes published in G2, the second section of the Guardian, on October 31. He has found in favour of Professor Chomsky on three significant complaints.
Principal among these was a statement by Ms Brockes that in referring to atrocities committed at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war he had placed the word "massacre" in quotation marks. This suggested, particularly when taken with other comments by Ms Brockes, that Prof Chomsky considered the word inappropriate or that he had denied that there had been a massacre. Prof Chomsky has been obliged to point out that he has never said or believed any such thing. The Guardian has no evidence whatsoever to the contrary and retracts the statement with an unreserved apology to Prof Chomsky.
So, first issue: Ms. Brockes suggested that Chomsky denied there were "massacres" in Srebrenica. In fact, there is no evidence of such denials. Neither Mr. Kamm nor Dr. Hoare produce any such evidence either, as we will see. Thus, the correction and apology were, by their tacit admission, warranted. The second major point:
The headline used on the interview, about which Prof Chomsky also complained, added to the misleading impression given by the treatment of the word massacre. It 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.
No question in that form was put to Prof Chomsky. This part of the interview related to his support for Diana Johnstone (not Diane as it appeared in the published interview) over the withdrawal of a book in which she discussed the reporting of casualty figures in the war in former Yugoslavia. Both Prof Chomsky and Ms Johnstone, who has also written to the Guardian, 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. The Guardian also accepts that and acknowledges that the headline was wrong and unjustified by the text.
So, second issue: Chomsky never said he regretted not supporting more strongly "those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated." He was never asked that question. Printing answers to questions not asked is generally considered bad journalism. Neither Mr. Kamm nor Dr. Hoare disputes any of this, and so they tacitly admit that the correction and apology were warranted here as well.
The entire dispute, then, boils down to the second part of the correction quoted above, and in particular The Guardian's statement that, "Both Prof Chomsky and Ms Johnstone, who has also written to the Guardian, 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." Here, now, Mr. Kamm's one substantive point of response to this part of The Guardian's correction:
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."
Notice, first, that the "open letter" Mr. Kamm references is not the "open letter" The Guardian references, which was a group letter with multiple signatories, not a statement by Chomsky. The statement by Chomsky to which Mr. Kamm refers is not concerned mainly with Ms. Johnstone's freedom of expression, but with rather odd criticisms of her work (over which Mr. Kamm passes in silence). That Chomsky believes that Johnstone "clearly demonstrates...that a good deal of what has been charged [with regard to Serbian atrocities] has no basis in fact, and much of it is pure fabrication" doesn't show that he denies that there were either war crimes or massacres; indeed, if one actually reads the statement Mr. Kamm cites, it acknowledges both, and expresses indirectly skepticism only about the charge of genocide (about which more, below).
So while The Guardian may have been correct that the open letter it referenced concerned a defense only of Ms. Johnstone's freedom of expression, the letter Mr. Kamm references shows that, elsewhere, Chomsky has defended Ms. Johnstone on the merits of some of her work. None of this, quite obviously, has any bearing on the appropriateness of the Guardian's actual correction and apology for the fake question-and-answer.
Remarkably, then, despite all the huffing and puffing about teams of researchers, toiling away in secret, what Mr. Kamm offers up is, to put the matter gently, rather thin, and not actually relevant to the main errors which the Guardian acknowledged.
In this regard, it was probably wise of Mr. Kamm to cite Dr. Hoare's intervention which, while also rhetorically high-handed, does after many paragraphs finally get to a point of substance:
The big question is, of course, does Chomsky really deny the Srebrenica massacre ? Or, if he does not deny it outright, does he put such a spin on it that he denies it to all intents and purposes ?
To his credit, Dr. Hoare, in his first question, identifies the actual issue. Alas, his second question constitutes tacit admission as to what the actual answer to the first question is: no, Chomsky does not "really deny the Srebrenica massacre"--for if he did, evidence of the denial would be quoted, instead of having to settle for the suspicious "all intents and purposes" denial--which, by the law of the excluded middle, isn't a denial.
It turns out, though, that Dr. Hoare can't even saddle Chomsky with the "all intents and purposes denial," so he quickly switches gears to pursue Ms. Johnstone; on this, he bears quoting at some length:
Johnstone, for her part, denies it [the massacre] to all intents and purposes. Her book, Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions (London: Pluto Press, 2002) puts the words ‘Srebrenica massacre’ in quotes (p. 106). She then goes on to argue: ‘In trying to understand what happened at Srebrenica, a number of factors should be taken into account.’ These are, she argues, that Srebrenica and other ‘safe areas’ had ‘served as Muslim military bases under UN protection’; that the ‘Muslim military force stationed in Srebrenica - some 5,000 men under the command of Naser Oric, had carried out murderous raids against nearby Serb villages’; that ‘[Bosnian President] Izetbegovic pulled Naser Oric out of Srebrenica prior to the anticipated Serb offensive, deliberately leaving the enclave undefended’; and that ‘Insofar as Muslims were actually executed following the fall of Srebrenica, such crimes bear all the signs of spontaneous acts of revenge rather than a project of ‘genocide’'. Furthermore: ‘Six years after the summer of 1995, ICTY forensic teams had exhumed 2,631 bodies in the region, and identified fewer than 50. In an area where fighting had raged for years, some of the bodies were certainly of Serbs as well as of Muslims. Of these bodies, 199 were found to have been bound or blindfolded, and must reasonably be presumed on the basis of the material evidence to have been executed.’ She concludes: ‘War crimes ? The Serbs themselves do not deny that crimes were committed. Part of a plan of genocide ? For this there is no evidence whatsoever.’ (pp. 109-118).
I have not read Ms. Johnstone's book, but for purposes of argument, I am willing to grant that Dr. Hoare's characterization of it through selected quotations is accurate. Now look at how Dr. Hoare characterizes in his own words the material he has just quoted:
To sum up Johnstone’s position on Srebrenica: 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.
This is a quite extraordinary recasting of the claims actually quoted. About the only bit of Dr. Hoare's reading that seems accurate on the evidence he himself adduces is that Ms. Johnstone "denies that thousands of Muslims were massacred": this is not a denial of massacres, just a denial of their scale. But even the denial of scale is nothing like Dr. Hoare's rendering: the passage Dr. Hoare quotes has Ms. Johnstone claiming that 199 of more than 2,600 bodies found showed signs of execution; for no discernible reason, Dr. Hoare translates this to mean that Ms. Johnstone believes only 199 people were massacred, not 8,000. But unless Ms. Johnstone's view is that only those blindfolded and tied were victims of massacre, and unless her view is that none of the other 2,400+ corpses were victims of massacres, then Dr. Hoare's translation has no merit. No evidence, however, is adduced to support ascribing either of these views to Ms. Johnstone. So, too, calling wartime killings by victors "executions" is a perfectly familiar usage (unjust and extralegal executions are still executions); the quotes do not show that Ms. Johnstone's blames "everything" (or even most things) on the Muslims; and so on.
Perhaps Ms. Johnstone's interpretation of events is woefully inadequate, but Dr. Hoare's selective quotation doesn't show Ms. Johnstone to be making the claims with which Dr. Hoare saddles her. Presumably if she were making such claims, Dr. Hoare would have quoted clear evidence to that effect, instead of a string of quotes which require massive supplementation by Dr. Hoare to constitute the narrative he describes.
What Dr. Hoare fails to mention is the most natural reading of the remarks he quotes (see especially the final quote from Johnstone): namely, that Ms. Johnstone acknowledges war crimes by the Serbs, but denies that they constitute "genocide," a term that has an actual meaning in international law:
any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:
- (a) Killing members of the group;
- (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
So, again, going entirely on the material Dr. Hoare actually quotes, Ms. Johnstone's argument comes to this: there were killings in Srebenica and Serbian war crimes, but they did not rise to the level of genocide because they were not "committed with intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such," that is, because of their nationality, ethnicity, race or religion. None of this involves denying that there were massacres, since not every massacre is a case of genocide. (Whether it was genocide matters, I take it, for other reasons, both pertaining to international law and to the justifications for military intervention given by the U.S. and NATO at the time.)
Dr. Hoare is a specialist in the history of Yugoslavia, and I am not; it is for him and other experts to assess whether Ms. Johnstone's hypothesis about the absence of genocide has any merit. (The International Criminal Tribunal reached a different conclusion. And for a different view of Ms. Johnstone's book, see this scholar's assessment, which, while critical, does not raise as objections the issues on which Dr. Hoare focuses, suggesting that he has, indeed, misrepresented the work.) But he has not shown, in the materials he himself quotes, that she has denied that there were killings and war crimes; she admits that there were (at least based on what Dr. Hoare quotes), but denies they were genocide.
Since, on Dr. Hoare's correct rendering, the only relevant issue is denial--or "all intents and purposes denial"--of massacre (not genocide), then Dr. Hoare's evidence fails to support the charge as to Ms. Johnstone.
Since the rest of Dr. Hoare's "argument" (and now I use the term very loosely) is to show that Chomsky endorses Ms. Johnstone's denial of massacre--a denial which depends on Dr. Hoare's odd misreading of the evidence he quotes--the "argument," even if successful, would still be irrelevant to showing that Chomsky denies that there was a massacare in Srebenica, since Dr. Hoare's reading of Ms. Johnstone is not persuasive. But even if Ms. Johnstone did deny the killings, Dr. Hoare's "argument" would still be dreadful. Here is what Dr. Hoare writes:
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.'
Books can be "serious and important" and based on "fact and reason" without being correct in all particulars. That Chomsky has a favorable opinion of Ms. Johnstone's book would not show that he denied a Srebenica massacre, even if Ms. Johnstone's book defended that thesis. The juxtaposition of the Chomsky quote, to which Mr. Kamm also called attention, with van Reis's claim is Dr. Hoare's doing (read the Chomsky statement yourself--the two quotes are paragraphs apart). What we said above remains the case: that Chomsky believes that Johnstone "clearly demonstrates...that a good deal of what has been charged [with regard to Serbian atrocities] has no basis in fact, and much of it is pure fabrication" doesn't show that he denies that there were either war crimes or massacres: much can be fabrication, while some remains absolutely true. Indeed, if one actually reads Chomsky's statement, it acknowledges both war crimes and massacres, and expresses indirectly skepticism only about the charge of genocide (as apparently Ms. Johnstone does directly).
Rest assured, dear readers, that I do not intend to pursue this matter further. Mr. Kamm and Dr. Hoare are interesting only as symptoms of certain kinds of intellectual corruption, of which responses to Noam Chomsky (though not only him) often partake. As I said in an earlier posting on the subject of Chomsky-haters:
Here's what puzzles me about all this. There's plenty to quarrel with Chomsky about (though at least he's worth quarreling with!). One could reasonably say, "I think Chomsky is wrong about X," or "The evidence really doesn't support Chomsky's claim about Y," and so on. But...Chomsky haters...aren't content with engaging Chomsky in argument: they have to establish that he is beyond the pale, that he is intellectually corrupt and dishonest, that it is no longer necessary to take him seriously.
Don't get me wrong--there are plenty of folks who are beyond the pale and intellectually corrupt and dishonest: Donald Luskin, David Horowitz, legions of right-wing dopes in the blogosphere, almost anyone at the Discovery [sic] Institute, all come to mind. Chomsky just isn't one of them, indeed, isn't even close, isn't even on the same planet as these pathological liars and noxious mediocrities.
Why would an intelligent person, even one who disagrees with Chomsky, believe otherwise?
In the case of Mr. Kamm, of course, the answer may be simple: he may just be dumb. (There is, I fear, not much on his web site to dissuade one from that interpretation.) In the case of more learned people, such as Dr. Hoare, one suspects the explanation becomes more complex: disciplinary territoriality; personal and emotional investment in the issues; ulterior political agendas--all these, and perhaps more, may play some role.
I'll end on an amusing note, by quoting an e-mail from one Andrew Anthony, who apparently is a devoted reader of Mr. Kamm; Mr. Anthony responded to my earlier posting as follows:
Just to check. When you say that you hope Emma Brockes 'will now find a new profession, where she can conduct herself honourably', I take it that you are not satisfied with the results of the campaign against her. Apparently, it's not enough that Chomsky's supporters have gained an apology and retraction and removal of the piece from the website. For daring to suggest there may be flaws in Chomsky's methodology – and, let's be honest, Chomsky did not just support Diana Johnstone's right to freedom of speech, he wrote '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' – she should also lose her job. Fair enough, but please spare us the self-righteous guff about defending the freedom of expression. Chomsky had received pretty close to unbroken and unquestioning approval from the Guardian over
many years. A journalist breaks ranks with orthodoxy and so she should pay with her career? Oh please! Stop pretending that you care about freedom of speech. Diana Johnstone downgraded Europe's greatest massacre in 50 years to just another wartime incident much like any other, whereas Emma Brockes embarrassed an anti-capitalist into admitting that he had a share portfolio (which his wife takes care of!). The former demands your support in the name of freedom of speech, while the latter deserves to lose her job. Give me a break.
My initial thought was that this somewhat arational ramble must be from a personal friend of Ms. Brockes--and thus strong emotions explained the incoherence--though Mr. Anthony denied that. My original posting said nothing about Ms. Johnstone; nothing about freedom of expression; nothing about firing Ms. Brockes (she ought to find an honest line of work, to be sure, but that's her decision): talk about inability to read! (And the relevance of Chomsky having a retirement portfolio is....?) The Guardian withdrew Ms. Brockes's "interview" because it was a shoddy and dishonest piece of work; we have now explained at some length why it was, indeed, a shoddy and dishonest piece of work, notwithstanding the sommersaults of the Chomsky-haters. Perhaps Ms. Brockes, having now been publically humiliated with the total repudiation of her work in this case, will do better in the future; or perhaps she will find a different profession, where she can conduct herself more honorably. As to Mr. Anthony: bonne chance!
UPDATE: Pablo Stafforini tells me he sent the following apt e-mail to Dr. Hoare:
In your recent piece on Noam Chomsky (‘Chomsky’s Srebrenica’s Shame—and the Guardian’s’) you claim that you “have not yet discovered a single text on the internet in which Chomsky uses the word 'massacre' in relation to Srebrenica; if such a text exists, it is not as easy to find as Chomsky claims.”
Here’s a relevant sample of Chomsky’s remarks on Srebrenica:
“[There was a] Dutch government inquiry into the Srebrenica massacre[.]”
‘Terror and Just Response’, ZNet, July 2, 2002; Radical Priorities, third edition, Oakland: AK Press, 2003, p. 312; Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2003, p. 208 [emphasis added]
“[T]he U.S. also gave a green light to the Serb attack on Srebrenica, which lead to the slaughter of 7000 people, as part of a broader plan of population exchange. The US did “nothing to prevent” the attack though it was aware of Serb preparations for it, and then used Srebrenica massacre “to distract attention from the exodus of Krajina’s entire population which was then taking place.””
The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo, London: Pluto Press, 1999, p. 32 [emphasis added]
“Consider […] Iranian offers to intervene in Bosnia to prevent massacres at a time when the West would not do so. These were dismissed with ridicule (in fact, generally ignored), even though they might well have protected Muslims from slaughter at Srebrenica and elsewhere.”
The New Military Humanism, p. 74 [emphasis added]
All these references can be found on the Internet, and easily so. They also “state categorically that the massacre occurred in the way that it is understood to have done: as a massacre of several thousand innocent Muslim civilians by Serb forces.” Are you, then, going to publicly retract your remarks? This, I presume, will be an easy thing to do, since yours is an online piece which, as such, can be readily corrected.