The Sunday before last, Britain’s leading liberal Sunday paper, The Observer, published an article by professional troll (‘columnist’) Julie Burchill, consisting of anti-transsexual hate-speech (‘a bunch of dicks in chick’s [sic] clothing’; ‘a gaggle of transsexuals telling Suzanne Moore how to write looks a lot like how I’d imagine the Black & White Minstrels telling Usain Bolt how to run would look’; ‘But they’d rather argue over semantics. To be fair, after having one’s nuts taken off (see what I did there?) by endless decades in academia, it’s all most of them are fit to do.’; ‘a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs’; ‘Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days – don’t threaten or bully we lowly natural-born women, I warn you.’; etc.)
A barrage of complaints ensued from readers, not all of them trans. Lynne Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat member of the British government, tweeted that Burchill should be sacked. The Observer removed the article from its website, with the editor, John Mulholland, apologising for ‘the hurt and offence caused’. Burchill’s ‘censored’ article was then republished by Toby Young, a columnist for the conservative Daily Telegraph. The readers’ editor of The Observer then published a fuller statement, which again stressed the ‘offence’ caused by the article. A counter-barrage then ensued from right-wing and libertarian elements in the commentariat, who claimed that the removal of Burchill’s article from The Observer‘s website proved that Britain is a totalitarian state on the model of the Soviet Union, with its very own Thought Police to persecute the Politically Incorrect.
Vile, bigoted and hateful as Burchill’s article was, it was actually the least shocking element in this whole sorry story, which reveals the full extent of the moral degeneration of the British chattering classes. Much more shocking was the fact that one of our leading liberal newspapers would publish hate-speech directed against a vulnerable and widely persecuted minority. Not only did The Observer commission Burchill to write the piece in the full knowledge of what she was likely to say, it allegedly encouraged her to make the article more extreme and offensive than she might otherwise have done, in order to provoke a greater storm and increase its own viewing figures.
Perhaps still more shocking was the fact that many supposed liberals who should know better, seemed to be less concerned that The Observer had done this, than that the article was removed, since this was supposedly a grave violation of ‘freedom of speech’; moreover, of the ‘right to offend’. The real villain of the piece, some of them felt, was Featherstone, on the grounds that a government minister calling for a columnist to be sacked was a step towards Britain becoming North Korea.
This being so, it’s time to deal with a few of the straw men that the right-wing-libertarian commentariat-mafia has thrown up:
1) Burchill’s column was not ‘offensive’; it was hate speech. The principal problem was not that it ’caused offence’ to transsexual people (though this factor should not be dismissed as unimportant) but that an article of this kind, appearing where it did, served to legitimise and encourage persecution and harassment of transsexual people, thereby hurting much more than their feelings. For if our leading Sunday newspaper considers it acceptable to speak of trans people as ‘dicks in chick’s [sic] clothing’ or ‘a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs’, readers may draw the conclusion that this is a minority which it is right to ridicule and despise. And that when, for example, members of this minority are harassed in the streets by transphobic thugs, it is legitimate for bystanders to stand back and do nothing or even cheer on the attackers.
2) Repackaging hate speech as something that is ‘offensive’ is deliberately to prettify and sanitise it. The word ‘offensive’ has positive connotations; it makes one think of young people in the 60s growing their hair long and listening to rock and roll; or lesbian kissing on prime-time television; or sex scenes graphic enough to upset Mary Whitehouse; or punk haircuts and the Sex Pistols’ single ‘God Save the Queen’; or anything that might once have affronted the conservative mainstream.
Now that liberal values have conquered the mainstream, right-wing columnists would like to present themselves as mere iconoclasts challenging prudish liberal conformity. Whereas what they are really trying to do is to turn the clocks back to an era where it was acceptable to call black people ‘gollywogs’ and gay people ‘poofs’ and sexually emancipated women ‘tarts’. They would like to rehabilitate discourse that disempowers women, ethnic minorities, immigrants, gay people, transsexual people, and so on. If they succeed in making it acceptable once more to employ bigoted language against such categories of people in the mainstream press – the liberal press, no less – it will become acceptable once more to persecute them. Decades of legislation against discrimination and harassment in the workplace and public sphere will be undermined.
3) The ‘freedom of speech’ argument in defence of Burchill is a red herring. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has suggested that the state should take action to censor her or prevent her from writing or publishing wherever she is able. Protesters were, rather, urging that The Observer should not be hosting such articles. It should not need spelling out that in a democracy, in which people enjoy freedom of speech, they have the right to urge newspapers or other media outlets not to publish or host material that they consider inappropriate; and that the media outlets in question have the right not to publish or host material that they do not wish to publish or host. What the so-called champions of ‘freedom of speech’ seem to be arguing is that an independent newspaper like The Observer has no business removing an article from its website, and that its readers have no business urging it to do so. They are, in other words, a bunch of hypocrites.
4) Britain is not a totalitarian state or a state in which government ministers have the power to have journalists or columnists sacked from newspapers. Since Featherstone had no power to threaten The Observer or bring about Burchill’s dismissal (Burchill is, incidentally, a freelance writer rather than a sackable Observer employee), her call for Burchill to be sacked cannot be interpreted as an attempt to control the media, but was simply her expression of her personal opinion, which she has the right to give, since we live in a democracy in which even elected politicians enjoy freedom of speech. Again, the so-called champions of ‘freedom of speech’ are not as unequivocal in their defence of this right as they would like to pretend.
5) There is, probably, no group of people in the world who enjoy greater freedom of speech than British professional columnists of the Burchill variety, who are actually paid to write what they like and guaranteed vast audiences, irrespective of how little research and effort they put in (usually very little). The idea that members of this – in freedom-of-speech terms – ultra-privileged minority is in any way restricted in their freedom of speech is a joke. Their whining, on this score, is like the claims of persecution and exploitation made by members of the Republican mega-rich in the US at suggestions that they pay a higher rate of tax. Newspapers like columnists who ’cause offense’ because they create controversy, draw attention to the newspapers and sell more copies. Therefore, columnists boost their own market value by ‘causing offence’. Their talk of ‘freedom of speech’ in this case is simply a fig-leaf masking their defence of privilege and vested interests.
6) In mounting their assault on liberal values under the cover of defending ‘freedom of speech’ and the ‘right to offend’, the right-wing and libertarian commentariat is not so much seeking to restore traditional conservative values – which are largely dead, and in which they themselves do not particularly believe – but to promote a valueless society, in which every opinion is as valid as any other. They want a society in which well-off people pay as little tax as possible and are free to pursue self-enrichment and self-gratification with the fewest possible restraints, unfettered by any responsibilities or obligations to the wider society. For them, ‘freedom of speech’ is not so much about people being allowed to say what they think, but more about the entertainment provided by ‘offensive’ columnists and their own right to be so entertained. Public discourse is just a game to them.
Readers of this blog will be disappointed if I don’t somehow bring this issue back to the former Yugoslavia. So I’ll note that among the pioneers of this model of cynical and offensive commentary as entertainment masking an assault on liberal values was the magazine Living Marxism, which during the Bosnian genocide supported the Serb perpetrators, whose atrocities, it claimed, were fabricated by the Western media. Living Marxism and other such publications and individuals helped to make genocide denial acceptable in the mainstream media, and helped to ensure that the West would not intervene to halt the Bosnian genocide. Living Marxism was forced to close in 2000 after it was bankrupted in a libel case brought by the British media company ITN, over its accusation that the latter had deliberately deceived viewers in its coverage of the Serb concentration-camp Trnopolje, which Living Marxism claimed was not a camp at all, but a ‘detention centre’.
Among Living Marxism‘s supporters at that time was a certain Toby Young – today, the republisher of Burchill’s anti-transsexual rant. After being forced to close, Living Marxism re-emerged as ‘Spiked Online’, a website whose hallmark is to denigrate every liberal value as a reflection of racism or elitism (e.g. opposition to the far-right English Defence League is merely an expression of liberal-elitist hatred of the working-class; opposition to Japanese whale-hunting is an expression of Western anti-yellow racism; and so on). Spiked Online has also republished Burchill’s article, retitled as ‘Hey trannies, cut it out – Where do dicks in terrible wigs get off lecturing us natural-born women about not being quite feministic enough ?’ Burchill herself supported the Serbia of Slobodan Milosevic against NATO at the time of the 1999 Kosovo War (‘gorgeous, integrated, independent Yugoslavia’), in an article sprinkled with racist comments about Germans and Croats (‘scratch a Croat, find a Kraut’). She threw in a defence of Fidel Castro’s Cuba against ‘Uncle Sam’ for good measure.
From support for murderous regimes and genocide denial to anti-transsexual hate-speech; the progression is a natural one. I really don’t give a damn about the ‘right to offend’ of this pampered, privileged, malicious clique of paid loudmouths. Just as, thanks to people like them, ‘anti-imperialism’ became the defence of fascists and ethnic-cleansers, so they are turning ‘freedom of speech’ into the legitimisation of bigotry, hate-speech and abuse.
Stuff freedom of speech. As far as I’m concerned, the Politically Correct Thought Police can arrest a few of them and toss them in a gulag for a few years; it will give them something real to write and complain about for a change.
In the UK in recent weeks, the abortion issue has flared up again, thanks to the call by Women’s Minister Maria Miller to lower the legal time-limit for abortions from 24 to 20 weeks after the start of pregnancy; the statement of the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, that he favours a limit of 12 weeks; and the surprise article in the Huffington Post by Mehdi Hasan, former political editor of the flagship left-wing periodical New Statesman, arguing that being ‘pro-life’ does not prevent him from being left-wing.
As an atheist from a left-wing background, my ‘pro-choice’ loyalties were once clear. But as on so many other issues, greater learning and personal experience have forced me to reevaluate my position on this one as well. I find it difficult to believe that anyone who has seen pictures or ultrasound scans of even 12-week-old fetuses can be quite so categorical that they are not little human beings, rather than just disposable ‘clumps of cells’. This does not invalidate the contemporary feminist call for women to have control over their reproduction and be spared the horrors of backstreet abortions. But it does require some reconciling of the rights of adult women vis-a-vis those of unborn babies. As the pro-life feminist writer Rachel MacNair has written, ‘There should not be a conflict between women and unborn children. The rights of both must be asserted against a society that is cruel to both.’
Unfortunately, while ‘pro-life’ groups and websites do frequently address the issue of women’s rights and interests – albeit from a standpoint that is sometimes a bit too right-wing or religious for my own taste – ‘pro-choice’ writers in liberal publications such as The Guardian remain brutally categorical in their refusal to recognise the humanity of unborn children. Yet there are reasons why hardline ‘pro-choice’ advocacy clashes with genuine liberal and, indeed, feminist values.
To begin with, abortion is a practice that is quite literally used to exterminate large numbers of female human beings, forming a central element in what is known as ‘gendercide’. In China, as many as 9 million abortions, possibly as many as 13 million, are carried out every year. These abortions disproportionately target baby girls. According to the website All Girls Allowed, which campaigns against China’s One Child Policy, there are 120 boys born in China today for every 100 girls. The One Child Policy, combined with the traditional preference for boys over girls, ensures the mass killing of baby girl fetuses through abortion, resulting in a vast gender imbalance in favour of men over women. According to the same source, in 2005 there were 32 million more men than women under 20 in China. Abortion is not the only reason for this imbalance; outright infanticide, too, is practised. Thus, in China’s Liaoning province, a newborn baby girl was discovered this summer in a plastic bag in a rubbish bin – her throat cut, but still alive. Sometimes the border between abortion and infanticide in China is a fine one: ‘In other cases, midwives have been reported to deliver “stillborn” girls by strangling the female infant with the umbilical cord as she is delivered.’
In terms of the legal time-limit for abortion, China is more ‘liberal’ than the UK, and abortions are legally allowed up to twenty-eight weeks after the start of pregnancy – and frequently performed later than this. This is not, it should be said, always on the basis of the ‘woman’s right to choose’ – woman are frequently forced to undergo involuntary late-term abortions, as was the case for Feng Jianmei, who was abducted earlier this year by family planning officials seeking to uphold the One Child Policy. Dragged bodily to a hospital, she was physically restrained while she received an injection to kill her seven-month-old fetus. Feng describes how she was held down while ‘I could feel the baby jumping around inside me, but then she went still’. The baby’s corpse was then left on the bed next to Feng, for her family to dispose of.
India, China’s fellow misogynistic giant, is developing a similar gender imbalance, as girls and women are killed through a combination of sex-selective abortion, infanticide and bride-murder – prompted largely by the expense of providing dowries for daughters, or by the failure of families to pay them. A bride whose family fails to pay her dowry may be tortured or murdered; even burned to death by her in-laws. According to women’s right’s activist Ruchira Gupta, ’It’s the obliteration of a whole class, race, of human beings. It’s half the population of India’. One woman, who was punished by her family for giving birth to girls instead of boys, and forced repeatedly to undergo abortions, describes her experience: ‘Kulwant still has vivid memories of the first abortion. “The baby was nearly five months old. She was beautiful. I miss her, and the others we killed,” she says, breaking down, wiping away her tears. Until her son was born, Kulwant’s daily life consisted of beatings and abuse from her husband, mother-in-law and brother-in-law. Once, she says, they even attempted to set her on fire. ”They were angry. They didn’t want girls in the family. They wanted boys so they could get fat dowries,” she says.’
Every year in India, as many as 11 million abortions are carried out and as many as 20,000 women die every year from complications arising from the procedure. Female fetuses are fed to dogs by doctors. On one recent occasion, children were found playing with a five-month-old female fetus they had found in a rubbish dump and mistaken for a doll. All of which makes very prescient the question once posed, in relation to abortion, by the veteran US suffragist Alice Paul (1885-1977), who had previously played a decisive role in securing the right to vote for American women in 1920: ‘How can one protect and help women by killing them as babies ?’ (quoted in Angela Kennedy, ed., Swimming against the Tide: Feminist Dissent on the Issue of Abortion, Open Air, 1977, p. 23).
In the poorer and more rural parts of India, unwanted children are often dealt with without the restraint of pesky conservative time limits for abortion, through the practice of infanticide after birth. According to one account: ‘Largely it is women—the mothers themselves, midwives, mothers-in-law or paternal grandmothers—who preside over the murders, sometimes with the stoic indifference of pagan goddesses, at other times with the limp desperation of sacrificial victims. They talk about the intolerable shame of not having produced a son or the unbearable future of daughters and they push the rice grain into the baby’s windpipe, or shake it until its neck snaps, or drown it in a bucket of water.’ Liberals in the West would probably lament the tragedy of Indian women being forced to behave in this way, not celebrate their ability to do so as a sign of emancipation. But we would be hypocritical, for our own system for getting rid of unwanted babies is merely more moderate, not fundamentally different, and we have not liberated women from the huge economic and social pressures that lead them to engage in it.
Thus, here in the UK, we have not succeeded in making unwanted pregnancy less terrifying for many women. We have not removed the stigma or shame from unwanted pregnancy. We have not provided enforceable guarantees that women’s careers will not suffer from having children. We certainly have not provided working women with proper childcare provisions. In short, we have not pressed society to adapt to support pregnant women and mothers. Instead, the pressure is on women to stifle their reproductive powers and maternal instincts, and for unborn babies to be stifled altogether, more or less literally – nearly 200,000 abortions are performed in the UK each year. This is spoken of in terms of the ‘women’s right to choose’. It is a moot point just how much ‘choice’ a British woman struggling to support existing children on a limited income, with an unsupportive family and non-existent male partner, really has.
One of the consequences of portraying abortion in terms of a ‘woman’s right to choose’ is that it absolves fathers of any responsibility for unwanted children. Without legalised abortion, an unwanted child is the responsibility of the man who impregnated the woman, as much as of the woman herself. With legalised abortion, the man may feel that it was solely the woman’s ‘choice’ to proceed with the pregnancy, and feel no compulsion to support her motherhood. Or he may feel he is legally entitled to pressurise her into having an abortion. Catherine Spencer has written of her guilt and remorse in allowing pressure from her partner and fear of single motherhood to lead her to seek a termination: ‘I am a woman who had an abortion after intense pressure from my partner. In other words, there was an unborn child – or if that word seems too emotive, too shocking, a potential child – and the parents of that child, or potential child took a decision for it to die… As I write, the “understanding” and the rationalizations are back in place and I once more feel the compassion for myself that I have trained myself to feel. Yet somewhere within, beyond the reach of my rational mind, the sense of horror continues unabated and is apt to resurface.’ (Catherine Spencer, ‘Obstinate Questionings: An Experience of Abortion’, in Kennedy, Swimming against the Tide, pp. 96-97).
There is no straightforward correlation between the legal ‘right’ of women and girls to do things and their emancipation; we need only think of the ‘right’ to marry a man who is already married, or the ‘right’ to marry a much older man while still in one’s early teens – ‘rights’ that are available to women in some non-Western countries. Nor do we necessarily view ‘the right of women to control their own bodies’ as reflecting their emancipation. For example, the ‘right’ to have breast implants; the ‘right’ to starve oneself half to death in order to pursue a career as a model; the ‘right’ to sleep with men in exchange for money. The French porn star Lolo Ferrari controlled her own body by having such huge breast implants that they prevented her from breathing properly, which helped her career but possibly contributed to her death at the age of thirty-seven, as Germaine Greer has written. Generally speaking, the ‘right’ of women to undergo brutal, frequently traumatic and potentially harmful surgical procedures that are medically unnecessary is not seen as indicative of their emancipation.
Abortion is, therefore, something of an anomaly for liberals and feminists. Yet it was not always so: up until about the 1960s, feminist opinion predominantly saw abortion in negative terms, from Britain’s Mary Wollstonecroft and Sylvia Pankhurst to the US’s Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul. In the words of the left-wing suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960), ‘It is grievous indeed that the social collectivity should feel itself obliged to assist in so ugly an expedient as abortion in order to mitigate its crudest evils. The true mission of society is to provide the conditions, legal, moral, economic and obstetric, which will assure happy and successful motherhood.’
Feminist supporters of female reproductive freedom championed contraception as an alternative to abortion. In the words of Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), the founder of Planned Parenthood in the US, ‘While there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization… If the laws against imparting knowledge of scientific birth control were repealed, nearly all of the 1,000,000 or 2,000,000 women who undergo abortions in the United States each year would escape the agony of the surgeon’s instruments and the long trail of disease, suffering and death which so often follows… For contraceptive measures are important weapons in the fight against abortion.’ According to Marie Stopes (1880-1958), the British pioneer of contraception, ‘The desolate effects of abortion and attempted abortion can only be exterminated by a sound knowledge of the control of conception. In this my message coincides with that of all the Churches in condemning utterly the taking of even an embryonic life.’ (Marie Carmichael Stopes, Wise Parenthood: The treatise on birth control for married people – a practical sequel to Married Love, 8th ed., Putnam, London, 1922, p. 10). It is ironic that both Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International are today major providers of abortion.
As indicated above, sex-selective abortions in India and China are used overwhelmingly to kill baby girls. Yet even in these brutally anti-woman, pro-abortion societies, sex-selective abortions are formally illegal. In the UK, which does not suffer such a gender imbalance, they are similarly not permitted. Somehow, the callousness with which Western liberal opinion treats unborn life does not quite extend to supporting the right to abort a baby just because it is a girl and the parents wanted a boy, though if one really believes that a fetus is just a clump of cells and that all that matters is the mother’s right to choose, it is unclear why not.
Yet if we do not deliberately target girls for extermination through abortion, there is another underprivileged group we most certainly do target: the disabled. Here in the UK, the overwhelming majority of unborn babies screened as having Down’s syndrome, spina bifida or cerebral palsy are aborted. British law discriminates against unborn disabled babies, whose lives can be legally terminated beyond the normal 24-week limit and all the way up to birth – even if their ‘abnormality’ is very minor. A decade ago, the Reverend Joanna Jepson, a woman born with a deformed jaw and whose brother has Down’s syndrome, sought justice for a 28-week-old fetus who was aborted because it had a cleft palate; a baby that could have been born, grown up, gone to university and had a career and a sex life, instead had its life ended, because it had a minor deformity that could have been easily corrected by surgery. In Jepson’s words: ‘This law needs to be tightened, it isn’t right that babies lose their lives for trivial reasons.’ Yet instead of improving our society to give due respect and freedom for disabled people, we usually kill them before they are born. This is the same Britain that indulged in an orgy of self-satisfaction this summer over our Paralympic Games.
Image: Mandeville probably would not have survived his mother’s pregnancy in the UK.
In sum, abortion is a tragic symptom of society’s failure to support mothers, babies, the disabled and the poor. Criminalisation is not the answer; as a general rule, women who seek abortions should not be judged, let alone put in a position where they feel compelled to break the law. A gradual solution may perhaps be sought through better education about sex, reproduction and ethics, and social improvements for pregnant women and mothers. But this will not happen so long as liberal opinion views abortion as reflecting women’s emancipation, rather than the incompleteness of their emancipation.
The justice or injustice of a cause may in large part be measured by the ethics displayed by those who uphold it. The ongoing campaign to whitewash the former regimes of Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic and to justify their genocidal crimes against the Bosniaks is about as unworthy a cause as it is possible to imagine; consequently, the people who wage it do so in the most dishonest and malicious manner possible. Their campaign is fundamentally an expression of hatred – for Bosniaks, Croats, Albanians, anti-fascist Serbs, Jews and others who opposed the genocide. So their tactics are of the most hateful kind, involving systematic character assassination and racist and anti-Semitic abuse of those who speak about the genocide and the ideology that gave rise to it.
‘The Jews have had a disproportionate impact’
Most recently, a libellous and racist hate-campaign has been waged by the genocide-deniers - above all, Islamophobic far-right elements in North America - against members of the Institute for the Research of Genocide, Canada (IRGC), which among other things, campaigns against Bosnia genocide-denial. This campaign has accelerated following the decision last month of the Canadian authorities to deny entry into Canada of Srdja Trifkovic, a man who regularly engages in hate-speech against Islam and Muslims. Trifkovic had been invited by a Serbian students’ organisation at the University of British Columbia to give a speech at one of their meetings, but was barred from Canada because he had been an official of the wartime regime of ‘Republika Srpska’, hence ‘for being a proscribed senior official in the service of a government that, in the opinion of the minister, engages or has engaged in terrorism, systematic or gross human rights violations, or genocide, a war crime or a crime against humanity within the meaning of subsections 6 (3) to (5) of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.’
[I had personally written to Professor Stephen J. Toope, President of UBC, urging him to prevent Trifkovic from giving his talk. While I respect the right of genocide deniers to engage in genocide denial, I draw the line at allowing inciters of hatred against ethnic or religious groups to speak at universities, as I consider this an infringement on the rights of staff and students at the universities in question to work and study free from the fear of persecution or harassment. However, it was the Canadian authorities, not the UBC, that ultimately prevented Trifkovic from speaking.]
Supporters of Trifkovic responded to their setback with a campaign of personal defamation directed against members of the IRGC. The anti-Muslim hate-site ‘Gates of Vienna’ denounced the IRGC as ‘Jew-haters’, though without being able to quote a single anti-Semitic statement made by any of its members. This smear was a repeat of one levelled by Trifkovic himself against Professor Emir Ramic, the IRGC’s chairman, on the website of an extreme right-wing organisation, ‘The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’, run by former Canadian ambassador James Bissett. Trifkovic accused Ramic of being a ’Jew-hating jihadist’ - again, without being able to produce a single piece of evidence that Ramic was either anti-Semitic, or that he supported jihad [since the articles in question are extremely libellous, I'm not going to link to them].
The basis for the accusation was the claim that Ramic was a member of the editorial board of a Bosnian journal called ‘Korak‘, that has published some viciously anti-Israel articles. The articles in question were, indeed, viciously anti-Israel. But Ramic is not a member of the editorial board of the journal in question, so the accusation is totally false. The second basis for the accusation is that Korak‘s editor, Asaf Dzanic, is a member of the IRGC’s board of directors. Yet, as anyone can see from the IRGC’s website, its board of directors is very large and diverse, numbering over 120, and includes several eminent Jewish members, including the famous Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Most of these members, including Dzanic, are in the capacity of an ‘International Team of Experts’. The website also carries a powerful defence of the IRGC from the smears of Trifkovic and the ‘Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’, written by the Israeli writer Marjan Hajnal – also a member of the IRGC’s board of directors. The smearing of the entire institute as ‘Jew-hating’ and its director as ‘jihadi’ is, therefore, a desperate clutching at straws on the part of the Srebrenica deniers.
The ‘Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’ has also accused Ramic and the IRGC of ‘Holocaust denial’. Again, not a single piece of evidence was produced to substantiate this very serious charge. In fact, the charge of ‘Holocaust denial’ was made after the IRGC had weeks earlier published, and prominently displayed on its website, an article marking Holocaust Memorial Day and paying tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, which made clear ‘The Holocaust of World War ll was the despicable, systematic process of torturing and murdering nearly six million European Jews, by German Nazis. Approximately two-thirds of nine million European Jews were murdered throughout that particular Holocaust.’
The irony of such smears is all the greater in that Trifkovic himself, unlike Ramic, is on record as having made anti-Semitic statements. Trifkovic has stated:
‘To claim that the traditional Right is “anti-Jewish” is to imply that it is gripped by an irrational prejudice. Such accusation is untrue and unfair.
It is true, however, that the traditional Right is inevitably antipathetic to certain modes of thought and feeling, to a peculiar Weltanschauung and the resulting forms of public and intra-communal discourse, which are quite properly perceived as specifically Jewish.
Historically, Talmudic Judaism’s insistence on the Jews’ racial uniqueness — emphasized by the ritual and dietary laws of Talmudic Judaism and on its view of Christians as idolaters — has ensured that a Jew steeped in his own tradition could not view traditional European or American conservatism with sympathy. His tradition was a form of elaborate survival mechanism based on the zero-sum view of a world divided into “us” and “them.” The Gentile was “the Other” ab initio and for ever.
In addition, since the late 1800’s the Jews have had a disproportionate impact on a host of intellectual trends and political movements which have fundamentally altered the civilization of Europe and its overseas offspring in a manner deeply detrimental to the family, nation, culture, racial solidarity, social coherence, tradition, morality and faith. Spontaneously or deliberately, those ideas and movements — Marxism (including neoconservatism as the bastard child of Trotskyism), Freudianism, Frankfurt School cultural criticism, Boasian anthropology, etc. — have eroded “the West” to the point where its demographic and cultural survival is uncertain. The erosion is continuing, allegedly in the name of propositional principles and universal values, and it is pursued with escalating ferocity.’
‘Even when Jews don’t come out smelling like roses’
The extreme right-wing and viciously racist and Islamophobic American commenter Julia Gorin has apologised for Trifkovic’s anti-Semitism in the following manner:
‘While virgin eyes (mainstream readers and anyone not experienced in sorting out the intricacies and boundaries of what is and isn’t OK to say about Jews) will read the paragraphs as “anti-Semitic,” the views expressed aren’t unlike what I and any number of other Jewish conservatives have written in an effort to tame the Jewish predisposition toward cynicism about, and dismantling of, the traditional values of, yes, white-established societies… It’s not reading that would be palatable to the mainstream, but conservative readers — including Jewish conservatives — are known to have a slightly higher tolerance for truth, even when Jews don’t come out smelling like roses.’
Thus, Trifkovic and Gorin have no problem with anti-Semitism, but do have a problem with those, like Ramic and the IRGC, that oppose Srebrenica genocide denial. Gorin’s apologia for Trifkovic’s anti-Semitism was made in the course of an article denying the genocide at Srebrenica. Again, unlike Ramic, Gorin is an unabashed anti-Albanian, anti-Croat and anti-Bosniak racist. Commenting on a recent obituary of the Croatian journalist Chris Cviic, a long-standing resident of the UK and recipient of the OBE, which stated ‘He is survived by his widow, Celia, and a son and a daughter’, Gorin commented ‘Yayyyy! More little Ustashas running rampant in the West.’ In response to a story in the British rag-sheet The Daily Star about the alleged activities of Kosovo Albanian immigrants in the UK, entitled ‘Kosovan squatters stole my loo’, Gorin commented ‘Ah, the Albanian specialty: invading someone’s home and stripping it bare. (See Kosovo, Serbia.) Then they get to do it again at the UK government’s expense. What the hell are they going to do with the toilet? Do they even know what it’s for?’ Racists like Gorin typify the Srebrenica deniers. Another Srebrenica genocide denier, Nebojsa Malic of Antiwar.com, has also made racist statements about Albanians, describing them as ‘medieval barbarians‘.
Srebrenica denial and anti-Semitism frequently go hand in hand. The anti-Semite, Holocaust denier and associate of Julian Assange who goes by the name of ‘Israel Shamir’ is a Srebrenica denier and has written ‘Many war atrocity stories are just stories – from Srebrenica to Kosovo “killing fields”, from Saddam Hussein’s WMD to Belgian babies on German bayonets of the WWI, from Kuwait’s incubator to anti-communist inventions of the Black Book.’ Shamir was one of a group of Srebrenica deniers, including Edward S. Herman and Diana Johnstone, who wrote an open letter to the Serbian parliament calling on them not to recognise the Srebrenica massacre.
‘This self-serving Jew’
Srebrenica genocide denial tends to go hand-in-hand with the denial of the genocidal crimes carried out by Serbian Nazi quislings and collaborators during World War II. When the Milosevic and Karadzic regimes waged their war for a Great Serbia in the 1990s, a major element in their propaganda was the equation of the entire Croat and Bosniak nations with the Ustashas (Croatian fascists) of World War II. The reality was that the Serb, Croat and Bosniak nations during World War II were all divided between anti-fascists and quislings or collaborators. Thus, the Nazi-quisling camp included Croat Ustashas, Serb Nedicites and Ljoticites and Muslim soldiers of the SS Handzar Division, while the anti-fascist Yugoslav Partisans comprised Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and others. But the Great Serbian nationalists of the 1990s waged a hate-campaign against Croats and Bosniaks, seeking to equate the entire Croat and Bosniak nations with the Ustashas.
One man who saw through this propaganda early on was the Jewish American medical doctor Philip J. Cohen. As Philip told me when I met him back in the mid-1990s in the US, he approached the Bosnian genocide as a Jew who knew the history of the Holocaust and the failure of the world to prevent it, and felt strongly that something similar should not be allowed to happen again. He was not in the slightest bit taken in by the Serb-nationalist campaign to equate all Croats and Bosniaks with the Ustashas, and responded to it by researching and writing the book Serbia’s Secret War. This book traced the history of anti-Semitism in Serbia and the role of Serbian quislings and collaborators in the Holocaust. It therefore demolished the myth that in the former Yugoslavia, it had only been Croats and Bosniaks who had produced quislings, or engaged in anti-Jewish actions. And although Cohen was not a professional historian or academic, the book is very good.
Needless to say, Cohen does not in any way deny the crimes of the Croatian Ustashas against Jews, Serbs or others. But his exposure of the crimes of Serbian quislings against Jews in World War II led to his being the subject of an anti-Semitic denunciation by a Serb nationalist writer called Vasilije Todorovic, who published an open letter in 1996 claiming (falsely) that ‘Cohen, this self-serving Jew, has even managed to condone the killing of 60,000 Jews in WW II, by the very Croatians from whom he receives his major support. I believe you Jews call this, Chutzpah!’ And ‘How astonishing that for 46 years the Roman Church and its Vatican failed to recognize Israel. Now this upstart Jew, Philip Cohen, defends their actions.’ Todorovic extended his attack on Cohen into a general diatribe against Jews: ‘There are no Spielberg movies made about these brave Serbian families who saved Jews. At the opening of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Serbs were totally ignored as the Museum honored a Roman Catholic woman for saving the lives of 6 Jews.’ Furthermore, ‘Cohen omits the documents that reveal that Jews also joined the Ustasha and the Partisans and murdered numerous loyalists Serbs. In Cohen’s personal secret war against the Serbs, no mention is made that many of the Croatian Nazi officers had Jewish wives.’ And so on.
Todorovic’s article was written fifteen years ago, but the attacks on Cohen for having the temerity to write of the activities of Serbian Nazi quislings have continued. Two years ago, the amateur Serbian-American historian Carl Savich attempted to smear Cohen by claiming that he hadn’t even written his own book:
‘Philip J. Cohen is a medical doctor, a dermatologist with no background or training in history, let alone the World War II history of Serbia. Moreover, he has no knowledge of the Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian languages. How could he have written Serbia’s Secret War, which required a detailed and exhaustive analysis and research of Serbian language documents? Such a massive undertaking would require a thorough knowledge of the historical debates and nuances involed in the issues examined. Cohen couldn’t have written it. And he didn’t write it. Cohen was the front, the front man in a Croatian propaganda hoax. Because Croatia was a satellite, proxy, and client state of the U.S., Cohen received U.S. support and backing. The screed buttressed the anti-Serbian U.S. infowar and propagnada war.’
Savich claimed that Serbia’s Secret War had actually been written by a Croatian historian called Ljubica Stefan. He offered not a shred of evidence for his allegations.
I can personally testify that Cohen is the author of Serbia’s Secret War. At the time he was writing it, I met him at a seminar at Yale University, where I was studying at the time, and he asked me to assist him in working on the manuscript to his book. Consequently, I read his manuscript, made comments on it, then stayed with him at his home for two or three days and helped him work through some of the documents he had yet to analyse. Although Philip did not read Serbo-Croat himself, he told me he had benefited from a lot of assistance, in translating documents, from the Croatian writer Anto Knezevic. Having spoken with him at length and seen his library and archive, I know for a fact that Savich’s allegations are complete fabrications.
‘Other prominent Jews would apply the same techniques against the Serbian Orthodox population’
Savich is not a real historian and has no qualifications in history other than a Master’s degree, so it may not be surprising that his treatment of historical fact is less than professional. But he is also himself ready to engage in anti-Semitic writing. Here is a comment he wrote on the history of Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia:
‘One consequence of the Austrian occupation of Bosnia was that Sarajevo and other Bosnian cities were flooded with over 9,500 bureaucrats and administrators and commercial and trade interests. Many of these were Ashkenazi Jews. Austrian Jews sought to benefit from the annexation and occupation of Bosnia. Racism and bigotry are based in self-interest. The racist attack against Orthodox Serbs by the Jew Freundlich can be explained in this way. His moral outrage is selective and self-interested. Austrian Jews would gain economic advantages by the Austrian occupation of Bosnia. Remarkaby, Roy Gutman, Anthony Lewis, Susan Sontag, James Rubin, and other prominent Jews would apply the same techniques against the Serbian Orthodox population, i.e, professing a disingenuous concern for the human rights of the Albanians and Bosnian Muslims, at the same time ignoring the genocide and repression of the Palestinian population by the zealous Zionist nationalist government in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which were being illegaly settled by Jewish settlers. There was little concern for the human rights of the Palestinians, Kurds, or Basques. There is a dictum: Follow the money trail. Self-interest goes a long way in explaining the bias. Thus, under Austrian occupation, there were thousands of occupation administrators and bureaucrats, many of whom were Jewish.’
Savich is himself an apologist for the Nazi-quisling Nedic regime that ran German-occupied Serbia, claiming that it had ‘no choice in the matter of its collaboration’, that it was no different from the Judenraete in occupied Poland and the Soviet Union, and that it played no role in running concentration camps. All these claims are false.
Savich’s smear, of course, targeted not only Cohen, but also Ljubica Stefan. Stefan is listed among the ‘Righteous among Nations’ at Israel’s Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, as a Croatian who protected Jews during the Holocaust. This is what Savich has to say about her (again, without producing any evidence whatsoever):
‘Although she lived most of her life in Serbia, she was an ethnic Croatian. She lived and worked in Belgrade. She knew the Serbian language. She had access to Serbian documents and archives. Also, as a hack historian, a pseudo-historian, someone below the radar, she did not have to concern herself about academic or scholarly accountability. Moreover, everything that appears in the Cohen text also appears in propaganda screeds published by or attributed to Stefan when she worked for the Croatian Government Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Stefan worked closely with Croatian ultra-nationalist Franjo Tudjman in rehabilitating the Ustasha regime and engaged in historical revisionism by attempting to equate Serbia’s role during the Holocaust with that of Croatia’s Ustasha NDH government.’
So Savich, who has no academic qualifications beyond a Master’s degree and who is an apologist for the Nazi-quisling Nedic regime, accuses Stefan, who was a tenured professor at a Belgrade faculty and who actually protected Jews during the Holocaust, of being a ‘pseudo-historian’ guilty of ‘historical revisionism.
‘Agent of imperialism’
Anti-fascist Serbs, as much as non-Serbs, can become victims of racism when they oppose the activities of the Serbian extreme-right. The Serbian human-rights activist Sonja Biserko of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, a frequent victim of physical harassment and defamation at the hands of Serbian fascist thugs and their rag-sheets, is periodically denounced by them as a ‘lesbian’. But she has also been denounced for supposedly not being of pure Serbian racial stock. Thus, an anonymous Srebrenica genocide denier – whose genocide denial subsequently led to him being banned by the proprietor of Modernity Blog – challenged my description of her as ‘Serbian’ in the following terms: ‘Serbian, eh? Funny thing is, Sonja Biserko keeps her biographical details well hidden. A wiki page lists her as Croatian, whereas a poster on some forum claims that: her brother was a member of Croatian troops, so called “Zbor narodne garde” and was killed in fight with Krajina Serbs.‘
The anonymous creep in question challenged me to confirm or deny the truth of his rumours. This sort of malicious gossip always puts us in a difficult position, as however unlikely it is that such rumours are true, we cannot formally deny them unless we know for certainty that they are false. Readers may recall the rumour that former Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic recruited for the SS during World War II; no evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this claim, so we have to assume that it is false, particularly given the seriousness of the charge. But I cannot say for absolute certainty that it is untrue.
However, having now researched the matter, I can say for absolute, 100% certainty that Biserko’s brother was not a member of the Croatian armed forces, and was not killed in combat with Serb forces. He was not even present in Croatia during the war. As for the claim that Sonja is ‘Croatian’ rather than Serbian; since she is a Serbian citizen, was born in Belgrade and since her father was an ethnic Serb, the smear entirely rests on the fact that her mother is an ethnic Croat. The suggestion being that any Serb whose background isn’t 100% ethnically pure is ‘not really’ Serb at all.
The idea that someone’s patriotism can be called into question on the basis of their ‘alien’ ethnic background has been a favourite of the far right since the Dreyfus Affair. In reailty, people from ethnically non-Serb or mixed backgrounds, including ethnic Croats and Bosniaks, have often become hardline Serb nationalists, or supported the Milosevic regime – examples are Emir Kusturica, Jovan Zametica, Franko Simatovic and Mihalj Kertes. The Serbian fascist leader Vojislav Seselj was frequently accused of being an ethnic Croat, on the grounds that ‘Seselj’ is a Croat surname – he was pathetically reduced to obtaining a certificate from the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (for which he allegedly paid a small sum in deutschmarks) to ‘prove’ he was ‘genuinely’ Serb.
As a footnote, the smear against Sonja was posted on the ‘Aaronovitch Watch’ malicious-gossip site, about which I have recently written, and is entirely characteristic of the sort of material that is posted there. Biserko’s smearer was actively encouraged to post malicious rumours about me as well by the blog’s proprietor, the Guardian columnist and Credit Suisse stockbroker Daniel Davies (interestingly, Credit Suisse is the same company for which the late Richard Holbrooke worked). Evidence suggests that Davies may not be entirely neutral in former-Yugoslav matters; he has spoken of his friendship with the blogger Splintered Sunrise, a sympathiser of the neo-Nazi Serbian Radical Party; and of Christopher Deliso, author of a viciously Islamophobic propaganda tract about Balkan Muslims significantly entitled The coming Balkan caliphate (which I have dissected), which itself draws heavily on the ‘work’ of Srebrenica genocide deniers, in particular Darko Trifunovic, but also Nebojsa Malic. Davies has also stated that during the war in the former Yugoslavia, ‘I actually had a certain amount of sympathy for the Serbian Republic (though not the Bosnian Serbs)’.
Davies’s friend Splintered Sunrise has himself described Biserko as an ‘agent of imperialism’ in a comment on the Lenin’s Tomb blog (the comments are no longer visible online, but I possess the print-out). A further example of demonisation and character assassination that is entirely characteristic.
Hat tip: Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Daniel Davies (who writes under the names ’Bruschettaboy’ and ‘Dsquared’), proprietor of the blog ‘Aaronovitch Watch‘, printed a ‘correction‘ after one of his anonymous pet trolls falsely accused me of having been a member of Gerry Healy’s ‘Workers Revolutionary Party’. Since Healy was a gangster, rapist and cult-leader who received money from the regimes of Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Gaddafi, and was complicit in Saddam’s murder of members of the Iraqi Communist Party, this was fairly serious lie to tell. However, since Davies’s rather more ethical fellow blogger Dave Weeden (‘Chardonnay Chap’) had already deleted the comments in question after I pointed out that they were false, and since I had not requested any further action, Davies’s printing of the ‘correction’ was not motivated by considerations of decency. In fact, the ‘correction’ was a flimsy excuse to justify his pet troll’s attempted smear, and to launch a further personal attack on me.
This is entirely characteristic of Davies’s mode of operation. His blog is, simply put, a non-stop sectarian hate-fest, in which his readers are actively encouraged to sneer at other left-wingers of whom they disapprove – specifically, members of the Eustonite or Decent Left. This sneering frequently takes the form of outright malicious gossip, the factual accuracy of which is only sporadically checked by Davies. He is someone for whom clean political debate is systematically eschewed in favour of ad hominem attacks on individuals. The particular objects of his animosity are the British journalists David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen, every one of whose articles over a period of several years has been picked to pieces by Davies and his circle in a quite unrivalled display of personal obsession. But it is a wholly unrequited obsession, as Aaronovitch and Cohen very sensibly ignore him.
As for me, Davies has been attacking me from practically the day I launched my own blog. I made the mistake of thinking that he was someone with whom it was possible to have a constructive discussion, in consequence of which, I have become another butt of his inner rage. Frequently abusive and sometimes libellous comments are posted about me on Davies’s blog. As I have discovered on this occasion, if one complains – even if Davies is forced to acknowledge the legitimacy of the complaint – it provides the occasion for him to make a further personal attack. The only possible deduction is that Davies is attempting to deter me and perhaps others from complaining about the sort of filth that appears on his blog. Because without the ad hominem sneering and the malicious gossip, Aaronovitch Watch would have no raison d’etre.
The basis for the smear that I was a member of Gerry Healy’s ‘Worker’s Revolutionary Party’ (WRP) was that in the 1990s I collaborated with members of a related but different group called the ‘Workers Revolutionary Party’ and contributed articles to its newspaper, ‘Workers’ Press’. I was not a member of this WRP either, but worked with some of its members in the context of a much broader trade-union-backed movement of solidarity with the people of Bosnia during the war of 1992-92. The movement was called ‘Workers Aid’, and most of its supporters were not WRP members. I shall say more about this shortly. Here, I note Davies’s claim that his pet troll’s smear, that I was a member of Healy’s WRP, was ‘most likely an honest mistake’. Yet Davies is very well aware that it was not an honest mistake, as the original WRP broke up into multiple fragments in the mid-1980s, when I was in my early teens, and Healy himself died in 1989, when I was seventeen. Davies’s pet troll’s accusation was an attempt to smear me by deliberately conflating the two different groups called ‘WRP’, and associating me with Healy’s. After I had already pointed out that it was untrue, Davies’s troll repeated the allegation – not the behaviour of someone who had made an ‘innocent mistake’. Anyway, what sort of person makes these sort of out-of-the-blue ad hominem allegations while themselves hiding behind anonymity ? (Answer: the sort of person that is drawn like flies to ‘Aaronovitch Watch’ by the offal put out to attract them).
Having whitewashed his troll’s attempted smear-job, Davies then tried to blame me for it: ‘Marko did not do himself many favours by not clearing this up himself and leaving it to others to mention the Workers’ Press articles’. What he is saying, is that he is providing a forum for anonymous trolls to tell whatever stories they like about me and other people they don’t like, and that the onus is then on us to correct the falsehoods that these invariably involve, by volunteering information about our personal backgrounds. Would you want to volunteer information about your personal background on that kind of blog ? Of course, if one does then post comments on Davies’s blog to correct the falsehoods, one is then subjected to further personal attacks – as happened to me in this case.
However, Davies’s underhand attempt at throwing mud at me personally is far from the worst of it. He then attempts to attribute further nefarious motives to me for objecting to being associated with Healy, and in doing so builds upon his troll’s conflation of the two different WRPs, thereby smearing members of the latter by equating them with a gangster, rapist and paid informant of Saddam Hussein: ‘I think the problem is that, since the WRP(WP) had very similar politics to the Healyites, accepting that Slaughter-good/Healy-bad was more or less how it turned out would kind of make it impossible to slag off other people and groups based on their own embarrassing figures.’ Furthermore: ‘Depending on the circumstances, it might or might not have been a sensible idea to have been involved with the WRP(WP) during the relevant period. However, with the passage of time, it’s become slightly embarrassing.’
Those who are at all familiar with the history of the original WRP know that Healy was a sadistic thug who ran his Trotskyist sect as a cult, in which he psychologically and often physically and sexually abused its members. There were many members of this party that had joined as principled and committed left-wing activists but had then become victims – in the very real sense – of Healy’s abuse. The break-up of the original WRP began with a rebellion against Healy by those members who strongly objected to his methods; some of these had themselves been victims of Healy’s abuse. When the party fragmented, some of the fragments remained loyal to Healy’s legacy to various degrees. But the fragment with which I subsequently worked in the Workers Aid movement in the mid-1990s was made up of the people who had rejected Healy’s methods and rebelled against him. Davies has sneeringly and ignorantly conflated them with the gangster and rapist whom they rejected and overthrew, and who in some cases had personally abused them. He thus drags in wholly innocent third parties into his own petty little personal vendetta against me and the Decent Left. Members of the WRP/WP did not abuse their fellow members, or receive money from Saddam Hussein, or inform on members of the Iraqi Communist Party to Saddam’s secret police. Davies’s claim that ‘the WRP(WP) had very similar politics to the Healyites’ is therefore a smear of the worst kind.
The members of the WRP (‘Workers Press’) with whom I collaborated in Workers Aid were among the bravest, most principled and most committed fighters for social justice and political liberation that I have ever met. When the Bosnian genocide was at its height and when much of the rest of the Western left was either sitting on the sidelines or actively sympathising with the perpetrators, these people built the Workers Aid movement to bring aid to, and show solidarity with, the people of the Bosnian city of Tuzla. This was an industrial city with a proud left-wing and working-class history, whose own miners had supported the British miners’ strike in the 1980s and whose citizens maintained a social democratic administration in power throughout the Bosnian war. Members of the WRP/WP and other supporters of Workers Aid – sometimes risking their own lives as they guided their convoy of rickety lorries along the broken roads of a country at war and through sniper zones – built a movement of solidarity between British and European trade unionists and Bosnian trade unionists that defied the ethnic cleansers and their Western backers.
That is the WRP with which I worked in the 1990s, and to whose newspaper I contributed. Although I have since mostly lost touch with them, I remember with particular respect and fondness Bob Myers, Dot Gibson, Charlie Pottins, Bronwen Handyside, Cliff Slaughter, the late Geoff Pilling and others, some of whose names I don’t recall. It was an honour to have worked with them and to have contributed to their newspaper, and though I suspect they might not approve of my subsequent political evolution, I would do so again. So no, I don’t find my past association with them ‘embarrassing’ (I have advertised my former involvement with Workers Aid in the ‘About’ section of my blog since the day it was launched); they represented what was best in the British left.
For someone like Daniel Davies, an armchair leftist whose sole political activity seems to consist of running a blog devoted to smearing and rubbishing other left-wingers, the same cannot be said. He is something of a pillar of London finance capitalism, being a stockbroker and financial advisor working for the Credit Suisse Group, and personally on record last year for complaining about the imposition of new taxes on European banks and other financial institutions, describing them as ‘about as bad news for the sector as it could have been… The hostile regulatory environment continues to move on, and will continue to generate unpleasant surprises like this one.’ He was also an early supporter of a US invasion of Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein – provided it wasn’t led by the Bush Administration. In his own words in October 2002:
‘I retain my original belief that improvement in Iraq is politically impossible unless there is some sort of shooting war in the area culminating in the removal of Saddam Hussein. I don’t set much score by “national-building”, and don’t really believe that what the Gulf needs is more US client states, and I never believed any of the scare stories related to the “WMD” acronym which is currently doing such sterling duty in picking out weblog authors who don’t have a fucking clue what they’re talking about. I just think that Saddam needs to go, because it’s just one of those Damned Things which Has To Happen. I’m a fatalist, not a moralist.
So, how can we square these beliefs a) that something has to be done and b) that if something is done, it will be a disastrous imperial adventure by George Bush. Here’s how, and it’s so simple it’s beautiful:
The official policy of D-Squared Digest [Davies's personal blog] with respect to Iraq is now that we support a policy of containment until after the 2004 Presidential elections, and after that, we will support immediate war with Iraq if and only if someone other than George W Bush is elected.’ [emphasis in original]
This makes his obsessive hostility toward the Decent Left somewhat easier to understand: it is not the hostility of an ideological opposite, but of someone whose own politics are highly similar yet not quite identical. A type of hostility, in other words, in the tradition of the hostility of the People’s Front of Judea to the Judean People’s Front. As for me, Davies admits he has a ‘grudge’ against me, arising from my having revealed that a blogger whom he described as part of ’Aaronovitch Watch’s extended family’ was in fact a sympathiser of a neo-Nazi party.
Hat tip: Neil Clark.
Update 1: And just when you thought the gutter couldn’t be scraped any further by Davies and his disgusting pack of trolls, here are some of their comments aimed against a visitor who was much more polite and reasonable than I would have been:
‘he sure looks like something that lives under a bridge and accosts under age goats.’
‘are you William Hague’s love child? A tragically precious 20 something, with the mind of an aging fogey? If so, yes its true, we have been too hard on you. We should have treated you with kindness, referred you to specialists who could help with your tragic condition.’
Update 2: Anyone interested in further information about Davies’s alignments should look here.
Those who are sufficiently ideologically driven will readily and tenaciously believe a myth that upholds their own ideology, no matter how completely the myth has been exposed and discredited. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion have been used by anti-Semites from the Nazis to today’s Islamists, despite the fact that they were exposed as a forgery a century ago. German anti-Semites sought to explain away Germany’s defeat in World War I in 1918 by a supposed ‘stab in the back’ by the Jews, shifting the ignominy for the murderous Imperial German regime’s military collapse onto an innocent third party. In much the same way, apologists for the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic have for twenty years tried to blame the ignominious break-up of Yugoslavia – which the Milosevic regime deliberately engineered – on democratic Germany’s supposed ‘encouragement of Croatian secessionism’. They have done this despite a complete failure to uncover any evidence to support their thesis.
David N. Gibbs in First do no Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009) is the latest author to attempt to breathe life into the corpse of this myth, arguing that ‘Croatian leaders were assured, well in advance, that Germany, the dominant power in Europe, would support their efforts to establish an independent state and to secede from Yugoslavia’ (p. 78) and ‘the key EC state of Germany was clearly in favour of breaking up Yugoslavia, and was actively encouraging secession’ (p. 91). Rarely have I seen such cynical misuse of sources.
1) For example, Gibbs quotes the memoirs of the former German foreign minister Hans Dietrich Genscher as follows:
‘Genscher himself was openly sympathetic toward the secessionists. In his memoirs, he stated: “It was important for us to establish that the Yugoslav peoples alone had the right to freely determine the future of their nation” – with the implication that the Yugoslav central government could not veto this right. Genscher also affirmed “an individual nation’s ‘right to secede’ from the larger [Yugoslav] polity.’ (Gibbs, p. 79)
Yet here are some statements from Genscher’s memoirs that Gibbs omitted to quote:
‘When it came to recognising Croatia and Slovenia, the Vatican displayed extreme reluctance. During my visit in [sic] the Vatican on November 29, 1991, this attempt to remain aloof was particularly apparent. I understood that attitude; the accusation that on this issue the Vatican and West Germany formed a “conspiracy” is therefore very wide of the mark. No one outside of Yugoslavia was interested in the least in the dissolution of Yugoslavia; it was only the pan-Serbian strife [sic] for hegemony that set the country’s dissolution in motion‘ (Hans Dietrich Genscher, Rebuilding a House Divided, Broadway Books, New York, p. 91)
‘On Wednesday, March 20, [1991,] I received Slovenia’s president Milan Kucan and Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel; they also spoke of their concerns and of Slovenia’s increasing move to independence. I urged them to proceed slowly and above all to take no unilateral steps but to be alert to opportunities to hold the confederation together in some other constitutional form. Especially in view of our delicate, historically burdened relationship with the region, two aspects were of particular importance to German foreign policy: one, not to encourage centrifugal tendencies, and two, to make no unilateral changes in our policy toward Yugoslavia.’ (Genscher, p. 491)
‘To return to the situation in mid-1991: From June 19 to 20 the first conference of the CSCE Council of Foreign Ministers was held in Berlin. As the host nation, Germany chaired the meeting. Before the conference, I received a few foreign ministers for bilateral talks. Among them was Yugoslavia’s foreign minister, Budomir [sic] Loncar, because I wanted to discuss with him first of all the question of how to deal with the issue of Yugoslavia – as might be expected, one of the core topics of the conference. Once again we were impelled to emphasise our interest in maintaining a unified but democratic and federated nation; the conference must remain true to the principles established by the Paris Charter a few months earlier.’ (Genscher, pp. 492-493)
So a source quoted selectively and tendentiously by Gibbs to try and squeeze out something approaching ‘evidence’ for his thesis that Germany encouraged Croatia’s secession actually provides rather more evidence that Germany supported a unified Yugoslavia at the time Croatia declared independence in June 1991 [NB since Gibbs falsely accuses me of being unable to read German, I should make clear that I am quoting the English translation of Genscher's memoirs because Gibbs himself relies on the translation, and does not use the German original].
2) Likewise, Gibbs quotes the study of Germany’s policy toward Croatia in 1991 written by former German diplomat Michael Libal (Limits of Persuasion: Germany and the Yugoslav Crisis, 1991, 1992, Praeger, Westport and London, 1997): ‘on 18 July the decision was made in Belgrade to completely withdraw the JNA from Slovenia;… in Germany a sense of euphoria prevailed.’ (Gibbs, p. 94).
Yet Libal’s book in fact demolishes the view that Germany encouraged Croatia to secede; in Libal’s words, ‘No German official advocated the encouragement of separatist tendencies within the Yugoslav republics.’ Libal describes the ‘good, if not excellent relations between Bonn and Belgrade, which Genscher had been building up since the early 1970s… It was almost a special relationship: Germany acted as Yugoslavia’s advocate in the European Community (EC) and was instrumental in bringing about closer cooperation between the two.’ Consequently, ‘Given this excellent state of relations and the strong position Germany enjoyed throughout the whole of Yugoslavia, any idea of destabilising that country and encouraging its breakup would have been lunacy. Yugoslavia as a unitary state was a perfect partner for Germany, as no smaller, more troubled and more difficult partner, or possibly even client state, could ever be expected to be.’ (Libal, p. 5) Gibbs simply ignores the copious testimony and documentation provided by Libal that runs counter to Gibbs’s thesis, treating it as though it does not exist.
3) And again, although he includes in his bibliography the book by Richard Caplan, Europe and the Recognition of New States in Yugoslavia (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005), Gibbs does not bother to inform his readers of what Caplan wrote, which is that
‘Until fighting erupted at the end of June, Germany had, along with the rest of the EC, supported the continued unity of Yugoslavia. As late as 19 June 1991, Germany voted in favour of a statement by the Conference of Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) expressing support for the “unity and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia”; in fact, it was Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German foreign minister, who supplied the text of the statement. Even after Slovenia’s and Croatia’s declarations of independence, Germany supported the West European Union (WEU) declaration of 27 June that expressed regret at “the recent unilateral decisions” of the two republics, and urged all political authorities in Yugoslavia to “resume the dialogue with a view to securing the unity of the state”.’ (Caplan, p. 18).
Gibbs does not attempt to tackle this evidence.
4) Or another example of misrepresentation: Gibbs cites an anonymous source in the New Yorker, allegedly a US diplomat who was claiming that Genscher ‘was encouraging the Croats to leave the federation and declare independence.’ Gibbs admits: ‘It is difficult to fully assess this allegation, given the anonymity of the source. However, the New Yorker allegation is supported by the memoirs of US ambassador Warren Zimmermann, which note “Genscher’s tenacious decision to rush the independence of Slovenia and Croatia” [Gibbs's emphasis].’ Gibbs then claims in the endnote to this sentence: ‘Note that Zimmermann does not say that Genscher rushed the international recognition of Slovenia’s and Croatia’s independence; he makes the much more provocative statement that Genscher rushed independence.’ (p. 249)
Yet this is simply untrue, as Zimmermann in his memoirs nowhere accuses the Germans of encouraging Croatia’s secession, but does criticise them for supporting Croatia’s recognition; the idea that when Zimmermann referred to Genscher having ‘rushed independence’ he really meant ‘rushed secession’ is sheer wishful thinking on Gibbs’s part.
5) Yet perhaps the most egregious example of Gibbs’s distortion of sources is his claim that ‘German support for secession and for breaking up Yugoslavia is also noted by former Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia, James Bissett and by Croatian nationalist Stjepan Mesic’ (p. 79). Bissett is frequently cited by Gibbs, who fails to inform his readers that he is a Srebrenica genocide denier and defender of Milosevic, therefore not an entirely reliable source, and that Bissett’s supposed ‘noting’ of German support for Croatian secession is merely an unsubstantiated allegation.
As for Mesic, it turns out in Gibbs’s endnote that he does not in fact ‘note’ German support for Croatia’s secession at all. Gibbs’s supposed evidence for his claim is an extract from Milosevic’s trial, in which Milosevic is questioning prosecution witness Milan Kucan about what Mesic said on a TV programme in which they (Mesic and Kucan) appeared together. Milosevic states ‘Mesic declared that the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of German Hans-Dietrich Genscher and the Pope John Paul II, by the direct agreement and support designed to break up the former Yugoslavia had practically contributed most to that actually happening’, and Kucan replied ‘Those were the stance of Mr Mesic’.
The supposed ‘noting’ by Mesic of Genscher’s support for Croatia’s secession thus turns out to be actually testimony not from Mesic but from Kucan, who appears to be confirming what Milosevic said. Gibbs considers the extract from the trial to be sufficiently significant that he reproduces the sentence by Milosevic, and puts Kucan’s reply in emphasis: ‘Those were the stance of Mr Mesic’ (Gibbs, p. 250).
What Gibbs does not tell his readers, is that in the following lines of the transcript, not only does Kucan state clearly that he cannot remember what Mesic said, but Milosevic makes clear that the reference is to Genscher’s support for Croatian independence after it was declared, not before.
This is what Milosevic said:
‘Let us just specify something else, please. Do you remember that at the time Mesic said that he came to Belgrade, to the highest position in the federation in order to, through the mediation of the Yugoslav diplomacy at the time, to get in touch with the most influential factors and to persuade them that the survival of Yugoslavia was nonsense? And I have a quotation: “I wanted to convey that the idea of the break-up of Yugoslavia to those who had the greatest influence on its fate, to Genscher and the Pope. In fact, I had three meetings with Genscher. He enabled a contact with the Holy See. The Pope and Genscher agreed with the total break-up of SFRY.” Was that what he said?‘
The ‘highest position in the federation’, i.e. the presidency, was a position Mesic assumed only at the end of June 1991, after Croatia had already seceded.
This is what Kucan replied:
‘Your Honours, this programme which I participated together with Mr. Mesic, I can confirm that. But to be able to confirm each and every word, I’d need either a transcript or a video in order to be able to confirm it. These are very weighty words, and to testify like this wouldn’t — just wouldn’t do.’
So Mesic was not ‘noting’ that Genscher had supported Croatia’s secession. And Milosevic was not alleging that Mesic had ‘noted’ this. And Kucan was not confirming that what Milosevic said was true. Gibbs has simply falsified the source yet again.
7) In his endnotes, Gibbs writes, ‘In memoirs, the Slovene defense minister Janez Jansa downplays the role of foreign support, but he concedes that by July 1, “Genscher strongly supported our cause”.’ (Gibbs, p. 249). Of course, this citation merely suggests that Germany supported Slovenia’s cause after independence had already been declared, not that Germany actually encouraged secession.
What Gibbs does not tell his readers is that, according to Jansa, Germany actually discouraged Slovenia from declaring independence. Jansa writes ‘Even the German parliament in its debate in February 1991 did not support our dissociation from Yugoslavia’ (Janez Jansa, ‘The Making of the Slovenian State 1988-1992: The Collapse of Yugoslavia’, Zalozba Mladinska knjiga, Lljubljana, 1994, p. 91)
8 ) Gibbs cites the opinion of journalist David Halberstam: ‘According to David Halberstam: “The Slovenians were already aware [by February 1990] that the Germans… favoured their independence.”‘ The opinion of a journalist with no expertise on the former Yugoslavia does not count for much; particularly so in this case, as in February 1990, the pro-independence nationalists had not even taken power in Slovenia, which was still ruled by Communists formally committed to Yugoslav unity !
9) Gibbs’s last remaining ‘source’ that Germany encouraged Croatia to secede is a statement by the State Department official John Bolton, but this turns out to be another case of misrepresentation. Gibbs writes ‘State Department official John Bolton later stated that Germany “induced the Slovenes and the Croats to jump ship,” that is, to leave the federation.’ (Gibbs, p. 79)
Yet when the quote is given in full, there is no suggestion that Bolton was accusing Germany of having induced Croatia and Slovenia to secede before they did so; merely that he accused Germany of having induced the EU states to recognise their independence after they had done so:
‘Initially, Germany, based largely on its historical interests in the region, insisted that EU members recognize the independence of Slovenia and Croatia. While this precipitous change alone was not enough to cause the ensuing carnage and ethnic cleansing in the region, Bosnia-Herzegovina unquestionably saw a declaration of independence as the only way to extricate itself from Serbia’s grasp, hoping thereby to find security in a united European front against Serbian force. Having thus induced the Slovenes and Croats to jump ship, and having pushed the Bosnians, Germany then concluded that it was constitutionally barred from undertaking any military activities that might actually stop the Serbian (or Croat) war machine.’
Thus, none of Gibbs’s sources turns out to support his contention that Germany encouraged Croatia or Slovenia to secede from Yugoslavia, and some actually refute it.
10) Gibbs also claims that ‘French Air Force general Pierre M. Gallois asserts that Germany began supplying arms to Croatia, including antitank and antiaircraft rockets, in early 1991 – before the war began.’ (Gibbs, p. 78) He neglects to tell his readers that Gallois was – like his favourite source James Bissett – another Milosevic supporter, who actually wrote a preface to a book comprising a dialogue between Milosevic and one of his other supporters, and to which Milosevic also contributed the foreword, entitled ‘The trial of Milosevic or the indictment of the Serb people’. In this book, Gallois praises Milosevic for his ‘intelligence’ and his ‘honour’. The value of his assertion that Germany had been arming Croatia from early 1991 should be assessed with this allegiance in mind.
11) There remains Gibbs’s claim that Germany was involved in building up Croatia’s intelligence services prior to Croatia’s declaration of independence:
‘Germany’s covert intervention began in 1990, while Yugoslavia was still an integral state. In that year, German officials from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BFV), a subdivision of the Interior Ministry, assisted in building up Croatia’s intelligence service, the National Security Office (UNS). In the course of this activity, German officials would openly collaborate with extreme nationalists in Franjo Tudjman’s HDZ party. This early German intervention, though little known, is nevertheless well documented.’ (Gibbs, p. 77)
Since, as Gibbs has pointedly informed us in his reply to my first post about him, he is a ‘tenured full professor’, it is surprising to learn what he considers the definition of ‘well documented’ to be: in this case, two short articles, neither of which provides any evidence or even references to back up its assertions, which do not even support Gibbs’s assertions, which contradict each other, and one of which is the work of a Srebrenica-genocide-denying outfit of extreme-right-wing Islamophobic crackpots.
The first of these articles, ‘Croatia’s intelligence services’ by Marko Milivojevic, published in Jane’s Intelligence Review on 1 September 1994, has this to say: ‘Dating back to as early as 1990, when Croatia was still a constituent republic of an internationally recognised state, German involvement with Croatia’s intelligence services began with the UNS whose name was a direct copy of Germany’s BfV (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.’ Milivojevic does not provide any evidence to back up his claim. Be this as it may, he merely speaks vaguely of Germany’s ‘involvement’ with Croatia’s UNS at this stage; he does not claim what Gibbs claims, that German intelligence began ‘building up’ Croatia’s UNS already in 1990. His article covers the period up to 1994; he writes that ‘As regards the type of assistance provided by Germany to Croatia’s intelligence services, staff training has reportedly been the most important input.’ Gibbs has turned this unsourced ‘reportedly’ into ‘well documented’, and simply assumed it refers to as far back as 1990.
Milivojevic does not give any sources, but he appears to have simply regurgitated a lot of the allegations made in Gibbs’s other source, which Gibbs cites second in his book but which was actually published first: Gregory Copley, ‘FRG helps develop Croatian security’, Defense and Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, February-March 1994. This article claims that ‘The Croatian leadership decided, at the beginning of 1991, to organise its own intelligence and security services.’ It thereby contradicts the claim made by Milivojevic, that these intelligence services already existed in 1990, and Gibbs’s claim, that Germany was already ‘building up’ Croatia’s intelligence services in 1990. This article claims that ‘German intelligence officers provided significant support and training at all stages, both in Croatia and in Germany.’ It does, therefore, agree with Gibbs that the support and training began, if not in 1990, then at least at the start of 1991, prior to Croatia’s declaration of independence. It does not, however, provide any evidence to back up its allegations.
The value of Copley, president of the ‘International Strategic Studies Association‘ as an authority on the war in the former Yugoslavia may be gleaned by the fact that he has made statements such as the following: ‘the Clinton Administration had, during the war, facilitated the Islamist terrorist activities because of the Clinton Administration’s need to demonize the Serbs in order to provide a casus belli for US-led military actions in the area to distract from domestic US political problems’. Copley condemned the possibility of ‘an admission of guilt of Serbs for killing thousands of Muslims who, in fact, were not known to have been killed. Several hundred bodies have been found as a result of the fighting in and around Srebrenica, but the Islamists and their supporters have claimed figures which grow higher with each telling, with figures now claiming some 15,000 alleged deaths.’ Furthermore, according to Copley, ‘the Islamist propaganda [regarding Srebrenica], supported by Ashdown — who has long been disavowed in the UK by his former colleagues in the Royal Marines because of his unequivocal acceptance of Islamist propaganda — is accepted as fact by the R[epublika] S[rpska] Government, thereby admitting guilt for crimes never committed.’
Indeed, Copley is a member of a body of Srebrenica deniers who went on record in September 2003 to claim that ‘the official alleged casualty number of 7,000 victims’ is ‘vastly inflated and unsupported by evidence.’
That, then, is the sort of source that Gibbs relies on to ‘prove’ that Germany encouraged the secession of Croatia.
With thanks to DW and JG
Update: Gibbs has admitted his inability to respond: ’I will make no pretense that I answer all of Hoare’s allegations, which I find impossible, given the huge quantity of his charges.’ Anyone who has followed this exchange will draw the appropriate conclusions, though the sort of bone-headed left-wing fundamentalists who read his book and subscribe to his thesis won’t be put off by any refutation, however crushing. For who cares about the truth when you uphold the righteous ideology of ‘anti-imperialism’, right ?
I posted the following conclusion about Gibbs at Americans for Bosnia:
‘Quite apart from Gibbs’s deficiencies as a scholar, the reason why he and similar revisionists fail so badly is that – as I mentioned in my initial post about him – they don’t treat the wars in the former Yugoslavia as a serious subject of scholarly enquiry, but merely as another battlefield for their ideological campaign against “Western imperialism”.
Any attempt at open-minded research would force them to examine carefully then abandon as worthless the Serb-nationalist or “anti-imperialist” myths about the wars, and to develop more objective interpretations. But since their priority is to uphold the myths, not to carry out open-minded research, they are stuck supporting the ridiculous.
In trying to write a book on that basis, Gibbs failed as soon as he began.’
[This is the second part of my four-part refutation of David N. Gibbs's book 'First Do No Harm'. In Part 1, I expose his attempts to blame the Bosniak victims for the bloodshed in the Srebrenica region. In this second part, I refute his response to me. In Part 3, I refute his attempt to justify Serb-nationalist territorial claims in Bosnia. In Part 4, I refute his attempt to blame Germany for the break-up of Yugoslavia.]
David N. Gibbs has responded to my post of 6 December (‘The bizarre world of genocide denial’), in which I take him to task for his book First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009), in which he denies the Srebrenica genocide and regurgitates the old denialist narrative about the break-up of Yugoslavia, despite his own lack of any expertise in the field, inability to read Serbo-Croat and unwillingness to engage with the existing scholarly literature on the subject.
‘In undertaking these attacks, however, Hoare has omitted important information, which readers have a right to know: That the book presented an extended critique of Hoare’s own publications on this topic, and so he is not a disinterested party. To be specific, my book criticized Hoare’s work for shoddy scholarship, which included mischaracterizing the ethnic makeup of the Yugoslav National Army (p. 252), omitting information that the US sabotaged Bosnian peace talks (262), providing an inaccurate account of testimonies before the Hague tribunal (274), and neglecting evidence of Al Qaeda involvement in Bosnia (280). I understand Hoare’s anger that I have criticized his work, but he really should let readers know when he has a vested interest in a book that he is reviewing.’
I shall deal shortly with the specific points Gibbs raises, but let us first make this clear: it is wholly untrue that Gibbs’s book has ‘presented an extended critique’ of my own publications. Anyone reading Gibbs’s book without examining carefully the endnotes would not even notice that I had been criticised at all: my name does not appear in the text itself, nor in the index. Gibbs has four trivial quibbles with me, buried in his endnotes. Gibbs does not, as he now claims, accuse me in his book of ‘shoddy scholarship’, and has made this accusation only in his subsequent reply to me. I cannot help but suspect that he has only decided I am guilty of ‘shoddy scholarship’ after reading my critique of his book.
If my own mum, dad, best friend, girlfriend or granny had reviewed my work, and come up with nothing more substantial than Gibbs’s four quibbles, I’d feel I was getting off lightly and that they were being too soft on me. If all four of his quibbles were entirely justified, I hardly think they would mark me down as a ‘shoddy scholar’.
However, not one of them is justified. Let us look at them each in turn:
1) I wrote ‘At the start of the war, in 1991, the two most senior JNA [Yugoslav People's Army] officers, Federal Secretary of People’s Defence Veljko Kadijevic and JNA Chief of Staff Blagoje Adzic, were a Croatian Serb and a Bosnian Serb respectively (though Kadijevic had a Croat mother). They ensured the JNA would act as Serbia’s army in the wars against Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina.’ (The History of Bosnia: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day, Saqi, London, 2007, p. 349)
Gibbs replied ‘Marko Hoare provides the following misleading statement [above quote]. Hoare neglects to mention Kadijevic’s deputy, Admiral Brovet, who was a Slovene, nor does he mention the JNA Air Force commander, General Jurjevic, who was a Croat.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 83)
Gibbs is right that I did not mention that Kadijevic’s deputy was a Slovene or that the JNA air force commander was a Croat, but it is unclear what point he thinks he is making. My statement was entirely accurate; Gibbs is not challenging the accuracy of my statement; and the additional information he supplies does not invalidate my statement in any way. I also did not mention – and Gibbs did not mention either – that Adzic’s deputy Zivota Panic was also a Serb. And that consequently, at the start of the war in 1991, the four top posts in the JNA were held by two Serbs, one non-Serb, and one half-Serb (who had a Croat mother but who sided with Milosevic and Serbia in the war against Croatia).
Another fact that is relevant here is that in 1990 the JNA officer corps was – irrespective of the presence in it of individuals like Brovet and Jurjevic – a Serb-dominated body. James Gow writes in his 1992 study of the JNA that ‘Sixty per cent of officers were Serb; a further 5.4 per cent were “Yugoslavs” and likely to be Serbs; and 6.2 per cent Montenegrins. These all shared a perspective of Yugoslavia that coincided in many ways with that of the neo-Communist Serbian leadership’ (James Gow, Legitimacy and the Military: The Yugoslav Crisis, Pinter Publishers, London, 1992, p. 142).
I can only assume that by mentioning that the deputy secretary of defence and the air force commander in 1991 were non-Serbs, Gibbs is trying to obscure the fact of the Serb domination of the JNA. If so, it is an extremely feeble attempt.
2) I wrote that ‘during negotiations at Lisbon on 18 March 1992… Izetbegovic was pressurised by representatives of the EU to agree to the partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina into a Muslim, a Serb and a Croat national entity, though he subsequently repudiated the agreement.’ (The History of Bosnia from the Middle Ages to the Present Day, p. 376)
Gibbs replied: ‘Marko Hoare misleadingly implies that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on his own initiative; but Hoare neglects to mention the US role in encouraging Izetbegovic’s decision.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 264).
As readers can see for themselves from what I wrote, I did not imply ‘that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on his own initiative’, as Gibbs claims. I merely noted that Izetbegovic repudiated the agreement, which he did. Gibbs is not disputing the accuracy of my statement. He is claiming that by stating a fact that he himself accepts as accurate, I am being ‘misleading’.
The subtext of Gibbs’s accusation that I am being ‘misleading’ is that I did not specifically endorse the thesis, which he subsequently repeats in his own book, that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on the prompting of the US, and specifically of the US ambassador to Yugoslavia, Warren Zimmermann. Yet this thesis is at best - at best – unproven and controversial. To cut a long story short, the rumour that Izetbegovic repudiated the Lisbon agreement on Zimmermann’s prompting appears to have originated with an article in The New York Times written a year and a half later, in August 1993, by the journalist David Binder. Binder was highly sympathetic to the Serb-nationalist side in the war – readers are invited to read his grovelling 1994 interview with Ratko Mladic. Nevertheless, Binder does not actually say that Zimmermann told Izetbegovic to repudiate the agreement, merely that he asked Izetbegovic why he had signed the agreement if he didn’t like it, and that Izetbegovic repudiated the agreement after his conversation with Zimmermann. In his memoirs, Zimmermann does not deny asking Izetbegovic why he had signed an agreement he did not like, but nevertheless claims he urged Izetbegovic to abide by the agreement: ‘Drawing on my instructions to support whatever could be worked out between the European Community and the three Bosnian parties, I encouraged Izetbegovic to stick by what he’d agreed to.’ (Warren Zimmermann, Origins of a Catastrophe, Times Books, New York, p. 190).
That is, in essence, the basis for the thesis propounded by Gibbs and others – that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on American prompting. The sources Gibbs (First Do No Harm, p. 110) then cites in its support are the following:
a) Robert M. Hayden’s book, Blueprint for a House Divided: The Constitutional Logic of the Yugoslav Conflicts (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1999), p. 100. This is a reference falsely cited by Gibbs, as Hayden merely notes that the Muslims and Croats repudiated the agreement, without attributing it to US prompting.
b) The aforementioned Binder article.
c) The opinion of George Kenney, a man who in September 2004 wrote to Milosevic to tell him that ‘I believed then and still believe that you are innocent of all the charges in the Tribunal’s indictments.’
d) The opinion of James Bissett, a defence witness for Milosevic at his trial in The Hague, who complained that ‘he felt Milosevic had been unfairly painted as an instigator of the crisis when in fact he had worked tirelessly to keep Yugoslavia united’, and accused Milosevic’s trial of being ‘a Stalinist show-trial’ (mysteriously, Bissett’s support for Milosevic is never mentioned by Gibbs, even though he is one of Gibbs’s most oft-cited sources !)
e) The Dutch government’s NIOD report on Srebrenica. Although it is true that this source claims (based on the aforementioned Binder article) that the US opposed the Lisbon agreement, it does not – contrary to what Gibbs implies – claim that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on US prompting. What it says is this: ‘According to others Izetbegovic withdrew his acceptance on the urging of the American ambassador in Belgrade, Warren Zimmermann. It is not unimaginable that the American government did indeed tell Izetbegovic that he could achieve more by sticking to the principle of an integral Bosnia-Hercegovina that was about to be recognized.’
f) The testimony of Cutileiro himself, who wrote in December 1995 that ‘Izetbegovic and his aides were encouraged to scupper that deal [from Lisbon] by well meaning outsiders.’ Gibbs notes that ‘this was probably a polite reference to US activities’. I agree with Gibbs on this point, that Cutileiro probably was referring to the Americans – still, note his use of the word ‘probably’.
g) The testimony of Britain’s Lord Carrington, who claimed later that the ‘American administration made it quite clear that the proposals of Cutileiro… were unacceptable’ and ‘The Americans actually sent them [the Bosnians] a telegram telling them not to agree’. Neither quotation actually states that the Americans prompted Izetbegovic to repudiate the agreement after he had already signed it. Indeed, the wording of the second quotation rather suggests that the telegram in question was sent before Izetbegovic signed the agreement (advising him not to agree), not after he had done so (advising him to repudiate something to which he had already agreed). In any case, the claim that Izetbegovic repudiated the agreement on the basis of a telegram from the US contradicts the claim that he repudiated the agreement on the basis of a face-to-face meeting with Zimmermann.
So, that is the evidence for Gibbs’s case that Izetbegovic repudiated the Lisbon agreement on US prompting – it can most charitably be described as inconclusive. Gibbs, however, simply states that Zimmermann ‘encouraged Izetbegovic to reject the peace plan’ (p. 110), as if it were a definite fact. He puts the evidence for his case in the actual text of his book (p. 110), but buries the evidence against it – Zimmermann’s denial – in his endnotes (p. 264).
(NB A skeptic might simply dismiss Zimmermann’s testimony on the grounds that he is an interested party, but this is not something that Gibbs can do, because he treats Zimmermann’s testimony as gospel truth whenever it supports his own argument, e.g. on pages 84 and 96 of his book).
I remain unconvinced by the case against Zimmermann. I am ready to accept that Cutileiro probably sincerely believes that the US prompted Izetbegovic to repudiate the agreement. I am ready to accept that Carrington may have sincerely believed the same thing – if that is indeed what his quotes were claiming, which isn’t clear. I am ready to accept that these two (unlike Bissett and Kenney) are witnesses whose opinions count for something. However, I very much doubt that Zimmermann would have lied about urging Izetbegovic to abide by the agreement. Readers may disagree.
But I challenge anyone to say, hand on heart, that Gibbs is right to accuse me of being ‘misleading’ because I mentioned Izetbegovic’s repudiation of the Lisbon agreement without specifically endorsing his unproven thesis. I would rather suggest that it is Gibbs who is being misleading, for a) presenting the opinions of Bissett and Kenney as evidence, without telling his readers of their support for Milosevic; b) failing to inform his readers of Binder’s pro-Serb-nationalist bias; c) burying Zimmermann’s testimony, that contradicts his thesis, in the endnotes of his book; and d) falsely claiming that Hayden and the NIOD report support his thesis about the repudiation of the Lisbon agreement, when they don’t.
3) I wrote of the UK’s David Owen, that ‘he refused to testify against Milosevic at the latter’s trial at The Hague, though he appeared as a court witness to speak favourably of Milosevic’s contribution to the peace process’ (The History of Bosnia from the Middle Ages to the Present Day, p. 379).
Gibbs replied ‘Marko Hoare criticizes Owen because he “refused to testify against Milosevic at the latter’s trial at The Hague”. See Hoare, The History of Bosnia [above reference]. In fact, the ICTY Web site lists Owen as a prosecution witness.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 274).
4) I wrote ‘Insofar as it cannot be excluded that al-Qa’ida ever had a presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina, this is hardly exceptional by European standards; as the international community’s High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch pointed out in November 2001, “after all, the organisation had a base in Hamburg”.’ (How Bosnia Armed, London, Saqi, 2004, p. 133)
I also wrote ‘The 11 September attack inevitably provided a golden opportunity for enemies of Bosnia-Herzegovina, above all from the ranks of the Serb nationalists and right-wing and left-wing fundamentalists in the West, to equate the Izetbegovic regime and the Bosnian Army with the fanatic Islamists of al-Qa’ida. This version of events upholds the popular stereotype of bin Laden as a master villain on the model of James Bond’s arch-enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld, at the head of an organisation similar to ‘SPECTRE’ with tentacles all over the world, one of which was allegedly linked to the Izetbegovic regime, a second to the Kosovo Liberation Army and a third to the ethnic-Albanian National Liberation Army in Macedonia… The “Bosnia – bin Laden” conspiracy theory belongs to this category of the farcical’ (How Bosnia Armed, pp. 134-135).
Gibbs replied: ‘Marko Hoare is dismissive about the possibility of an Al Qaeda role in Bosnia; he refers to the “Bosnia-Bin Laden” conspiracy theory” which “belongs in this category of the farcical.” Hoare, How Bosnia Armed (London: Saqi Books and Bosnia [sic] Institute, 2004), 134, 135. In fact, Holbrooke has since confirmed the Al Qaeda role in Bosnia.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 280).
As the above quotations from my book make clear, I explicitly did not deny that Al Qa’ida had a presence in Bosnia; I did, however, deny that Izetbegovic’s regime was linked to Al Qa’ida. This was the “Bosnia – bin Laden conspiracy theory” to which I was referring, as Gibbs is well aware. All three of the books he uses to ‘prove’ the uncontested fact that Al Qa’ida had a presence in Bosnia are books that I have reviewed in detail. Of the first of these, Evan Kohlmann’s Al Qaida’s Jihad in Europe (Berg, Oxford and New York, 2004), I had this to say back in 2005: ‘In fact, it is as eloquent a refutation as one could hope to read of the idea that Izetbegovic’s Bosnian Muslims were in any way ideological fellow travellers of Al-Qaida, or its partners in terrorist activity.’ The other two books are propaganda tracts of the First Do No Harm variety, that I have refuted point-by-point.
On the basis of the above, I feel justified in saying that Gibbs’s claims to have undertaken an ‘extended critique’ of my work, and to have exposed my ‘shoddy scholarship’, are mere wishful thinking. But what about the rest of his reply to me ? Let us consider his points in turn.
I) Gibbs’s whitewashing of Serb atrocities in East Bosnia
As readers may recall, in my initial critique of Gibbs, this was the specific charge that I made:
‘For the time being, I mention him [Gibbs] because he practices the old denialist trick in relation to the Srebrenica massacre, of describing the military actions of the Bosnian military commander in the Srebrenica region, Naser Oric – involving attacks on Serb villages around Srebrenica and atrocities against Serb civilians – while neglecting to mention the incomparably larger-scale Serbian offensives that preceded Oric’s actions, and to which the latter were a response.’
Gibbs’s response is that he wrote the following: ‘As war began [in 1992], Serb forces launched a major offensive in northeast Bosnia, taking over a series of villages of mixed ethnicity, and then expelling most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force. By the end of 1992, Serb forces had overrun large portions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and they controlled approximately 70 percent of the whole area of the country. The process of ethnic cleansing, for which the war became famous, had begun… The Bosnia conflict quickly became notorious for the scale of atrocities, especially those perpetrated by Serb forces against Muslim civilians. The widespread practice of ethnic cleansing was often associated with the killing of noncombatants, and also the raping of women and girls.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 122).
Gibbs’s self-quotation is misleading, because he has actually conflated two paragraphs from two different sub-chapters, joining them with an ellipsis where they are, in his book, actually separated by a sub-chapter heading (‘The Politics of Atrocities’). His paragraph beginning ‘The Bosnia conflict quickly became notorious for the scale of atrocities…’ represents his general evaluation of the war as a whole, rather than anything relating specifically to the start of the war in north-east Bosnia in 1992.
Thus, the only statement in his book that he can even remotely pretend represents an acknowledgement that Serb atrocities against Muslims in East Bosnia preceded Muslim atrocities against Serbs in the same region, is the following:
‘As war began [in 1992], Serb forces launched a major offensive in northeast Bosnia, taking over a series of villages of mixed ethnicity, and then expelling most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force. By the end of 1992, Serb forces had overrun large portions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and they controlled approximately 70 percent of the whole area of the country. The process of ethnic cleansing, for which the war became famous, had begun.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 122).
The first problem here is that he refers only to ‘northeast Bosnia’, and Srebrenica is not really in northeast Bosnia – it would be a bit like claiming that Birmingham is in ‘northwestern England’. Even if one is charitable to Gibbs’s vagueness about Bosnian geography, and assumes his reference to the start of fighting in ‘northeast Bosnia’ encompasses territory as far south as Srebrenica, he is nevertheless referring only to the ‘expelling [of] most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force’. No reference to mass murder of civilians, rapes, torture, concentration camps or, indeed, any actual bodily harm to Muslim civilians in the course of this offensive.
Gibbs does not explicitly mention the Srebrenica region until thirty-one pages and several sub-chapters later, and when he does, this is how he presents it:
‘The Srebrenica safe area had an especially brutal history, and it was besieged by Serb forces throughout the war. It is important to note, however, that Muslim troops also behaved brutally. Especially problematic was the Muslim commander Brigadier Oric, who based his forces inside Srebrenica and conducted forays against Serb villages in the surrounding region. One UNPROFOR commander later described Oric’s activities as follows: “Oric engaged in attacks during Orthodox holidays and destroyed [Serb] villages, massacring all the inhabitants. This created a degree of hatred that was quite extraordinary in the [Srebrenica] region… [Oric] reigned by terror;… he could not allow himself to take prisoners. According to my recollections he didn’t even look for an excuse. It was simply a statement: One can’t be bothered with prisoners.“‘ (First Do No Harm, pp. 153-154).
So the Srebrenica region is introduced to the reader in a manner that implies it is the Muslims, rather than the Serb forces, who initiated the violence (‘created a degree of hatred’ there). Whereas Gibbs refers to Serb forces in northeast Bosnia merely ‘expelling most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force’ – without any reference to killing, rape or torture, and without any reference to atrocities against Muslims in the Srebrenica region – he refers to Muslim forces in the Srebrenica region in terms of ‘massacring all the [Serb] inhabitants’; ‘reigned by terror’, ‘could not allow himself to take prisoners’. And let us remember here that he is speaking this way about Srebrenica – the site of an act of genocide by Serbs against Muslims; a genocide that two different international courts have recognised but which Gibbs explicitly denies (‘Certainly, the murder of eight thousand people is a grave crime, but to call it “genocide” needlessly exaggerates the scale of the crime.’ First Do No Harm, p. 281)
Having blamed the Muslims for initiating the killing in the Srebrenica region in the first place, Gibbs then goes on to accuse them of precipitating the Srebrenica massacre itself in 1995: ‘The origin of the Srebrenica massacre lay in a series of Muslim attacks that began in the spring of 1995.’ (Gibbs, p. 160) Thus, he not only explicitly denies the genocide, but blames the genocidal crime on the victims.
II) Gibbs’s disregard of the existing scholarly literature on the Bosnian war.
Gibbs writes: ‘Hoare also claims that Gibbs “hasn’t bothered to engage with the existing literature, but simply ignored all the existing works that undermine his thesis.” He then lists five specific authors that I supposedly failed to cite (Michael Libal, Richard Caplan, Daniele Corversi, Brendan Simms, and Hoare himself). Wrong again. In fact I cited four of these authors, each several times, and also included them in the bibliography. Hoare’s own writings were cited in four separate endnotes. His claim that I have ignored these authors is thus baseless.’
Since, as Gibbs pointedly mentions, he is a ‘tenured full professor’, I assumed he would understand the concept of ‘engaging with the existing literature’, but I apparently assumed too much. So let me spell this out: to ‘engage with the existing literature’ involves addressing the theses of books that make a significant contribution to our understanding of the topic. Quibbling over a couple of trivial details in a book you disagree with, while ignoring its overall theses and principal arguments, does not count as ‘engaging with the literature’. Attaching a book to one of your endnotes in order to support a factual point, while ignoring the overall theses and argument of the book that contradict your own thesis, does not count as ‘engaging with the literature’. And citing a book in support of your argument, despite the fact that the book’s overall thesis actually refutes your own thesis, certainly does not count as ‘engaging with the literature’.
For example, Gibbs argues that Germany encouraged the secession of Croatia and cites Michael Libal’s book Limits of Persuasion: Germany and the Yugoslav Crisis, 1991-1992 (Praeger, Westport, 1997) to show that the Germans felt ‘euphoria’ at the decision to withdraw the JNA from Slovenia (p. 94). Yet Libal’s book actually presents a documented refutation of the myth that Germany first encouraged Croatia to secede and then sought prematurely to recognise its independence – a refutation that Gibbs fails to address. Gibbs argues that Western policy was consistently anti-Serb, and cites Brendan Simms’s work Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia (Penguin, London, 2001) to show that Lord Carrington blamed the Americans for undermining the Lisbon agreement - but he ignores Simms’s extensively documented thesis demonstrating that British policy was anything but anti-Serb, and actually sought to shield Serbia and the Bosnian Serb forces from hostile intervention. As noted already, Gibbs quibbles with me over whether David Owen was a witness for the court or for the prosecution, but ignores the evidence I present of Western collusion with the Serbian destruction of Bosnia, of which my critique of Owen was just one element. And Gibbs wholly ignores the central aspect of the break-up of Yugoslavia noted by Daniele Conversi, Laura Silber and Allan Little and others – that Serbia’s leaders actively promoted Serbia’s secession from Yugoslavia. The documentary proof of this last one is wholly irrefutable – which is probably why Gibbs wholly ignores it.
III) Gibbs’s reliance on Michel Chossudovsky
Gibbs writes: ‘Hoare implies that my book relies too heavily on the writings of University of Ottawa economist Michel Chossudovsky, someone that Hoare does not like. In reality I cited Chossudovsky exactly once (out of more than a thousand separate endnotes).’
This statement is emblematic of Gibbs’s deliberate deception of his readers. It may be true that he has only cited Chossudovsky once out of more than a thousand endnotes (I’m not going to plough through his thousand plus endnotes to check, so will happily take his word for it). But my criticism was not that Gibbs relied on Chossudovsky for his thesis on the former Yugoslavia. Rather, I pointed out that he borrowed Chossudovsky’s thesis for his own thesis on Rwanda, which naturally occupied a rather smaller place in Gibbs’s book. His discussion of Rwanda occupies less than two pages of his book (pp. 219-220) and is supported by only two endnotes and two sources (excluding Samantha Power’s book, which he cites only in order to dismiss as representing the ‘conventional wisdom’). Chossudovsky is his principal source for Rwanda, though he advises his reader to ‘see also’ an article by another author (First Do No Harm, pp. 307-308). So Chossudovsky’s article is rather more important for this aspect of Gibbs’s argument than his misleading statistic of ‘more than a thousand separate endnotes’ suggests.
IV) Gibbs’s dismissal of me as an authority on the topic under discussion
Gibbs writes: ‘As is typical of his writing, Hoare grandiosely overstates his own accomplishments and presents himself as a leading authority on the topic of my book; he is not. In reality, my book was a study of the international relations of the Yugoslav wars, a topic on which Hoare has no qualifications. He also lacks access to German-language sources, which are crucial to understanding the diplomacy of this period. And given Hoare’s numerous factual errors, the scholarly content of his work is thin.’
Whether I am a ‘leading authority on the topic of Gibbs’s book’ is for others to decide, but I hope readers will not consider me unduly boastful if I say simply that I am considerably more of an authority on the topic of Gibbs’s book than Gibbs himself is. Gibbs’s bibliography contains six of his own publications, yet not one concerns the former Yugoslavia. I presume, therefore, that he has never published a single article on the former Yugoslavia in an academic journal, and that First Do No Harm is his first publication on the topic. He does not read any of the former Yugoslav languages. Wherein then does his claim to expertise in the topic lie ?
Since Gibbs is apparently a ‘ tenured full professor’, I am going to take his slur sufficiently seriously to answer it at some length. I have had articles on the history of Yugoslavia and its successor states in the 1980s and 1990s published in numerous academic journals, including East European Politics and Societies, East European Quarterly, Europe-Asia Studies, Journal of Slavic Military Studies, European History Quarterly and Journal of Genocide Research; my articles on the earlier history of the former Yugoslavia have appeared in a whole lot more. I am the author of the entry for ‘Yugoslavia and its successor states’ in the Oxford University Press volume The Oxford Handbook of Fascism (2009) edited by Richard Bosworth, which covers the Milosevic and Tudjman regimes; and of the entry for ‘The War of Yugoslav Succession’ in the Cambridge University Press volume Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989 (2010), edited by Sabrina Ramet. I am a member of the editorial boards of three different scholarly journals dealing with the former Yugoslavia, including a journal published by the Association for Political Science of Serbia. My books on the former Yugoslavia have been reviewed positively by leading scholarly journals including Slavic Review, Slavonic and East European Review, German History, European History Quarterly and Journal of Military History. To the best of my knowledge, I have never received a negative review in an academic journal – unlike Gibbs’s First Do No Harm, which was described by the Cambridge historian Dr Josip Glaurdic in a review in International Affairs (vol. 86, no. 2, March 2010, pp. 555-556) as containing ‘glaring omissions and distortions’. And I have been invited to speak about the history of (the former) Yugoslavia, including its recent history, at academic conferences and seminars across Europe and in the US.
Thus, when someone who has not published a single journal article on the former Yugoslavia claims that the scholarly content of my work is thin, and that I have no qualifications concerning the international relations of the former Yugoslavia, I’m inclined not to take him very seriously.
V) Gibbs’s description of me in terms of ‘the second coming of Joe McCarthy’
Gibbs’s paranoia and self-pity are indicated by his entitling of his response to me ‘The second coming of Joe McCarthy’ and his claim that ‘Dr. Hoare and his network of neocon friends at the Bosnian Institute and the Henry Jackson Society have designated themselves as the new Thought Police, while conducting their own little witch hunt.’ This really does take the biscuit - I exercise my democratic right to freedom of expression by criticising Gibbs and his book, and he becomes a victim of McCarthyite persecution ! Of the Thought Police, no less !! No doubt he thinks because of my blog post, he’ll be hauled up before the House Committee on Un-American Activities or be arrested by the security forces of a Central American junta, or something like that.
Gibbs may be a bit hazy about what McCarthyism actually involved; suffice it to say that if McCarthy had been a lowly academic who sat quietly at his desk writing articles exposing genocide-denial and poor scholarship on the Balkans, he would not have attained quite such notoriety. And though Gibbs appears not to have actually read George Orwell’s 1984, I can assure him that the original Thought Police would not have been considered very terrifying if they had confined their totalitarian activities to writing book reviews and blog posts. Much as I would like to gratify Gibbs’s radical-left craving to feel persecuted, I am afraid that nobody I have ever criticised has suffered anything much worse than, perhaps, being exposed as a bad scholar and/or a genocide-denier. And that, I believe, is the point of democracy: that if a poor scholar denies a genocide, one is free to criticise them for being a poor scholar and genocide-denier. If Gibbs cannot deal with that, he should go and live somewhere where he can spout his poison without anyone calling him to account. Somewhere like Cuba or North Korea.
Merry Christmas to all my readers !
Update 1: Gibbs has proven completely unable to respond to my refutation of his attack on me, linked to above. In the meantime, further responses to his genocide-denial have been published by Daniel Toljaga and by Chroniclinghate.
Update 2: Daniel Toljaga has posted Part II of his critique of Gibbs.
Update 3: Modernity Blog has very graciously apologised to me for publishing Gibbs’s attack on me.
Update 4: Modernity Blog has evaluated my exchange with Gibbs in his comments box. He concludes: ‘Professor Gibbs seems to have made a conscious choice not to address the criticism of his work in any significant way… So it seems to me that whilst Professor Gibbs was given a splendid opportunity to deal with the criticism of his work, he didn’t. Whilst he could have engaged with the issues in the Balkans, he found other matters more pressing. All in all, Professor Gibbs showed a failure to address the issues, not a sparkling performance as you might expect. A missed opportunity.’
A rather incoherent and highly abusive personal attack against me has been posted by Graham Lloyd (‘Graham’) on Harry’s Place. Lloyd claims – without providing any evidence and solely on the basis of conjecture – that my issues with him and with Harry’s Place amount to a personal vendetta. This is not true. I hope anyone reading the post below will understand the real issues involved.
A great struggle is brewing all over Europe and beyond. On the one side stands the liberal order and its defenders, representing the values of secularism, internationalism, cosmopolitanism, pluralism and respect for human rights. On the other stands the forces of reaction, which itself is composed of two rival but essentially similar wings. Extremist Muslims (an unrepresentative minority among the Muslim communities of the democratic West) and certain fellow travellers on the extreme Left represent one wing of the anti-liberal reaction, and assault the liberal order under the banner of anti-Semitism (or ‘anti-Zionism’), anti-Westernism, anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism.
But it is the other wing that is the Western liberal order’s more dangerous enemy – if only because non-Muslims vastly outnumber Muslims, so there is a much larger constituency for this current of reaction to draw from. This current represents the white nativist reaction against the liberal order: anti-cosmopolitan, anti-EU, often anti-secular, but above all extremely nationalist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant. It is on the basis of hostility to Islam and to immigration that the new far-right is mounting its assault on liberal values and the Western liberal world.
The new far-right is populist; it employs the language of the gutter and upholds the morality of the mob. Anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant prejudice are merely the means by which it seeks to attack the liberal order, but the real target is the liberal order itself. Borrowing from the lexicon of the radical left, it speaks in the name of the ‘people’ and the ‘working class’ – or more revealingly, of the ‘white working class’, whose values it claims to be defending from a decadent liberal elite. It presents anti-racism, religious tolerance and political correctness as elitist values, against which it asserts its own form of moral relativism: it champions racism and Islamophobia among the native white majority – sometimes termed euphemistically the ‘white working class’ – as expressions of a healthy aversion to liberal elites that allegedly are soft on Muslims and allegedly favour immigrants over natives. It repackages the far-right parties’ vulgar, racist voters as noble rebels against multiculturalism.
Into this equation we now bring the Eustonite or ‘Decent’ Left. This political current of leftists and liberals arose in opposition to the left-liberal mainstream’s betrayal of liberal values – a betrayal manifested variously in apologias for Islamist terrorism, sympathy for dictators and ethnic-cleansers and flirtation with anti-Semitism. There is a superficial confluence between the Decent Left and the new far right, in that both arose as critiques of the Western liberal mainstream. But these two critiques are opposites, for whereas the Decent Left criticises the liberal mainstream because it doesn’t uphold liberal values properly, the new far right attacks the liberal mainstream because it does uphold liberal values. The Decent Left wants a better, tougher liberalism; the new far right opposes liberalism altogether.
Nevertheless, the blog Harry’s Place provides a forum that brings the two currents of opposition to the left-liberal mainstream together. Harry’s Place bloggers are Eustonite or ‘Decent’ left-wingers, and focus in particular on exposing and opposing radical Islam and human rights abuses in the Islamic world (and elsewhere), and their Western left-wing apologists. However, the comments boxes of this blog attract members of both groups opposing the liberal mainstream: the Decent Left and the new far right. And although the two groups are in principle antithetical, there is a very real danger that this will be forgotten and that a synthesis will be formed, in which case Harry’s Place will have acted as incubator for a monster.
Apart from their common hostility to the liberal mainstream and to Islamists (or to Muslims in general, as the case may be), the Decent Left and the new far right have one other uniting factor: some members of both currents sometimes speak in the language of class, or champion the ‘working class’. But unlike for the traditional left, in this case the language of class is used not to uphold social justice, but on the contrary, to justify ignorance, vulgarity, racism and xenophobia among the white majority, now repackaged as the ‘white working class’. In a new manifestation of moral relativism, any objection to white racism or Islamophobia can be portrayed as elitist anti-working-class snobbery. Just as some will condemn as ‘Islamophobic’ any criticism of Muslim anti-Semitism or misogyny, so others will condemn as ‘elitist’ any criticism of white-working-class racism.
Harry’s Place is a blog in which comments have been posted and left undeleted by the moderators, calling for ships carrying illegal immigrants to Britain to be torpedoed, or equating ordinary Muslims with Nazis, or calling for all Palestinians to be expelled from the West Bank. Leaving such comments undeleted may be justified on the grounds of freedom of speech, but I have come reluctantly to believe that one or two of the HP bloggers are somewhat unwilling to fall out with the far-right commenters who frequent the blog – and by ‘far right’ I don’t mean the actual BNP, but the Muslim-hating, immigrant-hating bigots who are one step away from it.
I used to write guest posts for Harry’s Place, and I frequently tried to tackle the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant bigots who frequent its comments boxes, but I found myself repeatedly undermined by some of the regular HP groupies, and by one or two of the bloggers themselves. In the debate on a splendid guest post by Andrew Murphy concerning Greek neo-Nazis and their hostility to Muslims and immigrants, the greater number of comments were expressing sympathy for the neo-Nazis on an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant basis. I struck out at the Nazi sympathisers, and in doing so earned my very own far-right stalker, in the form of a certain ‘Mettaculture’. This individual believes that immigrants add nothing to British culture; that they are in fact destroying British culture and working-class communities; and that bigotry is a proud part of our national heritage. In an earlier attack on me, he said that as someone called ‘Attila’, I should go back to Mongolia. He also objected to my use of the term ‘Islamophobia’ and to my talk of moderate Muslims. Apparently affronted by my vocal support for immigration and my assault on the anti-immigrant bigots on the thread about Greek neo-Nazis, he then proceeded to attack me whenever I appeared at Harry’s Place, posting increasingly vicious and vulgar strings of personal abuse about me – attacking my skin colour, class background, name, etc. – descending at times to threats of violence, libel action and contacting my employers.
The reason for this particular thug’s obsession with attacking me was, I believe, that I was trying to steer Harry’s Place away from the influence of the nativist-populist, ethno-chauvinist, anti-elitist champions of the ‘white working class’ - such as himself - and to break the embryonic alliance between elements of the Decent Left and the anti-immigration far right (Mettaculture himself is a product of this synthesis – a self-declared ‘socialist’ and ‘communitarian’ who doesn’t like immigration or Muslims).
However, the problem for me was not so much that I had attracted this particular stalker – I’ve had others, and it’s something you have to put up with if you tackle controversial subjects on the internet. The real problem was that certain HP bloggers, above all Graham Lloyd (‘Graham’), but also Andrew Ward (‘Wardytron’) would step in against me each and every time I tried to defend myself against him. Though Graham would never challenge any of Mettaculture’s threats and abuse, he would invariably present my efforts at self-defence as constituting an offence equivalent to the threats and abuse themselves – though I had never once initiated any of the exchanges with Mettaculture; never been the first to use strong language; never threatened him.
The final straw for me was when Harry’s Place deleted my response to one of Graham’s snide remarks, but left Graham’s remark standing. It was completely clear to me then that any further cooperation with Harry’s Place was impossible, as I was simply being prevented from commenting freely, or from defending myself.
Wardytron is someone who believes people who vote BNP are not racist, but merely expressing a righteous and justified opposition to political correctness, and that the solution to the BNP problem is to reduce immigration. Graham, meanwhile, is someone who regularly uses ‘middle class’ as a term of abuse to bully into submission anyone who disagrees with him (while claiming himself to be ‘working class’); he uses terms like ‘rancid little middle class dickheads’. He also has a particularly nasty line in personal abuse, and has called Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour ‘fat’ and Daniel Davies of Aaronovitch Watch ‘ginger’. When Laurie Penny was called a ‘silly cow’ on an HP thread, and complained at this use of sexist language, another HP poster claimed that using terms like ‘silly cow’ was simply the way some working-class people spoke, and that Penny’s objection to the term was an expression of her middle-class inability to understand the English working-class. Graham agrees; he described her as a ‘silly little girl’ and a ‘rather stupid spoilt little girl’ (and as plenty more besides – see update), and has more recently claimed that ‘I don’t care about someone being called a silly cow – that was rather the argument – that it wasn’t any big insult in a working-class area but cultural imperialists wanted it to be one everywhere.’ So, another moral-relativist defence of the use of sexist language, on the grounds that it’s ‘working class’, and that to say otherwise is an expression of ‘cultural imperialism’ ! Some may find Graham’s new incarnation as an anti-imperialist rather amusing.
I recently called Graham to account for his frequent resort to personal abuse; he responds by claiming my ‘prime motivation is to defend the rights of the already privileged in society’. We can expect more of this kind of non sequitur in the future, from him and others like him. Any attempt to speak out in defence of immigrants and Muslims; to condemn racism and sexism among the white majority; or to uphold civilised values generally against the ethics of the lynch mob and the language of the gutter, will invariably be painted as an expression of elitism. We had better prepare ourselves.
Update: I have managed to locate the texts of the two HP comments threads about Penny (‘Penny Shares’ and ‘Penny Dreadful’), and it appears that Graham is right on one point: he did not call Penny a ‘silly cow’. These are some of the things he did say about her:
‘Oh well looks like a silly little girl demanded the right not to be called a silly little girl, stamped her feet a bit and ended up looking more like a silly little girl than ever.’
‘I’d be less disposed to sneer not at someone’s class but rather at the idiots that turned up in vast numbers to defend this rather stupid spoilt little girl when they realised how ridiculous her article was…’
‘Speaking personally, I would never call Judy or Amie a “silly cow” (however silly they may get) because they have both earned my respect. I feel no such problem with calling someone that I have never seen before such a name.’
[In response to the following comment: 'As is Marcus, the sole basis of whose argument seems to be “it’s alright to call people silly cows round my way, so quit complaining”. It’s the pub misogynist line. We’re close to “only having a laugh love” and then on to “stuck up bitch”.']
‘This is all a bit silly but even to get the analogy to hold water you would have to concede that “the pub misogynist” would only be behaving that way because a silly little middle class girl flounced into the bar and called him a racist.’
‘This Penny is also an absolute out and out racist.’
‘Couldn’t she have asked daddy to buy her a newspaper to edit ?’
‘Spoilt little girl seems to me to be a simple description which does exactly what it says on the tin.’
‘I will criticise this spoilt little girl in any way I want.’
So, yes, Graham, I stand corrected: I concede your point that you did not call Penny a ‘silly cow’, and apologise for suggesting that you did and for any hurt and distress that my unwarranted accusation may have caused you (though I can’t help noticing that you didn’t exactly volunteer to make clear what you did say about her; if you had done so, the misunderstanding might have been cleared up a bit sooner).
HP has rather hastily closed the comments on Graham’s post, so I cannot say any of this there.
The text of my original post has been updated accordingly.
Readers will, I hope, forgive the name-dropping, but it isn’t every day that a childhood friend is one step away from becoming Labour leader, and two steps from becoming our next prime minister. I haven’t seen Ed or David Miliband for over twenty years, but at the age of around eleven and twelve, I used to meet up regularly with Ed to, ahem, exchange ZX Spectrum games, and I still remember the note of despair in his voice, when one of our laborious attempts to ‘back up’ a game proved unsuccessful. I saw less of David, who was older, but the last time we met made a vivid impression on me, when he was a rising star in Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party of the late 1980s. Kinnock was then desperately trying to modernise the Labour Party, thereby earning the hatred of left-wing hardliners, who viewed him as a traitor to socialism (‘Kneel’). I was one such Kinnock-hating hardliner; a teenage member of the Labour Party Young Socialists, which was dominanted by the Trotskyist ‘Militant’ tendency, with which I was then in sympathy. David turned up at a party, dressed immaculately in suit and tie, looking more like a business executive than the activist of a left-wing party, and I thought to myself, ‘He really has sold out’. I told him that I was feeling very disillusioned with the turn the Labour Party was taking. He knew exactly what I meant, but didn’t want to argue with me; ‘Faith !’, he urged me.
Of course, it was the people like David who turned out to be the revolutionary pioneers, and the people who stuck to the politics that I then adhered to who were the reactionaries. The Milibands’ parents Ralph and Marion, and my own parents, belonged to a broadly Marxist and ‘New Left’ intellectual and social circle, some of whose members were close to the journal New Left Review (NLR) and the publishing house Verso, or were members of the International Marxist Group, the British wing of the ‘Fourth International’ originally founded by Leon Trotsky. Other members of this circle included Tariq Ali, Susan Watkins, Robin Blackburn, Perry Anderson, the late Peter Gowan and others. Some of these people have evolved politically over the past quarter of a century, while others have not, but to the best of my knowledge, not one of their children – children like me, David and Ed – has remained true to that vision of politcs as it was in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
This is not surprising when you consider the respective achievements of those who did remain true to that vision of politics, and those who ‘sold out’ and moved toward the centre or moderate left. The New Labour revolution, of which David and Ed were pioneers, brought the UK the minimum wage; freedom of information; gay civil partnerships; peace in Northern Ireland; devolution in Scotland, Wales and London; a more multiethnic population through mass immigration; and in foreign affairs, humanitarian interventions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq, at least three of which have been successful. By contrast, the only ‘achievement’ in the same period of the members of the New Left circle who remained hardline anti-capitalists and ’anti-imperialists’ has been to contribute to the anti-war demonstrations over Iraq in the first half of the 2000s that, although large, dissipated after failing to prevent or halt the war, leaving nothing behind.
Shortly after the Kosovo war of 1999, I spoke with Tariq Ali and his partner Susan Watkins, the editor of NLR, who bemoaned David Miliband’s role in supporting the British intervention in Kosovo: ‘What would his father say ?’ Ali, Watkins and Perry Anderson - NLR‘s intellectual guru - have by contrast remained faithful to the politics of anti-capitalism and ‘anti-imperialism’, which has meant the publication by NLR and Verso of books and articles sympathetic to the regimes of Slobodan Milosevic, Fidel Castro and Kim Jong-il. According to a Guardian editorial earlier this year celebrating NLR‘s fiftieth birthday, probably written by Seumas Milne, ‘Left-wing in an age in which prospects for the left are so bleak, serious in a celebrity culture and thoughtful in a time of instant opinions, the NLR remains a necessary publication.’ Necessary, perhaps, for ageing lefties of Milne’s type, who have an emotional need to convince themselves that the dead-end politics of yesteryear are still somehow ‘radical’. For what young person today honestly believes that Castro’s Cuban dictatorship is a harbinger of a better world, as opposed to a clapped-out anachronism ?
What is most offensive about this brand of politics isn’t even its moral bankruptcy. It is the peculiar combination of intellectual bankruptcy and unwarranted arrogance. Ali, Anderson and co. simply haven’t had any original political ideas since the 1980s at best; they stopped evolving over two decades ago, yet still feel they represent the cutting-edge, radical alternative to the neo-liberal order. They are like old-age pensioners sitting on the park bench, muttering to one another about how the whole world has gone to pot, and how things were much better in the old days, and periodically shouting at teenagers that they didn’t fight in the War so that young people could go around dressed like that. Or like ageing baby-boomers who are still awestruck by how technologically advanced are their calculator digital-watches and portable cassette-players, with which they listen to the music of dangerous, anti-establishment bands like Wham and Duran Duran. The NLR is the political equivalent equivalent of a calculator watch; it is ‘new’ in the same way that the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea is ‘democratic’.
The Miliband brothers were born of Marxist parents at a time when radical left-wing politics still had some rationale; they took what was best in their parents’ politics and moved forward. Others have been left behind.
Image: Serbo-Croat-speaking Podlings in the 1982 film Dark Crystal.
Credit goes to Srebrenica Genocide Blog, Oliver Kamm, Balkan Witness and other websites and individuals that have been leading the fight against those who continue to deny or apologise for the Srebrenica massacre and other atrocities of the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, from dabblers like Noam Chomsky to dyed-in-the-wool propagandists like Diana Johnstone, Ed Herman and David Peterson.
I have come to feel that, poisonous though they are, the deniers are ultimately less guilty than members of the political and intellectual mainstream who may disagree with their extreme views, but nevertheless not only tolerate them, but defend them as individuals entitled to respect.
In my last post, I criticised those blogs, such as Harry’s Place, which tolerate vicious personal abuse on the part of those posting comments. I believe that nobody – not even Nazis, racists or war-criminals – should be subject to such abuse, or attacked on the basis of their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class background, physical appearance or similar. All human beings – even the most evil or obnoxious – are entitled to a degree of respect by virtue of the fact of being human. Vicious personal abuse of a vulgar or bigoted nature demeans the abuser as much as the abused. It falls into the same category as torture; as something that civilised society simply should not tolerate.
However, there is an opposite extreme: the readiness of supposedly respectable individuals to shield from harsh but legitimate criticism those who hold racist, misogynist, genocide-denialist or other views that ought to disqualify them from such solidarity. I shall not hurl vicious personal abuse at a genocide-denier, but I do feel it is my right and duty to call them a genocide-denier in no uncertain terms.
Unfortunately, there are those who are far less offended by genocide denial than they are by those of us who take the genocide deniers to task. I have come across such people both in my experience with left-wing politics and in my work as an academic. They may disagree with the genocide-deniers, but they feel that the genocide-deniers’ status as left-wingers or as members of the academic community should somehow disqualify them from being the objects of attack for their genocide-denial.
My own alienation from traditional left-wing politics was not simply due to the very large number of prominent and less prominent left-wingers who supported or apologised for the Milosevic regime’s genocidal policies in the 1990s. It was, if anything, more due to the fact that other left-wingers who were not themselves deniers or apologists continued to treat the latter as fellow members of a common ‘Left’. Leftists of this kind tend to be much less outraged by left-wingers who deny genocide or support fascism, than they are by those of us who denounce such ‘comrades’.
Leftists of this kind are not bothered by the enormous hurt and offence among the survivors of genocide in the Balkans and their friends, caused by the anti-Balkan racism of a Michael Moore, the genocide-denial of a Noam Chomsky or the support for Milosevic of a Harold Pinter. They are, however, upset when the former respond to anti-Balkan racism, genocide-denial or support for Milosevic by attacking the left-wing celebrities in question. For such leftists, Western left-wing celebrities are real people in a way that the nameless, faceless untermenschen persecuted by Milosevic’s forces in the Balkans are not.
I have encountered a similar attitude on the part of some of my fellow members of the academic community. There are those academics who respond to a genocide in their area of specialisation by speaking out and agitating against it, and there are those who do not. Quite simply, those who do not have less to feel proud about than those who do. In order to succeed, genocide requires bystanders as well as perpetrators. The genocide in Bosnia was largely successful; had fewer informed international bystanders remained passive, it might not have been.
I do not condemn scholars of the Balkans who failed to speak out against the atrocities in the Balkans in the 1990s. But I thoroughly despise those who try to present their inactivity as making them somehow better or more objective scholars than the rest of us. Instead of boycotting the work of their genocide-denying colleagues, scholars of this kind tend to collaborate with them, bestowing undue respectability on their work. They are thoroughly embarrassed and upset when scholars like myself expose their collaborators for what they are.*
This attitude is itself a form of racism. It is the racism of those who view their own Western society, and in particular their own political or intellectual circle, as being composed of real people; of being the real world. Whereas they view war-torn Bosnia (or Darfur or Iraq) as not being the real world; of not being inhabited by real people with real lives and feelings.
For the authors of Living Marxism, the magazine that pioneered Bosnia genocide-denial, the Bosnian war was an issue only in the UK and other Western societies; an issue, as they saw it, over which the ‘consensus’ had to be challenged and ‘freedom of speech’ upheld for the sake of their own, British concerns. What was or was not happening in Bosnia was, in and of itself, of no importance to them, since to them Bosnia was not a real place and the people who lived there were not real people. They were quite ready to parrot Serb hate-speech against Croats and Bosniaks, since they did not care about what happened to the latter. They viewed the case that ITN brought against them for libel as a greater crime than the murder of tens of thousands of Bosnians.
Left-wingers and academics who defend their genocide-denying or fascist-supporting comrades or colleagues from thoroughly justified criticism are not, essentially, any different from the supporters of Living Marxism. Or from the UN bureaucrats who were repeatedly ready to sacrifice the lives of thousands of Bosnian civilians rather than even slightly risk harm befalling their overpaid ‘peacekeepers’.
There is something genuinely disgusting and offensive about people who can watch a genocide or other tragedy unfolding on their television screens, and not only remain unmoved, but actually feel proud of being unmoved; who believe that cold-bloodedness is the correct response to such a tragedy. As the tragedy unfolds; as the corpses pile up; they indulge in their own comfortable little left-wing or academic parlour games; their little conferences, discussions, meetings and debating societies; with their genocide-denying, fascist-supporting comrades or colleagues. They do not appreciate having these games disrupted by those of us who find the spectacle grotesque.
In a democracy, people must enjoy freedom of speech. People are free to deny that the Srebrenica massacre happened; or to claim that it was simply a ‘response’ to Bosniak ‘provocation’; or that Serb ethnic-cleansing was fabricated by the Western media; or that the Bosnian army shelled its own people in order to blame it on the Serbs; or that Yugoslavia was destroyed by a Western imperialist conspiracy. But equally, the rest of us are free – indeed, we are obliged – to call such people by their true names: genocide-deniers; disseminators of anti-Bosniak hate-speech. To stifle such naming and shaming – on the grounds that left-wingers, or academics, or others should be above being criticised in this way by virtue of being left-wingers or academics or whatever – is to strike a blow against frank public discourse in favour of Orwellian doublespeak; to legitimise genocide denial while de-legitimising its critics.
By choosing to deny genocide and promote hatred against its victims, genocide-deniers have forfeited the right to be treated with intellectual or political respect. It is with the feelings of the victims and the enormous hurt and offence caused them by the genocide deniers, that we should be concerned. A spade should be called a spade.
*Such scholars forget that any historian, sociologist, political scientist or the like who claims that his or her work is ‘politically neutral’ is, quite frankly, a liar. There are academics who are honest and open about their political beliefs, and academics who are not, but who claim to be ‘above politics’; the latter have less integrity than the former – it’s as simple as that. Great historians tend to be open about their political orientation, whether ‘Whig’, conservative, Marxist or other – one need only think of Leopold von Ranke, Thomas Babington Macaulay, G.M. Trevelyan, Lewis Namier, Isaac Deutscher, E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, etc. Mediocre historians, by contrast, often dress their boring, cowardly writing up as ‘non-political’ .
I apologise for the dearth of posts here recently. Readers of this blog may or may not be pleased to learn that I was recently promoted to Reader at Kingston University; this has, however, meant a substantially increased teaching load, and this autumn I have been teaching for 14-15 hours per week, leaving little time and even less energy for blogging.
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