As one of the many people who unthinkingly linked on my Facebook page to the campaign for the release of ‘Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari’, a supposed lesbian Syrian dissident blogger who wrote under the title ‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’ and who was supposedly arrested by the Syrian authorities, I have been following the exposure of this hoax with a mixture of outrage and fascination tinged with embarrassment. The perpetrator, a 40-year old American Master’s student at Edinburgh University called Tom MacMaster, described as a ‘Middle East activist’ by The Guardian, has humiliated and discredited those who honourably campaigned on behalf of this apparently worthy cause; put real Syrian dissidents and LGBT activists who stuck their necks out to help ‘Amina Abdallah’ at real risk; diverted attention away from real victims of the Syrian regime; and has made it much more difficult for such victims to be heard in future. It reflects an immorality of sociopathic dimensions.
Not least of MacMaster’s victims is Jelena Lecic, a Croatian woman living in London and an administrator at the Royal College of Physicians. He stole photos of her from her Facebook account and passed them off as photos of the ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’. As ‘Amina Abdallah’ became a cause celebre, Lecic’s face was splashed all over websites and newspapers. This case of identity theft therefore had thousands of unwitting accomplices. One of these was The Guardian, which published two different photos of Lecic along with articles about ‘Amina Abdallah’ on 7 May and 7 June. In response to the second of these photos, Lecic phoned the Guardian at 4pm on Tuesday, 7 June to inform them that the picture was not of ‘Amina Abdallah’, but in fact of her, and demanded that the photo be taken down. The Guardian ignored this call, a subsequent call from her an hour later, and a call from her friend, demanding that the photo be removed. Lecic consequently appealed to the Press Complaints Commission, which promptly forced the Guardian to remove the photo by 6.45pm. However, the Guardian substituted it with the photo of Lecic from its earlier article.
All these details come from the Guardian‘s own lengthy attempt at self-justification, written by the newspaper’s readers’ editor, Chris Elliot. In his words, ‘The Guardian did not remove all the pictures until 6pm on Wednesday 8 June, 27 hours after Jelena Lecic first called the Guardian. It took too long for this to happen, for which we should apologise (see today’s Corrections and clarifications). The mitigating factors are… [etc.]’ Elliot does not actually link to the ‘apology’ in the ‘Corrections and clarifications’ section of the newspaper, and one has to hunt around to find it, but here it is:
‘Guardian articles about Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, a blogger on the subject of Middle East unrest, carried photographs purporting to show the blog’s author. In fact, the person pictured was Jelena Lecic, who lives in the UK. We apologise to her. An account of how these pictures came to be used appears in today’s Open door column on page 27 (Syrian revolt finds an unlikely heroine – an outspoken, half-American lesbian blogger, 7 May, page 24; Armed gang abducts gay blogger, 7 June, page 14; Fears for outspoken Syrian blogger after Damascus arrest, 8 June, page 16 [all with links]).’
So ‘We apologise to her.’ is the sum total of the Guardian‘s apology to Lecic for colluding in her identity theft, in a paragraph otherwise devoted helpfully to directing readers to Elliot’s effort at self-justification. Note that this constitutes a – highly curt – apology for misusing her photos, but there is no apology for ignoring her calls and disbelieving her; for forcing her to turn to the Press Complaints Commission; or for then republishing a second photo of her after the latter had forced it to remove the first.
As Lecic told the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman [see video above], ‘most of all, I was very upset with The Guardian, because I’ve complained, twice yesterday, and nobody got in touch with me… For me, it’s been very upsetting, and obviously it got involved my family; my friends; I’ve been disturbed at work. It’s just astonishing that just anybody can use your picture and put a story together, and before you know it, it’s everywhere.’ Readers should watch the whole video, and then see if they think the Guardian‘s apology was adequate.
Also notable is Elliot’s repeated reference to Lecic, whom he describes as a ‘distraught young woman’, throughout his article by her first name. No doubt, the UK’s flagship liberal daily newspaper thinks that this familiar form of address is appropriate when referring to someone it has wronged, when that person a) works in admin; b) is a woman; and c) comes from a Balkan country.
We can compare the Guardian‘s treatment of Lecic to the rather more fulsome and generous, indeed grovelling apology it made to the celebrity radical left-wing genocide denier, Noam Chomsky, five and a half years ago, also in the ‘Corrections and clarifications’ section of the newspaper, after its journalist, Emma Brockes, had been guilty of an error of detail in describing Chomsky’s views on the Srebrenica massacre. There was certainly no reference then to the complainant by his first name, or reference to him as a ‘distraught elderly man’; it was ‘Prof Chomsky’ this and ‘Prof Chomsky’ that. One use of ‘Professor Chomsky’ and thirteen of ‘Prof Chomsky’ in the space of a single apology ! By contrast, the Guardian‘s apology to Lecic used her name only once, in full, then directed its readers to a text which refers to the ‘distraught young woman’ six times by her first name.
That, dear readers, is how women are treated by The Guardian – the flagship liberal newspaper in the land of the Suffragettes and Sylvia Pankhurst. Maybe if Lecic had published an article or two on ZNet denying the Srebrenica massacre, like Chomsky’s friends often do, the Guardian might have addressed her as ‘Ms Lecic’ ?
Hat tip: Joseph W., Harry’s Place
Readers may remember The Guardian newspaper’s grovelling apology to genocide deniers Noam Chomsky and Diana Johnstone of 17 November 2005, after its journalist Emma Brockes criticised them. Readers may also remember that Seumas Milne, an influential figure within the newspaper’s management and former comments editor, condemned the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague in 2001 and complained that the post-Milosevic democratic government in Serbia had ‘dug up [Albanian] corpses to order’ in order to justify the extradition. In which case, readers will not be surprised that The Guardian has again today flirted with denial of Milosevic’s crimes.
In today’s online edition of the paper, a story appears under the subtitle ‘William Walker, who exposed a Serbian ‘massace’ [sic] in the 1990s, is supporting Albin Kurti’s party which wants unity with Albania’. A photo of Walker then appears, bearing the caption ‘William Walker in March 1999 after he exposed the ‘massacre’ of at least 39 villagers in Racak by Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian forces.’ Journalist Paul Lewis then writes:
‘A veteran US diplomat whose declaration of a “massacre” by Serb forces paved the way for the Nato bombing campaign in 1999 has surprised observers by campaigning in the Kosovo elections for a radical nationalist party led by a former student rebel.
William Walker, 75, who is revered as a hero in Kosovo for leading the international monitoring mission that reported the slaughter of 45 Kosovo Albanians in the village of Racak, has appeared on the campaign trail in support of the Self-Determination party.’
Thus, in reference to the Racak massacre of January 1999, The Guardian three times puts the word ‘massacre’ in quote marks within the space of a single short article.
Further comment would be superfluous.
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.
Open letter to Amnesty International from Ed Vulliamy, 30 October 2009
To whom it may concern:
I have been contacted by a number of people regarding Amnesty International’s invitation to Professor Noam Chomsky to lecture in Northern Ireland.
The communications I have received regard Prof. Chomsky’s role in revisionism in the story of the concentration camps in northwestern Bosnia in 1992, which it was my accursed honour to discover.
As everyone interested knows, a campaign was mounted to try and de-bunk the story of these murderous camps as a fake – ergo, to deny and/or justify them – the dichotomy between these position still puzzles me.
The horror of what happened at Omarska and Trnopolje has been borne out by painful history, innumerable trials at the Hague, and – most importantly by far – searing testimony from the survivors and the bereaved. These were places of extermination, torture, killing, rape and, literally “concentration” prior to enforced deportation, of people purely on grounds of ethnicity.
Prof. Chomsky was not among those (“Novo” of Germany and “Living Marxism” in the UK) who first proposed the idea that these camps were a fake. He was not among those who tried unsuccessfully (they were beaten back in the High Court in London, by a libel case taken by ITN) to put up grotesque arguments about fences around the camps, which were rather like Fred Leuchter’s questioning whether the thermal capacity of bricks was enough to contain the heat needed to Jews at Auschwitz. But Professor Chomsky said many things, from his ivory tower at MIT, to spur them on and give them the credibility and energy they required to spread their poisonous perversion and denials of these sufferings. Chomsky comes with academic pretensions, doing it all from a distance, and giving the revisionists his blessing. And the revisionists have revelled in his endorsement.
In an interview with the Guardian, Professor Chomsky paid me the kind compliment of calling me a good journalist, but added that on this occasion (the camps) I had “got it wrong”. Got what wrong?!?! Got wrong what we saw that day, August 5th 1992 (I didn’t see him there)? Got wrong the hundreds of thousands of families left bereaved, deported and scattered asunder? Got wrong the hundreds of testimonies I have gathered on murderous brutality? Got wrong the thousands whom I meet when I return to the commemorations? If I am making all this up, what are all the human remains found in mass graves around the camps and so painstakingly re-assembled by the International Commission for Missing Persons?
These people pretend neutrality over Bosnia, but are actually apologists for the Milosevic/Karadzic/Mladic plan, only too pathetic to admit it. And the one thing they never consider from their armchairs is the ghastly, searing, devastating impact of their game on the survivors and the bereaved. The pain they cause is immeasurable. This, along with the historical record, is my main concern. It is one thing to survive the camps, to lose one’s family and friends – quite another to be told by a bunch of academics with a didactic agenda in support of the pogrom that those camps never existed. The LM/Novo/Chomsky argument that the story of the camps was somehow fake has been used in countless (unsuccessful) attempts to defend mass murderers in The Hague.
For decades I have lived under the impression that Amnesty International was opposed to everything these people stand for, and existed to defend exactly the kind of people who lost their lives, family and friends in the camps and at Srebrenica three years later, a massacre on which Chomsky has also cast doubt. I have clearly been deluded about Amnesty. For Amnesty International, of all people, to honour this man is to tear up whatever credibility they have estimably and admirably won over the decades, and to reduce all they say hitherto to didactic nonsense.
Why Amnesty wants to identify with and endorse this revisionist obscenity, I do not know. It is baffling and grotesque. By inviting Chomsky to give this lecture, Amnesty condemns itself to ridicule at best, hurtful malice at worst – Amnesty joins the revisionists in spitting on the graves of the dead. Which was not what the organisation was, as I understand, set up for. I have received a letter from an Amnesty official in Northern Ireland which reads rather like a letter from Tony Blair’s office after it has been caught out cosying up to British Aerospace or lying over the war in Iraq – it is a piece of corporate gobbledygook, distancing Amnesty from Chomsky’s views on Bosnia, or mealy-mouthedly conceding that they are disagreed with.
There is no concern at all with the victims, which is, I suppose, what one would expect from a bureaucrat. In any event, the letter goes nowhere towards addressing the revisionism, dispelling what will no doubt be a fawning, self-satisfied introduction in Belfast and rapturous applause for
the man who gives such comfort to Messrs Karadzic and Mladic, and their death squads. How far would Amnesty go in inviting and honouring speakers whose views it does not necessarily share, in the miserable logic of this AI official in Belfast? A lecture by David Irving on Joseph Goebbels?
Alistair Campbell on how Saddam really did have those WMD? The Chilean Secret Police or Colonel Oliver North on the communist threat in Latin America during the 70s and 80s? What about Karadzic himself on the “Jihadi” threat in Bosnia, and the succulence of 14-year-old girls kept in rape camps?
I think I am still a member of AI – if so, I resign. If not, thank God for that. And to think: I recently came close to taking a full time job as media director for AI. That was a close shave – what would I be writing now, in the press release: “Come and hear the great Professor Chomsky inform you all that the stories about the camps in Bosnia were a lie – that I was hallucinating that day, that the skeletons of the dead so meticulously re-assembled by the International Commission for Missing Persons are all plastic? That the dear friends I have in Bosnia, the USA, the UK and elsewhere who struggle to put back together lives that were broken by Omarska and Trnopolje are making it all up?
Some press release that would have been. Along with the owner of the site of the Omarska camp, the mighty Mittal Steel Corporation, Amnesty International would have crushed it pretty quick. How fitting that Chomsky and Mittal Steel find common cause. Yet how logical, and to me, obvious. After all, during the Bosnian war, it was the British Foreign Office, the CIA, the UN and great powers who, like the revisionists Chomsky champions, most eagerly opposed any attempt to stop the genocide that lasted, as it was encouraged by them and their allies in high politics to last, for three bloody years from 1992 until the Srebrenica massacre of 1995.
Yours, in disgust and despair,
Open letter to Amnesty International from the Society for Threatened Peoples International (STPI), 30 October 2009
You are a genocide denier, Professor Chomsky !
Dear Professor Chomsky,
Dear Friends of Amnesty International,
Once again you find yourself invited to appear in a public forum, this time in Belfast. In the past, Belfast was a city with a long-standing reputation for discrimination against the Catholic population, but today those of us who are familiar with the city’s past history of conflict, crime and disorder are pleased and relieved that the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland have finally emerged from a long dark tunnel.
The focus of our human rights organisation’s work is the support that we give to minority groups who have been the victims of genocide and dispossession. The two guiding principles inspiring us are that firstly we work with the people “Von denen keiner spricht” – the people no-one talks about, and secondly we are “Auf keinem Auge blind” – never turning a blind eye. We believe that “persecution, extermination and expulsion, the establishment of concentration camps and rape camps are always and everywhere crimes, now just as they were in the past. Irrespective of which government is responsible and on which continent and in which country those crimes are being perpetrated. The legacy bequeathed to us by all the victims of yesterday is an obligation to come to the assistance of the victims of today”.
You, Professor Chomsky, choose to ignore those precepts. You call genocide genocide when it suits your ideological purposes. Who could condone the murkier aspects of American foreign policy or fail to condemn the way that policy has supported and encouraged crimes against humanity? But you express your criticism of the crimes of the recent past in a perverse way, that makes genocide the almost exclusive prerogative of organisations with close links to the US. It is only then that you consider it to be genocide. And it is only your political/ideological friends who are apparently incapable of committing genocide.
That was the situation in Cambodia. While the international press was reporting how the genocide of the Khmer Rouge had eliminated one in every three or four of that country‘s inhabitants, you were laying the blame for those crimes at the door of the US. That was shameful and in any reasonable person stirred memories of Holocaust denial elsewhere in the world.
In the same way you have denied the genocide perpetrated in Bosnia-Herzegovina by Serb forces who killed not only Bosnian Muslims but along with them Bosnian Serbs and Croats as well who had chosen to remain alongside them, in the besieged city of Sarajevo for example.
To deny the fact of genocide in Bosnia is absurd, particularly when both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague and the International Court of Justice, also in The Hague, have had no hesitation in confirming that that genocide was perpetrated in Bosnia, above all at Srebrenica.
For the benefit of the apparently unpolitical and ideologically uncommitted Friends of Amnesty International we are prepared once again to provide a summary of the facts of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And we should like to remind you of them, too, Professor Chomsky, in your denial of genocide:
1. 200,000 civilians interned in over one hundred concentration, detention and rape camps.
2. Many thousands of internees murdered in concentration camps including Omarska, Manjača, Keraterm, Trnopolje, Luka Brčko, Sušica and Foča.
3. Members of the non-Serb political and intellectual elites systematically arrested and eliminated.
4. Approximately 2.2 million Bosnians displaced, exiled and scattered to the four corners of the globe.
5. Many thousands of unrecorded deaths still missing from the official statistics, including children, the elderly and sick and wounded refugees.
6. 500,000 Bosnians in five UN so-called “safe areas” (Tuzla, Goražde, Srebrenica, Žepa, and Bihać) and other, fallen, enclaves such as Cerska besieged, starved, sniped at, shelled and many of them killed over a period of as long as four years in some cases.
7. A four year-long artillery bombardment of the sixth UN safe area, the city of Sarajevo, killing approximately 11,000, including 1500 children.
8. Massacres and mass executions in many towns and municipalities in northern, western and eastern Bosnia (the Posavina, the Prijedor area and the Podrinje).
9. Hundreds of villages and urban areas systematically destroyed.
10. The entire heritage of Islamic religious and cultural monuments, including 1189 mosques and madrassas, destroyed, and extensive destruction of Catholic religious monuments including as many as 500 churches and religious houses.
11. Remains of approximately 15,000 missing victims still to be found, exhumed and identified.
12. 284 UN soldiers taken hostage and used as human shields.
13. Over 20 thousand Bosnian Muslim women raped, in rape camps and elsewhere.
14. 8376 men and boys from the town of Srebrenica murdered and their bodies concealed in mass graves.
The history of Kosovo is familiar to people who know Southeastern Europe: After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Kosovo was annexed to the Serb-dominated Kingdom of Serbs, Croatians and Slovenes (1918). Following the original occupation and then again in the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s Yugoslavian and Serbian governments expelled the Albanians to Turkey where well over one million people of Albanian origin live today. After the gradual dismantling of Kosovo’s autonomy, proclaimed too late by Tito, Slobodan Milosevic’s army and militia killed some 10,000 Albanians and forced half the population – roughly one million people – to flee. The NATO military intervention, some specific aspects of which must certainly be condemned, halted the killing and expulsions.
Someone like yourself, Professor Chomsky, who on various occasions has shown himself unwilling to acknowledge genocide and goes so far as to deny it forfeits all credibility. That is why we question your moral integrity and call on you to stand up before the public in Belfast and apologise for those hurtful comments of yours concerning the Cambodian, Bosnian and Kosovar victims of genocide.
President of the Society for Threatened Peoples International (STPI)
It is with some hesitation that I comment on the exchange between Noam Chomsky and Ian Williams over the question of responsibility for the bloodshed in Kosova in the late 1990s. Chomsky has no expertise and nothing interesting to say on the topic of the former Yugoslavia, and it is only because of his status as the world’s no. 1 ‘anti-imperialist’ guru that his utterances on the topic attract as many responses as they do. Chomsky epitomises the ‘anti-imperialist’ ideologue who believes in two things: 1) that the US is to blame for everything; and 2) that everything the US does is bad. If you share this worldview, then nothing said by Chomsky’s critics, such as Williams or Oliver Kamm, is going to convince you that he may be wrong on Kosova. If, on the other hand, you do not share this worldview, and are not star-struck by the celebrity Chomsky, then his rambling comparisons between the Western response over Kosova and the Western response over East Timor can only appear extremely tortuous and boring. It is tiresome yet again to point out, for example, the absolute falsehood of Chomsky’s claim that ‘the crimes in East Timor at the same time’ as the Kosovo war ‘were far worse than anything reported in Kosovo prior to the NATO bombing’ – it simply isn’t true.
I am using Chomsky, therefore, only to open a discussion on the question of genocidal causality, and the insidious nature of the sophistry employed by Chomsky and his ‘anti-imperialist’ comrades: that Serbian ethnic-cleansing in Kosova occurred in response to the NATO bombing and was therefore NATO’s fault. As Chomsky put it: ‘The NATO bombing did not end the atrocities but rather precipitated by far the worst of them, as had been anticipated by the NATO command and the White House.’ The thrust of Chomsky’s argument is that since NATO commanders predicted that the NATO bombing would lead to a massive escalation of Serbian attacks on the Kosova Albanian civilian population, and since this prediction was borne out, then NATO is responsible for having cold-bloodedly caused the atrocities that occurred after the bombing started.
The falsehood of this logic can be demonstrated if we ask the following questions:
1) Chomsky claims that the bombing precipitated ‘by far the worst’ of the atrocities, but what precipitated the bombing ?
The answer is that the NATO bombing of Serbia in March 1999 was precipitated by Belgrade’s rejection of the Rambouillet Accords. Belgrade was aware that rejecting the Rambouillet Accords would precipitate Serbia being bombed by NATO, but rejected them nevertheless. By Chomsky’s own logic, therefore, Serbia’s own actions precipitated the NATO bombings, and were consequently responsible for those bombings. Since, according to Chomsky, the bombings led to the atrocities, that means that Serbia was responsible for the atrocities after all.
What Chomsky would like us to believe, is that if a US or NATO action produced a predictable Serbian response, then the response was the fault of the US/NATO. But if, on the other hand, a Serbian action produced a predictable US/NATO response, then the response was still the fault of the US/NATO. This is self-evidently a case of double standards.
2) Chomsky claims that the bombing precipitated ‘by far the worst’ of the atrocities, but what would have been precipitated by a failure to bomb ?
From reading Chomsky and his fellow ‘anti-imperialists’, one would almost believe that the bloodshed in Kosova had been – in Edward Said’s words – a ‘Sunday school picnic’ prior to the NATO bombing. Yet this is what Human Rights Watch reported in January 1999, more than two months before the bombing began:
The government forces intensified their offensive throughout July and August , despite promises from Milosevic that it had stopped. By mid-August, the government had retaken much of the territory that had been held by the KLA, including their stronghold of Malisevo. Unable to protect the civilian population, the KLA retreated into Drenica and some pockets in the West.
Some of the worst atrocities to date occurred in late September, as the government’s offensive was coming to an end. On September 26, eighteen members of an extended family, mostly women, children, and elderly, were killed near the village of Donje Obrinje by men believed to be with the Serbian special police. Many of the victims had been shot in the head and showed signs of bodily mutilation. On the same day, thirteen ethnic Albanian men were executed in the nearby village of Golubovac by government forces. One man survived and was subsequently taken out of the country by the international agencies in Kosovo.
The government offensive was an apparent attempt to crush civilian support for the rebels. Government forces attacked civilians, systematically destroyed towns, and forced thousands of people to flee their homes. One attack in August near Senik killed seventeen civilians who were hiding in the woods. The police were seen looting homes, destroying already abandoned villages, burning crops, and killing farm animals.
The majority of those killed and injured were civilians. At least 300,000 people were displaced, many of them women and children now living without shelter in the mountains and woods. In October, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identified an estimated 35,000 of the displaced as particularly at risk of exposure to the elements. Most were too afraid to return to their homes due to the continued police presence. [our emphasis]
(Contrary to what Chomsky says, the number killed in Kosova prior to the start of the NATO bombing was greater than the number of East Timorese civilians killed by the Indonesians and their proxies during the whole of 1999).
Chomsky is saying that if – instead of presenting an ultimatum to Belgrade at Rambouillet and then proceeding to bomb Serbia when Belgrade defied that ultimatum – the NATO powers had given Belgrade a free hand in Kosova, then Serbian repression in Kosova would simply have continued at what he considers to be an acceptable level. Of course, there is no way of proving one way or the other what would have happened in Kosova if NATO hadn’t gone to war in the spring of 1999, but given the catalogue of horrors in the former Yugoslavia that were demonstrably not ‘precipitated’ by Western military intervention – the destruction of Vukovar, the siege of Sarajevo, the Srebrenica massacre, the killing of at least 100,000 Bosnians, the ethnic-cleansing of 300,000 Kosovars, etc. – the evidence suggests that it would not have resembled Edward Said’s ‘Sunday school picnic’.
3) Chomsky claims that the bombing precipitated ‘by far the worst’ of the atrocities, but even if this were true, would this make those atrocities NATO’s fault ?
Genocides are invariably ‘precipitated’ by something or other. The Armenian Genocide was ‘precipitated’ by the outbreak of World War I and Tsarist Russia’s military advance into Anatolia. The Rwandan Genocide was ‘precipitated’ by the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s offensive against the Rwandan Army, the Arusha Accords and by the shooting down of the plane carrying Rwanda’s President Juvenal Habyarimana. Of course, it is entirely legitimate for historians to interpret instances of genocide as having been ‘precipitated’ by something or other, but anyone who uses such explanations to shift the responsibility away from the perpetrators – whether Ottoman, Hutu, German, Serbian or other – is simply an apologist or a denier.
On 30 January 1939, Adolf Hitler gave a speech to the Reichstag in which he stated: ‘If the world of international financial Jewry, both in and outside of Europe, should succeed in plunging the nations into another world war, the result will not be the Bolshevisation of the world and thus a victory for Judaism. The result will be the extermination of the Jewish race in Europe.’
Hitler therefore made it explicit that the outbreak of a world war would result in the extermination of the Jews in Europe. Indeed, the outbreak and course of World War II ‘precipitated’ the Holocaust. Britain and France, when they declared war on Germany in September 1939, were by Chomsky’s logic responsible for the Holocaust. Some ‘anti-imperialists’ have, in fact, attempted to make this very point.
In sum, Chomsky’s case is a disgrace at the level of plain reasoning, never mind at the level of ethics.
Let there be no mistake about this: atrocities, ethnic cleansing and genocide are the responsibility of those who commit them. Whatever ‘precipitates’ them, they are the fault of their perpetrators. And it would be a sorry world indeed if were were to allow perpetrators to deter us from taking action to stop atrocities, ethnic cleansing and genocide, by their threat to commit still worse crimes in the event that we do take action.
Image: Chomsky agreeing with Dobrica Cosic, the leading ideological architect of the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, on the need to partition Kosova – as reported by the Serbian magazine NIN.
Hat tip: Andras Riedlmayer, Daniel of Srebrenica Genocide Blog.
East Timor and Bosnia are two countries with parallel tragedies. Both were attacked by vastly more powerful neighbours as they tried to establish themselves as independent states. In each case, the aggression involved genocide against the country’s population; in each case, the aggression and genocide were aided and abetted by the Western powers; in each case, however, the aggressor was ultimately defeated. The death toll of the East Timorese and Bosnian genocides has in each case commonly been put at 200,000.
In the last two years, scientific studies of both East Timorese and Bosnian war-losses have appeared, enabling us to begin to quantify them more accurately. In January 2006, the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor (CAVR) published the results of its investigation into East Timorese human losses in the period 1974-99. In June 2007, the Research and Documentation Centre in Sarajevo (RDC) published the results of its investigation into Bosnian human losses in the period 1991-95.
The two sets of figures are not completely comparable, as the figures for East Timor represent scientific estimates with a small margin of error so far as direct war-deaths are concerned, while the figures for Bosnia represent a body count, therefore something close to an absolute minimum. Furthermore, the figures for East Timor include a much less precise estimate for deaths from war-related hunger and disease, while the figures for Bosnia do not cover such deaths at all; conversely, the figures for Bosnia include military deaths while the figures for East Timor do not. Finally, neither the sizes of the East Timorese and Bosnian populations nor the lengths of the two conflicts were equivalent; the deaths in East Timor occurred among a much smaller population over a much longer period of time.
With these provisos in mind, what do the results tell us ?
1) In East Timor, approximately 18,600 civilians were killed or disappeared between 1974 and 1999 (with an error margin of +/- 1,000).
In Bosnia, at least 39,684 civilians were killed or disappeared between 1991 and 1995.
2) In East Timor, just over 70% of killed civilians (approximately 13,094 people) were killed by the Indonesians or by their East Timorese auxiliaries, while 29.6% (approximately 5,506 people) were killed by the East Timorese resistance.
In Bosnia, at least 86% of killed civilians (34,128 people) were killed by Serb forces, while not more than 14% (5,556 people) were killed by Croat and Bosnian/Muslim forces combined.
3) In East Timor, a minimum of 84,200 people died from hunger or disease resulting from the Indonesian occupation, 1975-99 (with an error margin of +/- 11,000). The figure may be as high as 183,000.
In Bosnia, the number of people who died from hunger, disease or exposure resulting from the Serbian aggression, 1991-95, has not yet been calculated.
4) In East Timor, the absolute minimum number of deaths resulting from war, 1974-99, is 90,800 (i.e. 18,600 civilians killed by all parties and 84,200 who died from hunger and disease, with error margins of +/- 1,000 and +/- 11,000 respectively, for a range of 90,800 – 114,800). These figures do not include military casualties on either side, which were not addressed by the study.
In Bosnia, the minimum number of deaths resulting from war, 1991-95, is 97,207 (i.e. 39,684 civilians and 57,523 soldiers), excluding those who died from hunger, disease, exposure or other indirect causes of war. This figure represents a minimum, and may rise by up to 10,000 as further data is accumulated.
On the basis of these figures, which crime against humanity was worse: the Indonesian aggression against East Timor or the Serbian aggression against Bosnia ?
The correct answer is that neither was ‘worse’; only a very cynical, callous or perverse individual would seek to rank two such horrific episodes of mass killing. The figures tell us that both the East Timorese and the Bosnians suffered terribly; to describe the suffering of one as somehow ‘less’ than that of the other is to show a staggering disrespect for the dead.
Unfortunately, many of the same people who highlight the extent of East Timorese suffering, such as Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Edward Herman and David Peterson, actually go out of their way to minimise the extent of Bosnian suffering. For the sake of convenience, such people can be termed Chomskyites. The Chomskyites like to portray East Timor as absolutely the worst crime to have occurred anywhere in the world since World War II, whereas they like to portray Bosnia as something equivalent to a pillow-fight at a children’s party.
What applies to the Chomskyites’ treatment of Bosnia applies equally to their treatment of Kosovo. Chomskyites like to use terms such as ‘Sunday school picnic’ in relation to the suffering of the Kosovo Albanians. In reality…
Two scientific studies indicate that approximately 10,356 Kosovo Albanian civilians were killed in the period March-June 1999, or approximately 12,000 Albanians between February 1998 and June 1999 (the authors of the second survey indicate that ‘most’ were civilians but that it was not possible to distinguish completely between civilian and military deaths). This may be compared with the 18,600 East Timorese civilians killed (13,094 at the hands of the Indonesians and their East Timorese auxiliaries) in the period 1974-99.
So how do the Chomskyites make it look as though what happened in East Timor was incomparably worse than what happened in Bosnia or Kosovo ?
1) They readily accept the maximum reported estimates of East Timorese deaths as the true figures, while denying every single Bosnian or Kosovar fatality that has not been definitely documented;
2) They blame the Indonesians for 100% of all deaths in East Timor, including those that were the work of the East Timorese resistance, while blaming Serb forces only for the deaths of Bosnians or Kosovars they actually killed themselves;
3) They try to convert as many Bosnian or Kosovar deaths as possible into ‘military’ deaths and therefore not as ‘proper’ victims, or into victims of the Bosnian/Muslim, Croat or Albanian forces and therefore not as Serbian victims, while assuming that all 200,000 East Timorese deaths were indeed ‘proper’ victims of the Indonesians alone;
4) They describe Bosnia or Kosovo as a ‘civil war’ or an ‘internal conflict’ and remind everyone that there were ‘atrocities on all sides’, while never mentioning the civil-war dimension of East Timor, or the atrocities of the East Timorese resistance;
5) They include deaths resulting from hunger and disease in the total for East Timorese deaths; such deaths account for over 90% of the total if one adopts the maximum figure for total East Timorese deaths, which they usually do; conversely, they exclude all such possible deaths from their calculation of the Bosnian or Kosovar war-dead;
6) They treat the RDC’s documented body-count of 97,207 Bosnian war-dead, in reality a minimum, as if it were actually a maximum, and treat it as equivalent to the maximum estimates for East Timorese losses.
7) They treat incomplete body counts for Bosnian or Kosovar victims as though they were equivalent to total actual losses, while never requiring body counts to ‘prove’ East Timorese losses.
Here are some facts that you are unlikely to learn from an article written by Chomsky, Pilger, Herman or Peterson:
* In 1975, the year of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, 49% of civilians killed in East Timor were killed by Fretilin/Falantil, the East Timorese resistance movement. In no year during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, 1991-99, were non-Serb forces responsible for such a high percentage of civilian deaths. You will frequently hear the term ‘on all sides’ used by a Chomskyite in reference to the death toll in Bosnia or Kosovo, but never in reference to East Timor.
* In the year 1999, the Indonesian army and its East Timorese auxiliaries killed 1,400 – 1,500 East Timorese civilians according to the CAVR survey, a figure apparently supported by a study carried out by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and cited in the CAVR survey. In 1995, the RDC’s figures confirm that Serb forces massacred over 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica. Chomsky is on record as describing the Srebrenica massacre as ‘much lesser’ in scale than the Indonesian massacres in East Timor in 1999. He achieves this by using high estimates for East Timorese losses – high estimates of the kind that Chomskyites regularly cite as proof of ‘exaggeration’ and of ‘pro-war propaganda’ when made for Bosnian or Kosovar losses.
Chomsky on East Timor: ‘The massacre continued, peaking in 1978 with the help of new arms provided by the Carter administration. The toll to date is estimated at about 200,000, the worst slaughter relative to population since the Holocaust.’
Chomsky on Kosovo: ‘Up until the US/NATO bombing March 24th, there had been, according to NATO, 2000 people killed on all sides, and a couple of hundred thousand refugees. Well, that’s bad, that’s a humanitarian crises, but unfortunately it’s the kind you can find all over the world.’
Pilger on East Timor: ‘…a tiny nation then suffering one of the most brutal occupations of the 20th century. Enforced starvation and murder had extinguished a quarter of the population: 180,000 people. Proportionally, this was a carnage greater than that in Cambodia under Pol Pot.’
Pilger on Kosovo: ‘The “mass graves” in Kosovo would justify it all, they said. When the bombing was over, international forensic teams began subjecting Kosovo to minute examination. The FBI arrived to investigate what was called “the largest crime scene in the FBI’s forensic history”. Several weeks later, having found not a single mass grave, the FBI and other forensic teams went home. In 2000, the International War Crimes Tribunal announced that the final count of bodies found in Kosovo’s “mass graves” was 2,788. This included Serbs, Roma and those killed by “our” allies, the Kosovo Liberation Front.’
Herman on East Timor: ‘The U.S. support and investment did not slacken when Suharto’s army invaded and occupied East Timor in 1975, which resulted in an estimated 200,000 deaths in a population of only 700,000.’
Herman on Srebrenica: ‘The disconnection with truth is epitomized by the fact that the original estimate of 8,000, including 5,000 “missing”–who had left Srebrenica for Bosnian Muslim lines-was maintained even after it had been quickly established that several thousand had reached those lines and that several thousand more had perished in battle. This nice round number lives on today in the face of a failure to find the executed bodies and despite the absence of a single satellite photo showing executions, bodies, digging, or trucks transporting bodies for reburial.’
Peterson on East Timor: ‘The Indonesian military’s brutal occupation caused the deaths of some 200,000 East Timorese, perhaps as many as one-third of its pre-invasion population.’
Herman and Peterson on Kosovo: ‘There has never been any hint of criticism in the mainstream media of the inflated numbers given by U.S. officials, nor have there been any doubts expressed as to the accuracy of the 11,000 figure, although it came from sources of proven unreliability and was 70 percent higher than the official body count plus list of missing (6,398). In the New York Times, Michael Ignatieff explained that if the numbers of bodies found was less than 11,000 it must have been because the Serbs moved them out. He never explained why the bodies plus missing total fell far short of 11,000, but he didn’t have to worry: in dealing with a demonized enemy anything goes.’
Hat tip: Michael Karadjis, Mihalis.
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