Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Noam Chomsky - A skeptical interview [with an update]

The greatest intellectual?

Q: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated?
A: My only regret is that I didn't do it strongly enough

Emma Brockes
Monday October 31, 2005
The Guardian


Ostensibly I am here because Chomsky, 76, has been voted the world's top public intellectual by Prospect magazine, but he has no interest in that. He believes that there is a misconception about what it means to be smart. It is not a question of wit, as with no 5 on the list (Christopher Hitchens) or poetic dash like no 4 (Vaclav Havel), or the sort of articulacy that lends itself to television appearances, like no 37, the thinking girl's pin-up Michael Ignatieff, whom Chomsky calls an apologist for the establishment and dispenser of "garbage". Chomsky, by contrast, speaks in a barely audible croak and of his own, largely unsuccessful, television appearances has written dismissively: "The beauty of concision is that you can only repeat conventional thoughts." Being smart, he believes, is a function of a plodding, unsexy, application to the facts and "using your intelligence to decide what's right".

This is, of course, what Chomsky has been doing for the last 35 years, and his conclusions remain controversial: that practically every US president since the second world war has been guilty of war crimes; that in the overall context of Cambodian history, the Khmer Rouge weren't as bad as everyone makes out; that during the Bosnian war the "massacre" at Srebrenica was probably overstated. [....]

The rest is here. --Jeff Weintraub

[Update, March 2006: The rest was accessible through that link, but no longer. Chomsky complained to the Guardian that this interview misrepresented his views and those of another apologist for the Srebrenica massacre and other atrocities in Bosnia whose work he had praised, Diana Johnstone. British libel laws are notoriously punitive and weighted in favor of complainants, a fact that may help explain what happened next. The Guardian, acting either from cowardice or from stupidity, accepted Chomsky's claims, deleted the article from its website, and printed a "correction" and apology.
In fact, the article did not misrepresent Chomsky's position these issues, and his claim that it did so was simply dishonest. The facts of the matter were carefully and exhaustively set out in this open letter on "Chomsky, the Guardian, and Bosnia" signed by David Aaronovitch, Oliver Kamm, and Francis Wheen.
Stephen Glover, media columnist for the other main center-left British newspaper, The Independent, concluded that the Guardian's actions in this matter were craven and reprehensible. And although the Guardian made a show of responding to this open letter by bringing in an external ombudsman, John Willis, neither the editors nor Willis actually bothered "to reconsider Professor Chomsky's original complaint in the light of the evidence adduced by Messrs Aaronovitch, Kamm and Wheen in their letter," as they would have done if they "really had been interested in establishing the truth." --JW]