Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Critique of Chomsky

By Zenobia van Zelledongen  

I have mixed feelings about Noam Chomsky. Much of what he says is true. But he says it in such a one-sided way, always blaming the US and Israel for everything and never mentioning the cruelties and crimes committed by the US’s and Israel’s adversaries, so that every time I have to check to see if it's really true or he's making it up. And he often makes it sound a lot worse than it really is. Nonetheless he has rightly pointed out many stupid and cruel things that the US has done, and consequently he cannot be simply crossed off as a total liar.


Especially because, being the great Chomsky, he is capable of breaking through news blackouts, like the one that he denounced surrounding the Indonesian annexation of East Timor in 1975, in which he charges Indonesia with doing the dirty work for Australia, the US and Canada seizing East Timor’s offshore oil rights while the Indonesian army massacred the E Timor population, and the world press looked the other way.

He also very persuasively denounces the hypocrisy of the world hysteria over the Cambodian genocide by the Communists at the same time as the media were covering up the East Timor genocide by the capitalists. Furthermore he plausibly points out that the genocidal Khmer Rouge were largely a product of the desperation and devastation wrought by the savage US bombing of Cambodia, which had caused catastrophic damage and had utterly shattered the social fabric. This seems to be a well-established fact. I haven’t checked these charges from the 1970s, unlike later charges related to Islam conflicts. As I say, his charges relating to Afghanistan and so on are a mixed bag. Some are true and some are bullshit.

But he would be a lot more useful for the public at large if he were more impartial, i.e. denouncing everyone’s crimes and not just those committed by the US and Israel. And not inventing and exaggerating charges as he often does.
Here is my commentary on three interviews he gave on the subject of terrorism between 2001 and 2013.

The United States is a Leading Terrorist State, Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Barsamian, Monthly Review, vol. 53, no. 6, November, 2001

Chomsky has a point. I am no expert on the subject, so I will say rather more vaguely that the US’ readiness to commit or foster acts of terrorism and other atrocities varies depending on the situation and on which organ of the US government is dealing with the situation, as well as on many other variables I am not sure about.

The US is not indiscriminate in its use of violence and brutality as Chomsky constantly implies. For long stretches at a time the US has behaved quite well, like most other more or less democratic countries.

I'm sure someone has studied the issue. So I think before shooting his mouth off and giving the impression that the US is completely depraved and lawless 24/7, he should check to see if anyone has written a study on the subject. I intend to make a search of my own one of these days. However it is not a priority for me because I am not Human Rights Watch. I have other priority research interests.

What I criticize in Chomsky is that he seems to regard use of terror by the US as an incurable condition that can manifest itself in any context and at any time.
I think study is needed of which circumstances elicit terrorism by the US (as well as by other countries and non-state actors), which political factions, which scenarios, etc. Propose ways to prevent the US and others from engaging in terrorism. All that is lacking. Chomsky never makes proposals for piecemeal reforms either in the US, in Israel or internationally, let alone on the part of the US’ and Israel’s adversaries. Consequently he tacitly encourages the belief that use of terrorism and other atrocities by the US is incurable and inevitable and that only the destruction of the US as a great power will prevent the US from committing future atrocities.
This position is simply too extreme and simplistic, and encourages extremist solutions.

Chomsky gave this interview in 2001. I am writing this in 2013. More than eleven years have elapsed. Chomsky has had plenty of time to correct any errors he made. However when I downloaded the article a few days ago it seemed to have undergone no alteration since its original publication. That is a truly reckless omission on Chomsky’s part. He makes very grave charges, so the article should be reviewed at least once a year or so to correct any inaccuracy that may have been revealed in the interim. Quite apart from the fact that he makes misstatements that he should have known were wrong the instant he uttered them.

1. Chomsky improvising “underlying causes” to justify 9-11 attack on US

[talking about Afghanistan in the early 1980s] The bin Laden network and others like them draw a lot of their support from the desperation and anger and resentment of the people of the region, which ranges from rich to poor, secular to radical Islamist.

Chomsky’s account is extremely vague, but seems to direct implied reproaches at the US. However any such impression in this specific context is false.

I read an account of where bin Laden got his support from, and it had NOTHING TO DO WITH any alleged “desperation and anger and resentment of the people of the region”, and CERTAINLY NOT any emotions directed against the West or any foreign imperialism. See The Haqqani Network, CTC West Point. Bin Laden made political alliances with local warlords who had at their disp0sal many fanatical warriors lusting to do battle. And do battle they did, principally against Mohammedan fanatics belonging to opposing tribes and clans.

At the time the Taliban started up, they did mobilize local “anger and resentment” against corrupt landlords and potentates, especially when the latter raped innocent young girls and boys. The Taliban became popular by hanging a local tyrant and sexual predator from the barrel of a tank.

2. Algerian civil war
In fact, that [Algerian] government is in office because it blocked the democratic election in which it would have lost to mainly Islamic–based groups. That set off the current fighting. Similar things go on throughout the region.

The Islamist party, the Islamic Salvation Front, had clearly announced its intention of promptly discarding all democratic procedures together with the rule of law, once it had been voted into office. This clear statement of its intent to abolish democracy automatically invalidated its electoral victory. The Islamists were still naïf then and they blundered by speaking the truth.

As for the kicker “Similar things go on throughout the region”, I am fairly familiar with the region’s history and politics and offhand I cannot recall any “similar things go[ing] on throughout the region” at that time. Sounds like some glib Chomskovian improvisation just to avoid an awkward pause in the flow of conversation.

3. One-sided critique of US & Israel
The U.S. is the prime supporter of the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory, now in its thirty–fifth year.

He is assuming that Israel has no rights to Palestine. He is entitled to his opinion. However, I thoroughly studied the history of Palestine and the Middle East for the last century or so, and reached a different conclusion. This is not the place to argue the merits of Israel’s and the Arabs’ claims to Palestine. However, since Chomsky assumes that Israel is in the wrong, his charges against Israel are largely (but not wholly) a result of his assumptions.

4. Chomsky defending Islamic fanatics in the name of democracy:

A: There’s a lot more. There is the fact that the U.S. has supported oppressive, authoritarian, harsh regimes, and blocked democratic initiatives. For example, the one I mentioned in Algeria. Or in Turkey. Or throughout the Arabian Peninsula. What does that cryptic comment mean? Many of the harsh, brutal, oppressive regimes are backed by the U.S. and many are opposed to the US.
These are among the reasons why pro-American bankers and businessmen in the region are condemning the U.S. for supporting antidemocratic regimes and stopping economic development.

Now 12 ys later (2012) they had their elections and voted in … antidemocratic régimes! Consequently the charge of "supporting antidemocratic régimes” is a phony excuse. It is just one more lame pretext to evade the well-established fact that Islam is far more warlike and aggressive than any other biggish religion and that it is currently going through a particularly truculent and bloodthirsty period of its troubled existence.

5. Drug traffickers
Q: Do you think it’s more than problematic to engage in alliances with those whom are called “unsavory characters,” drug traffickers and assassins, in order to achieve what is said to be a noble end?

Chomsky himself associates with drug traffickers i.e. Hezbollah.

6. Chomsky sides with Bin Laden in falsely charging the US with a deliberate act of inhumanity

Or take the bombing of the Sudan, one little footnote, so small that it is casually mentioned in passing in reports on the background to the Sept. 11 crimes. How would the same commentators react if the bin Laden network blew up half the pharmaceutical supplies in the U.S. and the facilities for replenishing them? Or Israel? Or any country where people “matter”? Although that’s not a fair analogy, because the U.S. target is a poor country which had few enough drugs and vaccines to begin with and can’t replenish them. Nobody knows how many thousands or tens of thousands of deaths resulted from that single atrocity, and bringing up that death toll is considered scandalous. If somebody did that to the U.S. or its allies, can you imagine the reaction? In this case we say, Oh, well, too bad, minor mistake, let’s go on to the next topic. Other people in the world don’t react like that. When bin Laden brings up that bombing,[1] he strikes a resonant chord, even with people who despise and fear him, and the same, unfortunately, is true of much of the rest of his rhetoric. And yours!

Pharmaceutical factories can easily be adjusted to produce chemical weapons. That is exactly what occurred to this pharma plant during the 1990s. The Sudanese government converted it to produce chemical weapons. I believe Al Qaida was involved. In any case Richard Clark's book In Search of Enemies (2004) gives a blow-by-blow description. The CIA sent an agent to the plant who gathered soil near the plant. When the soil sample was analyzed it showed traces of a nerve gas, I believe. That was proof that the plant was producing nerve gas. It was promptly destroyed by a US missile. And a good thing, too.

7.  Chomsky calls jihadis “mercenaries”
The U.S., along with Egypt, Pakistan, French intelligence, Saudi Arabian funding, and Israeli involvement, assembled a major army, a huge mercenary army, maybe 100,000 or more, and they drew from the most militant sectors they could find, which happened to be radical Islamists, what are called here Islamic fundamentalists, from all over, most of them not from Afghanistan. They’re called Afghanis, but like bin Laden, they come from elsewhere.

Uncharacteristically, I must here defend the honor of jihadis. Chomsky is deliberately demeaning these religious fanatics by attributing to them material earthly goals, whereas they actually seek material celestial goals. They are so touchingly naïf that they think that when they get their heads blown off in battle they will instantly resurface in Paradise screwing a bunch of babes.  Consequently there is no need to bribe them with money. They do it for free.

Chomsky: The Boston Bombings Gave Americans a Taste of the Terrorism the U.S. Inflicts Abroad Every Day, May 2, 2013

Chomsky makes some valid criticisms of US foreign policy. However he makes the US out to be more evil than it is and he refrains from criticizing anyone except the US, which is hypocritical, because a lot of the people involved in the issues he mentions are just as guilty as the US if not more so.

8. Chomsky adopts the typical dhimmi positions that

  1. Terrorism against the US is merely reprisals for previous wrongs committed by the US;
  2. To prevent further aggression we must refrain from provoking others;
  3. There was no way directly to prevent Boston Marathon bombing

Regarding 1 and 2, Chomsky's claims would be accurate if he stated them more modestly. No doubt retaliation plays a role in some attacks on the US, and refraining from wronging others will no doubt improve US security situation somewhat. However neither are accurate when stated generally.

Why not? Because anti-Western hatred is largely inherent to Islamic ideology and would occur anyway, no matter how peacefully the US behaved. After all, Mohammedan terrorists targeted Sweden a few years back, didn't they? How many Mohammedan babies did Sweden kill?

Also remember the looting and burning of the US embassy in Islamabad in 1979. Since the Islamists couldn't think of any reason to attack the US embassy, they just made one up, and a pretty ridiculous one, too.

Besides, US crimes do not necessarily elicit hatred, and if they do, the hatred does not necessarily produce violence. In his 2001 interview Chomsky himself provides the example of Nicaragua’s lawful response to US aggression in blatant breach of international law. Despite the US’ ruthless acts against Nicaragua, no Nicaraguan has ever committed any act of terror against the US in all the years that have elapsed since then. Why not? Simple: no Mohammedans in Nicaragua.

As to “3. There was no way directly to prevent Boston Marathon bombing”, what the hell does he know? I think he's talking through his hat. To be able to make a statement like that responsibly one must first perform considerable research into police matters. Since Chomsky does not provide one single specific fact that indicates he ever looked into the matter, his statement is what lawyers call a “conclusory statement”, a gratuitous utterance akin to a ritual formula and completely lacking in informational value, that we can safely classify as a load of typical Chomskovian codswallop.

Chomsky On "Terrorism" [sic], By Saad Sayeed, 10/26/06 "Excalibur", News of Pakistan

9. Ex: In 1979, Russia invades Afghanistan. The U.S. uses the Ziaul Haq regime in Pakistan to fund the rise of militancy. This gives Zia a green light to fund cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. Now we allegedly have some of those elements setting off bombs in Mumbai. Clearly, these groups are no longer controlled by any government.

I don't know exactly what terror acts Chomsky is talking about, but his last sentence “Clearly, these groups are no longer controlled by any government” is obviously insincere and just meant to mollify the Paki journalist and the Paki government. There's no way in hell Chomsky could tell whether it was controlled by the Paki government or not. As a matter of fact it most likely WAS controlled by the government, as most terror groups are in Porkistan.

Meanwhile, the U.S. supported Ziaul Haq as he was turning Pakistan into a country full of madrassahs and fundamentalists. The Reagan administration even ( . . . ) kept certifying to Congress that Pakistan was not developing nuclear weapons, which of course they were, so that U.S. aid to Pakistan could continue.

This seems largely factual. I haven’t checked it in detail, but it broadly coincides with what I have learned from other sources that are considerably less ideological than Chomsky. The duplicity he relates is strongly reminiscent of Reagan’s documented modus operandi on other occasions.

10. Take the London bombing in 2005. Blair tried to pretend that it had nothing to do with Britain's participation in the invasion of Iraq. That's completely ridiculous. The British intelligence and the reports of the people connected in the bombing, they said that the British participation in the invasion and resulting horrors in Iraq inflamed them and they wanted to do something in reaction.

The bombings occurred because of that and because of Blair's other crime – allowing mass immigration of Mohammedans into Britain without consulting the population. Big demographic shifts should be subject to prior consultation.

[1] When did “bin Laden bring up that bombing”? I don't believe he ever mentioned it. And so what if he did? That just proves that Bin Laden is just as mendacious as Chomsky, by neglecting to mention that it was being used as a poison gas factory. 

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