Friday, June 23, 2006

Do The Anti-Noam

Oh dear. They're at it again. A handful of American liberals shaking their hips, waving their paws and grimacing at Noam Chomsky. It's an old bit that's been going on at least since Noam began insisting that Palestinians are human beings, once a heretical thought in higher American discourse, but now, thanks to Noam (and others, like the late Edward Said), can be uttered during daylight hours without too much rhetorical blowback. There are numerous related sins that Noam is also charged with; but in the current case, it's his lack of enthusiasm for bombing Serbia in 1999 and supposed softness on Milosevic that has the righteous libs sputtering in mid-step.

Why Serbia? Why now, when Milosevic is dead, the matter is pretty much at rest, whatever one thinks of it, and there are other, more pressing issues to deal with (I'm thinking here of that Iraq thing)? Who the fuck really knows. I do know this -- some libs, not all, but some, cannot stand the thought that there are those ostensibly in or near their camp who didn't see the bombing of Serbia as the great humanitarian exercise they believe it was. I've been on the shouting end of this numerous times myself: Didn't I know that Bill Clinton stopped fascism in its tracks? Just why do I love Milosevic so? Isn't there anything worth bombing in my view, for the betterment of humanity, that is? And so on. I'm familiar with the routine, but these were discussions at lefty events or in darkened pubs. I've not really published anything about Milosevic, Serbia, and the bombing of both (though I did note Slobo's passing here), but Noam Chomsky has. And for some libs, what he's written and said is unacceptable if not sheer fascist apologetics. And that bashing Noam is considered a sign of liberal maturity also helps when the time comes to bash him, though in some corners, it's always Chomsky Bashing Time.

I won't burden you as the weekend begins with all the internecine slandering currently on display. Basically, today's Noam sliming has to do with whether or not he considers Srebrenica a massacre conducted by Serb forces, and whether or not Milosevic knew about it beforehand, and whether or not he was happy about it, or outraged by it, or just plain sad. Noam points to a Dutch government report that says that Milosevic had no prior knowledge of Srebrenica, adding that those who insist that Slobo knew have yet to factually prove this. To an academic lib like Michael Bérubé, this is "loony LaRouchie" rhetoric and outright denial of war crimes, what what's more, putting his foot down, "this kind of thing really has to stop. Now."

Boo-yah! Take that, Chomsky fans!

Not content to deal strictly with the initial charge he makes, Prof. Bérubé drags in the unholy trio of Ed Herman, Diana Johnstone and Michael Parenti, and hangs them around Noam's neck in an attempt to weigh him further down. Because, you see, Noam and Herman are friends and have co-authored books, and Noam said some kind words about Johnstone, who, like Herman and Parenti, is simply mad about Milosevic and in denial about his war crimes, and why would Chomsky associate with such people, unless . . . Then the good Prof. throws up a bunch of links to Decent Folk to show that, not only is he Decent too, but that Noam Chomsky is . . .

You get the idea.

Personally, I have no great love for Herman, Johnstone, or Parenti, but neither do I loathe them. I've talked to Herman a few times, a very soft-spoken, polite guy, and have friends who know him and say he's great, which he may well be. It's not a chief concern of mine. Parenti I met once, sitting next to him at a DC luncheon for -- who else? -- Noam Chomsky. Parenti was verbose and a bit flamboyant, but didn't seem terribly crazy to me. Maybe he is. I do know that he and Noam hardly said anything to each other that day (a plot to play down their pro-fascist alliance?), because right after the luncheon, Noam and I went for a long walk through Adams Morgan and talked about various things, none of which had anything to do with denying massacres or genocides, but again, that proves nothing. Johnstone I've never met, but used to read in In These Times. I found her pieces a bit overheated for my taste, and she seemed rather fond of the word "cult" to denounce things she didn't like. Did I find her fascistic? Not really. But then, I confess to not reading her on a regular basis. She could be Eva Braun for all I know. But what do these people have to do with the main question posed by Prof. Bérubé? Other than guilt-by-association, not much, that I can see.

Funny thing is, Noam has called Srebrenica a massacre and has said that throughout the 1990s, "the Milosevic regime has committed many crimes," for which he was attacked by an unambiguous Slobo-phile, Jared Israel. In fact, I can't find anything in print or online that shows Noam engaged in Srebrenica denial or pro-Milosevic apologetics, unless labeling the Serbian government a "regime" that "has committed many crimes," among them Srebrenica, is somehow flattering. Perhaps there's some linguistic subtext that the Prof. sees that I cannot. Anything's possible.

The sticking point for Prof. Bérubé, it seems, is that according to the Dutch report that Noam mentions, Milosevic was "horrified" when he heard about Srebrenica, a massacre he supposedly did not order and knew nothing about beforehand. In order to make NATO's bombing of Serbia gleam ever more brightly, it is imperative that Milosevic not only knew about Srebrenica, but was damn happy about it, cackling to himself and rubbing his hands while thousands of men and boys were rounded up and shot. Who knows? Maybe he did. Maybe the Dutch report is fiction. Maybe maybe. But none of us really knows for sure what Milosevic actually thought, not Noam Chomsky and certainly not Prof. Bérubé. And with Milosevic gone, the rest is speculation.

You can say, as does the diligent Prof., that the head of the Serbian state is responsible for whatever atrocities his armed forces carried out, whether he knew about it or not, or ordered it or not. That's a reasonable critique, and I share it. States, as anarchists have long insisted, are violent, coercive mechanisms that act in the interests of those who own them or wield disproportionate power. Serbia under Milosevic was no exception, but then, neither is the United States. And it will come as no shock to anyone honest that the US has poseurs like Milosevic beaten by a bombed country mile -- the only difference is, our leaders aren't held to the same standards by liberals who despised Milosevic. If Srebrenica was a war crime, then what was Central America in the 1980s, to cite one example? In that region there were many Srebrenicas, knowingly and actively backed and funded by us. Did Prof. Bérubé call for Ronald Reagan and the architects of that policy to be arrested and placed on trial for turning Central America into a mass grave? I certainly hope so, 'else his "concern" for what happened in the Balkans might be construed as opportunistic, ideological, or merely hypocritical. I doubt that he urged another humanitarian nation to bomb Washington, DC and Arlington, VA (as well as the western White House in California) for 70-plus days, hitting hospitals, schools, railways, airports and the like, not only because it wasn't feasible, but mainly because Americans are special. We don't deserve the kind of collective punishment that we regularly mete out to others. Self-criticism? Certainly, but within limits, lest we be paralyzed by self-doubt, which a great nation like ours cannot afford. War crimes trials and the bombing of our cities? What are you, a Milosevic lover?

Once Prof. Bérubé did his anti-Chomsky dance, you knew that fellow Decent Lib Marc Cooper would follow in stride. And he did, in his typically crude and clumsy way. That Cooper gets it wrong is no surprise, but you do have to appreciate the effort he makes, to the extent that his effort is at all serious. Anyone who's engaged Cooper knows that he hates hates hates most of those considered to his left, so much so that he spews out pretty much anything so long as it might stick (which it usually doesn't). And that he tries to conflate Noam with some lunatics at Pacifica is par for his grubby course. They all seem to blend together in his head, based on what springs out of it on a regular basis.

Noam's not perfect, and I've had my open differences with him in the past. But on this front, his accusers are doing all the spinning, with Prof. Bérubé gliding around quotes as Cooper loses his balance and crashes into the orchestra pit.