Tuesday, September 05, 2006


The serious Noamophobe never rests, for there's always someone, somewhere, who'll favorably cite Chomsky, and thus they must be proven wrong and painted as a dupe or worse for even considering such a stance. I'm sure it's a tiring task, but thanks to Technorati, Ice Rocket, and good ol' Google, the Noamophobe can be everywhere online, almost at once.

I've had my run-ins with a few 'phobes -- scuffles, really. Nothing terribly intense. As I've noted here before, I knew Noam for a time, back in my political youth when the US-backed slaughter in Central America was the pressing issue. He was warm, approachable and pleasant. He taught me much about the need to put one's critical intelligence to use where it's most needed. I still have dozens of long letters from him in the days before email, and one of my favorite memories is of Noam and I, along with a few anarchist editors from Canada, drinking beer and talking about the various anarchist traditions which I was then beginning to learn. I've had my disagreements with him, and have sometimes felt that he was too obstinate when dealing with criticism. But overall, I'm glad to have had the direct access I did. I wouldn't trade it in for anything.

While recounting my recent "debate" at Tarrytown, I mentioned a brief exchange about Noam that took place in a car between me and Morton Klein:

"[W]hen Noam Chomsky came up, Mort denounced him for writing a preface for a Holocaust denier's book (the infamous Robert Faurisson affair). Instead of letting that go, I immediately corrected him, informing him that Chomsky actually wrote an essay about protecting free speech, no matter how crazy or vile, and that the state shouldn't be allowed to determine or legislate historical truth. The essay was given to Chomsky's friend in France, Serge Thion, who did indeed place it as the opening to Faurisson's book. But this essay was in no way a defense of Faurisson's views, only of his right to publish whatever he wanted without being prosecuted for historical deviationism, which he was at the time.

"'Hmmm,' said Mort. 'I didn't know that.' He paused, then stated with forefinger raised, 'Then Chomsky should denounce that man who put it in that book!'

"'Well," I replied, 'that's his choice, not yours.'"

And that was it for Noam, Faurisson, Holocaust denial, and the rest. The remainder of the piece dealt with the lead-up to and actual "debate" itself, but this clearly was of no interest to the Noamophobic Oliver Kamm, who, after seeing that one paragraph, set down his binoculars and tapped out his usual drivel about the sinister Professor from MIT, while of course knocking my idiocy for defending an immoral man. The standard fare. Hardly new. Till now, I hadn't encountered much of Kamm's stuff. What little I've read came to me via others critical of his takes; and at Crooked Timber, I've come across his many self-flattering comments in various threads. Kamm takes himself veddy seriously. He's quite the Intellectual, as he'll readily remind you, though you must hack your way thru tangled prose and sentences to find what meaning he attempts to impart. I suppose that's what Great Thinkers do -- make you work for it. But beyond all these trappings lies an inexhaustible hatred of Noam Chomsky, and that, it seems to me, is what truly defines Kamm. He appears quite comfortable in this capacity, 'else he wouldn't commit so much time to it. Right?

Anyone defending Chomsky must either be deluded or concealing something, at least that's the gist I get from Kamm when he casts doubt on my anecdote above. My conversation with Klein, "which I suppose we must take at face value," may not have taken place at all; but then, "it makes no odds to" Kamm either way, which if true, why raise it to begin with? I think the answer's pretty plain, in a passive/aggressive sense. You'd think that my naming every person in the car, along with their affiliation with the event or to me personally, would put me on thin ice were I fabricating the discussion. I mean, how hard would it be to simply look them up and ask them if what I wrote was accurate? Kamm's not going to do that, because he knows I have witnesses who'll back me up, but he simply can't resist slinging a little shit my way, if only to lubricate his subsequent smears.

"Perrin is talking nonsense," Kamm declares in response to my assertion that Noam's essay "was in no way a defense of Faurisson's views, only of his right to publish whatever he wanted without being prosecuted for historical deviationism, which he was at the time." According to Kamm, this was not so. Through his eyes, Noam, if not explicitly endorsing Faurisson's denial, was entirely too soft on Faurisson's views, certainly too soft for Kamm's exacting, manly standards. Noam's quote, which by now is tattooed to the frontal lobes of Noamophobes everywhere, "As far as I can determine, [Faurisson] is a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort," still drives them nuts, over a quarter century later. I've long suspected that Noam wrote that with this precise intention in mind -- a kind of mindfuck for those who insist that everyone be as Outraged and Correct as they continually claim to be. If so, it was a brilliant tactic, as the 'phobes continue to squirm and sputter on cue. In any event, Kamm links to the original essay, and it's worth a read. See if you can see what Kamm claims to see. No squinting allowed.

Kamm then gets legal on me. "Further, Perrin's assertion that 'the state shouldn't be allowed to determine or legislate historical truth' is, while true, irrelevant to this case. Faurisson was prosecuted not by the state, but in a civil case by two anti-racist organizations." Yes, but where was the civil case tried? I imagine in a French court, which I presume is connected to the French state, as was the judge, I'm guessing. Kamm makes it appear that Faurisson was taken to task in some kind of ideological small claims court, no big deal, really. Why the fuss? Oh sure, Kamm says that the case "ought never to have been brought, in my view," but it was, and was heard by those in the French legal system, which again, I suspect, has state ties. Lest it seem that Kamm, too, is getting soft on Faurisson, he quickly adds that "Faurisson was not being prosecuted merely for holding odious opinions. (He was also, incidentally, convicted on separate charges of incitement to racial hatred and slander - both charges were correct and the prosecutions justified)."

So, Faurisson was indeed being prosecuted for his opinions, something that Kamm finds "justified." Slander is one thing, and open to interpretation. I'm willing to believe that Faurisson engaged in this, as did many against him (along with direct physical attacks on his person). But "incitement to racial hatred" is a much more ambiguous "crime," at least here in the States, where one may say all manner of rude and awful things and not be taken to trial. I know that in England, where Kamm lives, there are different standards for public speech; and clearly this is also the case in France. It would be instructive to know what Faurisson said or wrote that was considered "incitement to racial hatred." Did he directly call for Jews as a group or specific Jewish critics to be tortured or murdered? Did he lead any angry racist mobs? Or was he convicted on this charge solely because he believes that Nazi gas chambers are a hoax? As someone pleased with the end result, perhaps Kamm will enlighten us.

"Finally," Kamm goes on, "note Perrin's evasive use of language in this sentence: 'The essay was given to Chomsky's friend in France, Serge Thion, who did indeed place it as the opening to Faurisson's book.' Perrin seems to think that this disposes of the charge that Chomsky wrote a preface to Faurisson's book. Of course it doesn't. The salient issue is what Chomsky intended his friend to make of this essay."

Well, the bottom line is that Noam's essay became the preface to Faurisson's book. The question is: Did Noam sit down with this specific intention in mind? Or did he, as he has long claimed, write a defense of Faurisson's basic human rights and allow Thion to do with it as he pleased, having brief second thoughts before relenting? Since neither Kamm nor I were there at the time, we can't honestly say. I don't know if Kamm has ever met Noam, much less spent significant time with him, but I have, and I tend to believe the latter. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Noam lied about the whole thing. But given the hysterical reactions to this essay which continue to this day, I don't know why he would bother lying about it. Indeed, if Noam intentionally meant for his essay to appear in Faurisson's book before he wrote a word, it wouldn't undermine the libertarian case for Faurisson's rights -- it would strengthen it. For if one truly believed that Faurisson's opinions should be protected, then any serious defender wouldn't shy away from making the case right next to the reviled text. This of course would open one to all manner of abuse, as we've seen. But defending the rights of the indefensible has never been a terribly chic or popular position, occasional rhetorical flourishes aside.

After all this, Kamm tells us that "No responsible critic claims that Chomsky is a Holocaust denier. Nor is Chomsky an antisemite." In order to cover his ass, Kamm states this twice. This is progress. It wasn't all that long ago that after mentioning Chomsky's name to someone unfamiliar with his body of work, but familiar with his bad reputation, the response would be, "Doesn't he deny the Holocaust?" I'm sure this still happens. So two snaps to Kamm for at least acknowledging the truth on this front. But if Kamm knows that Noam isn't a Holocaust denier or a Jewish anti-Semite, then what is his real beef with Noam when it comes to Faurisson? That he doesn't say or do what Kamm (and his friends) demand he say or do? That he doesn't pound his chest in the appropriate manner? If Kamm is being honest when conceding that Noam doesn't share Faurisson's views, then what we have here is criticism most provincial. And childish. But then, a lot of Western intellectual culture is provincial and childish, when not simply destructive. Oliver Kamm evinces this tendency most reliably. It's how the Noamophobes roll.