Diana Johnston  

Dårarnas korståg – Jugoslavien, Nato och västliga villfarelser

Noam Chomskys brev till Ordfront den 7 december 2003
 
Dear friends,
 
I have heard from various friends in Sweden about an ongoing controversy concerning Diana Johnstone's book on the Balkans. I have known her for many years, have read the book, and feel that it is quite serious and important. I also know that it has been very favorably reviewed, e.g., by the leading British scholarly journal International Affairs, journal of the Royal Academy. I was therefore interested to learn of the criticisms and the controversy, and took the trouble to investigate what was sent to me. Some comments follow about what was sent to me, which I am assuming to be accurate, for the sake of these comments. I am sending them in the hope that they may be relevant to whatever discussions are taking place within Ordfront.
Noam
 
A Swedish journalist sent me sections of an article in Svenska Dagbladet that stated:
 
"As witness to the truth, an author is interviewed, who in the spirit of Noam Chomsky claims that the discourse on ethnic cleansing and genocide in Yugoslavia is "the great lie, the heart of the myth." Such events have not occurred, just "incidents."
 
The sender suggested that I respond, but of course I will not. There is no need to dignify such gutter journalism with response. Evidently, no journal that expects to be taken seriously would publish such slanders without even a pretense of argumentor evidence, and that the fact that it appears tells us a good deal about the standards of any journal that would tolerate this practice.
 
Another document sent to me contains a number of charges:
 
(1) "According to her it cannot be a matter of genocide when women and children are spared. But to me it is obvious that genocide and crimes against humanity have been committed in Srebrenica…"
 
Reference is apparently to Johnstone's statement (p. 117) refuting the claim that the charge of "genocide" is demonstrated by the fact that the Serbs who conquered Srebrenica offered safe passage to women and children. In response to this absurd claim, she writes: "However, one thing should be obvious: one does not commit `genocide' by sparing women and children.
 
I do not see how her entirely appropriate comment justifies the charge in (1)
 
(2) Johnstone "claims that the circa 40 persons who were killed in the village of Racak were not civilians but Albanian guerilla fighters which had been killed in fighting with Serbian police."
 
I read the section but could not find that claim.
 
3) "Johnstone asserts that more effort has gone into exaggerating the number of dead than into identifying and caclulating the actual number of victims, that there was never any real wish to find out how many were killed and who they were. She suggests that several thousand hade fled and survived."
 
I read that section too. I am aware of no evidence -- of course, meaning evidence available to her at the time she wrote -- that the statements she actually made in this regard (as distinct from those attributed to her) are incorrect.
 
4) "Mikael van Reis published an article in Göteborgs-Posten. I quote:
 
"… the revisionist author Diana Johnstone, foreground figure in the slander-convicted magazine "Living Marxism". She insists that the Serb atrocities - ethnic cleansing, torture camps, mass executions - are western propaganda. That is also what Slobodan Milosevic and his ilk profess. Thus the Ordfront left is suddenly travelling in the same compartment as postcommunist fascism."
 
I do not know van Reis, and hope that the quotation is incorrect. However, if it is correct, it is quite remarkable.
 
Let us first consider the "slander-convicted magazine `Living Marxism'." The case is important. LM was indeed convicted, and put out of business, thanks to Britain's outrageous libel laws, denounced as scandalous worldwide by everyone concernedwith the right of freedom of expression. In this case, a huge corporation was able to put a small marginal journal out of business by demanding the impossible, as Britain's miserable libel laws require, and in the certain knowledge that the journal would be unable to mount a defense given the ludicrous imbalance of resources.
 
Van Reis is, of course, entitled to hold, and express, his strong opposition to freedom of speech: specifically, his doctrine, clearly expressed here, that the rich and powerful should be able to use the power of the state to silence opinion and reporting they do not like.
 
But putting that aside, let's now consider his reasoning. Johnstone argues -- and, in fact, clearly demonstrates -- that a good deal of what has been charged has no basis in fact, and much of it is pure fabrication. For van Reis, this is outrageous. Van Reis therefore is telling us, loud and clear, that he not only is a dedicated opponent of freedom of speech, but he believes with equal passion that it is critically important to safeguard the right to lie -- not in the interests of freedom of expression, which he strongly opposes, as just demonstrated -- but rather in one special case: to lie in service of power and privilege.
 
Consider finally his interesting logic. Johnstone's actual statements (the accuracy of which he rightly does not challenge) are also made by Milosevic. Therefore, she and Ordfront are supporters of Milosevic's crimes. And, by precisely the same argument, van Reis is a strong defender of the Holocaust. The proof is elementary. His charges against Stalinist crimes were also made by Goebbels, Himmler, and their apologists until today. QED.
 
It is astonishing that anything like this should appear in print, in a reputable journal.
 
A final comment on "genocide." People are free to use the term "genocide" as they please, and to condemn Racak and Srebrenica, say, as genocidal if they like. But then they have a simple responsibility: Inform us of their bitter denunciations of the incomparably worse "genocide" carried out with the strong backing of the US and UK at the very same moment as Racak. Say, the massacre at Liquica, with perhaps up to 200 civilians murdered, one of many (unlike Racak), in a country under military occupation and hence a grave war crime (unlike Racak), and in this case simply a massacre of civilians, without even a pretext of resistance (again unlike Racak). Furthermore, unless the British government, the State Department, NATO, the OSCE, and other impeccable Western sources are lying outright, the Racak massacre was committed at a time when the KLA guerrillas were carrying out terrorist attacks from their Albanian bases against Serbian civilians and police, and were responsible for the majority of atrocities (see, e.g., Lord Robertson and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, or the very few serious scholarly studies, such as Nicholas Wheeler's -- who strongly supports the NATO bombing but is so unfashionable as to report the results of the massive Western documentation). And to continue, Swedes who display their outrage over these examples of Serbian genocide clearly have the duty of informing us of their far more bitter condemnations of the massacres (again with decisive US-UK backing) through 1999, leaving maybe 5-6000 civilian corpses, according to the Church in East Timor and the leading Western historian of Timor, the British scholar John Taylor --- all BEFORE the paroxysm of terror in late August 1999, after which the US and UK (and for all I know, Sweden) continued to support the Indonesian murderers who were already responsible for the death of about 1/3 of the population in pure aggression decisively supported by the US and UK (and when it came time to make some profit from it, Sweden). Perhaps they have issued bitter condemnations of their Western allies (and Sweden). If so, they have a right to use the term "genocide" in the case of the terrible but much lesser crimes of Racak and Srebrenica. And, needless to say, this is only one trivial example of Western crimes in the same years.
 
I don't read Swedish journals of course, but it would be interesting to learn how the Swedish press explains the fact that their interpretation of Johnstone's book differs so radically from that of Britain's leading scholarly foreign affairs journal, International Affairs. I mentioned the very respectful review by Robert Caplan, of the University of Reading and Oxford. It is obligatory, surely, for those who condemn Johnstone's book in the terms just reviewed to issue still harsher condemnation of International Affairs, as well as of the universities of Reading and Oxford, for allowing such a review to appear, and for allowing the author to escapecensure.
 
That seems pretty straightforward.


To members of Ordfront and other interested parties:
 
As an admirer of Diana Johnstone’s Fools’ Crusade and as a participant in the controversy that has raged over that book, I was interested to learn that it has been suggested that the outcome of the recent annual meeting-- which reaffirmed her right be heard, in accordance with Ordfront's stated ideals-- might discourage good writers from continuing their associations with Ordfront. I therefore asked some of my friends who have published with Ordfront for their view on that matter; their open letter is included below. I also attach my review of Johnstone’s book, and my two letters in response to Leif Ericsson’s attacks on Johnstone – letters that he has failed to answer with any substance.
 
Please feel free to contact me for confirmation of the authors' joint statement.
Sincerely,
 
Edward S. Herman
Professor Emeritus of Finance, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
Co-author with Noam Chomsky of Manufacturing Consent and The Political Economy of Human Rights, and author of numerous other works on related topics.
 
To whom it may concern:
 
We have been informed that the head of Ordfront’s publishing house has expressed concern that the majority of the recent annual meeting and the new Ordfront board, by insisting on the right of Diana Johnstone to be heard, may jeopardize the willingness of good writers to work with Ordfront. In fact, the opposite is true.
 
We regard Diana Johnstone’s Fools’ Crusade as an outstanding work, dissenting from the mainstream view but doing so by an appeal to fact and reason, in a great tradition. But whatever opinion one may have of that book, there are more fundamental issues at stake, namely freedom of expression and the right to express dissenting views. We strongly support the democratic majority of Ordfront’s recent annual meeting for voting to reassert those principles, and to repudiate their abandonment by the organization’s leadership in response to a propaganda onslaught by mainstream Swedish media.
 
It is that onslaught and the leadership’s submission to it which we find reprehensible. We wish to make it clear that, only to the extent that Ordfront’s publishing house associates itself with such unprincipled behavior would we be inclined to terminate our relationship with the organization.
 
Signed by the following Ordfront authors:
Arundhati Roy
John Pilger
Noam Chomsky
Michael Albert
Tariq Ali
David Barsamian



Läs debatten innan boken kommit ut i Sverige.
Manifest bjuder på länkar.

Diana Johnstone
skriver brev till
sina vänner i Sverige

Dear Swedish friends,
 
The news of the latest Ordfront meeting is pretty sickening.  I am of course most concerned about Björn Ecklund who has been the victim of  an outrageous injustice.
 
From my distant vantage point, and knowing none of the details of these procedures, I can't help feeling that a more aggressive defense, based on content as well as form, might have been more effective. At least it could hardly have been worse.
 
I wanted to go to Sweden immediately in order to debate the issues raised by the notorious interview in Ordfront.
 
As I understand things (and I may have this wrong), it was decided to set aside any discussion of the content of the interview and base the defense on "freedom of speech". For that reason, my own presence was considered a possible distraction that could weaken the "freedom of speech" issue.
 
I can't help feeling that this was a mistake.  Editorial policy is not the same as freedom of speech.  If in fact my viewpoint was morally and factually wrong, then giving it nine pages was an editorial error.
 
But everything changes if it is recognized that my work was factually accurate and morally considerably above the level of my critics. I think this was the issue and should have been at the center of the debate.
 
I hope now that this debate can be joined during my forthcoming trip to Sweden.
 
Sincerely,
Diana