Monbiot v Chomsky: Left v Truth

There is nothing but despair in Chomsky-style communism and collectivism; Monbiot is somewhere in the middle and deserves our pity for wanting to believe

George Monbiot has taken on his hero, Noam Chomsky. Who wins?
Charles Crawford
On 22 May 2012 10:07

We all know George Monbiot, a top Guardianista and devout member of the Left who has robust intellectual consistency to the point of departing from the line now and then - being roundly denounced by his comrades.

Here he is baffled and indeed profoundly depressed by the way that some hi-profile Leftists (and even one of his heroes!) are not on his side when it comes to condemning huge atrocities committed by forces hostile to 'the West'. Nay - his fight is 'hopeless':

I wrote to Noam Chomsky, a hero of mine, who provided the foreword to Herman and Peterson's book, asking whether he had read it and whether he accepted the accounts it contains of the Rwandan genocide and the massacre of Srebrenica. Watching that brilliant mind engage in high-handed dismissal and distraction has been profoundly depressing. While failing to answer my questions, he accused me of following the Washington script (I have posted our correspondence on my website).

John Pilger, who wrote a glowing endorsement of the book, volunteered this response: "Chef Monbiot is a curiously sad figure. All those years of noble green crusading now dashed by his Damascene conversion to nuclear power's poisonous devastations and his demonstrable need for establishment recognition – a recognition which, ironically, he already enjoyed." The leftwing magazine Counterpunch cited my article as evidence that I am a member of the "thought police", and that the role of the Guardian is "to limit the imaginative horizons of readers".

Thus has this infectious idiocy spread through the political community to which I belong. The people I criticise here rightly contend that western governments and much of the western media ignore or excuse atrocities committed by the United States and its allies, while magnifying those committed by forces deemed hostile. But they then appear to create a mirror image of this one-sided narrative, minimising the horrors committed by forces considered hostile to the US and its allies.

He concludes:

Perhaps this looks to you like the kind of esoteric infighting to which the left too often succumbs, but this seems to me to be important: as important as any other human rights issue. If people who claim to care about justice and humanity cannot resist what looks to me like blatant genocide denial, we find ourselves in a very dark place.

Those of us who seek to judge a case on its merits, rather than according to the identity of the victims and perpetrators, have a duty to defend the memory of people being airbrushed by Herman, Peterson and their supporters. This does not make us apologists for western power, or establishment flunkies or thought police. It means only that we care about the facts.

Hmm. That's an interesting idea. He maybe needs to step back and consider what it means for him as a person to be part of a political tendency that unashamedly lives in such a dark place and tells lies.

However, GM has also published an impressive exchange with Noam Chomsky on these questions. No point in quoting at length from it - best to read the whole astounding thing. It ends thus:

At this point, faced with Professor Chomsky’s repeated and apparently wilful failure to grasp the simple points I was making or answer the simple questions I was asking, I almost lost the will to live. I have not replied.

I have to say that I found this paragraph in particular utterly depressing, as it appears to confirm my suspicion that Professor Chomsky, whose research is usually so thorough, is deliberately ignoring a vast weight of evidence which conflicts with his political beliefs:

“All of that is incomparably more significant than the question of how many people Serbs “executed” at Srebrenica as distinct from killing them in combat (the issue between you and Herman, once your misquotation is corrected: and the fact is that you don’t know, he doesn’t know, and we will probably never find out) and whether the huge number slaughtered in Rwanda (Herman’s estimate is higher than yours) were mostly Hutu or mostly Tutsi.”

There is also something even more depressing for George Monbiot in the way Chomsky puts his case in these exchanges - a subtle, cynical, deftly patronising sense that because Monbiot is British and somehow part of a vast imperialist evil order, his views just don't count for much.

On the substance, it seems that we all have some genocides we like, and some we ignore. Those like Chomsky, who hate the society that has given them so much, find nothing except evil in its policies, and therefore play down to vanishing-point any crimes committed by anyone who is non-West.

In these exchanges, Chomsky in effect is arguing that because the West has (in his view) committed all sorts of vast crimes, it is a diversion and perhaps deliberate capitalist/colonialist/neocon mystification even to mention not quite so vast crimes committed by (say) Mladic in Bosnia.

Mine is far bigger than yours, so it doesn't matter how big yours is, and even to mention yours qualifies the glory of mine, so STFU you Limey shrimp!


I conclude that down through history there has been one damn massacre after another, almost all unpunished.

I see hope in Western-style capitalism and pluralism, plus I know that within those countries are vast numbers of decent people doing their best. So I tend not to dwell much on historical misdeeds (Kenya, American Indians, pick your issue) committed by us, the more so as people like Chomsky rave away on such topics for their own revolting purposes.

I see nothing but despair in Chomsky-style communism and collectivism, so I think those crimes are worse. Indeed, the order of magnitude is completely different when it comes to collectivist mass killing. See also the catastrophic Slavoj Zizek, a banal neo-Stalinist moral black hole.

Pity George Monbiot. He's somewhere in the middle.

He wants to believe in the Left, but the Left will never accept moral responsibility for communist and similar mass atrocities done in its name – partly for tactical reasons, but more importantly because the Left has to insist that morality itself is relative, as a key way of defining issues on its own terms and thereby extending ideological and emotional control.

Charles Crawford is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. A former British Ambassador in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Warsaw, he is now a private consultant and writer: He tweets @charlescrawford

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