My post last Monday drew several responses on Chomsky's behalf, two of which were anonymous and somewhat vitriolic (one posted from an IP address in Spain, the other from Australia), as well as a link to Oliver Kamm. I have done Chomsky the honour of a little more background research, and will give him a little, but only a little, more credit than I did previously.
Chomsky says in explanation:
I did not support Diana Johnstone's right to publish strongly enough when her book was withdrawn by the publisher after dishonest press attacks, which I reviewed in an open letter that any reporter could have easily discovered.I don't, in fact, detect much difference between this explanation and Chomsky's remarks about Johnstone as originally reported in the body of the article; indeed the headline quotes (to which Chomsky reasonably objects) are not a fair representation of his words, as was clear to anyone who took the time to read the article (as I did); but surely he has been in public life long enough not to actually expects accuracy and subtlety from headline writers?
Anyway, it took me a surprising amount of googling - and my internet searching skills are not bad - but I think I have found the open letter here. In fairness, he does indeed say that Srebrenica was a terrible crime, though "much lesser" than the actions of the Indonesian government in East Timor for which he blames the US and UK (and to a lesser extent Sweden). On the other hand, he supports Johnstone's equivocation about whether or not Srebrenica was an act of genocide.
But the last paragraph of Chomsky's open letter really made me blink:
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 escape censure.My friend Richard Caplan, of the Universities of Reading and Oxford, must be increasingly weary of being confused with the journalist Robert Kaplan, but it is certainly his review to which Chomsky refers. The opening paragraph - "Slobodan Milosevic emerges as a multiculturalist committed to the preservation of a reformed socialist Yugoslavia who was demonized by the West not because of his militant nationalism, which she maintains the West largely fabricated, but because he stood in the way of western hegemonic designs for the region" - is surely to be read with irony, especially since the second half of the review is devoted to identifying errors and omissions by Johnstone which critically undermine her arguments. Chomsky thinks the review is "respectful". I would describe it more as icily polite; but read it and judge for yourself.
My own furious reaction to Chomsky's interview in the Guardian was provoked by his reported comment on Johnstone that her work "may be wrong; but it is very careful and outstanding work". I'm glad to discover that Chomsky actually agrees that Bad things Happened at Srebrenica. But I'm shocked that a "top public intellectual" is unable to report accurately on the content of other people's book reviews. And I still don't see how any "top public intellectual" can reconcile the concept of "very careful and outstanding work" on issues as important as Srebrenica with the possibility that such work "may be wrong". I have the fanciful notion that the concept of freedom of speech does not oblige publishers or newspaper editors to provide a platform for wicked lies.