May 11, 2011

Hitchens and Chomsky: So this is war

Noam Chomsky issued a statement in Guernica magazine shortly after the American invasion of Pakistan and the summary execution of Osama bin Laden. Just to give a taste, here's the opening bit:
It’s increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law. There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 80 commandos facing virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them. In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial. I stress “suspects.” In April 2002, the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, informed the press that after the most intensive investigation in history, the FBI could say no more than that it “believed” that the plot was hatched in Afghanistan, though implemented in the UAE and Germany. What they only believed in April 2002, they obviously didn’t know 8 months earlier, when Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know, because they were instantly dismissed) to extradite bin Laden if they were presented with evidence—which, as we soon learned, Washington didn’t have. Thus Obama was simply lying when he said, in his White House statement, that “we quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda.”

Nothing serious has been provided since. There is much talk of bin Laden’s “confession,” but that is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement.
And a couple of days ago Christopher Hitchens issued a counter statement in Slate magazine. To give you a taste, the title is Chomsky's Follies.  He quotes from the piece above thus:
We have no more reason to credit Osama Bin Laden's claim of responsibility, he [Chomsky] states, than we would have to believe Chomsky's own claim to have won the Boston Marathon.
Here Hitchens has directly equated "rather like" with "no more reason". Rather like is not no more. No more is the same. Rather like is similar. And in a forensic sense, as an excuse for an invasion and an execution, bin Laden's "confession" has no more validity than the claim that Chomsky won the Boston marathon.

But what made me do this post was Hitchens's resort to what certain people said at the time of 9/11.
I can't immediately decide whether or not this is an improvement on what Chomsky wrote at the time. Ten years ago, apparently sharing the consensus that 9/11 was indeed the work of al-Qaida, he wrote that it was no worse an atrocity than President Clinton's earlier use of cruise missiles against Sudan in retaliation for the bomb attacks on the centers of Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. (I haven't been back to check on whether he conceded that those embassy bombings were also al-Qaida's work to begin with.)
I don't see any evidence there for Chomsky "sharing the consensus".  What he said does not amount to "shar[ing] the consensus".

Hitchens goes on to take a swip at Michael Moore for what he said closer to the time of 9/11:
At the Telluride Film Festival in 2002, I found myself debating Michael Moore, who, a whole year after the attacks, maintained that Bin Laden was "innocent until proved guilty" (and hadn't been proven guilty). Except that he had, at least according to Moore one day after the attacks, when he wrote that: "WE created the monster known as Osama bin Laden! Where did he go to terrorist school? At the CIA!"
But the quote doesn't support the idea that bin Laden had been found guilty by Moore "at least according to Moore one day after the attacks".

But since he is resorting to what people said back in 2001 or 2002, let's have a look at what Christopher Hitchens himself had to say in The Guardian published two days after 9/11 though obviously written the day before:
One day into the post-World Trade Centre era, and the question "how" is still taking precedence over the question "why". At the presidential level, the two questions appear to be either crudely synthesised or plain confused, since George Bush has taken to describing the mass murder in New York and Washington DC as "not just an act of terrorism but an act of war". This strongly implies that he knows who is responsible; an assumption for which he doesn't care to make known the evidence. Instant opinion polls show the same cognitive dissonance at the mass level. Most people, when asked if they agree with the president about the "war" proposition, reply in the affirmative. But in follow-up questions, they counsel extreme caution about retaliation "until all the facts are in". This means, in ordinary words, that they have not the least idea whether they are at war or not.

Over the years since the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979, the public has become tolerably familiar with the idea that there are Middle Easterners of various shades and stripes who do not like them. The milestones of this - the marine barracks in Beirut, the Gulf war, the destruction of PanAm flight 101 - actually include a previous attack on the WTC in 1993. And on that occasion, the men convicted of the assault turned out to have backgrounds in a western-sponsored guerrilla war - actually a jihad - in Afghanistan.
Osama bin Laden had pretty good name-recognition among American news consumers even before Tuesday's trauma. He's already survived a cruise-missile attack ordered by President Clinton in 1999 (in the same cycle of attacks that destroyed a Sudanese aspirin factory in the supposed guise of a nerve-gas facility). Bin Laden is perhaps unlikely to die in his bed, but his repeated identification as a "Saudi millionaire" - we thought the Saudi Arabians were on our side - makes consistency in demonisation rather difficult; the image somehow doesn't compute.
But of course, that was the old Hitchens. The new Hitchens of the Slate article even managed to misrepresent the position of the increasingly deranged David Shayler. Shayler was imprisoned in France and the UK for blowing the whistle on "mismanagement and incompetence" at the UK secret service, MI5.  Here's Hitchens in Slate mag:
 As far as I know, only leading British "Truther" David Shayler, a former intelligence agent who also announced his own divinity, has denied that the events of Sept. 11, 2001, took place at all. (It was apparently by means of a hologram that the widespread delusion was created on television.)
Now follow the links to the New Statesman and the Daily Mail. From the New Statesman:
They [including David Shayler] believe there weren't any planes on 9/11, just missiles wrapped in holograms
And from the Daily Mail:
in recent years he's been scratching a living giving talks to conspiracy theorists about the September 11 attacks - last year he was ridiculed for insisting that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre were brought down by a U.S. Government conspiracy using "missiles surrounded by holograms made to look like planes".
Ok, he's lost the plot and is claiming that he is G-d and that the World Trade Center was felled by hologram wrapped missiles. But that is not the same as saying that he:
has denied that the events of Sept. 11, 2001, took place at all.
Now that must be down to sloppiness on Hitchens's part. There is no reason to verbal up anything David Shayler has said in recent years. There are though many reasons for a born again imperialist to rubbish the likes of Chomsky and Moore, though I am no great fan of either.

Hitchens has completely failed to make a case against Chomsky or Moore and he even managed the get it wrong about Shayler. But how did he forget his own take in The Guardian on the appalling events of 9/11? Apostasy's a funny old business.

By the way, The Guardian article published two days after 9/11 was titled, So this is war.


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