The Observer V Noam Chomsky – Round 3

With the Observer losing money faster than a gambling addict in a casino, you would think they’d either try and up their game, or cut down on writers. It makes little sense to have 4 different people trying to write on the environment for a Sunday supplement. But with regards to Noam Chomsky the Observer are lining up legions of people who want to slag him off.

First up was Nick Cohen, giving his best broadside to Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival. Then Peter Beaumont did his best to Failed States. Two more dishonest and generally awful reviews you won’t find. The Beaumont review was particularly savaged on reception. Still, third time lucky eh? This time the article was written by Rafael Behr. Would he move on from the scarcely disguised ad hominems and disregard for Chomsky’s analysis the previous articles kept to? Would he fuck.

Behr starts off with;

Only the most zealous American patriots believe that their country’s foreign policy always lives up to its stated aims of promoting freedom and democracy around the world. The more interesting question is whether it sometimes comes close or even really tries. It is possible to attack US interventions overseas as horribly misguided and murderously bungled while recognising that they contain some kernel of authentic moral aspiration. Many US policymakers in the early part of this decade genuinely felt that liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein was a noble thing to do.

The more sceptical view is that the US perception of itself as a force for good in the world is a dangerous, irrational delusion. Further down the sceptical spectrum is the view that US political evangelism is a grotesque hypocrisy, cunningly deployed to mask imperialistic ambitions. Further still, off the scale entirely, is Noam Chomsky.

Straight away Behr accuses his opponent of being off the scale, and, we assume, deranged. It’s hardly surprising.

Yet one of the comments tells us a rather salient quote from Chomsky;

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

Behr is doing exactly as Chomsky says. The reviewer seems to think that even if Chomsky is off the scale, this means that somehow he is wrong. But assuming there is a general scale for how radical political opinions can be, why does this change? Do the facts Chomsky cites become false all of a sudden? Does his logically analysis suddenly become illogical? Calling Chomsky as off the scale  is a cheap shot, one designed to make people who already dislike him feel smug inside whereas anyone with a critical mind thinks Behr is an idiot.

Still, maybe it’ll get better?

Hopes and Prospects is the latest barrage in a lifetime’s assault on US political vanity by the 81-year-old linguistics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Chomsky took up a sideline in political writing in opposition to the Vietnam war and has kept anti-Washington cudgels at hand ever since. He has dedicated followers who see him as guru and gadfly, speaking unwanted truth to power. He is the closest thing the intellectual far left has to a rock star.

Yet more dismissals of Chomsky as a person. This plays on one of the many Chomsky clichés; that he’s some cult leader, with legions of impressionable young leftists at his comment. Yet two paragraphs in and Behr hasn’t even mentioned what’s in this new book.

In that sense, Hopes and Prospects is like one of those live albums that veteran bands release when they’ve stopped producing new singles; slightly different versions of familiar hits bashed out for an easily pleased audience. The book is a compilation of lectures and articles produced over the past few years, reworked and updated. There is no single thesis, rather a constant interweaving of favourite Chomskyan themes: the capture of the US state and subordination of democracy to a narrow commercial and financial elite; the media’s complicity; the uniquely high penalty paid by Latin America for the misfortune of being in Washington’s backyard; the function of Israel as America’s military client in the Middle East; the threat of nuclear apocalypse. Throughout, Chomsky sustains caustic disdain for the myths that western societies tell themselves to justify their savage colonisation of planet Earth.

Apparently all books must have a single thesis, one based in no way on lectures and articles. Of course should Chomsky have come up with a single thesis Behr would criticize Chomsky for coming up with a “simplistic view of the world”.

Yes Hopes and Prospects is a collection of articles and lectures. So what?

And despite Behr saying Chomsky is off the scale, he fails to tell us why Chomsky is wrong in saying what he says. Or quite how any of those views are particularly radical.

He dismisses vast tracts of history in a few splenetic paragraphs, as if no alternative interpretation is worth considering.

A classic line from Behr this is; the irony supreme. Behr accuses Chomsky of dismissing vast tracts of history, but gives no examples of this happening. So actually Behr in his review is dismissing the whole fucking book he’s supposed to be reviewing. Yet he is completely unaware of this.

Behr then gives his view on what Chomsky states;

The worst catastrophe to befall our species, Chomsky implies, was Columbus’s collision with an uncharted continent in 1492. From there, it is a short step to the genocide of indigenous American people and the formation of a mercantile dictatorship run by white Europeans, consolidated by war and terror. The US imperial model that emerged in the 20th century, Chomsky reminds us, borrowed heavily from the earlier British one. In particular, the younger cousin mimicked the older with its technique of prising foreign markets open at gunpoint, suppressing local competition until a comfortable monopoly had been secured and then proclaiming support for “free trade” on “a level playing field”.

Chomsky shares with many radical left thinkers a studied reluctance to adopt the mainstream vocabulary of “globalisation”. The word implies everyone’s inclusion in a unified economic enterprise. But for Chomsky, the only “global” element in the whole business is the one-size-fits-all policy template, dictated by the west to developing nations with a view to expropriating their resources and assets. Free markets are an illusion. Washington protects and expands its corporate interests by the relentless application of government power. Refusal to submit is punishable with diplomatic isolation, vilification and, if the strategic and economic stakes are high enough, military takeover.

His reaction to this is that it is a “cripplingly bleak philosophy.” Sorry Behr? Should all philosophies be sunshine and flowers? If something is “cripplingly bleak” does that mean it’s wrong. If you don’t like things that are “cripplingly bleak” Behr, why don’t you fuck off and watch Twilight?

No one defends western capitalism on the grounds that it is the perfect system, only that it is the best available. Likewise, the US comes out badly in comparison with an abstract ideal of beneficent global stewardship, but it comes out better in comparison with most available alternatives. Globalisation under the Chinese Communist party, anyone? Anti-American exile in Tehran? At least a dissident in the US can sustain an academic career while constantly denouncing his leaders.

Ooooh. We know capitalism is a bit bad. But something else could be worse. Ooooh. What a crock of shit this paragraph is. It also shows just out little of Chomsky’s writings he has actually read. That western capitalism has hideous elements that can be avoided doesn’t enter into Behr’s empty head. Why not have a lawful society but allow people to rape journalists who write shit reviews. Then Behr would presumably go “No one defends this society on the grounds it is the perfect system, but other societies are even worse, so my maddenly sore arsehole is a price worth paying.” Behr pussy-foots about here so pathetically that he’s coming across as pitiful. Paragraphs like this show it isn’t a case of Chomsky being off the scale, but Behr being too afraid to believe something he believes is radical. Behr probably read the part of Hopes and Prospects that he did with his eyes closed whispering “lies, all lies” when a single tear falls on the page as he knows he cannot disprove Chomsky’s arguments. Instead he blocks it out and falls on vacuous rhetoric.

Perhaps Chomsky’s analysis of all that is wrong with the west would resonate more if he modulated it with some occasional flicker of admiration for the achievements of western civilisation. His critique would also be strengthened by some recognition of the irony that he owes his considerable success to the system he despises. Does it bother him, perhaps, that he has lived the American dream?

That Chomsky has repeatedly stated he considers the US to be the greatest country on the planet doesn’t seem to affect Behr here. That Chomsky has repeatedly commented on his success doesn’t seem to affect Behr either. Instead he brings out the tired old arguments, ones which has been rebutted time after time, and hopes they’ll suffice.

Not once in the review does Behr interact with Chomsky’s work. Not once does he criticise his reasoning, his evidence, his, well, anything. Instead he brings up the tired old clichés, knowing the Observer will pay him good money for his work. It’s no fucking surprising they’re going down, and what a fucking loss.

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Prosor the Tosser gets you Pissed

Talking of creating new words, the Israel-Palestine conflict has helped Septicisle come up with a new one; prosor n. To present an issue as fantastically simple when it is anything but. Also to put all the onus on the other side when in a dispute. Ron Prosor n. prop. rhyming slang. “Have you seen the article by the Israeli ambassador in the Guardian? What a Ron Prosor.”

St Andrews had the delight that is Ron Prosor come to give a speech a while back. The paranoia about security was good fun (perhaps that’ll die down after the Conservatives repeal universial jurisdiction?) meaning a constant change in venue and people being throw out for looking, well, a bit shifty and brown. But one thing that would have improved his visit ten-fold, would have been the introduction of my new Israel-Palestine drinking game. Because, judging by his article in the Guardian, it would have been a quality mash up. So let’s play it in retrospect. The numbers in brackets denote which rule the comment has broken e.g. [2, 4] is the first number of fingers, and the number of bullet points down. So [2, 4] would be “Clash of Civilizations”

Groucho Marx famously quipped: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them … well, I have others.” The International Quartet (the US, the UN, Russia and the EU) has long applied three principles Hamas must adopt to take part in negotiations. It must renounce violence, recognise Israel and abide by previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. At no point has Hamas satisfied these conditions – or indicated any intention to do so.

Because Israel has renounced violence? Because Israel recognises a Palestinian state? Aye, take a shot people [1, 8]

This week marks the fifth anniversary of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza. We withdrew every Israeli soldier and citizen, gambling on the formula of land for peace. Instead of peace and progress we received missiles and misery. Hamas made Gaza a terrorist enclave, launching thousands of missiles at Israeli civilians.

Harvard’s Sara Roy, the leading scholar on the subject has this to say; “with the disengagement from Gaza, the Sharon government was clearly trying to preclude any return to political negotiations… while preserving and deepening it’s hold on Palestine.”

Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s advisor also stated that the aim of the disengagement was to relieve international pressure and prevent an independent Palestinian state.

So, take another shot people. [1, 6]

In 2006 it kidnapped Gilad Shalit, holding him in isolation for four years without a single visit from the Red Cross.

Prosor neglects to tell his audience that Israel happens to hold thousands of Palestinians in isolation without trial, many of which are children. Bottoms up again [1, 8]

In a bloody coup in 2007 Hamas attacked its own people, chasing Fatah out of Gaza and hurling its Palestinian brothers from the rooftops.

Again, Prosor gives us the revisionist history. He doesn’t tell us the US and Israel supported a coup against Hamas, who acted in reaction to this. I’m also loving his concern for the Palestinians being hurled off rooftops. Apparently this is the epitome of evil, but bombing these same people is fine. Take another shot [1, 6]

Simultaneously it relentlessly attacked Israelis and, with Iranian support, stockpiled weapons that today can hit Tel Aviv.

Ignoring double standards is starting to get very repetitive. That Israel relentlessly attacked Palestinians and, with American support, stockpiled weapons that today can (and do) hit Gaza City, is of no consequence. Take another shot. [1, 8]

After years of missiles, the bombardment became unbearable. We targeted the terrorist infrastructure through Operation Cast Lead.

Targeted terrorist infrastructure? O rly? Down another one [1, 6]

Israel has tried to stop the flood of weapons through a naval blockade

Yet another lie. Dove Weisglass, the Sharon advisor previously mentioned, said “‘The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger,’ … The hunger pangs are supposed to encourage the Palestinians to force Hamas to change its attitude towards Israel or force Hamas out of government.” Anyone getting drunk yet? Well, take another anyway [1, 6]

When Hamas supporters attempt to break the blockade, as occurred with the Turkish IHH flotilla, Israel’s defensive measures must be understood in context.

Well, yes, the context of starving the Palestinians into submission.

Some in the west fondly refer to Hamas as the elected representatives of the Palestinians.

Notice the “fondly” as if Prosor is saying many in the West support Hamas. Who this Hamas supporting “some” are isn’t mentioned. He goes on with a bizarre strawman

While Hamas won the Palestinian council elections in 2006, it was not a mandate to violently overthrow the Palestinian Authority. Nor does it justify terror against Israel. Hamas’s concept of democracy fits that of all democratically elected dictatorships – “one man, one vote … once”

So apparently some in the West believe winning an election justifies a terror campaign. Umm

Gaza was a golden opportunity tragically missed. Instead of building a Mediterranean Dubai, Hamas diverted every resource to enslaving its people while attacking ours.

Yes, after 40 years of what Sara Roy calls an Israeli policy of “dedevelopment”, Gaza could have become a desert paradise. It’s hard to know if anyone actually believes this nonsense. Perhaps a Disneyworld in Rafah refugee camp is also in order? Another shot [1, 6]

President Abbas has declined talks, preferring to campaign against Israel internationally

I love this term “campaign… internationally.” It recognizes global sympathy for the Palestinian’s plight but turns it into an insult. Glorious!

After plenty of shite, Prosor comes up with this absolute beauty

If in Gilo no sniper fire means no wall, so in Gaza no missiles would mean no blockade. It is that simple.

The sheer idiocy here is breathtaking. An absolutely outrageous lie, one that any remotely clued up person could see through. But this guy is the Israeli ambassador baby, and utter shit like this is the norm. Of all the lies he shits out of his lying mouth, this takes the biscuit. Drink to your hearts content people, because frankly this is too depressing to read sober.

A Manufactured Controversy

There are some things in life that are so Goddamn awful that the English language as we know it just doesn’t convey our emotions. I know a good twenty or so words, and fuck is one of my most highly rated, but even that doesn’t do justice to the feeling when I watch the news and see someone as fucking fucked up as that fucker Sarah Palin. But she now knows how I feel, because she’s seen something so horrendous that she felt the need to invent a new word. What can be so dreadful to cause such a commotion? What minor local issue can be so important that a President’s reelection could lie in the balance because of it? Well fuck me if the Muslims haven’t arrived in America, Sharia law in tow, and it starts right now in down town lower Manhattan.

With a name like “Ground Zero Mosque” I must admit I was expecting something pretty awesome. Fuck whose religion it is, spending £100 million on a bad ass building is cool. I was expecting a giant monstrosity of a building, one that requires Satan’s PA system every time it calls people to prayers. At the very least I wanted surface to air missiles, machine-gun turrents, and enough small arms to fuel a military coup. And judging by how people are going on, that’s what we’re going to get.

Except we’re not. The Ground Zero Mosque is A) Not at Ground Zero and B) Not a mosque. As far as names go “Ground Zero Mosque” is pretty bad. The best explanation comes from Keith Olbermann, with his shit hot American accent:

So, ok, it’s isn’t a mosque. But isn’t it, you know, a bit Muslimy, and aren’t they all, like, terrorists? The Imam behind it all has committed such hideous Jihadi offences such as working with the FBI, and lecturing against Islamic extremism. But the board, maybe they’re all evil and beardy? Well let’s look at the board;  A Catholic nun, a Vice President of a Jewish center and an under-Secretary-General of the UN. Clearly Bin Laden has hand picked these people personally to lead the Islamic assault on America.

We can also ask ourselves, if this isn’t a mosque at Ground Zero, why is it being described so? The answer is obvious; calling it accurately as a “Islamic community center open to people of all faiths a good distance and completely out of sight of Ground Zero” will not provide ire among the population. By calling it this the right acknowledges the fact that the truth is not anywhere near as controversial. The reasons for doing so I will return to.

So if “The Ground Zero Mosque” isn’t as it seems, what’s the controversy about? Well the criticism essentially is this; the 9/11 attackers did what they did in the name of Islam. Therefore to build something Islamic near Ground Zero is either a “victory” for terrorists, or an insult to the victim’s memories. It’s a pretty small victory, if a community center opposing fundamentalist Islam was built two blocks away from Ground Zero. Doubtless that is exactly what Bin Laden hoped would happen nine years after the attacks. And it’s a pretty big insult, a community center that the families of the victims will never see, and wouldn’t have heard of if not for the huge controversy.

So why the controversy? It’s not a mosque, it’s not near Ground Zero, it’s not run by radicals. In short there’s nothing any reasonable person would get worked up about. But if we look at where the controversy is coming from, the far right, then a dark and cynical reason emerges.

The far right don’t don’t care about this multi-culturalism nonsense, coexistence or any of that; they want a far right Christian state, and everything else be damned. Looking at the “mosque” issue this way tells us that instead of what most people perceive; that this is an irrational campaign based on ignorance, that actually this is an entirely rational campaign to attack mainstream Islam.

The anti-Islam movement fears the moderate Muslims far more than the radicals. It’s easy to turn people against Al Qaeda. They fly fecking planes into buildings forchristsake. But to turn people against the Muslims who want to live peacefully, who want a liberal state, who are quintessentially American, is far harder. Hence either A) Trying to link all moderate Muslim groups with radicals or B) Claim Islam itself is the problem.

With the community center we’ve seen both of these tactics, to varying success. But the latter has been more effective. As the article says, the only opposition to the community center can lie in either ignorance or holding all of Islam responsible for the attack. Over 50% of Americans oppose the building of a “mosque”, so the Christian right have succeeded in getting the majority of American people to essentially unite against Islam. And it is only a small step from “no mosque at place X” to “no mosques anywhere.” That is what the right wants. Indeed this is starting. As the Guardian writes the controversy over the mosque is “fuelling anti-Muslim protests across US”.

The irony is this attitude plays into the hands of Al Qaeda and militant Islamic organizations. Al Qaeda and the Christian far right are partners in the same game. Both give each other what they need. They are each others greatest ally.

It’s difficult to tell just how much they know their actions benefit militant extremists. They could just be ignorant, but there are more worrying possibilities.

George Bush’s administration was heavily influenced, and indeed staffed, by these sorts of people. The Bush administration pushed on with policies (the most obvious being the Iraq War) that they knew would cause an increase in the possibility of further terrorist attacks. Indeed terrorism has increased sevenfold since the invasion of Iraq, in line with the predictions the Bush administration ignored, putting short term interest ahead of the safety of their nation. So the possibility exists the anti-Muslim crowd know their actions increase the chance of terrorism, but push on with it nonetheless, as the benefits of stoking Islamophobia outweigh the safety of their country.

A third, even more worrying possibility exits; they push on with their actions in the knowledge that their actions increase the chance of terrorism, and that is a factor in why they do it. If we understand attacks by radical Muslims further the agenda of the anti-Muslim crowd, then logically it follows they hope for further attacks, knowing it will play into their hands, and create a perpetual cycle which benefits their agenda, at the expense of the wellbeing of perhaps the entire world. This may be a step too far for some people, but considering many on the Christian right practically pray for nuclear Armageddon, it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.

Regardless of why, it is clear the actions of the right are endangering us all. Liberals and the left must not cower from the challenge. Joining in with the bellicose words of the right only makes things worse. American liberals need to grow the pair of balls they have so desperately been missing and stand up to the right. The right are winning. This controversy has been beneficial to their cause, as they doubtless knew when creating it. This isn’t about a mere Islamic center; this is about Islam’s wider role in American society. This could be a large step in turning the American people against all Muslims.

They came first for the Muslims…

Update:

Just an example of the far right stoking up the controversy to further their own ends is the Coalition to Honour Ground Zero. The website for which is owned by the neo-conservative Frank Gaffney. Some of Gaffney’s enlightened thoughts are that Obama is a Muslim and is trying to impose Sharia law on America by, well, your guess is as good as mine as to what he’s smoking to come up with that conclusion. The Mission Statement bemoaning certain mosques as “Trojan Horses” echoes the concept of the “latency phase” where Muslims are coming in as undercover terrorists, with little baby terrorists.