Srebrenica - defending the truth
Author: Twenty-five signatories
Uploaded: Tuesday, 03 January, 2006
This letter addressed to The Guardian (London) was originally accepted for publication, provided that it was cut to a maximum of 450 words in length. When a 450-word abridgement was duly submitted, however, The Guardian refused to publish it without drastic further shortening and unacceptable editorial rewriting. The authors therefore decided that they had no alternative but to publish it elsewhere. It accordingly appeared on the website of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) at www.birn.eu.com with an accompanying article on the affair by Alison Freebairn.
We are writing to protest at the ‘correction’ published by The Guardian on 17 November, in relation to Emma Brockes’s interview with Noam Chomsky of 31 October and the Bosnian concentration-camp survivor Kemal Pervanić’s letter to The Guardian of 2 November. We believe that by issuing this ‘correction’, The Guardian has unjustly besmirched Brockes’s reputation, misrepresented and insulted Pervanić and bestowed a stamp of legitimacy on revisionist attempts to deny the Bosnian genocide and minimise the Srebrenica massacre.
The ‘correction’ was published in response to complaints from Chomsky over Brockes’s alleged misrepresentation of his views. The Guardian upheld Chomsky’s complaints: a) that Brockes falsely attributed to him the view that the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 never occurred, or was not genuinely a ‘massacre’; and b) that Brockes’s ‘misrepresentation’ of Chomsky’s views on Srebrenica stemmed from her ‘misunderstanding’ of his support for the writer Diana Johnstone, which ‘related entirely to her freedom of speech’, rather than to her actual views. Furthermore, The Guardian claimed: ‘Neither Prof. Chomsky nor Ms Johnstone have [sic] ever denied the fact of the massacre.’ Finally, The Guardian upheld Chomsky’s complaint that it had published on 2 November a letter from Kemal Pervanić, a Bosnian concentration-camp survivor, on the grounds that Pervanić’s letter ‘addressed a part of the interview which was false’.
For the following reasons, we believe that neither of Chomsky’s complaints against Brockes is valid; that Brockes’s presentation of his views was essentially fair; that Chomsky’s complaint about the publication of Pervanić’s letter was similarly invalid; and that The Guardian’s ‘correction’ was therefore unjustified:
1. It is untrue that Johnstone has never denied the Srebrenica massacre. In her book Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western delusions’ (Pluto, London 2002), Johnstone puts quote marks around the words ‘Srebrenica massacre’, implying that it was not a real massacre (pp. 106, 115). She rejects the claim that 8,000 Muslims were killed at Srebrenica, claiming that most of these had not been killed, but had merely ‘fled Srebrenica’ and ‘made it to safety in Muslim territory’ (p. 114). And she admits only to the Serb killing in cold blood of 199 Muslims, or less than 2.5% of the accepted total (p. 115). This is denial. Furthermore, the book as a whole constitutes a defence of the Serb nationalists’ record during the 1990s, and a minimisation or whitewashing of their crimes.
2. It is untrue that Chomsky’s support for Johnstone was limited to her ‘right to free speech’. An open letter signed by Chomsky describes Johnstone’s book in the following terms: 'We regard 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.' In his own open letter on Johnstone’s book, to which he refers in his letter to The Guardian of 2 November, Chomsky states: ‘I have known her for many years, have read the book, and feel that it is quite serious and important... 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.' Conversely, nowhere does Chomsky express the slightest disagreement with anything that Johnstone’s book says (except perhaps in the Brockes interview, which he has repudiated). This goes beyond support for Johnstone’s right to free speech, and amounts to an endorsement of her arguments.
3. It is untrue that Chomsky has been as unambiguous in his recognition of the Srebrenica massacre as he now claims. Since the appearance of Johnstone’s book in 2002, Chomsky has spoken of Serb forces as having ‘apparently slaughtered’ Muslims in Srebrenica and of the thousands of dead as mere ‘estimates’; has described the killings as Serb ‘retaliation’ for alleged Muslim crimes against Serbs; and has compared Serb behaviour at Srebrenica favourably with US behaviour in Iraq. In the very same open letter to which he refers in his letter to The Guardian, he described the crime of Srebrenica as ‘much lesser’ than Indonesian crimes in East Timor in 1999, even though he estimates the latter as involving only 5-6,000 civilian casualties. If Brockes’s depiction of Chomsky’s position on Srebrenica was inaccurate, then it was an inaccuracy for which his own ambiguity on the subject was entirely responsible.
4. It is untrue that Pervanić’s letter to The Guardian of 2 November ‘addressed a part of the interview which was false’. In his interview with Brockes, Chomsky expressed a revisionist view on the matter of Serb concentration camps in Bosnia: he described Guardian journalist Ed Vulliamy’s reports on these camps as ‘probably not true’, and Living Marxism’s claim that the character of these camps was deliberately misrepresented by the Western media as ‘probably correct’ - even though Living Marxism’s claim was proven to be false in a British court of law. Chomsky has at no time claimed that Brockes misrepresented his view on this matter. Pervanić’s letter in The Guardian condemned Chomsky above all for his defence of Living Marxism’s discredited claims. The Guardian has therefore misrepresented Pervanić and insulted his intelligence.
5. Finally, both Johnstone and Chomsky reject the use of the term ‘genocide’ in reference to the actions of Serb forces at Srebrenica or in Bosnia as a whole, despite the conviction of a Bosnian Serb general for aiding and abetting genocide at Srebrenica by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia - an international court established by the UN.
We call upon The Guardian to withdraw its ‘correction’ of 17 November; to apologise unreservedly to Emma Brockes for its unjust impugning of her professional reputation; and to apologise unreservedly to Kemal Pervanić for misrepresenting his argument and insulting his intelligence.
Dr Marko Attila Hoare, author of How Bosnia Armed (2004)
Nerma Jelačić, Bosnia Country Director, Balkans Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN)
Hasan Nuhanović, Srebrenica survivor