Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Diana Johnstone Shows Her Cards

In the comments section of this post on this blog, an anonymous poster passed along the following link:

"Why the French Hate Chomsky" By DIANA JOHNSTONE"; he or she also suggested that "I think some of her criticism is driven by emotional issues." I rather glibly agreed with him/her, intending only to suggest that her "analysis" is neither honest nor serious.

Frequent reader Owen countered, quite rightly, that there is nothing "emotional" about this latest screed from the well-known genocide denier; her work on such issues is rather deliberate and self-aware. As I noted several times in my lengthy deconstruction of her truly awful work on the Bosnian War, Johnstone clearly knows enough about the facts and information which would obliterate her painstakingly crafted arguments to avoid them completely; nobody can negotiate the minefield of contrary information and eyewitness testimony as successfully as she does if they are actually unaware of those inconvenient complications. Johnstone knows what she is doing.

But what, exactly, is it that she is doing? This rambling, open letter-turned-editorial screed doesn't address Bosnia except in passing, but it does reveal some of the larger ideological agenda that Johnstone and other advocates of a Red-Brown/anti-liberal democracy coalition are crafting. I no longer believe that these people are unconsciously stumbling into the embrace of petty fascists such as Hamas and the Serbian Radical Party; Johnstone, Chomsky, and others have concluded that the far right are their best allies in a fight to undermine the liberal order. Johnstone set out merely to scold the French media and intelligensia for being insufficiently deferential to Chomsky, but the scope of this open letter soon widens greatly. In order to make her case that Chomsky was a "victim" of a concerted Western ideological campaign to discredit him, she chooses to elaborate what the ideological underpinings of this supposed campaign are.

First off, though, the obvious needs to be stated--Johnstone is a terrible writer. She veers between addressing Chomsky directly ("Dear Noam"; "to see you in person") to referring to him in third person ("deep geopolitical significance that Chomsky has") in the same paragraph! Of course, the reasons why Johnstone is such a poor writer are easy enough to ascertain--good writing is clear writing, and clear writing is a product of clear thinking, a reasonable mastery of the subject material, and most of all of intellectual honesty. Johnstone seeks not to illuminate but to obscure and obfusticate; she does so through tortured logic, selective use of decontextualized facts, and a disingenuous misrepresentation of opposing viewpoints and contrary information. If she were a more effective demagogue or a crudely emotional populist, she might be able to somewhat transcend the feeble foundations of her arguments, but Johnstone is a drearily pedestrian propagandist and therefore her rhetoric is thoroughly hampered by her decision to dissemble, deceive, and mislead. She cannot write clearly because her ideas would not withstand the scrutiny which direct presentation would subject them to.

But while Johnstone cannot bluntly state the collectivist/anti-liberal ideology she espouses without setting off alarm bells, it's all there in this letter. And not by accident--Johnstone has rather neatly laid out the underlying rationale for the far-Left embrace of, and advocacy for, genocide denial.

Her assertion that the "the animosity you have aroused in certain circles in France may have less to do with linguistics than with your role as the most prominent American critic of US foreign policy" might be attempt at humor, but is also a neat summation of how Johnstone, Chomsky, and their comrades deflect any and all criticism of their ridiculous claims and dissembling--by dismissing all specific criticism of specifics as merely general attacks on the general idea of a critique at all. Chomsky, in other words, is not attacked for supporting Hamas, or the Khmer Rouge, or for making any of his many inaccurate, misleading, and/or dishonest statements about American foreign policy and history--no, all attacks on him are clearly simply a reaction to his status as a critic of American foreign policy, period. Of course, Johnstone is a little too shrewd to actually say that; but this standard defense gets used with such regularity, there is little need to give her the benefit of the doubt.

The rest of the paragraph after the above quote is worth noting:

"My own opinion is that this role as virtual symbol of systematic moral criticism of American foreign policy is the fundamental cause of the campaign against you that began over thirty years ago. To my mind the uproar first over Cambodia and then over the defense of Professor Robert Faurisson’s right to express his views freely was essentially a means to the end of discrediting the leading American critic of United States imperialism."

And there we have it--there is a "campaign" against Noam Chomsky, and the issues at the core concern his statements on the genocide of the Khmer Rouge and the Holocaust denial of Robert Faurisson. Fine--at least she does not ignore the elephant in the middle of the room. So what to make of this?

First, though, Johnstone needs "to put this argument in context". No doubt. The context, then, is the Cold War--specifically, American hegemony over the West during that period. Johnstone is not entirely incorrect to describe Europe at this time as being split between "the two victorious nations" (United States and USSR), but her analysis seems to reduce the situation to nothing but a division of spoils, with nothing to choose between the two. Citizens who lived under the two different systems might beg to differ with that.

But that is another issue. What is of interest here is how Johnstone, as she so often does, dresses a simplistic dichotomy up in the guise of nuanced, sophisticated analysis. Not very well, but she tries--French intellectuals were split between the elite who were secretly anti-American and the more pubilc (and presumably less qualified) intellectuals who were either pro-American or, as she prefers, "anti-French."

That is really the crux of the matter--Johnstone is truly a statist and a collectivist, who can only conceive of people as being part of a group of some kind. What "French interests" are or might be is something she doesn't feel needs to be be addressed. What is important to her is that far too many of these French intellectuals don't feel that they need to be lectured to by Noam Chomsky; the reason for this, as it turns out, is that "Chomsky's criticism is laden with facts", a statement as bland as it is questionable. But she runs with this idea for a full paragraph; it is striking how self-evident she believes this to be. Chomsky deals in a large volume of facts and clear analysis--evidently this is not up for discussion. If you disagree with Noam Chomsky or object to his general critiques, then you are clearly uncomfortable with facts and clear thinking. End of discussion.

It is quite tiresome to follow her plodding thought process by which she repeats Chomsky's standard defense of his activity on behalf of the Khmer Rogue and Robert Faurisson's Holocaust denial--that his activities did not constitute support for either, but rather for the rather vague notion of "free speech." This allows her to avoid the necessity to clearly state what she or Chomsky actually think about either "issue"; the notion that there is any validity to the charges in question is simply irrelvent to her. Yet she goes on to speak of the Holocaust ("Shoah myth" as she soon comes to refer to it as) as "dogma."

Now, I have serious objections to laws which criminalize such garbage as genocide denial, and if that was truly all that Chomsky and Johnstone are concerned with, there would be no argument. But that has never been the case; neither one of them has ever had the moral honesty to discriminate between Faurisson's right to spread his dishonest filth versus the legitimacy of his claims, which are of course complete nonsense.

Johnstone moves right along to the larger claim that the "Shoah cult" has had a sinister effect:

"Initially, Nazi crimes were taught as contrary to humanity in general, but as identification of victims has been increasingly centered on Jews, the effect is to implicitly divide school children between potential victims, namely the Jews, and everyone else, whose innocence is less assured."

This is complete garbage; the Holocaust was an actual historic event which actually happened at a certain time and place, and was carried out by actual people against actual people; it was not an abstraction which imposes a template on all people at all places and times.

Johnstone, however, assures the reader that this very template is now applied to situations which, she states without explanation, do not qualify as "genocide" (where have seen from the review of "Fools' Crusade" that Johnstone is in no position to lecture anyone on the meaning of the term). And yes, one of those places was Bosnia, where the Muslims eagerly accepted the role of "Victim" in order to play the proper role in order to curry American favor. Srebrenica, it turns out, was nothing more than a shrewd act of foreign policy.

There is really nothing more to be said. The rest of the article treats Chomsky's visit as if it were an event of immense geopolitical significance; Johnstone seems genuinely mystified that the entire French media didn't simply turn over their cameras and microphones to the cranky America-hating linguist to let him lecture the entire nation. As for her argument tying the Cold War to her implication that "genocide" is little more than an ideological tool by the West to divide and conquer the rest of the world, all that remains to note is this--many have noted that Bosnian genocide denial is incredibly similar to Holocaust denial. Yet it is no coincidence that so many of the people involved in the the former have also dabbled in the latter. Bosnian genocide denial is not, as it turns out, like Holocaust denial--it is Holocaust denial. We can thank Diana Johnstone for spelling that out.

5 comments:

Srebrenica Genocide said...

Diana Johnstone is a genocide denier. Plain and simple. She has a 'book', but she does not have any credibility. She is a prime example of what hatred can do to people. Her repeated denials of the Srebrenica genocide and misrepresentation of facts speak for themselves.

Owen said...

Kirk, when you suggest that Johnstone and associates have concluded that the far right are their best allies in a fight to undermine the liberal order, I think you pay the lady too much respect. The article doesn't have the ring of strategic thinking, it's tactical, get out of a hole, stuff. She's aware they've painted themselves into a corner and the allies they might expect to support them simply aren't there any more. In the article she's not really seeking to undermine the liberal order, she's simply trying to argue that they've not got themselves trapped. In the process she gives away more than she may have meant to about the real ignorant nastiness that was always going to betray her.

There's a tinge of pathos in the tone of that first paragraph, repaying debts to her stalwart supporter at the time of the Ordfront controversy. Dear Noam, you went down like a lead balloon. It wasn't your fault, it was theirs. Sorry you were so taken by surprise. It almost sounds as if Johnstone's referring to a Ceasescu moment Chomsky's experienced and trying to reassure her old friend. However with the sensitivity for which she's renowned , her patronising defence digs him even deeper into the hole.

Presumably they were expecting a rather more enthusiastic response to Chomsky's visit to Paris. The specific reference to Cambodia as well as to Faurisson suggests that instead of a neo-Gaullist "tous azimuths" response, Chomsky found too many people remembering not just the Faurisson dispute but also his rubbishing of Francois Ponchaud.

Perversely, instead of discussing the diversity of French opinion and the powerful current of French intellectual thought that remains - often justifiably - critical of the US, Johnstone opts for an all-or-nothing defence of her mentor and turns her guns indiscriminately on the massed ranks of French philosophical thinkers in general. She fails to notice the damage she inflicts on herself and her mentor-protege when she contrasts a "religious" French respect for the Shoah with Chomsky's "concern for getting the facts straight".

Even though she lives in Paris Johnstone shows no awareness of what the Shoah actually means to many ordinary French people - not just intellectuals - who lived through the period of national self-reappraisal in the 1970s and 1980s when the French became aware that they had been deceived by a manipulated narrative of their experience of World War II.

(cont...)

Owen said...

Kirk, when you suggest that Johnstone and associates have concluded that the far right are their best allies in a fight to undermine the liberal order, I think you pay the lady too much respect. The article doesn't have the ring of strategic thinking, it's tactical, get out of a hole, stuff. She's aware they've painted themselves into a corner and the allies they might expect to support them simply aren't there any more. In the article she's not really seeking to undermine the liberal order, she's simply trying to argue that they've not got themselves trapped. In the process she gives away more than she may have meant to about the real ignorant nastiness that was always going to betray her.

There's a tinge of pathos in the tone of that first paragraph, repaying debts to her stalwart supporter at the time of the Ordfront controversy. Dear Noam, you went down like a lead balloon. It wasn't your fault, it was theirs. Sorry you were so taken by surprise. It almost sounds as if Johnstone's referring to a Ceasescu moment Chomsky's experienced and trying to reassure her old friend. However with the sensitivity for which she's renowned , her patronising defence digs him even deeper into the hole.

(cont..)

Owen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Owen said...

(/cont.)

The heroic story of the Resistance had been used to distract attention from the reality of the Vichy era and in particular the shame of Drancy. Putting Vichy away in the cupboard allowed the likes of Maurice Papon and Georges Marchais to prosper. Notably it allowed Maurice Papon to hold a position of authority that allowed him to direct the massacre of Algerians in Paris in 1961 and then avoid accountability for his past.

The concealed massacre and the protection that continued to be afforded to Papon through the 1980s are very real concerns to many of the French. As part of her confident condemnation of the French philosophers for their apparent emphasis on opinion rather than fact, Johnstone might have acknoweldged their criticism of Faurisson's own minimal interest in facts when he sought to defend Papon by smearing Yves Jouffa.

The Shoah, Drancy, Papon, are all important to the French understanding of themselves and their recent history. From her contacts with French colleagues and neighbours Johnstone must surely be aware of this. For her own purposes she chooses once again to offer her readers a selective, partial analysis.

Chomnsky has a moral compass. That's what makes him a slightly tragic figure when he squirms on being reminded that he's sailing against. Johnstone appears to have no such moral compass, just an instinct for political survival.

( Just for light relief: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zu7dp9-dexY )