George Monbiot and the Guardian on “Genocide Denial” and “Revisionism”


On Tuesday, June 14, the Guardian of London published "Left and Libertarian Right Cohabit in the Weird World of the Genocide Belittlers."1 In this nearly 1,100-word commentary, the British writer George Monbiot attacked the two of us (among others) as "genocide deniers" and "revisionists" for our writings on the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Monbiot also went on to assail Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, and the U.K.-based Media Lens group for their association with individuals as depraved as we are.

In response, each of us submitted separate manuscripts to the Guardian by no later than the following weekend (June 17-19). But the Guardian found our submissions problematic, and delayed its decision about their status while it purported to check the accuracy of what we had written — something that it clearly had not done for Monbiot's error-laden and grossly misleading original.

By July 5, the Guardian had rejected both of our manuscripts.2  But, it also invited us to resubmit a single joint-response, with no guarantee of publication, and requested that we observe a strict 550 word limit — or half-the-length of Monbiot's original.

Soon thereafter we delivered a consolidated manuscript to the Guardian at exactly 550-words; and on July 20, five weeks and a day after it had published Monbiot's original, the Guardian published an even shorter, 524-word response under our names. But rather than giving it a title that featured our claims about Monbiot's errors, ignorance, and crass name-calling, the Guardian gave it a title that was both plaintive and defensive: "We're Not Genocide Deniers."3

At least two comments posted to the Guardian Response column's Web page below our piece by the Canadian media-activist Joe Emersberger provided links to our original responses, which we had posted to ZNet. But Emersberger's comments were removed by the Guardian's intellectual police, never to be restored; a comment by one of us (Peterson) that linked to these same responses also was removed. Eventually, this latter comment was restored, "most likely in response to public complaints," Media Lens believes.4

On the other hand, the first comment recorded by the Guardian after it opened its Response column for feedback on July 20 asked us: "If you say you are not denying the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda, what are you saying? And please, one sentence will suffice."5  This is, of course, an aggressively hostile question, and impossible to answer in one sentence. But it is also a question that we had answered at length in The Politics of Genocide6 and in our original submissions that the Guardian had rejected, and to which its Web site moderator was not allowing anyone to post a hyperlink!

Furthering its protection of Monbiot and its enforcement of a one-sided discussion, the Observer (the Guardian's sister paper, which appears on Sundays to complement the Guardian's Monday through Saturday schedule) published Nick Cohen's "Decline and Fall of the Puppetmasters" 7 three days before our response appeared. This was a diatribe against "west-hating" intellectuals (Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Harold Pinter, Arundhati Roy, and a "cranky writer called Diana Johnstone") who in Cohen's words "believe that the lackeys of American imperialism were inventing stories of Serb atrocities to justify the expansion of western power." Then six days after it published our response, the Guardian published "To Claim Tutsis Caused Rwanda's Genocide Is Pure Revisionism" by James Wizeye, identified as the "first secretary at the Rwanda high commission" or embassy in London.8  No offsetting response has since been published by the Guardian that challenged this piece of propaganda from a spokesman for the regime which, we argued, has been the primary mass-killer in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo for the past two decades.9

Some Guardian-Observer History10

The Guardian and the Observer have long been unable to break loose from the standard, politically convenient, Western party-line narratives on both Yugoslavia and Rwanda. This was made very clear in the case of Yugoslavia when their lead reporter there, Ed Vulliamy, proudly asserted his anti-Serb bias and unwillingness to report in neutral fashion. "I am one of those reporters who cannot see this as just another story from which I must remain detached and in which I must be neutral," he wrote in 1993. "[W]ith Omarska and Trnopolje [in 1992] objective coverage of the war became a rather silly notion. . . . I am on the side of the Bosnian Muslim people against an historical and military program to obliterate them."11  On the other hand, hundreds of Bosnian Serbs were killed and raped in the Bosnian Muslim-run prison camps of Celebici, Konjic and Tarcin (to name three major ones);12 but Vulliamy never wrote about them, though in his voluminous reports for the Guardian, he did mention the existence of Tarcin and Celebici once apiece in passing.13  Can anybody imagine his and the Guardian's reaction to a Russian journalist who, having visited only Celebici and Tarcin during the wars in Bosnia, declared that these camps make a commitment to the Serb cause a moral imperative, and objective journalism a silly notion? Or their reaction to this Russian journalist were he to publish this plea under the title: "We Must Fight for the Memory of the Bosnian Muslim Camps"?14

Vulliamy's bias, and no doubt his "journalism of attachment"-derived dishonesty in this theater of conflict,15 have been demonstrated over many years by his serial misrepresentations in the case of Fikret Alic, whom Vulliamy described as a "young Bosnian whose emaciated torso, behind the barbed wire of Trnopolje concentration camp, became a symbol of the cynical slaughter in Bosnia-Herzegovina";16 by his refusal to acknowledge Bosnia's Islamic leader and wartime President Alija Izetbegovic's rejection of a multiethnic, tolerant, and secular state and espousal of a closed Islamic polity;17 and by his long-standing commitment to the early inflated Bosnian Muslim death toll in the face of dramatic downward revisions by establishment sources.18 The same bias and dishonesty were also reflected in Vulliamy's violent 2009 diatribe at Amnesty International's invitation to Noam Chomsky to deliver its annual Stand Up for Justice lecture, alleging Chomsky's unspecified apologetics for Serbian atrocities in the Balkan wars, including "spitting on the graves of the dead."19

This Vulliamy perspective and structure of disinformation undoubtedly fed into Emma Brockes's infamous 2005 interview with Chomsky for the Guardian,20 an affair that the Guardian Reader's Editor (ombudsman) concluded had misrepresented Chomsky's expressed beliefs so egregiously that the Guardian expunged the interview from its Web site.21  Although Brockes could have asked Chomsky questions about the many issues on which he is well informed, she focused on Yugoslavia and Srebrenica, and on the analyst Diana Johnstone, whose work on Yugoslavia Vulliamy had in the past called "poison."22  One memorable smear in the Guardian's handling of the interview appeared immediately below its title ("The Greatest Intellectual?"), where by way of introducing it, readers found the following sentences:

Q: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated?
A: My only regret is that I didn't do it strongly enough.

This question-and-answer sequence was nowhere to be found in the published interview. In fact, the answer quoted here was given to an entirely different question, in which Brockes asked Chomsky whether he regretted signing an open letter that protested a Swedish publisher's decision not to bring out a translation of Johnstone's 2002 book Fools' Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions (Monthly Review Press); this letter referred to Fools' Crusade as "outstanding," and added that "there are more fundamental issues at stake, namely freedom of expression and the right to express dissenting views." 23 Brockes's and the Guardian's language-substitution removed the open letter's focus on freedom-of-expression issues and its broad defense of Johnstone's work, and rewrote Chomsky's actual words into support for "those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated." Thus was Johnstone's complex and nuanced book pigeonholed by its alleged position on the Srebrenica massacre, which Brockes's biased and loaded question oversimplified to the point of absurdity.

Another memorable smear was Brockes's contention that Chomsky uses scare-quotes "to undermine things he disagrees with," and that he used them around the word "massacre" to suggest that "during the Bosnian war the 'massacre' at Srebrenica was probably overstated." All of this allowed Brockes to make the dishonest and insulting addition that, "in print at least, it can come across less as academic than as witheringly teenage; like, Srebrenica was so not a massacre." But when an external legal investigation pressed Brockes to prove that Chomsky had said what Brockes claimed he did, the audio recording of his verbal exchanges with Brockes was found to have been "partially recorded over" (i.e., erased) some time between the publication of the interview and the Guardian's official inquiry into the matter.24

As noted, these kinds of tactics are in the Vulliamy "journalism of attachment" tradition, and it is amusing to see that in her profile of Chomsky, Brockes misspelled Johnstone's first-name as "Diane" rather than Diana, just as Vulliamy had misspelled it eight months earlier in a commentary for the IWPR Balkan Crisis Report.25  It seems likely that either Brockes and/or her editors had worked from this eight-month-old text while preparing the final draft of the interview, or that Vulliamy himself played a hand in preparing this draft. In any case, no one at the Guardian caught the misspelling of Johnstone's first-name prior to publication of Brockes's interview.

In early December 2005, Ed Vulliamy joined 23 other writers and activists who had long advocated for the Western establishment's version of Srebrenica — and the "good" versus "evil" portrayal of the wars in Yugoslavia — in protesting the Guardian's decision to withdraw Brockes's mock interview with Chomsky and to issue a "correction" for the original. The "Guardian has unjustly besmirched Brockes's reputation," these 24 figures stated in an open letter, and "bestowed a stamp of legitimacy on revisionist attempts to deny the Bosnian genocide and minimize the Srebrenica massacre."  Among Vulliamy's fellow signatories were David Rohde, David Rieff, Marko Attila Hoare, Oliver Kamm, Nick Cohen, and Nerma Jelacic — all veteran maximizers of Serb perfidy and Bosnian Muslim victimhood.26

Common to Vulliamy's longstanding journalism of attachment and call to "fight for the memory of Bosnia's camps," the forgeries in Brockes's interview with Chomsky, and Monbiot's attack on "genocide belittlers," has been the unspoken premise that any challenge to the establishment narrative about Srebrenica is beyond the bounds of respectable journalism. Disallowed as apologetics or belittling or spitting on graves is anything that invokes historical context regularly suppressed by establishment accounts or questions official claims about the number of persons executed there. 27  The journalism of attachment is a rigid party-line journalism.

And just as there has long existed a Western party-line on the dismantling of Yugoslavia,28 in which the roles of perpetrators and victims were cast early (1991-) and adhered to with passionate intensity and certitude by the Guardian-Observer's writers, so a party-line on the 1994 mass killings in Rwanda has guided its coverage of this theater of conflict for almost as many years.

Here, again, the casting of perpetrators and victims was clear: These roles paralleled the long-standing U.S. and British hostility towards Rwanda's Hutu-majority government under President Juvenal Habyarimana, and their alignment with the armed forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). But in Rwanda, a third role was cast for the alleged savior of the country from the Hutu "genocidaires," and assigned to the man who, in the words of the Guardian's chief Africa correspondent Chris McGreal, is the "former Tutsi rebel leader who ended the genocide [and] has been heralded as the Abraham Lincoln of Africa"29 – Paul Kagame.

These assigned perpetrator-victim-savior roles, followed closely by the Guardian since the April-July 1994 period, turn the fundamental realities of the Rwandan conflict upside down, a fact that becomes clearer when one examines the atrocities of those four months within the context of the entire 20-year ascent and geographical spread of Kagame's power. 30

Kagame trained at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1990. When the RPF invaded Rwanda from Uganda on October 1 of that year, even wearing the uniforms of the Ugandan army, not only did the United States and Britain not protest this act of aggression, they also prevented the UN Security Council from taking any action on Rwanda until March 1993,31following a major RPF offensive that proved its superiority over the Army of the Rwandan government, displaced one million persons, and greatly weakened the Habyarimana government. Through the start of April 1994, it was crucial to what would become the establishment narrative of the "Rwandan genocide" that the RPF's aggression and occupation of the northern part of the country, its rapid increase in troop and weapons strength,32 its political penetration of the Rwandan state under Western-imposed power-sharing agreements, its military offensives, and its massacres and large-scale ethnic cleansing of the Hutu population, all be kept as quiet as possible, and that reporting feature instead Hutu perfidy and Tutsi victimhood. The Guardian(along with the rest of the establishment U.S. and U.K. media) met this challenge.33

The "triggering event" in the mass killings of 1994 and after was the shooting down of Habyarimana's jet during its landing approach to the airport in Kigali on April 6. In standard accounts of the "Rwandan genocide," responsibility for this incident is assigned to Hutu extremists around Habyarimana, who, facing a loss of power and privileges under the Arusha peace and power-sharing accords of August 1993, assassinated their president rather than accept the implementation of the accords and then launched their plan to exterminate Rwanda's Tutsi population.34

But a serious problem for this Hutu conspiracy model arose in 1997, when Michael Hourigan, a principal investigator for the Rwanda Tribunal, found RPF informants who attested to the "direct involvement" of Kagame,<

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