NC, Libya

Below is a slightly edited and excerpted part of an unpublished review of mine of Maximilian Forte’s “Slouching Towards Sirte”, Baraka Books, 2012. It serves to refute commonly peddled lies and slanders (such as reproduced here) against Chomsky regarding his position on Libya:

Later in the book, Forte insists on discrediting himself further by outright falsifying the views of Chomsky. Forte claims that Chomsky “supported the no-fly zone intervention and the rebellion as ‘wonderful’ and ‘liberation’” (241). With this sentence Forte implies two things: (1) Chomsky used the words “wonderful” and “liberation” to describe the no-fly zone intervention. (2) Chomsky used these words to describe the rebellion. The sources that Forte provides for this claim do not show any evidence that Chomsky used either the word “wonderful” or the word “liberation” to describe the no-fly zone intervention, making Forte’s first claim a total falsehood. As for the second, an examination of the sources reveals the claim to be not completely false — only extremely deceitful.

The relevant source is a breathless diatribe by Dan Glazebrook in the form of an interview with Chomsky in Al Ahram (November 24, 2011). Glazebrook refers to Chomsky’s “public support” for the “Libyan rebels”. Glazebrook provides no evidence for the claim that Chomsky publicly supported the Libyan rebels. Glazebrook writes that in a BBC interview, Chomsky “chose to characterise the rebellion as ‘wonderful’”, the word quoted by Forte as well. By this, Glazebrook presumably meant to insinuate that Chomsky publicly supported the Libyan rebels. In fact, the source given by Glazebrook shows nothing of the sort.

The BBC interview Glazebrook refers to was Jeremy Paxman’s interview with Chomsky on March 8, 2011, nine days before the passing of UNSCR 1973 (not, as Glazebrook falsely claims, “just four days before”). When asked by Paxman how he feels about the fact that people are demonstrating in the Arab world (it is evident from the context that the main reference is to Egypt and Tunisia), Chomsky replied “I think it’s wonderful”, before immediately adding: “they have a lot of problems. Internal and external.” Glazebrook’s rendering of the quote is a gross distortion. Unmentioned by Glazebrook is also the fact that, on at least three separate occasions during the interview, Chomsky pointed out that Libya is a “special case”, i.e., different from the other North African countries. The reason Libya is a special case, he said, is that what is going on there is a “civil war”. Thus, by Glazebrook’s logic, Chomsky’s statement that it was “wonderful” that people in Egypt are demonstrating for democracy, translates into an expression of “support” for one side in the Libyan civil war.

It is furthermore totally evident from the context that the “wonderful” remark, far from a spontaneous outburst of euphoria (as implied by Forte and Glazebrook with supreme dishonesty), was primarily aimed at “sticking it” to Paxman, who is notorious for baiting his interview subjects with hostile questions. Paxman apparently felt it proper that Chomsky express discomfort over the fact that the Arab masses were demanding the kind of “Western-style” freedoms, that, according to Paxman, Chomsky has often held “are rather illusory”. Thus, Paxman asks, with the condescending tone of a cross-examiner: “how does that make you feel?”

According to Glazebrook, “Elsewhere [Chomsky] referred to the takeover of the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi by racist gangs as ‘liberation’”, the second word quoted by Forte. Glazebrook provides no source for this claim. In the Paxman interview Chomsky does indeed say that “Eastern Libya … was just pretty much liberated”. That statement can perhaps be interpreted as oblique, tangential recognition of the validity of the rebel cause (which of course implies nothing regarding whether the rebels are nice people or whether what they do is prudent). It is not obvious that there is anything wrong with expressing such a viewpoint, if indeed that was his intent. It is furthermore clear that, contrary to the proposition conveyed by means of innuendo by Glazebrook/Forte, Chomsky did not use the word “liberation” in in some “romantic” sense, which is, again, why he repeatedly and insistently went out of his way to emphasize what he clearly considered to be the central fact of the matter: that the Libyan situation was different from that of the other North African countries in that what was taking place in Libya was a “civil war” (i.e., a conflict where both sides are utilizing violent means) rather than a “people’s revolution”. This is presumably why Glazebrook omitted the source for the quote (the Glazebrook article, incidentally, contains additional mountains of deceit and absurdities that are not worth going into here).

In short, Forte’s source for the claim that Chomsky “supported the no-fly zone intervention and the rebellion” by calling them “wonderful” and “liberation” amounts to pure garbage.

To eliminate any residual ambiguity, and further illustrate the blatant dishonesty of Glazebrook and Forte, we may note that Paxman in fact asked Chomsky directly about his opinion regarding what policy the West should adopt towards Libya. This is what Chomsky had to say, and Glazebrook and Forte chose to entirely omit: “we’re not asked to do anything. Mostly we’ve been asked to stay away. Just read what is being said. Stay away. You’ve got enough blood on your hands already. The question of what to do is not up to us. We’re not the only ones in the world … Should the West intervene militarily [in support of the Libyan rebels]? That’s very doubtful. I don’t think so.” Thus, by going on the BBC, saying that the West should not intervene militarily in Libya, Chomsky helped, according to Glazebrook, to “manufacture consent” for the Western military intervention in Libya. Glazebrookian logic is a true wonder to behold. Chomsky also noted that “the Arab press … is proposing that countries that have some respect in the region [Egypt and Turkey are specifically mentioned] … may be able to do things that would lead to some sort of reconciliation or at least mediation [in Libya]”. He also mentioned as “much more constructive than any possible military intervention” mediation initiatives coming from Brazil, India, and South Africa. This can be usefully compared to Forte’s own position on the matter: “The first steps in the Libyan civil war should have been to develop a peaceful transition, of the kind that the African union advocated” (264). In other words, the very source indirectly referenced by Forte to establish the nefariousness of Chomsky’s stance, in reality reveals that Chomsky’s position was virtually identical to his own! This is one impressive stunt that Forte apparently thinks he can get away with. (Note also, incidentally, the following rather ironic pair of facts: (a) after correcting for massive lying, Glazebrook’s charge essentially reduces to a critique of Chomsky for suggesting that the recommendations of the Arab press be heeded (b) Glazebrook’s piece appeared in the Arab press.)

Worthy of note is also the fact, just established, that Chomsky’s public advocacy of a peaceful transition in Libya actually took place in the period following the uprising and prior to the NATO intervention — that is, at the precise time when it could potentially have made a difference. By contrast, Forte’s own recommendation cited above was published well after the war was over. Nowhere in the book does Forte provide any documentary evidence showing that he himself publicly took the position that he retroactively recommends, in the relevant time period (the book’s references section contains zero entries authored by Forte published in 2011 or 2010). This seems rather odd: since Forte is evidently keen on condemning others for failing in their duties as moral citizens, it would plainly have been of great help to his cause if he had at least shown himself to fulfill the criterion he piously imposes on others, thereby showing that he has any right whatsoever to pass judgments on the matter. Strangely, he chooses not to. The consequence is that, judged strictly by Forte’s own criterion, it would appear that Chomsky in fact is in a stronger moral position than Forte — i.e., Chomsky publicly advocated settling the conflict peacefully, and thus fulfilled the moral duty placed upon him by Forte, while Forte himself apparently kept silent in public (if anyone has evidence to the contrary, I would be glad to see it). By Forte’s own reasoning, then, if anyone deserves condemnation as a “supporter” or “facilitator” of NATO’s war, it would be Forte, not Chomsky.

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