The right-wing denial of the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda is bad enough; the new left-wing denial is even worse.
By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 14th June 2011
In a leading article last week, the Times decried the “malign intellectual subculture that seeks to excuse savagery by denying the facts”(1). The facts are the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda. But it was oddly vague about which intellectual subculture it meant, and it mentioned no names. Could this be because the British person who has done most to dismiss these genocides is a journalist who writes for the same paper?
The massacre of Bosnians at Srebrenica in 1995 and the slaughter of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 are two of the best-documented acts of genocide in history. Both cases are supported by overwhelming evidence: remains of the victims and vast dossiers of testimony from survivors and observers. The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), using DNA screening, has so far identified the corpses of 6,595 of the 7,789 Bosnians reported as missing after the siege of Srebenica. Its work suggests that the total number of victims is close to 8,100(2).
In Rwanda, Hutu forces systematically murdered between half a million and a million Tutsis. The most commonly-accepted estimate is 800,000. A wealth of evidence shows that much of this killing was pre-planned. But the quality of the evidence has little influence over those who are determined to dismiss it.
From 1988 until 2000, Mick Hume was editor of a magazine called Living Marxism (later shortened to LM). The title was misleading: it was a hard-right libertarian paper, which argued that those with the power to act should not be prevented from using it. It campaigned against the control of guns(3,4), tobacco advertising(5) and child pornography(6,7). It dismissed global warming and demanded greater freedom for corporations. It denounced what it called “the cult of the victim”(8).
In 2000, the magazine closed after losing a libel case: LM had made false claims about ITN’s footage from the Trnopolje camp, in which Bosnian prisoners were held by Serb forces(9,10). In 2001, Hume launched an online successor called Spiked. He also began working for the Times, writing opinion pieces until the beginning of last year. He still writes occasional feature articles for the paper.
In 1996, LM maintained that the figure of 8,000 killed at Srebrenica was the result of “manipulation” and “misrepresentations”(11). But, the article concluded, 8000 is “a more useful number for propaganda purposes than 800.” In 1997 it carried a sympathetic interview with Radovan Karadzic, former president of the Bosnian Serb republic(12). It challenged none of the outrageous claims he made. Of the Sarajevo marketplace massacre of May 1992, he said “it is quite obvious to anyone objective that Moslems have done it”. He insisted that “General Mladic would not allow any sniping, particularly against civilians.” The people who died at Srebrenica were soldiers “killed in fighting”. When Ratko Mladic was arrested last month, Hume, writing for Spiked, insisted that the concept of a war crime is a “highly questionable notion”, as are both the numbers of people killed at Srebrenica and the circumstances of their deaths(13).
LM also mocked and belittled the genocide in Rwanda. In 1995, for example, Fiona Fox, who is now the director of the Science Media Centre, wrote a piece for the magazine in which she repeatedly put the Rwandan genocide in inverted commas, and claimed that “this was not a pre-planned genocide of one tribe by another. Those targeted by government militia were Tutsis and Hutus suspected of supporting the RPA invasion.”(14) In the Times in 2004, Hume repeated a pair of long-discredited deniers’ claims: that the genocide began when “supporters of the old regime lashed out” after Paul Kagame’s army “shot down” President Habyarimana’s plane(15). Is it any wonder that the Times leader refrained from naming names?
But genocide denial is just as embarrassing to the left as it is to the libertarian right. Last week, Edward Herman, an American professor of finance best known for co-authoring Manufacturing Consent with Noam Chomsky, published a new book called The Srebrenica Massacre(16). It claims that the 8,000 deaths at Srebrenica are “an unsupportable exaggeration. The true figure may be closer to 800.”
Like Karadzic, the book claims that the market massacres in Sarajevo were carried out by Bosnian Muslim provocateurs. It maintains that the Serb forces’ reburial of Bosnian corpses is “implausible and lack[s] any evidential support” (an astonishing statement in view of the ICMP’s findings). It insists that the witnesses to the killings are “not credible” and suggests that the Bosnian Muslim soldiers retreated from Srebrenica to ensure that more Bosnians were killed, in order to provoke US intervention(17).
These are not the first such claims Edward Herman has made. Last year, with David Peterson, he published a book called The Politics of Genocide(18). Mis-citing a tribunal judgement, he maintains that the Serb forces “incontestably had not killed any but ‘Bosnian Muslim men of military age’.”(19) Worse still, he places the Rwandan genocide in inverted commas throughout the text and maintains that “the great majority of deaths were Hutu, with some estimates as high as two million”, and that the story of 800,000 “largely Tutsi deaths” caused by genocide “appears to have no basis in any facts”. It’s as straightforward an instance of revisionism as I’ve ever seen, comparable in this case only to the claims of the genocidaires themselves.
But here’s where it gets really weird. The cover carries the following endorsement by John Pilger. “In this brilliant expose of great power’s lethal industry of lies, Edward Herman and David Peterson defend the right of us all to a truthful historical memory.” The foreword was written by Noam Chomsky. He doesn’t mention the specific claims the book makes, but the fact that he wrote it surely looks like an endorsement of the contents. The left-wing website Media Lens maintained that Herman and Peterson were “perfectly entitled” to talk down the numbers killed at Srebrenica(20). What makes this all the more remarkable is that Media Lens has waged a long and fierce campaign against Iraq Body Count for underestimating the number killed in that country.
Why is this happening? Both the LM network and Herman’s supporters oppose western intervention in the affairs of other nations. Herman rightly maintains that far more attention is paid to atrocities committed by US enemies than to those committed by the US and its allies. But both groups then take the unwarranted step of belittling the acts of genocide committed by opponents of the western powers. The rest of us should stand up for the victims, whoever they are, and confront those trying to make them disappear.
1. Editorial, 6th June 2011. Memory Against Forgetting. The Times.
2. ICMP, by email, 13th June 2011.
3. Mark Ryan, 16th August 1996. Holding a gun to our heads. Living Marxism online.
4. Debate: Will Gun Control Make Society Safer? 18 February 1997. Living Marxism online.
5. Cheryl Hudson, November 1997. Who killed the Marlboro man? LM issue 105.
6. Andrew Calcutt, April 1994. Exposed: computer porn scandal in commons. Living Marxism issue 66.
7. David Nolan, 3rd October 1996. ‘I’m Against Censorship, But…’ Living Marxism online.
8. Living Marxism’s Manifesto: The Point Is To Change It. This was published at http://www.informinc.co.uk/LM/the-point/intro.html, but the site is no longer available.
9. Thomas Deichmann, February 1997. The picture that fooled the world. Living Marxism issue 97.
10. The most comprehensive account of the claims, the counterclaims and the libel case has been compiled by David Campbell, in two parts:
11. Linda Ryan, March 1996. What’s in a ‘mass grave’? Living Marxism issue 88.
12. Radovan Karadzic, interviewed by Thomas Deichmann, July/August 1997. LM issue 102.
13. Mick Hume, 31st May 2011. Mladic, war crimes and the West: unasked questions. http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/10559/
14. Like many contributors to LM, Fox wrote under a pseudonym: Fiona Foster.
Fiona Foster, December 1995. Massacring the Truth in Rwanda. Living Marxism issue 85.
She now tells me that she has left “all that political stuff behind me many, many years ago”, but refused to answer the question of whether or not she still holds these views today. (By email, 9th June 2011).
15. Mick Hume, 7th April 2004. The West did too much, not too little, in Rwanda. The Times.
16. Edward S. Herman (Editor), 4th June 2011. The Srebrenica Massacre: Evidence, Context, Politics. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=25112
17. This is such an astonishing claim that, in case you don’t believe Herman could really have made it, I reproduce it here in full (page 284):
“Bosnian Muslim officials have claimed that their wartime president, Alija Izetbegovic, told them that Bill Clinton had advised him that direct U.S. military intervention could occur only if the Serbs killed at least 5,000 at Srebrenica.27 The abandonment of Srebrenica prior to July 11, 1995 by an armed Bosnian Muslim force much larger numerically than that of the Bosnian Serb attackers, and the retreat that made that larger force vulnerable and caused it to suffer heavy casualties in fighting and vengeance executions, helped produce deaths that, once their actual number was inflated, would not only meet but surpass the Clinton threshold. There is other evidence that the retreat from Srebrenica was not based on any military necessity, but was strategic, with the personnel losses incurred regarded as a necessary sacrifice for a larger purpose.28”
Here are the references Herman gives:
27: See Kofi Annan et al., The Fall of Srebrenica (A/54/549), Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to General Assembly resolution 53/35, November 15, 1999,
28 See above, Bogdanich, Ch. 2, “Prelude to the Capture of Srebrenica.”
18. Edward S Herman and David Peterson, 2010. The Politics of Genocide. Monthly Review Press. New York.
19. International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of Former Yugoslavia since 1991, 2nd August 2001. Prosecutor V. Radislav Krstic. Case No. IT-98-33-T. http://www.icty.org/x/cases/krstic/tjug/en/krs-tj010802e.pdf
In fact the judgement says that “only the men of military age were systematically massacred” (para 595).
Can you spot the difference? Herman and Peterson couldn’t.
20. Media Lens, 25th November 2009. Dancing on a mass grave – Oliver Kamm of the Times smears Media Lens. http://www.medialens.org/alerts/09/091125_dancing_on_a.php