Do As We Say, Not As We Do

My letter to Media Lens over the issue of the massacre at Srebrenica.

In my latest column, I dedicated two sentences to what I felt was an obvious double standard on the part of the campaigning group Media Lens. They responded to the column yesterday. You can read their response here. This is my reply.

Dear Media Lens,

Thank you for your letter and the points it contains.

The first thing that strikes me is what you leave out: namely the sentences immediately preceding your comment about what Herman and Peterson were “perfectly entitled” to do, in discussing the massacre at Srebrenica. You quoted them as saying the following:

“There is a good case to be made that, while there were surely hundreds of executions, and possibly as many as a thousand or more, the 8,000 figure is a political construct and eminently challengeable.”

Given that 6,500 of the victims have already been exhumed and identified, and that there is very strong evidence (as there has been for years) to suggest that a further 1,500 or so await discovery, this statement is demonstrably wrong and without justification. To describe it as “talking down” the number of deaths is in fact an understatement: it amounts to the outright disavowal of cast-iron evidence. But you comment as follows:

“Herman and Peterson, then, are +not+ denying that mass killings took place at Srebrenica.”

In fact they ARE denying that the great majority of the killings took place, even though these killings are as well-attested as such events can be. It’s a grotesque example of revisionism, which they have entirely failed to justify.

You continue as follows:

“They also do not accept the figure cited by Kamm and others”

The figure “cited by Kamm and others” is in fact the 8,000 which they have just dismissed. It’s not just cited by Kamm and others: it’s accepted by everyone except some extreme Serb nationalists and a small group of wilful deniers as the correct total, with a possible margin of error of roughly 300 in either direction. Yet Herman and Peterson insist that the total is “only” hundreds or “possibly as many as a thousand or more”. That is what their “not accepting” the figure you ascribe to “Kamm and others” means: straightforward denial of the existence of the great majority of the victims. It is this that you say they are “perfectly entitled to do.” I called you out on it, and I was right to do so.

If you doubt that Herman and his co-authors have grossly misrepresented acts of genocide, please read these reviews by experts in the field, who are much better qualified to judge than any of us:

http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/65265

http://www.genocidetext.net/denying_rwanda.html

You then make the extraordinary suggestion that I would like anything Herman and Peterson have written to be deleted or burnt. It’s the kind of inflation I would expect from Frank Furedi and his cult, who cry “witch-hunt” whenever anyone points out that they’ve got something wrong. Please explain how you justify this hyperbole.

That’s not the only such instance in your response. You go on to claim that:

“On Twitter last week, you accused us of ‘genocide denial’”.

In fact I challenged “your SUPPORT for genocide denial,” which I think is a fair summary of your attempt to justify Herman and Peterson’s position.

Media Lens is a campaigning organisation, devoted to exposing the double standards of the media on questions such as the killing of foreigners by allies of the Western powers versus the killing of foreigners by opponents of the Western powers. So it jumps out when you display the same double standards. You find it totally unacceptable for Iraq Body Count to underestimate the number of people killed in Iraq. But you believe that Herman and Peterson are “perfectly entitled” to claim that:

“There is a good case to be made that, while there were surely hundreds of executions, and possibly as many as a thousand or more, the 8,000 figure is a political construct and eminently challengeable.”

I think that’s worth two sentences of an article. Don’t you?

With my best wishes,

George Monbiot

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