Noam Chomsky: 'Their' Terrorism versus 'Our' Terrorism
Noam Chomsky: 'Their' Terrorism versus 'Our' Terrorism
By Noam Chomsky / filmsforaction.org

After the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, which killed 12 people including the editor and four other cartoonists, and the murder of four Jews at a kosher supermarket shortly after, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared "a war against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam, against everything that is aimed at breaking fraternity, freedom, solidarity."

Millions of people demonstrated in condemnation of the atrocities, amplified by a chorus of horror under the banner "I am Charlie." There were eloquent pronouncements of outrage, captured well by the head of Israel's Labor Party and the main challenger for the upcoming elections, Isaac Herzog, who declared that "Terrorism is terrorism. There's no two ways about it," and that "All the nations that seek peace and freedom [face] an enormous challenge" from brutal violence.

The crimes also elicited a flood of commentary, inquiring into the roots of these shocking assaults in Islamic culture and exploring ways to counter the murderous wave of Islamic terrorism without sacrificing our values. The New York Times described the assault as a "clash of civilizations," but was corrected by Times columnist Anand Giridharadas, who tweeted that it was "Not & never a war of civilizations or between them. But a war FOR civilization against groups on the other side of that line. #CharlieHebdo."

The scene in Paris was described vividly in the New York Times by veteran Europe correspondent Steven Erlanger: "a day of sirens, helicopters in the air, frantic news bulletins; of police cordons and anxious crowds; of young children led away from schools to safety. It was a day, like the previous two, of blood and horror in and around Paris."

Erlanger also quoted a surviving journalist who said that "Everything crashed. There was no way out. There was smoke everywhere. It was terrible. People were screaming. It was like a nightmare." Another reported a "huge detonation, and everything went completely dark." The scene, Erlanger reported, "was an increasingly familiar one of smashed glass, broken walls, twisted timbers, scorched paint and emotional devastation."

 

These last quotes, however -- as independent journalist David Peterson reminds us -- are not from January 2015. Rather, they are from a report by Erlanger on April 24 1999, which received far less attention. Erlanger was reporting on the NATO "missile attack on Serbian state television headquarters" that "knocked Radio Television Serbia off the air," killing 16 journalists.

"NATO and American officials defended the attack," Erlanger reported, "as an effort to undermine the regime of President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia." Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon told a briefing in Washington that "Serb TV is as much a part of Milosevic's murder machine as his military is," hence a legitimate target of attack.

There were no demonstrations or cries of outrage, no chants of "We are RTV," no inquiries into the roots of the attack in Christian culture and history. On the contrary, the attack on the press was lauded. The highly regarded U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, then envoy to Yugoslavia, described the successful attack on RTV as "an enormously important and, I think, positive development," a sentiment echoed by others.

There are many other events that call for no inquiry into western culture and history -- for example, the worst single terrorist atrocity in Europe in recent years, in July 2011, when Anders Breivik, a Christian ultra-Zionist extremist and Islamophobe, slaughtered 77 people, mostly teenagers.

Also ignored in the "war against terrorism" is the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times -- Barack Obama's global assassination campaign targeting people suspected of perhaps intending to harm us some day, and any unfortunates who happen to be nearby. Other unfortunates are also not lacking, such as the 50 civilians reportedly killed in a U.S.-led bombing raid in Syria in December, which was barely reported.

One person was indeed punished in connection with the NATO attack on RTV -- Dragoljub Milanović, the general manager of the station, who was sentenced by the European Court of Human Rights to 10 years in prison for failing to evacuate the building, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia considered the NATO attack, concluding that it was not a crime, and although civilian casualties were "unfortunately high, they do not appear to be clearly disproportionate."

The comparison between these cases helps us understand the condemnation of the New York Times by civil rights lawyer Floyd Abrams, famous for his forceful defense of freedom of expression. "There are times for self-restraint," Abrams wrote, "but in the immediate wake of the most threatening assault on journalism in living memory, [the Times editors] would have served the cause of free expression best by engaging in it" by publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons ridiculing Mohammed that elicited the assault.

Abrams is right in describing the Charlie Hebdo attack as "the most threatening assault on journalism in living memory." The reason has to do with the concept "living memory," a category carefully constructed to include Their crimes against us while scrupulously excluding Our crimes against them -- the latter not crimes but noble defense of the highest values, sometimes inadvertently flawed.

This is not the place to inquire into just what was being "defended" when RTV was attacked, but such an inquiry is quite informative (see my A New Generation Draws the Line).

There are many other illustrations of the interesting category "living memory." One is provided by the Marine assault against Fallujah in November 2004, one of the worst crimes of the U.S.-UK invasion of Iraq.

The assault opened with occupation of Fallujah General Hospital, a major war crime quite apart from how it was carried out. The crime was reported prominently on the front page of the New York Times, accompanied with a photograph depicting how "Patients and hospital employees were rushed out of rooms by armed soldiers and ordered to sit or lie on the floor while troops tied their hands behind their backs." The occupation of the hospital was considered meritorious and justified: it "shut down what officers said was a propaganda weapon for the militants: Fallujah General Hospital, with its stream of reports of civilian casualties."

Evidently, this is no assault on free expression, and does not qualify for entry into "living memory."

There are other questions. One would naturally ask how France upholds freedom of expression and the sacred principles of "fraternity, freedom, solidarity." For example, is it through the Gayssot Law, repeatedly implemented, which effectively grants the state the right to determine Historical Truth and punish deviation from its edicts? By expelling miserable descendants of Holocaust survivors (Roma) to bitter persecution in Eastern Europe? By the deplorable treatment of North African immigrants in the banlieues of Paris where the Charlie Hebdo terrorists became jihadis? When the courageous journal Charlie Hebdo fired the cartoonist Siné on grounds that a comment of his was deemed to have anti-Semitic connotations? Many more questions quickly arise.

Anyone with eyes open will quickly notice other rather striking omissions. Thus, prominent among those who face an "enormous challenge" from brutal violence are Palestinians, once again during Israel's vicious assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014, in which many journalists were murdered, sometimes in well-marked press cars, along with thousands of others, while the Israeli-run outdoor prison was again reduced to rubble on pretexts that collapse instantly on examination.

Also ignored was the assassination of three more journalists in Latin America in December, bringing the number for the year to 31. There have been more than a dozen journalists killed in Honduras alone since the military coup of 2009 that was effectively recognized by the U.S. (but few others), probably according post-coup Honduras the per capita championship for murder of journalists. But again, not an assault on freedom of press within living memory.

It is not difficult to elaborate. These few examples illustrate a very general principle that is observed with impressive dedication and consistency: The more we can blame some crimes on enemies, the greater the outrage; the greater our responsibility for crimes -- and hence the more we can do to end them -- the less the concern, tending to oblivion or even denial.

Contrary to the eloquent pronouncements, it is not the case that "Terrorism is terrorism. There's no two ways about it." There definitely are two ways about it: theirs versus ours. And not just terrorism.

This article first appeared at CNN International

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His most recent book is "Masters of Mankind." His web site is www.chomsky.info.

4.3 ·
4
What's Next
Trending Today
Rap News Special Edition: Hillary Clinton Vs Donald Trump
7 min · 20,993 views today · Hello world. RAP NEWS is back for a special episode on the 2016 USA Election mayhem, feat. Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump + a touch of Jill Stein & Gary Johnson. This one's...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 12,085 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 8,933 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
The Culture of Maximum Harm
Daniel Quinn · 5,711 views today · People have lived many different ways on this planet, but about ten thousand years ago there appeared one people who believed everyone in the world should live a single...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 3,908 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
Prince Ea Just Put The School System on Trial and Found it Guilty of Killing Free Thought
6 min · 3,897 views today · Albert Einstien once said "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid". Today Prince...
The Little Engine That Couldn't: How We're Preparing Ourselves and Our Children for Extinction
Daniel Quinn · 3,786 views today · In a recent semi-documentary film called Garbage, a toxic waste disposal engineer was asked how we can stop engulfing the world in our poisons. His answer was, "We'd have to...
The Left Deserves Better Than Jill Stein
Kate Aronoff · 2,933 views today · Stein’s Green Party run doesn’t offer a plan to win, or to build power. The Left is capable of so much more.
Debt, Inequality and the Logic of Financial Violence
David Graeber · 2,654 views today · Five years after Occupy, organizer and anthropologist David Graeber speaks to ROAR about the power of finance, the history of inequality and the legacy of the movement.
The International Criminal Court May Start Prosecuting People Who Commit Crimes Against the Environment
Tara Smith · 2,348 views today · The International Criminal Court is not known for prosecuting people responsible for huge oil slicks, chopping down protected rainforests or contaminating pristine land. But...
Humanity's Greatest Challenges Aren't Technical, They're Human
8 min · 2,062 views today · Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is incomplete as we commonly know it. Later in his life, Maslow wrote about a stage beyond self-actualization. Nichol Brandford explains how to...
The Journey From Syria (2016)
71 min · 1,864 views today · Reporter Matthew Cassel spent a year documenting the journey of Syrian jeweler Aboud Shalhoub as he travels from Turkey to Greece, and through Eastern Europe to the Netherlands...
How You Can Support Standing Rock
Thane Maxwell · 1,573 views today · This is your pipeline battle too. Whatever you have to offer, we need it. Wherever you are, take one step deeper. Find your voice. Find your own front lines.
This Satirical Trump Vs. Bernie Debate Is Both Hilarious and Highly Disturbing
44 min · 1,504 views today · Comedians James Adomian (Bernie Sanders) and Anthony Atamanuik (Donald Trump) bring two of the most controversial candidates in history, head-to-head, or rather bald-to-toupee...
Kids Killed by Guns: America's Daily Nightmare
3 min · 1,381 views today · On an average day in America, seven children and teenagers will be shot dead.Gary Younge tells the stories of the lives lost on one random day - 23 November 2013. Ten children...
Olympian John Carlos on the Power of Protest
3 min · 1,300 views today · 1968 Olympic athlete John Carlos protested racial inequality by raising his fist in a Black Power salute on the medal stand. He has some advice for athletes like Colin...
Incredible Photographs and Witness Statements from Charlotte and Baton Rouge Protests
Mankaprr Conteh · 1,289 views today · On September 20, a black father named Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot by an officer of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. It is not clear if he was armed...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,233 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 910 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 903 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Noam Chomsky: 'Their' Terrorism versus 'Our' Terrorism