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“Chomsky a brilliant Sydney Peace Prize choice”

Stuart Rees, Director of The Sydney Peace Foundation, writes for the ABC’s The Drum Unleashed.

It is disappointing that Mr. Lapkin, billed as a research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, churns out articles in The Drum and the Daily Telegraph which depend on derision, obfuscation and frequent slanderous misrepresentations, most recently concerning the choice of Professor Noam Chomsky as the recipient of the 2011 Sydney Peace Prize.

It is sad that such a way of thinking and writing could ever be part of any thoughtful person’s repertoire, let alone anyone claiming to be a serious scholar.

As a feature of an ugly politics, derision does find an echo in certain types of journalism but when such ugliness includes serious and unfounded accusations, they should not be ignored. Lapkin’s latest articles include not only his attempted character assassination of Professor Chomsky, but also his “I’m really clever aren’t I?”, “Read my special brand of sarcasm”, jibes at the Peace Prize jury which chose Chomsky.

On principle Noam Chomsky never sues for libel and in consequence it’s safe to be defamatory, as in references to Chomsky ‘glossing over crimes against humanity’, blowing ‘a smokescreen over reports of mass killings’, being ‘an unapologetic apologist for genocidaires’. Nowhere in Lapkin’s writing is there any substantiation by reference to relevant evidence in carefully refereed papers published by him let alone to any significant books he might have written to set out his views and the data to support them.

Lapkin ignores the breadth and depth of Chomsky’s meticulously documented and referenced writings, his consistently incisive scrutiny of the behaviour of all regimes and governments, and his clear acknowledgement of opinions and interpretations altered by subsequent evidence. Instead, Lapkin rehashes and distorts old controversies, debated in a civilized and scholarly fashion among the contending participants at the time and since.

The references to glossing over mass murders concern Noam Chomsky’s and Edward Herman’s analysis of commentaries on the Pol Pot genocide. They attempted to make accurate estimates of the deaths in Cambodia between 1975 -79 as known at that time, and they insisted that their appraisal of that genocide should address the consequences of the massive US bombing of Cambodia. In no way does those authors’ scholarly analysis minimise the horrendous crimes of the Pol Pot regime, though they were particularly concerned to observe that while western correspondents were focusing on the extent of the horrors in Cambodia, they were not paying attention to the mass murder of comparable proportions which was occurring in East Timor. That genocide was largely ignored. At the invitation of Jose Ramos Horta, Professor Chomsky subsequently came to Australia to speak about the slaughter occurring in East Timor.

It is possible that Lapkin’s anger is fuelled by dismay that a distinguished American citizen who is also Jewish has been consistently critical of the decades of cruelty by the militaristic and illegal policies of successive Israeli governments. And on that issue, let it be clear that those of us, including Professor Chomsky, who criticise the policies of Israeli governments do not deny the legitimacy of the Israeli state. On the contrary we consistently argue that justice for the Palestinians equals security for Israel.

One of the reasons for choosing Professor Chomsky for Australia’s only international award for peace, was that he constantly advocates a commitment to social justice and human rights. In that respect, as in his most recent book Hopes and Prospects, he paints the possibilities for a non-violent, human rights oriented future in which major burdens of world poverty and hunger are addressed. This comment will perhaps make Lapkin reach for his pen to say that I am anti-Semitic or that Chomsky is a self-hating Jew. These predictable, unfounded charges contribute nothing to dialogue let alone to understanding.

There is one other charge which should not go unremarked. Chomsky’s recent criticism of the killing of Osama bin Laden is said by Lapkin to ‘dance perilously close to outright 9/11 denialism.’ I was in New York when President Obama announced the death of Bin Laden. In contrast to Obama’s efforts to avoid sounding triumphal, I witnessed hours of jingoism from US media commentators, chanting in the streets and constant claims that justice had been done. I also wrote about those events and, as Chomsky has done, asked ‘what justice?’

An international law version of justice would have bin Laden in the dock in the international criminal court charged with crimes against humanity probably in the company of former President Bush and former Prime Minister Blair, each defendant presumed to be innocent. Not for one split second does that make me or any other writer making similar points, into someone who is minimising the mass murder of 9/11 or the grief and other human costs which followed. Neither does it make my comments about the means of his death suggest that bin Laden should not have been considered an architect of the 9/11 atrocities.

The Sydney Peace Foundation is concerned with peace with justice, not simply peace. That distinction is crucial. The goal of peace with justice requires a non violent struggle for adherence to international law and the attainment of universal human rights, objectives which Noam Chomsky has addressed for over fifty years and in over one hundred books and related publications.

A cautious, carefully deliberative jury is proud to have chosen a brave humanitarian, a scholar whose analysis of the destructive uses of power has inspired the convictions of millions. Thousands have already expressed their gratitude and enthusiasm for this choice of Chomsky as the 2011 Peace Prize recipient and many more will want to see and hear him in various appearances across this country later this year.
Stuart Rees is Professor Emeritus of the University of Sydney and Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation.

Article first published on The Drum Unleased 16/06/2011