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Christopher Hitchens: Refutations from a Stalinist Commissar-Lookalike

May 24, 2011

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This response to a response to a response to a response takes George Scialabba and Noam Chomsky to task for seemingly hasty analogies and false accusations.

By **Christopher Hitchens**

Photo by Jutta Degener


Christopher_hitchens.jpgGeorge Scialabba confidently and effectively re-states the differences between Noam Chomsky and myself as they stood almost ten years ago. In my more recent article for Slate, however, I had briefly sought to bring attention to some fresh disagreements (at any rate new to me) arising from Chomsky’s comments on the killing of Osama bin Laden. These were (a) his apparent unwillingness to believe that the evidence conclusively implicates Al Qaeda in the 9/11 atrocities and (b) his belief that Bush is more guilty of war-crimes—or guilty of more war-crimes—than bin Laden was. This, along with his deployment of Nazi imagery and analogy, felt like a shift away from what I had called moral equivalence, and toward the view that the United States is or has been the guiltier party.

One point from the old exchange before I go on. The word “bagatelle” was intended by me to make the following point: If 9/11 may be compared in scale and proportion to Clinton’s rocketing of the Sudan, which I denounced more strongly than most people at the time it occurred, then what would Al Qaeda have to do to rival the bombing of Cambodia, say, or the death squads in Central and South America, or the genocide in East Timor? Reflection on this might perhaps give pause to anyone inclined to make hasty analogies. Of course I do not think that Chomsky regards 9/11 as a paltry or trivial incident, and it’s perverse to try and construe me as if I did.

As to the idea that I have myself described Clinton’s attack [on Sudan] as worse than bin Laden’s, I have never believed or written this.

Now to Chomsky’s response to my response. In some more extended remarks that have since been published, he appears to accept (as he always had previously) the responsibility of bin Laden. He just doesn’t accept, as evidence, bin Laden’s claims of responsibility. Fine by me: we can go back to where we were before, and debate more directly the larger question of whether Bush or bin Laden is the Nazi. We’ve both published plenty on this already.

However, in a recent appearance at Syracuse, Chomsky made two direct accusations against me (apart, that is, from the accusations of my being a hysterical ranter and Stalinist commissar-lookalike whose opinions merit no consideration). In plain terms, he first said that I had accused him in Slate of saying that Clinton’s attack on Sudan was worse than 9/11. He then added that while he had not said this, I had! I was somewhat amazed at the sniggering applause which this earned him, since a glance at my Slate column will show that I specifically did not make that charge. As to the idea that I have myself described Clinton’s attack as worse than bin Laden’s, I have never believed or written this, and cannot even think of a remark of mine that could have been misinterpreted to make it seem otherwise. Chomsky claimed to have quoted me on this before: I invite him to produce the reference or to withdraw both allegations.

Copyright 2011 Christopher Hitchens

Editor’s Note: Below is the video of Chomsky’s Syracuse appearance:

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Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. He is the author of many books, the most recent of which are Hitch-22: A Memoir and Arguably: Selected Essays.

  Noam Chomsky: My Reaction to Osama bin Laden’s Death: How would we be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic? More
 
  Russ Baker: 12 Questions about bin Laden: Do we, after all of the years of lying, all of a sudden accept whatever the government says as true? More
     
  Tom Engelhardt: Osama bin Laden’s American Legacy: It’s Time to Stop Celebrating and Go Back to Kansas: When the celebrations and partying over his death fade…we’ll once again be left with the tattered American world bin Laden willed us… More
 
  George Scialabba: Hitchens Distorts Noam Chomsky: Scialabba on how “panting polemicist” Christopher Hitchens’s remarks against Noam Chomsky are evidence of a widespread and troubling failure among intellectuals. More

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One comment for Christopher Hitchens: Refutations from a Stalinist Commissar-Lookalike

  1. Comment by Last Word on December 24, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Response to a response to a response to a response? Hitchens? Chomsky?
    Solving crosswords puzzles is only slightly less of intellectual activity than reading their arguments.

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