States of Denial sunlight is the best disinfectant

Endorsing denial of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi – Open letters to Professor Noam Chomsky.

E
Professor Chomsky supplied answers to both of the letters reproduced below, but denied permission to the author of those letters, Roland Moerland, to reprint Chomsky’s side of the correspondence. Thus, the second letter to Chomsky has been slightly modified to remove direct quotations from his message. His answers to both letters were cursory, and in no way engaged with the substantive questions posed.
Letter 1:

Maastricht, January 18th, 2011.

 Dear Professor Chomsky,

In 1967 you published a special supplement to The New York Review of Books in which you critically addressed the responsibility of intellectuals. Intellectuals, you wrote, have a deep responsibility “to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, […], through which the events of current history are presented to us.”

Although your article was written and published more than forty years ago, the argument is highly relevant, because abuses of power still lead to vast human suffering. I believe that much of what you have written after 1967 up to your recent publications reflects these ideas and principles.

I was therefore shocked and disappointed to find out that you, as a highly distinguished intellectual, should write the foreword to the book The Politics of Genocide, which in chapter 4 includes one of the most flagrant cases of denial of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi that I have ever seen. I find it extremely hard to understand why you would endorse such a gross denial of human suffering.

The book The Politics of Genocide is written by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, and their account of what happened in Rwanda essentially turns the victims of the Rwandan genocide into perpetrators, making them responsible for their own annihilation. To this end, Herman and Peterson, for instance, engage in a numbers game that minimizes the number of Tutsi murdered by emphasizing the number of Hutu killed in the conflict. Such a utilitarian use of victimization is a disgrace to all those who perished.

Even more appalling is that Herman and Peterson’s account openly argues that there was no organized genocide of Tutsi. Instead they argue that “the RPF was the only well-organized killing force within Rwanda in 1994.” As a result, their account rejects the overwhelming weight of scholarship on Rwanda, which concludes that Hutu extremists perpetrated genocide against the Tutsi population, including Hutu that were opposed to the “Hutu Power” regime. Not surprisingly, Herman and Peterson have denounced such scholarship as mere propaganda, and have even accused the human rights community of playing “an unusually active role in supporting” what Herman and Peterson falsely depict as “the real aggressors and killers.”

 

Herman and Peterson claim that their “study” critically addresses the subjective and biased political usage of the word genocide in the service of power. This is a problematic issue that indeed requires serious attention. However, I am of the opinion that their denialist account in chapter 4 concerning what happened in Rwanda constitutes a prime example of the process that they supposedly decry; they are themselves engaging in the politics of genocide.

In the foreword to Herman and Peterson’s book, you make it clear that you are critical of the “vulgar politicization of the concept of genocide,” exactly because biased usage leads to denial of human suffering, to denial of genocide. I am afraid that by endorsing Herman and Peterson’s book as a “powerful inquiry”, you are actually facilitating a process that directly opposes and undermines what you stand for.

In this context, I also want to refer to the article that I mentioned at the beginning of this letter. I think that Herman and Peterson in their analysis of what happened in Rwanda have grossly neglected their intellectual responsibility. As you pointed out, intellectuals have a responsibility to seek the truth instead of hiding it behind a veil of distortion and misrepresentation. The fact that you wrote the foreword to their book also urges me to question your own intellectual responsibility. If you truly believe that intellectuals have a deep responsibility “to speak the truth and to expose lies”, you should distance yourself from Herman and Peterson’s genocide denial account at once. I think your responsibility as an intellectual requires you to critically examine their work, instead of uncritically endorsing it.

As one of the most renowned linguistic experts of our time, you of all people should know the power of words and the role they play in the initiation and conduct of conflict. Herman and Peterson’s brazen genocide denial facilitates a genocidal dynamic, and thus their words have grave, possibly mortal implications. I therefore ask you to reconsider the impact of your own words of endorsement. Your intellect should be used to endorse the actions and writings of those who strive to make the world a brighter place, not those who keep it in a darkness of falsehood and misrepresentation.

Yours sincerely,

Roland Moerland

PhD Researcher and Lecturer in Criminology

Department of Criminal Law and Criminology

Faculty of Law, Maastricht University

The Netherlands

 

Letter 2:

Maastricht January 21st, 2011.

Dear Professor Chomsky,

I appreciate that you replied to my letter, but I have to admit that I find your answer disappointing.

[…] You did not address Rwanda in your preface. However, a substantial part of the book you endorse in your preface does pay attention to Rwanda and its analysis includes some of the most extreme denial of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi that I have ever encountered. […] Don’t you believe that your words of endorsement have consequences? Don’t you, for instance, feel that by endorsing their book as a ‘powerful inquiry’, you are actually lending your credibility to their denialist enterprise? Is this in line with the values concerning the responsibility of intellectuals that you promoted in the supplement to The New York Review of Books and to which I referred in my open letter?

Herman and Peterson’s brazen genocide denial has grave, possibly mortal implications. Their words recycle much of the genocidal Hutu Power narrative and by endorsing Herman and Peterson’s denialist fabrications you basically help to empower a genocide ideology and the genocidal dynamic that it generates. It all makes me wonder whether you actually agree with Herman and Peterson’s depiction of what happened in Rwanda. Do you acknowledge that the genocide against the Tutsi is a historical fact? Or is this still debatable, in your view? […]

If you truly believe that intellectuals have a great responsibility “to speak the truth and to expose lies”, then I would argue that your cursory answer to my letter represents a denial of responsibility. I would urge you to reconsider and to withdraw your endorsement of Herman and Peterson’s denialist enterprise. To this end, I think it is important that you elaborate on the matters mentioned in my open letter and I invite you to do so in your answer to this letter.

I hope you will choose to respond at greater length. If you do not, may I have your permission to append your previous response to the open letter as it will be published on the Internet?

Yours sincerely,

Roland Moerland

PhD Researcher and Lecturer in Criminology

Department of Criminal Law and Criminology

Faculty of Law, Maastricht University

The Netherlands

The open letters were first published by the author on blogspot in 2011.

About the author

Roland Moerland

Roland Moerland is Assistant Professor at Maastricht University.

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States of Denial sunlight is the best disinfectant

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