Thursday, February 19, 2009
You do it to yourself. posted by Richard SeymourMy little stalking pony, frontiersman, supporter of Croatian nationalism and extoller of 'Operation Storm', Marko Attila Hoare, is back with what he describes as a "measured" 4,000 word review of pp 190-212 of my book, The Liberal Defence of Murder. As Hoare writes, these pages concern his "own area of special interest" as an historian and polemicist, namely the fate of the former Yugoslavia. In that sense, one would expect Hoare to find his objective, which is to undermine my arguments, relatively simple to accomplish. I will try to be as concise in my reply as he is prolix in his review.
Hoare begins by accusing me of a tautology: "Seymour is unable to provide any evidence that any of his liberal targets did, indeed, support ‘murder’" in the cases of Croatia and Bosnia, there being no notable instances of "bloodcurdling war cries", "unless simply being in favour of Western military intervention automatically makes one a supporter of ‘murder’". In fact, the argument in the book is that in misconstruing the situation in Yugoslavia, and by calling for intervention, pro-war liberals helped to justify political and military interventions that did indeed contribute to ‘murder’, and prepared the ideological ground for supporting future wars. I do not characterise everyone who (to my mind mistakenly) bought the 'humanitarian intervention' argument as a defender of 'murder'. And at no point do I argue that liberal imperialism is simply characterised by "bloodcurdling war-cries". The whole point of liberal imperialism as an ideology is that it doesn’t work that way. The accusation of "tautology" rebounds on the reviewer: it is his tautology, not mine.
I do not argue against military intervention on the grounds that "the Croatians and Bosnians were not worthy of being defended by Western military intervention, because their governments were just as bad as Milosevic’s - possibly worse - and were guilty of the same atrocities." I argue that liberals and leftists misconstrued the facts of the matter, demonised the Serbs and paid little or no attention to comparable crimes by Croatian and Bosnian forces. I do not argue that anyone is "not worthy" of "being defended". The reviewer just assumes that military intervention would, in fact, constitute 'defence'. In outlining the grotesque disinformation in the coverage of the conflict, he further assumes, I mean to imply that Croats and Bosnians were unworthy of a form of 'solidarity' that I might extend to others, suggesting that he has not read/understood the rest of the book. Nor do I say, or imply, that Croatian and Bosnian governments were "possibly worse" than "Milosevic's". This a tautology followed by a non-sequitur, crowned by an invention.
I do not argue that the proper response "to news and images of Serb ethnic-cleansing and atrocities (which Seymour does not deny took place) is not to demand action in defence of the victims, but to ensure that the perpetrators of this ethnic cleansing and these atrocities get a fair coverage and are not condemned in too strong terms". I argue that "action in defence of the victims" of any atrocity is not identical to calling for states to engage in military aggression, and that humanitarian solidarity is not to be confused with hysterical propaganda. It is because Hoare doesn't notice such distinctions that he is able to conclude that "what Seymour has written is a defence of the Milosevic regime and Serb ethnic-cleansing from their liberal critics". (Emphasis in original). If only I were as litigious as the Hoares. It would be far more realistic to say that much of Hoare's output constitutes a defence of the Tudjman regime and Croatian ethnic cleansing.
I would prefer to leave aside the matter of Hoare's taking umbrage on behalf of his mother, but Hoare's misrepresentations make it impossible. Firstly, interviewing former friends of those one wants to evaluate, even if in passing, is not the disreputable technique that he appears to think it is - it is normal practise. Secondly, Hoare claims that Branka Magas only supported Croatian secessionism in the same sense that Socialist Worker did. Magas supported secession, Socialist Worker supported the right to secede - a distinction that made all the difference when Magas denied the ‘systematic persecution’ of the Krajina Serbs, and husband Quentin Hoare defended Tudjman from claims that he was an antisemite and Holocaust-denier.
I reject the evocations of Nazism, World War II and the Holocaust with reference to the Serbian government. This is not because the Serbian government lacked for authoritarianism or because it was not interested in expanding its power – with brute violence when all else failed. It is because that system of allusions was the basis for propaganda that denied the atrocities of other powers and legitimised the highly destructive interventionism of the United States, including its diplomatic sabotage and its subcontracting of reactionary Wahabbi fighters. Serb camps were compared to Belsen, in a sense, so that one didn't have to mention camps run by the HDZ and BiH. In that context, I ironised about Finkielkraut’s deployment of the Nazi-Jew homology in the context of the Croatian war by pointing out that Tudjman was more apt to vocalise pro-Nazi sentiments than Slobodan Milosevic. It is true that I didn’t mention that a number of Bosnian Serb paramilitaries embraced the symbols of the far right, but that was because it not germane to an argument about the Croatian war. I will spare Hoare’s blushes by not meditating too long on the topic of the BNP’s Nazi proclivities, which he denies exist. I will merely say that if it was possible not to see the antisemite in Franjo Tudjman, it is possible to miss the Nazi in Nick Griffin.
Hoare is scandalised that I impute "political motives" to the International Court of Justice: the problem is that I don't. He is referring to page 204, which explicitly references the ICTY, a wholly different (and highly politicised) body. Hoare is also vexed by my claim that "Izetbegovic’s Bosnian regime was the party favoured by ‘Western imperialism’". My claim is actually that US imperialism backed Bosnia. I note that the French government of Mitterrand, for example, was sympathetic to the Serbian side. The reason for this distortion on Hoare's part is that he wants to establish a 'gotcha'. Thus, citing alleged 'false flag' operations by the Bosnian side in Markale, I note that the accusations originate from UN personnel. According to Hoare, this means that the "representatives of Western imperialism" were maligning Bosnians, blaming them for "their own suffering". Even if those UN witnesses were in an uncomplicated way the imperialist delegates that Hoare takes them to be, the point would be one of 'evidence against interest': if those UN witnesses were representatives of US power, they were undermining the narrative industriously promoted by their bosses. Further, the point about 'false flag' operations is precisely that those responsible for them are not the victims. The implication of such an operation would be that the Bosnian government was using the populace as a bargaining tool in its negotiations. Only by assuming that the Bosnian government was the bearer of the volksgeist, in a way that is congruent with his support for Croatian nationalism, could Hoare fail to understand this point.
What seems to annoy Hoare more than anything else is my habit of citing left-wing dissidents, especially those who are either sympathetic to Slobodan Milosevic or sceptical of the claims surrounding the Srebrenica massacre. I make no apology for doing so where they have something interesting to say, and they are more than outnumbered by the usual texbooks, scholarly articles, news reports and so on. But Hoare's undignified indignation leads him to yet another pratfall. Thus, belabouring me for citing Diana Johnstone on Izetbegovic’s deathbed confession, as related by Bernard Kouchner, he complains: "Kouchner’s French government was aiding and abetting Milosevic’s destruction of Bosnia, and maintaining an arms embargo against the Bosnians". And so, he wonders, why should we take his word at face value? Had he read the 22 pages he focuses on properly, he would have been aware that Kouchner was not a supporter of that policy, and worked to get it overturned (see p 199). This would be one more case of 'evidence against interest'.
Those extensive mis-readings and gaffes to one side, there are a number of criticisms where I think Hoare has a point. And it would be grossly unfair, given how much effort he put into his review, to ignore them, so I conclude with those. I cite a quotation from Tudjman that was reproduced in Michael Parenti's To Kill a Nation in which genocide is described as "permitted", and even "recommended". Hoare, who has read the original text from which the quote has been extruded, says that it is taken out of context. I am quite prepared to take his word for it barring better advice, and correct it in the paperback edition. Accusing me of mis-stating casualty figures, Hoare notes my claim that in the run up to the Srebrenica massacre, "a wave of terror, including rape, by Bosnian Muslim forces in surrounding areas had killed thousands of Serbs.’" This was based on a number of neglected news reports from the time, found on LexisNexis. His rejoinder is that statistics from the Research and Documentation Centre, whom I cite elsewhere, put the number of Serb civilians killed in the surrounding area at 879. I did say "Serbs" and not "Serb civilians", and the total number of Serbs killed in that area, according to Hoare's source, is 5573. He might have been more attentive to what he was reading. Still, let us concede that it would have been better to measure those news reports against the RDC’s stats and to make a clear distinction between the killing of military men and civilians in the UN-protected enclave and surrounding areas. There would have been no damage to the substantive point that forces loyal to General Naser Oric were using their numerical strength over the Serbs to harrass, rape, and kill locals, and that little attention was paid to these and other atrocities by Bosniak forces. And I will also give Hoare the point that having opposed the use of inflated figures for civilian casualties, my use of Kate Hudson’s maximal figure for the number of Serbs expelled during Operation Storm (which may well be the total number displaced during the whole of the war from 1991 to 1995) does not sit well – and at any rate wasn’t essential to the point that what Hoare refers to as "the liberation of Krajina" was a bloody and repressive operation.
All the rest, I am afraid, is just futile bluster on Hoare’s part.