Wednesday, October 27, 2004

From a fellow reader, Dennis Josefsson, (my many thanks, and sorry this is so late) has translated an article for me written in Swedish regarding comments made by Chomsky. The original article can be found here:

Dagens Nyheter by Gellert Tamas

The translated version is here:

The battle of the front of words is now [front of words is a direct translation of "ordfronten", definite form of Ordfront]

This weekend, the association Ordfront have their congress. The result of the meeting might be decisive for the Swedish leftist debate.

No systematic killings have occurred in Bosnia. That assertion from Diana Johnstone, reproduced in a big, blown up, article in and by Ordfront Magazine’s editor’s secretary Björn Eklund, became the starting point of one of the most extensive and infected debates in Sweden’s cultural life. The last chapter will probably be written May 15th when the association Ordfront have their congress.

The debate in its entirety, one hundred contributions or so, can be read at the homepage of the publishing house Manifest. Even Noam Chomsky speaks out. He defends Diana Johnstone in an open letter to Ordfront. Chomsky’s tone is harsh. His contribution is based on the highly esteemed journal International Affairs which, according to Chomsky, contains a "very favourable" review of Johnstone’s book.

Chomsky raises a finger of accusation against the whole Swedish world of media:

"It would be interesting to learn how the Swedish press explains the fact that their interpretation of Johnstone's book differs so radically from that of Britain's leading scholarly foreign affairs journal, International Affairs", writes Chomsky. [Note: the letter is available online,, the quote in the article is translated into Swedish but I use Chomsky’s original words]

It is undeniably an interesting question that gets a whole new dimension when one reads the review.

That Chomsky reports the wrong name of the reviewer, Robert instead of Richard Caplan, can be blamed on negligence. But despite some benevolent lines can Caplan’s review, in its entirety, not even with the best of will be interpreted as "very favourable". It is rather the opposite.

Johnstone’s book is "revisionist" and "highly contentious", writes Caplan, a scholar of International Relations at the University of Oxford, and state that the book "contains numerous errors of fact on which Johnstone, however, relies on to strengthen her case". Johnstone is also "very selective" in her selection of facts, says Caplan and points out, with badly hidden sarcasm, that Johnstone, with this method, succeeds with the art of getting Milosevic "emerge as a multiculturalist". [I haven’t translated the quotes from Tamas’ article, instead they are from Caplan’s review in International Affairs]

The irony is that the of Chomsky cited review treats Johnstone’s book in the same way as more or less every media in Sweden have done; that is criticizing her blatant errors of facts and tendentious method of selection. The exception is Eklund’s interview in Ordfront.

Chomsky’s strange treatment of his source is sadly not unusual among the participants of the Ordfront debate and underlines once more two of the foundations of journalism; careful checking of sources and, to quote Chomsky, a permanent questioning of authorities.

The wars in former Yugoslavia are in many ways still a bleeding wound and the debate on their causes, lapses and happenings is therefore important. The discussion must be open, but have to in the same time, like all journalism and debate worth the name, be built on an intellectual, critically examining, attitude regarding sources and facts.

[The rest of the article is about Ordfront and not Chomsky]