Chomsky’s Follies

The professor’s pronouncements about Osama Bin Laden are stupid and ignorant.

By Christopher Hitchens

Noam Chomsky. Click image to expand.Noam Chomsky

Anybody visiting the Middle East in the last decade has had the experience: meeting the hoarse and aggressive person who first denies that Osama Bin Laden was responsible for the destruction of the World Trade Center and then proceeds to describe the attack as a justified vengeance for decades of American imperialism. This cognitive dissonance—to give it a polite designation—does not always take that precise form. Sometimes the same person who hails the bravery of al-Qaida’s martyrs also believes that the Jews planned the "operation." As far as I know, only leading British "Truther" David Shayler, a former intelligence agent who also announced his own divinity, has denied that the events of Sept. 11, 2001, took place at all. (It was apparently by means of a hologram that the widespread delusion was created on television.) In his recent article for Guernica magazine, however, professor Noam Chomsky decides to leave that central question open. We have no more reason to credit Osama Bin Laden’s claim of responsibility, he states, than we would have to believe Chomsky’s own claim to have won the Boston Marathon.

I can’t immediately decide whether or not this is an improvement on what Chomsky wrote at the time. Ten years ago, apparently sharing the consensus that 9/11 was indeed the work of al-Qaida, he wrote that it was no worse an atrocity than President Clinton’s earlier use of cruise missiles against Sudan in retaliation for the bomb attacks on the centers of Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. (I haven’t been back to check on whether he conceded that those embassy bombings were also al-Qaida’s work to begin with.) He is still arguing loudly for moral equivalence, maintaining that the Abbottabad, Pakistan, strike would justify a contingency whereby "Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic." (Indeed, equivalence might be a weak word here, since he maintains that, "uncontroversially, [Bush’s] crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s.") So the main new element is the one of intriguing mystery. The Twin Towers came down, but it’s still anyone’s guess who did it. Since "April 2002, [when] the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, informed the press that after the most intensive investigation in history, the FBI could say no more than that it ‘believed’ that the plot was hatched in Afghanistan," no evidence has been adduced. "Nothing serious," as Chomsky puts it, "has been provided since."

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