June 8, 2011

Chomsky v. Hitchens, Hitchens v. Chomsky


It can hardly be called a truce, but Christopher Hitchens recent dispatch for Guernica seems close to slowing a longstanding battle with Noam Chomsky over the historical importance of the events of 9/11. The battle, which first broke out in the pages of The Nation in 2001 and eventually led to Hitchens’ resignation from the magazine, concerns a comparison drawn by Chomsky between the “scale and proportion” of 9/11 and “Clinton’s rocketing of the Sudan.”

In a column for Slate last month, Hitchens escalated the dispute by coming close to accusing Chomsky of “9/11 denial” in response to this column (also for Guernica) in which Chomsky noted that “bin Laden’s ‘confession’ [of the 9/11 crimes]… is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement.”

After a note of clarification from Chomsky, however, Hitchens has conceded that Chomsky acknowledges the criminal “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.”

Which isn’t to say Hitchens doesn’t invite Chomsky to continue the fight. In concluding his piece, he writes:

[I]n 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.

Kelly Burdick is the executive editor of Melville House.