Charles Glass exposes attempts
to make Index on Censorship silence an author
GEORGE Theiner is a quiet, thoughtful man who has worked at the excellent magazine Index on Censorship for 14 years, the last four and a half of them as editor. In and out of the magazine, George works patiently and courageously against all forms of censorship. (It is a lamentable fact that Index has a circulation of only 4,500. Spectator readers can help to re- medy this by sending £14 for an annual subscription to Index, 39c Highbury Place, London N5.) In the pages of Index George gives writers, poets, journalists, teachers and artists a platform denied them in their own countries; and he reports on instances of murder, torture, arrest and censorship of writers everywhere. Journalists in the ostensibly free world, who risk neither expense accounts nor mortgage payments to tackle subjects of greater moment than Randy Andy and the corgis, should hang their heads in shame to read in Index of their colleagues elsewhere who daily face death, dismemberment and exile.
George has for the most part avoided controversy since the premature Soviet winter ended the Prague spring of 1968 and forced him to flee to this country. He avoided it, that is, until last summer when he asked Noam Chomsky, the linguist and political writer at the Massachusetts Insti- tute of Technology, to write an article. When the piece, 'Thought control in the USA: the case of the Middle East', appeared in the July/August issue, the roof at Highbury Place fell in. Every issue of Index up to the current one contains a salvo in what has become a running trans- Atlantic battle over the American media, Israel, and George Theiner's right to pub- lish Noam Chomsky.
The INLA had a St Patrick's day party.' `From a comparative perspective,' Chomsky's Opinion column began, 'the United States is unusual if not unique in the lack of restraints on freedom of ex- pression. It is also unusual in the range and effectiveness of the methods employed to restrain freedom of thought.' Western Europeans, accustomed to a political spec- trum from communists on the Left to fascists on the Right, cannot help but notice the narrowness of the American political horizon, ranging from liberal capi- talist to conservative capitalist. This is remarkable in a country with almost no restraint on freedom of expression. 'The less the state is able to employ violence in defense of the interest of elite groups that effectively dominate it,' Chomsky wrote, `the more it becomes necessary to devise techniques of "manufacture of consent", in the words of Walter Lippmann, over 60 years ago . . . . Where obedience is guaranteed by violence, rulers may tend towards a "behaviourist" conception: it is enough that people obey; what they think does not matter too much. Where the state tacks means of coercion, it is important to control what people think.'
Chomsky cited as an illustrative case of manufactured consent the Arab-Israeli conflict. He noted a 'marked divergence between popular attitudes, generally sup- portive of a Palestinian state when the question is raised in polls, and state policy, which explicitly bars this option, though the divergence is of little moment as long as the politically active and articulate elements of the population are properly indoctrinated'. How is this achieved? 'One method is to devise an appropriate form of Newspeak in which crucial terms have a technical sense divorced from their ordin- ary meanings.'
His first example of Newspeak was the use of the term 'peace process', which he claimed 'refers to peace proposals adv- anced by the US government'. Proposals by the Arab states, the PLO, the European Community, the UN and the Soviet Union were not part of the 'process', so that when the New York Times asks, as it did in a June 1985 headline, 'Are the Palestinians ready to seek peace?' the question means something else: Are the Palestinians ready to accept US terms for peace?' When the New York Times published the text of Leonid Brezhnev's 1981 speech to the Soviet Communist Party Congress, it de- leted the words 'it is essential to ensure the security and sovereignty of all states of the region including those of Israel' and made no mention of the PLO executive's unani- mous endorsement of the formula.
Similarly, 'extremist' and 'moderate' take on Newspeak meanings: 'the latter referring to those who accept the position of the US, the former to those who do not'. The same goes for 'terrorism' and 'retalia- tion': ' "Terrorism" refers to terrorist acts by Arabs, not Israel or the US . . . . In reviewing 1985, "the year of terror", the media cited the murder of three Israelis in Larnaca on 25 September and the 7 Octo- ber hijacking of the Achille Lauro, but not the Israeli bombing near Tunis on 1 Octo- ber, killing 55 Palestinians and 20 Tuni- sians. No American journal sought to Identify the victims. None discovered, for example, that one was Mahmoud al- ughrabi, one of the informants for the important London Sunday Times investiga- tion of torture in Israel who had then escaped the harsh West Bank repression.' Chomsky decried the lack of equivalence in the use of terms: terrorism is terrorism, no matter who uses it; an extremist is someone, Arab or Israeli, who rejects peace through negotiation.
The relevant point is that a proper history and appropriate form of Newspeak have been contrived in which terrorism is the province of Palestinians, while Israelis carry out 'retaliation' . . . Given that Israel is a loyal and very useful client state, willing to undertake such tasks as support for genocide in Guatemala when the US administration is limited by Congress in its capacity to join as fully as it would have liked, it becomes true, Irrespective of the facts, that Israel is 'a country that cares for human life' (Washing- ton Post, 30 June 1985), whose 'high moral Purpose' (Time, 11 October 1982) must be the object of never-ending awe and acclaim, while the Palestinians are the very epitome of extremism, terrorism and barbarity.
George Theiner was not braced for the reaction, and in the subsequent issue of Index admitted, 'We have received a num- ber of complaints about Noam Chomsky's Opinion piece — and, indeed, letters of complaint have been sent to members of the editorial board.' This was a bit like saying, 'We understand the Mafia has killed a number of people.' Theiner and Index's editorial and advisory boards (who include Stephen Spender, David Astor, Mark Bonham-Carter and Stuart Hamp- shire) were bombarded with protests that Index had published Chomsky at all. Theiner was unrepentant. He knows a samizdat writer when he reads one, even if he happens to live in Massachusetts rather than Prague. Publishing the unpublishable was Index's raison d'être. Theiner's only regret was that so many of his pages would be given over to a debate between Chom- sky and his critics, far more pages than he had anticipated.
Nora Beloff, formerly of the Observer, wrote a 'letter to the editor', attached to a covering note which said, in part, 'Unless you publish the enclosed, either in the form of a letter or comment, I propose to make my views known elsewhere.' She wrote in the letter for publication, 'Since Index featured Chomsky, the wisest and least polemical of our philosophers has cancelled his subscription. Many of us will follow his example unless, in future, Index shows greater discrimination.' Who was 'the wisest and least polemical of our philosophers', whose very name had to be kept secret from Index's readers? For your private information,' Nora Beloff wrote in her covering note, 'the philosopher to whom I refer in my last paragraph is Isaiah Berlin. He does not want to get into an argument with Chomsky who, he says, is outwardly quite a pleasant man but mad and a terrible and tireless enemy'. Nora did not say whose enemy Chomsky was or why Berlin seemed willing to condemn Choms- ky privately rather than publicly. More interesting still was a letter to the editorial board member Dan Jacobson. Alexander Cockburn, commenting on the affair last 22 November in The Nation in New York, wrote that the writer of this letter 'flailed Chomsky as "a fanatical defender of the PLO who has set new standards for intellectual dishonesty and personal vindictiveness in his writings ab- out the Middle East". This came from Elliot Abrams, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs and son-in-law of Norman Podhoretz.' (Abrams' father- in-law was last year engaged in a similar debate with Gore Vidal, discussed in the Spectator, 20 September 1986.) Abrams' character assassination went further: `There really isn't anyone left in the US without regard to politics — who takes Chomsky seriously in view of his asto- nishing record. I therefore find it inexplic- able that he is given fully three pages to go on with his attack on one of the freest presses in the world.'
Abrams' letter, written on State Depart- ment stationery and dated 29 July 1986, would appear to be a prima facie attempt officially to suppress Chomsky's views. Cockburn commented, 'It is not often that one can find so bizarre a case: Abrams superintending a campaign of mass murder in Central America while finding the time to write to a tiny magazine 3,000 miles away about the folly of efforts to discuss censorship in the coverage of Israel in the press of that country's chief sponsor.'
Another Index board member received 'a letter from a long-term supporter of Index who wishes to remain anonymous, protesting about the Chomsky Opinion piece', according to an Index memo. The board member summarised the letter: (1) Chomsky's political writings are so vio- lent and distorted that the New York Review of Books finds it impossible to publish his letters. (2) His Index article contains inaccur- acies, e.g., that Arafat is prepared to recog- nise Israel on reasonable conditions; that it is only Israel and America that reject his advances; that while there is technically no censorship in the US the press and the media are so pro-Israel and anti-Arab that they exaggerate atrocities committed against Israel and suppress atrocities committed by Israel . . . (3) A piece denouncing the American media for distortion, suppression, etc. is not an exposure of censorship, which is Index business. It is not Index business to publish articles merely directed against the media in a free country. (4) The issue is one of principle, of the categories of what Index exists to publish, and not whether what Chomsky said is true or false. (5) With whom does Index check its pieces on Israel for accuracy?
George Theiner, who survived three years in a forced labour camp, was not one to surrender to pressures from anonymous supporters and alleged pressure from semi- anonymous philosophers. He maintained it was right to publish Chomsky; that Index had a duty to point out the defects of the Western, just as much as the Eastern, press; and that he would not participate in blacklisting a writer in America the way the communists proscribed many of his friends in Czechoslovakia. He did agree to publish in the October issue a rebuttal to Chomsky by William Frankel, former edi- tor of the Jewish Chronicle, and to give Chomsky the right of reply. He prefaced Frankel's article with the words, 'We do not believe that Index's role is, or should be, confined strictly and exclusively to exposing censorship.'
Frankel launched what can only be described as a personal assault: . . . Mr Chomsky is, or at least was born, a Jew. Perhaps that accounts for his hostility and anger. It is not uncommon for rejection to be followed by hatred for that which has been rejected.' He asked, 'But what was yet another anti-Israel article by Chomsky doing in a magazine like Index on Cen- sorship?' Moving from character assassina- tion to some of Chomsky's arguments, Frankel continued, 'In countries like the United States where there are innumerable opinion-formers, how is it possible for one source of "thought control" to be as all-pervasive as Mr Chomsky alleges? . . . Who exactly is Big Brother? Nowhere in his article does Mr Chomsky explicitly tell us.' Frankel rejected Chomsky's assertion that under US-Israeli policy assumptions, "Palestinians are not even permitted to select their own representatives for even- tual negotiations about their fate". The Camp David Framework provides for full autonomy to the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza who would be governed by an authority freely elected by the inhabi- tants of these areas.' Frankel insisted the Camp David Framework was 'the only peace process on the table'. Frankel next took up Chomsky's charge that the use of the terms 'terrorism' and `retaliation' were distorted in the Amer- ican media: 'There is no "symmetry", as Mr Chomsky would have us believe, be- tween terrorist acts and democratic self- defense any more than there is between the criminal and the police . . .'. He accused Chomsky of a 'determination to use lan- guage in exactly the same inversion of Newspeak of which he accuses the US government'.
Chomsky's reply to Frankel did not appear until this January's Index, but the November/December issue included Nora Beloff s letter ('In Chomsky's fantasy world, Kampuchea is no better off than Israel . . . . Many of us will cancel our subscriptions unless, in future, Index shows greater discrimination') and two letters supporting Theiner's decision to publish Chomsky, one from myself and the other from Roger Hardy, until recently editor of Middle East magazine. My letter listed instances of stories about Israeli misbe- haviour which correspondents reported'on but editors did not publish in the US. Hardy defended Chomsky's fairness 'as between Israeli and Palestinian national- ism', adding Chomsky favoured a 'two- state solution: a West Bank Palestinian state side by side with an Israeli state . . .'. Hardy concluded, 'It might suit the ideolo- gical preferences of a few of your readers for you to act as if the censorship and denial of free speech were the problems exclusively of communist and Third World states. But it would be a scandalous denial of the truth.'
In fact, Index had already published an article in March 1985 on censorship and the denial of free speech in the US, although it received none of the critical comment the Chomsky article did. 'Censorship American-style' by Carol and Paul Bass discussed corporate control of the Amer- ican media and revealed why certain American journalists had lost their jobs: in the national press, because of their critical reporting of American foreign policy issues; and on local newspapers, because they had offended small-town politicians and advertisers. They documented exam- ples of the suppression of news stories about events which did not easily fit the prevailing orthodoxy: like UPI's decision not to publish a report on a rally of 70,000 to 100,000 Hondurans opposed to Amer- ican military intervention in Central Amer- ica. Why had Nora Beloff, Elliot Abrams, and other anonymous supporters reacted to Chomsky in 1986, questioning George Theiner's right to publish criticism of the US press, and ignored the Basses in 1985? There appears to be only one clue: though their conclusions were the same, the Bass case studies were provincial politics, cen- tral America and Afghanistan; Chomsky's was Israel. Chomsky's reply to Beloff and Frankel appeared in the January issue. He denied Frankel's accusation that his original arti- cle had been part of an anti-Israel vendet- ta: 'I have written thousands of pages on the "manufacture of consent" in democra- tic societies, in connection with Central America, Southeast Asia. the arms race, etc.' It appeared Chomsky's critics were shifting the field of debate from the Amer- ican media and its treatment of one coun- try, Israel, to Israel itself. Edward Morti- mer, in a letter to Index's editor which appeared in the same issue, wrote that Frankel 'simply demonstrates that British journalism is not immune to the distortions which Chomsky sees as characteristic of the American media', referring to Frank- el's assertion that Camp. David was 'the only peace process on the table', to the exclusion of all other proposals. Turning to Beloff, Mortimer added, 'It is only when Index takes to suppressing provocative and unpopular arguments — as she would apparently like it to — that its readers will be justified in cancelling subscriptions.' Rabbi Julia Neuberger, in an Opinion piece in January, noted the similarities between the Chomsky debate and the earlier one between Gore Vidal and the Podhoretzes. She regretted that terms like `self-hating Jew' (as Frankel implied of Chomsky) and 'anti-Semite' (as Podhoretz said of Vidal) were used all too frequently in the absence of rational discussion. She noted that, despite their apparent defence of the American press per se, Chomsky's critics were after him for other reasons: `And Israel lies at the heart of this debate. For there is a total confusion between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and be- tween loyalty and stifled dissent.'
For Chomsky, if not for all his critics, the issue is much broader than Israel. His career as linguist and philosopher has been a long struggle against behaviourism, the view — shared in various ways by B. F.
Skinner, Soviet commissars, the advertis- ing industry and traditional fascists — that men and women have no innate qualities and exist to be moulded. In an article having nothing to do with Israel, the media or foreign policy, Chomsky wrote in 1970: If, in fact, man is an indefinitely malleable, completely plastic being, with no innate structures of mind and no intrinsic needs of a cultural or social character, then he is a fit subject for the 'shaping of behaviour' by the state authority, the corporate manager, the technocrat, or the central committee. Those with some confidence in the human species will hope this is not so and will try to determine the intrinsic human characteristics that provide the framework for intellectual development, the growth of moral conscious- ness, cultural achievement, and participation in a free community. ('Language and Free- dom', Abraxus, New York, 1970.) Chomsky's political writing derives directly from this view of language and mankind. George Theiner could hardly avoid publishing him.