Americans and other westerners ignore atrocities committed by their own governments because government officials and the media have a narrow definition of terrorism, said Noam Chomsky.
To demonstrate, the linguist and political scientist compared two reports by the New York Times’ veteran correspondent Steven Erlanger -- one following the Paris attacks and another from an April 1999 missile attack by NATO forces on Serbian state television headquarters.
Erlanger reported at the time that the U.S. and NATO defended the missile strike, which killed 16 journalists and knocked the station off the air, saying the TV station was a legitimate target because it helped promote the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
“There were no demonstrations or cries of outrage, no chants of ‘We are RTV,’ no inquiries into the roots of the attack in Christian culture and history,” Chomsky said. “On the contrary, the attack on the press was lauded. The highly regarded U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, then envoy to Yugoslavia, described the successful attack on RTV as ‘an enormously important and, I think, positive development,’ a sentiment echoed by others.”
The station’s general manager was eventually sentenced by the European Court of Human Rights to 10 years in prison for failing to evacuate the building, but the International Criminal Tribunal concluded the NATO attack was not a crime and the civilian deaths were not “clearly disproportionate.”
Chomsky said other attacks – including the 2011 slaughter of 77 people by “Christian ultra-Zionist extremist and Islamophobe” Anders Breivik – have failed to spark much outrage or probing analysis of the roots of Christian terrorism.
“Also ignored in the ‘war against terrorism’ is the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times -- Barack Obama's global assassination campaign targeting people suspected of perhaps intending to harm us some day, and any unfortunates who happen to be nearby,” Chomsky said.
He reminded readers of the 50 civilians killed last month in a U.S.-led bombing raid in Syria, which he said was barely reported.
Chomsky said civil rights lawyer Floyd Abrams was correct to describe the Charlie Hebdo attack as "the most threatening assault on journalism in living memory."
But he said the concept of “living memory” was carefully constructed to exclude “Our attacks on them,” including the 2004 U.S. Marine assault on Fallujah, by categorizing those atrocities as a “noble defense of the highest values” – even when civilians are killed by mistake.
Chomsky said Israel’s summer 2014 assault on Gaza left many journalists dead, even when they were riding in identifiable press vehicles, and 31 journalists were assassinated last year in Latin America.
“There have been more than a dozen journalists killed in Honduras alone since the military coup of 2009 that was effectively recognized by the U.S. (but few others), probably according post-coup Honduras the per capita championship for murder of journalists,” he said. “But again, not an assault on freedom of press within living memory.”
Chomsky said terrorism is not consistently defined by westerners.
“Contrary to the eloquent pronouncements, it is not the case that ‘Terrorism is terrorism. There's no two ways about it,’” Chomsky said. “There definitely are two ways about it: theirs versus ours. And not just terrorism.”