In Response to Cornel West and Noam Chomsky’s Criticism of the Killing of Osama bin Laden










Noam Chom­sky and Cor­nell West have used their posi­tions as twenty-first-century Amer­i­can philoso­phers to not merely cri­tique our nation’s han­dling of Osama bin Laden, but also to label it as an exe­cu­tion and an assas­si­na­tion. Chom­sky even goes to the extent of call­ing bin Laden a vic­tim.

West uses the issues of social jus­tice to con­jure dis­dain for America’s focus on bring­ing bin Laden to jus­tice. He jux­ta­poses the injus­tices of poverty and hunger in Amer­ica with the nation’s quest for jus­tice against bin Laden and con­cludes that our pri­or­i­ties are warped. Chom­sky attacks the issue at a more fun­da­men­tal, albeit con­spir­a­to­r­ial, level by sug­gest­ing that Amer­ica had no con­crete evi­dence that Osama bin Laden was actu­ally the mas­ter­mind behind the attacks on Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001. He calls Pres­i­dent Obama a liar and then chal­lenges us to con­sider how we would feel if Iraqi com­man­dos landed out­side of G.W. Bush’s ranch, exe­cuted him, and then dumped his body in the ocean. These two care­fully crafted com­men­taries serve only to bring atten­tion to the authors; they do noth­ing for the cause of our nation or the cause of the jus­tice that West and Chom­sky claim to champion.

Dr. West con­flates two entirely dif­fer­ent issues that are arguably mutu­ally exclu­sive: the killing of Osama bin Laden has noth­ing to do with the eco­nomic injus­tices that many Amer­i­cans clearly suf­fer on a daily basis. Does Dr. West sug­gest that we forgo national secu­rity mat­ters until we have reme­died all of our inter­nal social ills? Should we com­mit our troops to build­ing homes for the home­less with­out regard to pro­tect­ing our inter­ests abroad? Would the dol­lars spent cap­tur­ing Osama have been bet­ter used by insti­tut­ing a new social pro­gram or per­haps even repa­ra­tions? These propo­si­tions are equally as fool­ish as Dr. West’s comments.

Chom­sky insin­u­ates that Amer­ica is the cul­prit and, in this case, bin Laden was yet another vic­tim of our impe­ri­al­is­tic and cap­i­tal­is­tic machi­na­tions. He then plays to his base by allud­ing to Bush’s atroc­i­ties and ask­ing how we would react if the shoe were on the other foot. I would ask Chom­sky if bin Laden’s crimes were absolved because of our crimes. Are we as a nation so eter­nally stained that we have no right to exe­cute jus­tice on our ene­mies? If this is the case, then surely Amer­ica is damned; how­ever, I would remind Chom­sky that just as we rise together as a nation, so too shall we fall. He is just as much a ben­e­fi­ciary of our nation’s bless­ings as the cap­i­tal­ist on Wall Street; as he con­demns our nation because of our crimes, he inex­tri­ca­bly con­demns himself.

As to his ques­tion of the shoe being on the other foot, surely he is intel­li­gent enough to under­stand that bin Laden was not the cur­rent head, nor the for­mer head, of any state. Surely he knows that in regard to inter­na­tional law, bin Laden and Bush are oranges and apples. This ques­tion serves no pur­pose other than to stir the lin­ger­ing anger of his con­stituents against Bush and the neo­con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment. Notwith­stand­ing his ques­tion, there is some­thing to be said here about nationalism.

As much as I dis­agreed with Bush, he was my pres­i­dent. I would take up arms with other patri­ots to avenge, revenge, and exe­cute jus­tice on any act against the pres­i­dent of the nation of which I am a citizen—not because of the indi­vid­ual, but because of the posi­tion. This is our nation, and an attack against it is an attack against me. Per­haps that is too patri­otic for Chomsky’s tastes. This is a free coun­try. There­fore, he has the right to play the role of the per­pet­ual dis­senter and even to do so from his ivory tower at MIT, as though he iden­ti­fies with those of us who truly are, and have been, the oppressed.

Like­wise, we too have the right to dis­agree with two of the pre­em­i­nent schol­ars of our day. How dis­ap­point­ing it is that they would resort to appeal­ing to the pathos of their devoted dis­ci­ples when they are fully aware of the fact that this is the exact type of manip­u­la­tion that we must help the aver­age cit­i­zen, such as I, rise above. It is bad enough that we are com­pet­ing against the onslaught of deceit from talk radio and the blo­gos­phere; do we now have to com­pete against those who are sup­posed to help enlighten us? Amer­ica deserves bet­ter than intel­lec­tu­als who stoop to the level of talk show hosts and use the pul­pits they have erected in the halls of acad­e­mia to for­ward their per­sonal careers.

After all is said and done, the poor will still be the eco­nom­i­cally exploited, and the hun­gry will still be search­ing for their next meal. More­over, West’s and Chomsky’s com­ments will do noth­ing to rem­edy these prob­lems any more than America’s killing of Osama bin Laden. At least the lat­ter is an accom­plish­ment that ben­e­fits the entire world and not just the per­sonas of two schol­ars of whom I am for­ever a stu­dent. This com­men­tary is merely a dis­sent in the same spirit they have inspired.

© 2011 Ben­jamin P. Dixon.

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This article has 6 comments

  1. Rolda 05/13/2011, 1:54 am:

    While at one point I found myself sim­ply ascend­ing the fence between the two posi­tions you out­lined in this piece, you have effec­tively made an argue­ment that places me squarely ON the fence. I have to be hon­est, I have not crys­tal­lized my posi­tion on the killing of Bin Laden, but I found some­thing about your post to be stim­u­lat­ing enough to pro­voke more crit­i­cal thought.
    I am also a stu­dent of the schol­ars you cri­tique above. I admire them indi­vid­u­ally, and as a result, I often find myself align­ing with them ide­o­log­i­cally. As I stated above, my sen­ti­ment on this sub­ject is not devel­oped enough to dare chime in on the topic, specif­i­cally, but here is where I dif­fer from your posi­tion.
    You address this point at the end of your piece, but the over­all spirit of your dis­sent seems to indi­cate that you not only dis­agree with West and Chom­sky, but that you almost resent the fact that they shared their analy­sis with con­sumers of their rhetoric. The aca­d­e­mic posi­tions they occupy at their uni­ver­si­ties rep­re­sent the exact forum for just such dis­course, and while I may not agree with their sen­ti­ments, I applaud their insis­tance on shar­ing them. I sup­pose I would pre­fer that men such as these two share their opin­ions than some pun­dits who ratio­nal­ize their opin­ions and their right to spread their vit­reol by cling­ing to their celebrity sta­tus. I truly resent that. As a soci­ety, we should be far more crit­i­cal of those who spout divi­sive rhetoric for the sake of a rat­ings boost, than those who show­case their years of aca­d­e­mic prowess and exper­tise as their badge of honor.
    I know you did not directly solicit my opin­ion, but that has never stopped me in the past. Great piece. I loved it. Any­thing that makes me think is right by me!!

    • bpdixon 05/13/2011, 7:41 pm:

      Thanks for the com­ment. I only dis­agree with HOW they went about their dis­sent. Their argu­ments only appealed to the anger inside of their read­ers. If they asked ques­tions about the moral ques­tion that we now face after we essen­tially exe­cuted an enemy then I would be on the same page as they are. We are in a moral quagmire.

      They sim­ply resorted to appeal­ing to our anger and resent­ment of legit­i­mate prob­lems we face. But the prob­lems they high­lighted are not directly related to the killing of Osama, unless you sub­scribe to Chomsky’s con­spir­acy theory.

      I’m just dis­ap­pointed that they treated their fans with the same manip­u­la­tive tech­niques as talk radio. If our schol­ars aren’t ask­ing the impor­tant ques­tions, and if they are only for­ward­ing their careers by dis­sent­ing every­thing, then what hope do we have as a nation and as a species?

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. jumana Abdulla 05/15/2011, 2:04 am:

    First, with regard to Cor­nell West, I am not famil­iar with his writ­ings (unfor­tu­nately), and so I will not make com­ments on your response to his arti­cle. How­ever, I will make some com­ments on your response to Chomsky’s reac­tion paper, as I believe I am gen­er­ally famil­iar with his arguments.

    You are out­raged that Chom­sky called Bin Laden a “vic­tim.” Remem­ber that in the same sen­tence he sug­gests that those who con­ducted the “assas­si­na­tion” did not even try to arrest the unarmed Bin Laden and allow him a fair trial in a coun­try that pre­sum­ably adheres to the rule of law. Chom­sky also says that the oper­a­tion vio­lated mul­ti­ple ele­men­tary norms of the Inter­na­tional Law. I think Chom­sky claims in his arti­cle that Bin Laden was a vic­tim due to those two rea­sons. If you are famil­iar with Chomsky’s work you should know that he con­stantly com­pares the U.S’ ter­ror­ism to that of other peo­ples’, nations’ and orga­ni­za­tions’. He very often repeats that ter­ror­ism inflicted by the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment around the world is way greater than that of Al-Qaida. He does not merely say it. He pro­vides con­crete exam­ples and his­tor­i­cal records. You can check his work your­self if you wish.
    In any case, these are two impor­tant points that you need to present an argu­ment against. For instance, do you dis­agree that the oper­a­tion was ille­gal under the Inter­na­tional Law and the Amer­i­can domes­tic law? If you do dis­agree can you present an argu­ment against Chomsky’s claim of the ille­gal­ity of the operation?

    Also in rela­tion to the pre­vi­ous com­ment Chom­sky exposes the hypocrisy of the media when he writes that it is pre­sent­ing a great deal of “dis­cus­sion of Washington’s anger that Pak­istan didn’t turn over bin Laden” while “less is said about Pak­istani anger that the U.S. invaded their ter­ri­tory to carry out a polit­i­cal assas­si­na­tion.” It seems to me that Chom­sky is com­mit­ted to being fair in his assess­ments. He is will­ing to regard the opin­ions and reac­tions of other involved actors in the issue at hand. I per­son­ally believe that this enhances the integrity of an intellectual’s work and cred­i­bil­ity. Don’t you?

    Ok, this is how you chose to answer Chomsky’s ques­tion on the Bush anal­ogy. I do not believe that Chom­sky would think that your answer is too patri­otic for his taste. How­ever, he would prob­a­bly think that you would com­pletely under­stand the Iraqi com­man­ders’ oper­a­tion of assas­si­nat­ing Bush and dump­ing his body in the ocean. They too are nation­al­is­tic. They care for their nation and they are will­ing to exe­cute jus­tice against who­ever destroyed their coun­try and inflicted injus­tices on their people.

    He is just as much a ben­e­fi­ciary of our nation’s bless­ings as the cap­i­tal­ist on Wall Street; as he con­demns our nation because of our crimes, he inex­tri­ca­bly con­demns himself.”

    It is clear that much of your crit­i­cism of Chom­sky reveals lack of under­stand­ing on your part of his philoso­phies and way of think­ing. Chom­sky believes that in a TRUE democ­racy indi­vid­u­als have respon­si­bil­ity for find­ing the truth and for speak­ing it out. He is also con­cerned with social injus­tices. I recall hear­ing him in one inter­view say­ing that we have free­dom of speech in the U.S. more than any­where in the world. Has he ever said that he is not ben­e­fit­ing form the bless­ings of the US? Are you sug­gest­ing that since he is a “ben­e­fi­ciary of our nation” he is being a hyp­ocrite for con­demn­ing his nations’ crimes? You just made me won­der what the dis­tinc­tion between a democ­racy and a dic­ta­tor­ship is!

    In sum, you crit­i­cize Chom­sky just as the media often does by label­ing him as an unpa­tri­otic and sug­gest­ing that he is not Amer­i­can enough. Although iron­i­cally, you com­pare him to those manip­u­la­tives of the media. You know well that Chom­sky is not wel­comed on any par­ti­san Amer­i­can TV sta­tion.
    Chom­sky is more famous as a sig­nif­i­cant lin­guist in the world and has been regarded as the “most cited liv­ing author.” It is not such a valid claim that he is using his posi­tion to seek atten­tion. How­ever, his lat­est arti­cle does bring atten­tion to him, as you sug­gest in your arti­cle. Google his arti­cle again and you will find those who dis­agree with him call­ing him American-hater, and anti-Israel and anti-Semite.

    I agree that as long as we judge scholar’s such as Chom­sky based on how nation­al­is­tic their lan­guage is and not have an open mind to assess their con­clu­sions based on the facts they pro­vide, their work “will do noth­ing to rem­edy these prob­lems any more than America’s killing of Osama bin Laden.” How­ever, I hope to live long enough to see how Osama’s death will turn out to be “an accom­plish­ment that ben­e­fits the entire world.”

    Obama pro­claimed that jus­tice is now done? Unsur­pris­ingly, his sen­tence was repeated over and over through­out the Amer­i­can media. I think this has been the most offen­sive state­ment made since the death of Bin Laden con­sid­er­ing the hun­dred of thou­sands of deaths of inno­cent help­less civil­ians since the begin­ning of the so called Amer­i­can war on ter­ror. Do you think that the assas­si­na­tion of the Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent, who mobi­lized the mil­i­tary equip­ment to mas­sacre inno­cent Iraqi and Afghani civil­ians, would bring about justice?

    In my opin­ion, an intel­lec­tual does not have to be nation­al­is­tic in order to be sound or cred­i­ble. On the con­trary, nation­al­is­tic feel­ings often lead us to racist con­clu­sions. And, a cit­i­zen does not nec­es­sar­ily need to be nation­al­is­tic to rec­og­nize his per­sonal inter­ests in the coun­try that he lives in. Chom­sky once stated in an inter­view that he has spe­cial inter­ests in the coun­try that he lives in. He has strongly opposed the U.S. for­eign pol­icy, which is based on vio­lence and inter­ven­tion­ism. Pro­fes­sor Chom­sky is one of very few genius intel­lec­tu­als alive who are will­ing to think about issues con­cern­ing the cit­i­zen in ways dif­fer from the government’s ways.

  3. bpdixon 05/16/2011, 11:01 am:

    Thanks for read­ing and shar­ing your cri­tique. I’m respond­ing via the iPhone so I hope I can be as fas­tid­i­ous. I will try to keep it short as well.

    I lis­ten to and read Chom­sky on a reg­u­lar basis and under­stand his points of view on Amer­ica and cap­i­tal­ism. His voice is def­i­nitely needed in a world that is crowded with cap­i­tal­ists. I respect him as one of the nation’s fore­most thinkers. With that being said, he’s wrong on this one.

    1.) our world is defined by power more-so that moral­ity. We all know this because of the sim­ple argu­ment between real­ism and lib­er­al­ism. Inter­na­tional law may be evolv­ing into some­thing more than power based imper­a­tives how­ever, today it is still so. Too often inter­na­tional norms are based on the suc­cess of the action in ques­tion. The best exam­ple would be the Entebbe inci­dent in 1976. Israel vio­lated two nations’ sov­er­eignty, how­ever there was lit­tle inter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion. He who has the power makes the rules is the cond­tion we’ve all suf­fered under. I don’t nec­es­sar­ily agree with it, but Chom­sky knows this is our real­ity. He doesn’t bother to put his asser­tion of bro­ken inter­na­tional law into any con­text. He just calls us criminals.

    2.) In regards to America’s so-called ter­ror­ism, “one man’s ter­ror­ist is another man’s free­dom fighter.” Those who cel­e­brated 9–11 saw the hijack­ers as heroes. The same can be said about Bush and his “cru­sades.” But Chom­sky loosely defines ter­ro­ism and lumps nearly all of America’s mil­i­tary actions into that cat­e­gory just as he con­demns Cap­i­tal­ism en masse. I appre­ci­ate the aca­d­e­mic exer­cise, but in real­ity and prac­tice Chom­sky sounds like an extrem­ist who is wast­ing the time of count­less followers.

    What are his solu­tions? The down­fall of Amer­ica? Ban­ning mil­i­tary actions that he deems unjust? Should we scrap cap­i­tal­ism and exper­i­ment with social­ism or com­mu­nism per­haps? I’m not clear on what Chim­sky ever offers as a solu­tion. I am tired of all of these truly bril­liant men get­ting intel­lec­tu­ally lazy when it’s time to offer solu­tions to problem.

    The prob­lem is easy to define. Marx did a decent job of defin­ing one of the prob­lems. He failed epi­cally with his pro­posed solu­tion. But at least he attempted a solu­tion. These new schol­ars are con­tent with being a dis­senter. We need solutions.

    They don’t have to be nation­al­is­tic to be cred­i­ble. That’s just my resolve. I’ve wres­tled with the notion of Amer­ica for many years and the end result for me was patri­o­tism. I just think it’s extremely disin­gen­u­ous for ben­e­fi­cia­ries of a sys­tem and a nation to pre­tend to be so appalled by that sys­tem. True dis­senters in the past would renounce their cit­i­zen­ship and leave the coun­try. (W.E.B. Dubois)

    These new dis­senters and thinkers attack our coun­try but at the same time reap her ben­e­fits. If they dis­like what hap­pens here so much either offer a viable solu­tion or leave. Amer­ica must con­tinue to be improved upon but will never become a more per­fect union if all our emi­nent schol­ars do is complain.

  4. bpdixon 05/16/2011, 11:22 am:

    Oh…btw. Your response was fan­tas­tic. I had to rethink some of my posi­tions. Nev­er­the­less, I’m hold­ing strong on this one. Lol

  5. david 05/17/2011, 6:41 pm:

    After attempt­ing to read both arti­cles, I can come to the con­clu­sion that both gen­tle­men while aca­d­e­mics are sim­i­lar to me in that they are nutjobs. Was Osama bin Laden a vic­tim, to a degree yes, but inso­far as that he was not able to be brought to “jus­tice” in a court of law. How­ever, hav­ing said this, since I was not there in the com­pound I can­not deter­mine if it would have been pos­si­ble to cap­ture him alive. As far as deter­min­ing where his body would be laid to rest, given the secrecy of the mis­sion, there was no abil­ity to see his body laid to the ground within the 24 hour time­frame given under Mus­lim law.

    With regards to the ille­gal­ity of the oper­a­tion, yes, the United States did invade the ter­ri­to­r­ial sov­er­eignty of Pak­istan in the mis­sion and should be held respon­si­ble for it. The U.S. had no legally jus­ti­fi­able rea­son to invade accord­ing to national or inter­na­tional law with the excep­tion of using the “Bush Doc­trine”. How­ever, what is done is done and as such all that can really be done is to cry over spilt milk.

    Eco­nom­i­cally, being the soci­etal lib­eral that I am, I believe that it is cor­rect, we can spend our money bet­ter than sup­port­ing Pak­istan with the “war on ter­ror” as well as being in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as our cam­paign with NATO in Libya. There are many national soci­etal prob­lems that have to be addressed, includ­ing look­ing at major busi­nesses seek­ing to ship jobs to for­eign coun­tries for cheaper labor prices, while doing busi­ness in the US and shirk­ing their tax respon­si­bil­i­ties to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. How­ever, that is an argu­ment for a dif­fer­ent topic.

    I can respect the views of both gen­tle­men, how­ever, I must say that again they are way off base, call­ing bin Laden a vic­tim is dis­gust­ing. The true vic­tim is the Amer­i­can pub­lic who has had to pay for two wars against unknown ene­mies with unknown end­ings as to when they will end. This cost is not just paid in dol­lars, but in the lives of our mil­i­tary. The U.S. has no respon­si­bil­ity to be the police­man of the world with orga­ni­za­tions such as the UN, NATO, etc. able to wield mil­i­tary force on a global scale with­out the US bear­ing the full cost.

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