Noam Chomsky at Jordan University a year ago.(Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images)

Noam Chomsky had an, um, provocative response at the end of last week to the U.S. killing of Osama Bin Laden. In the technical, deliberately flat and casual prose style he tends to adopt when making such pronouncements, he argued that the “planned assassination” was “multiply violating elementary norms of international law” (actually, even a planned assassination of this legitimate military target in a regular theater of war was legal); questioned whether Bin Laden was responsible for 9/11 (he facilely notes that Bin Laden’s own confession doesn’t necessarily mean much but fails to note the boatloads of reporting that have established the Sheik’s responsibility for the attacks); and wrote of President George W. Bush, “Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a ‘suspect’ but uncontroversially the ‘decider’ who gave the orders to commit the ‘supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole’ (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged.” It is only to Chomsky’s further discredit that, I suspect, those “uncontroversiallys” are not even meant with much irony!

Anyway, this is in my opinion risible stuff, but readers who want a glimpse of Chomsky, who for all his bomb-throwing political statements remains one of the most important American intellectuals of the 20th century for his contributions to linguistics, discussing genuinely uncontroversial matters like his Jewish upbringing in pre-World War Two Philadelphia can check out his Tablet Magazine interview from late last year. It is also notable that even where Chomsky does dip into this sort of thing—largely by apologizing for Hezbollah—he distinguishes himself among leftists of a similar stripe for the way he holds Israel to exactly the same standard as he does the United States.

Noam Chomsky: My Reaction to Osama Bin Laden’s Death [Guernica]
Related: Q&A: Noam Chomsky [Tablet Magazine]
Bin Laden: The Rules of Engagement [The New Yorker]