Shortly after the September 11 attacks, the inimitable Noam Chomsky issued a statement giving some of his thoughts on the matter. It's pretty bad stuff, even for Chomsky, but it's worth examining nonetheless. I've included both the text (which I believe is in the public domain) and my analysis of it.

The terrorist attacks were major atrocities. In scale they may not reach the level of many others, for example, Clinton's bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and killing unknown numbers of people (no one knows, because the US blocked an inquiry at the UN and no one cares to pursue it). Not to speak of much worse cases, which easily come to mind.

This is a cute beginning. If someone were to criticize Chomsky for downplaying the attacks, he can, with mock innocence, point out that he explicitly said the attacks were atrocities. He then goes on to devote much more space to the bombing of the Sudan. This is a fairly straightforward rhetorical trick, one that Chomsky himself explained in Manufacturing Consent: people devote more space to things they think are more important. So by Chomsky's own standards, we see he considers the Sudan bombing to be more significant than 9/11.

This is rather odd because, as Chomsky himself acknowledges, we don't actually know enough about the Sudan bombing to make meaningful comparisons to 9/11. Now, that might very well be the U.S.'s fault, but we still don't know. It's important to note, though, that Chomsky isn't actually making a real comparison here: he doesn't say that the attacks did not reach the scale of the Sudan; he says that they "may" not. (Gotta love conditionals!) So ultimately this is a fairly empty statement.

But that this was a horrendous crime is not in doubt. The primary victims, as usual, were working people: janitors, secretaries, firemen, etc.

This is a nice little leftism--lo for the suffering of the working class!--but there are at least four things wrong with it:

1. No evidence is provided to support it. There is a very good reason for this: Chomsky made this statement within 24 hours of the attacks, well before there was any attempt at a reasonable list of victims. Thus Chomsky cannot possibly know what he is talking about here, and the statement is at best a fabrication.

2. That said, it's quite likely that, if we were actually to look at the data, we'd find that a lot of victims were from the working class. Of course, given that one of the targets was the World Trade Center, it's also quite likely that a disproportionate number of victims were upper-middle-class or upper-class. But of course Chomsky says nothing about this.

3. What is a "primary" victim supposed to be, anyway?

4. In any case, why should we care about the economic class of the victims? Surely, if all lives are equally valuable, it's irrelevant.

It is likely to prove to be a crushing blow to Palestinians and other poor and oppressed people.

Whoops! That didn't happen. Data from B'tselem and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society show that, aside from a spike around April 2002, the number of Israeli and Palestinian deaths remained relatively constant from September 2000 to January 2004. Now, the region is certainly a bloody mess, and I certainly don't know how to solve it, but that's not the point. The September 11 attacks and our responses to them do not seem to have caused an increase in Palestinian deaths.

It is also likely to lead to harsh security controls, with many possible ramifications for undermining civil liberties and internal freedom.

This is as close as Chomsky gets to the truth in this piece. The increase in security is obvious to anyone who's been to an airport since 9/11 (though I'd hesitate to call it "harsh") and there are also some frightening things in the Patriot Act. Fortunately, the judicial system is hacking away at many of the Bush administration's actions, including the obviously unlawful detention of Jose Padilla, and on the whole I'm optimistic that we'll get through this with most of our Constitution intact.

The events reveal, dramatically, the foolishness of the project of "missile defense." As has been obvious all along, and pointed out repeatedly by strategic analysts, if anyone wants to cause immense damage in the US, including weapons of mass destruction, they are highly unlikely to launch a missile attack, thus guaranteeing their immediate destruction. There are innumerable easier ways that are basically unstoppable.

This is a blatant logical error. The existence of one threat (terrorism) does not magically eliminate another threat (missile attacks), nor does it render useless the methods designed to defend against that other threat (missile defense). Indeed, nobody seems to have clued the North Koreans in to the uselessness of their missiles. There are any number of problems with missile defense (in particular, as of this writing it doesn't seem to work), but the existence of terrorism isn't one of them.

But today's events will, very likely, be exploited to increase the pressure to develop these systems and put them into place. "Defense" is a thin cover for plans for militarization of space, and with good PR, even the flimsiest arguments will carry some weight among a frightened public.

This much turned out to be true.

In short, the crime is a gift to the hard jingoist right, those who hope to use force to control their domains. That is even putting aside the likely US actions, and what they will trigger -- possibly more attacks like this one, or worse. The prospects ahead are even more ominous than they appeared to be before the latest atrocities.

Well, it did do good things for Bush's approval ratings, I suppose, though it also helped create a bunch of people who absolutely despise him. (It was also a nice little gift to Chomsky, who cranked out a lucrative book a few weeks later.) It's worth noting that the use of force is not by any stretch of the imagination limited to the right; for more on this, see the history of the twentieth century.

As to how to react, we have a choice. We can express justified horror; we can seek to understand what may have led to the crimes, which means making an effort to enter the minds of the likely perpetrators. If we choose the latter course, we can do no better, I think, than to listen to the words of Robert Fisk, whose direct knowledge and insight into affairs of the region is unmatched after many years of distinguished reporting.

This is fairly standard for Chomsky, who frequently trades endorsements with Robert "My beating by refugees is a symbol of the hatred and fury of this filthy war" Fisk. (As is widely known, Fisk's supposed "insight" into the region and culture did not keep him from being beaten into a bloody pulp by Afghan refugees. But then, he seemed to enjoy it.)

Describing "The wickedness and awesome cruelty of a crushed and humiliated people," he writes that "this is not the war of democracy versus terror that the world will be asked to believe in the coming days. It is also about American missiles smashing into Palestinian homes and US helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996 and American shells crashing into a village called Qana and about a Lebanese militia – paid and uniformed by America's Israeli ally – hacking and raping and murdering their way through refugee camps." And much more. Again, we have a choice: we may try to understand, or refuse to do so, contributing to the likelihood that much worse lies ahead.

I'm going to leave this bit alone, as most of it is Fisk, not Chomsky. (Besides, I have a strong aversion to discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; they tend to decay into pointless shouting.)

That aside, the numerous flaws of this piece are (I hope) quite clear. It does, however, provide a good example of Chomsky's work and the difficulties involved in criticizing it: the errors, distortions, and outright fabrications are so densely packed that it can take a paragraph to critique a sentence. But it's still worth doing--especially when the author is as revered as Noam Chomsky.

Jabbi's "On the Bombings Pt. 1": I regret that I was not clearer. I meant that if someone were to criticize Chomsky for minimizing the American deaths, he would point to the quotation and say that he acknowledged them. But by his own logic, he is minimizing them by devoting less space to them than to the Sudan. As for the facts of the Sudan, they're quite appalling (and I think Clinton should've been impeached for that, not for the whole lying-about-sex a way, it was even more criminal than Iraq II). But whatever these facts may be, Chomsky makes a comparison, then says that we don't know enough about it.

Jabbi's "Irrelevant Deaths": Maybe he is referring to the innocence of the victims. He doesn't say so, and in any case, why isn't some twenty-two-year-old stockbroker considered innocent? Why do the poor, but not the rich, warrant this presumption of innocence? I don't consider it inconsequential that Chomsky is making a statement that he cannot possibly know is true, but there we may disagree.

Jabbi's "Complete Spectrum Dominance": I consider it rather dangerous to assume that nobody will do something insane. Moreover, if missile defense worked, there would be a tactical advantage for the US in that it could prevent effective retaliation by the North Korean missiles, if we were ever to attack them. Not that I want to, but still.

"Dubya's popularity": I don't think I said that Chomsky was expressing leftist bigotry. I did say that the use of force was not limited to the right (which implicitly acknowledges that the right does it too). I did say that Chomsky financially benefited from the book he wrote, which, as far as I can tell, is true. I never said he approved of them.

sid: I'm using Israeli-Palestinian deaths as an index of oppression because I cannot think of another hard statistic that's more relevant. Since we can't even agree about what these data show, I don't really think it would be useful to use something more vague.

Anyway, it's telling that sid chooses to ignore the data from 2000, since these are the data that contradict his point. (Beware of people who throw out data for no good reason.) The data clearly show that in September-December 2000, 272 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces. In September-December 2001, 245 Palestinians were killed. Thus, more Palestinians were killed in the last four months of 2000, even though the data from 2000 (but not 2001) only include the last few days of September. More importantly, though, the data show that there are substantial month-by-month fluctuations in the number of Palestinian deaths, and this fluctuation needs to be taken into account (instead of being ignored) before asserting that September 11 had anything to do with any increase or decrease. Go look at the data and see what you think.

For a graph of these data, which shows the extent of the fluctuation, see:

Another piece?

I read Tri's review of Noam Chomsky's short piece On the Bombings published by online political magazine ZMag September 13th 2001 1. Chomsky is, as many know, an industrious writer and probably the most reverred of dissident writers (e.g. Michael Moore, Gore Vidal). Personally, although I lean to the left, I haven't read very much by Chomsky. Only the book What Uncle Sam Wants (which is more of a pamphlet than a book) that recounts the turbulent history of South American countries and American influence there-in. I will make an effort of being subjective and fair in my critique on Tri's comments since it is unfeasible to make this an arena of anything but sensible debate. That having been said I would advise everyone to familiarise yourself with the earlier node before reading further.

On the Bombings pt. 1

Chomsky's emphasis on the August 20th 1998 bombings by U.S of the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant is not without reason. Moreover Tri's first point in his argument is trivial speculation. He states that "If someone were to criticize Chomski for downplaying the attacks, he can, with mock innocence, point out that he explicitly said that the attacks were atrocities." for that matter if Chomsky were to be accused of misspelling Clinton's name he can point out that he didn't. As of January 22th 2004 the official death toll of the 9/11 attacks stands at 2,749 people. 2 It is unlikely to change and if so not by much. As crude as it seems, I feel obligated to clarify what Chomsky refers to as "Clinton's bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext". I am not enthusiastic about comparing the loss of human lives. But first of all, do you know anything at all about the Republic of Sudan?

Sudan in a nutshell

According to the CIA World Factbook the population of Sudan was 35,079,814 (July 2000 est.) and then 38,114,160 (July 2003 est.) 3. That's an increase of 3,034,346 or 8.65% in three years which only goes to show how chaotic the state of Sudan is. Under background information in the 2000 version it says "Military dictatorships promulgating an Islamic government have mostly run the country since independence from the UK in 1956. Over the past two decades, a civil war pitting black Christians and animists in the south against the Arab-Muslims of the north has cost at least 1.5 million lives in war and famine-related deaths, as well as the displacement of millions of others.". A civil war has been raging in Sudan since it's independance from the Brits in 1956 with a decade long exception starting in 1972 with the signing of the Addis Ababa agreement. It broke out again in 1983. It is (today) essentially in-fighting between the forces of the national military of pro-islamic President Lt. Gen. Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir and those of resurgent and leader of SPLA (aka SPLM) Dr. John Garang de Mabior. I won't go into who is the "good guy" as this node might swell a bit and as far as I can see reports of both factions tell of cruelty. It is estimated that at least 2.000.000 people have died as a result of the drawn-out civil war and 4.500.000 have been displaced. Some might have to brush up on geography 4.

al-Shifa chemical weapons

On the 20th August 1998 six Tomahawk missiles leveled the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum (the Sudan capital) to the ground. This was a response to the bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania 13 days earlier that killed around 300 people and injured a few thousand. The bombings were linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist organisation and so was the al-Shifa plant. The official evidence for the allegations that the al-Shifa plant manufactured not medicine but EMPTA, a chemical necessary in the production of VX nerve gas and otherwise useless, was a soil sample supposedly obtained from a yard adjacent to the plant. This cupful of dirt was not made available for public verification which in itself is not reassuring of Mr. Clinton's just intentions. But guess what! All sorts of chemists, when interviewed, claimed that EMPTA has indeed other uses and "could just as easily have been from pesticides or insecticides".5 The alleged chemical weapons factory did in fact only manufacture human and vetinary medicine such as chloroquine tablets which are vital for the treatment of malaria. Richard Becker of Clark's IAC in a delegation to Sudan following the bombings assessed that the al-Shifa plant "had raised Sudan's self-sufficiency in pharmaceuticals from 3% to 50%", that it produced "60-90% of the country's drugs for treating the seven leading causes of death" as well as "all of the country's veterinary medicines.". 5 The al-Shifa plant was positioned in a suburban area, civilian casualties are extremely likely. A pre-emptive U.S. strike on a sovereign state can not be justified, not with a non-existant soil sample, so to speak. Whether al-Shifa was manufacturing a precursor chemical for the VX nerve gas or not may only be known to the few privileged members of powerful inner circles. The U.S. did not present a convincing case to justify this attack, the effects are sure to be long lasting and may have resulted (as of this writing) directly in the deaths of tens of thousands. 5

In light of this I think Chomsky's tacit comparison is not without merit. And yes, more would be known about this regrettable incident had the U.S. not vetoed a U.N. inquiry made by the League of Arab States.

Irrelevant deaths

Tri's intepretation of Chomsky's refering to the victims' by working class professions is unnecessarily political. I think that Chomsky is pointing out their innocence. The motive for these murders probably had preciously little to do with the victims personally. Sadly, such are the prices that some have to pay. Chomsky also emphasizes how horrendous the terrorist acts were, but Tri makes no note of that. In any case, Tri wastes space on a fairly inconsequential statement.

Who's afraid of a Jew?

Chomsky's next two sentences reflect on how individual freedom is likely to become less in the future, even in democratic societies. He fears especially for Palestinians. Tri points out that (statistically) this was an unnecessary worry but that some aspects of life seem to be more restricted. I have no wish to expand further on fatalities in Palestinian jihads or Israeli tyrannies. It is an open secret that prisoners are being kept in violation of their constitutional rights by the U.S. goverment in Guantanamo bay. But Tri is optimistic all will be well, I wish I could share that opinion.

Complete spectrum dominance

Chomsky is yet, again making a perceptive observation that Tri twists around with distorted logic. For a long time nuclear weapons have been political weapons. Means for leverage on the international arena. There has been nuclear armed peace since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Simply said, nobody is dumb enough to provoke the wrath of everyone else. Which is certainly what will occur if somebody decides to evaporate a city of ten millions or so. North Korea is simply desperate to be taken serious. Chomsky is warning against excessive militarization, not making threats vanish magically. The missile defense system currently being developed by the U.S. army and NASA is a little adventurous, maybe even over-ambitious. I think terrorists are more likely to be practical when contemplating means of mass murder. There are other weapons such as Boeing 747s, dirty bombs, nerve gasses in their armory.

Dubya's popularity

Regretfully, Tri has made another blunder in his analysis. Whereas Chomsky voices his fears that an oppurtunity is presented to "the hard jingoist right" to make haste and apply unfair alterations to the judical system. Tri likes to think that Chomsky is somehow exempting leftist? bigots. Bigotry can exist under all sorts of guises, they don't really need excuses to harass their citizens which is all too evident in countries dubbed rogue states or third world. The cause for concern is the shrinking sphere of freedom in our free, democratic societies. Tri adds insult to injury by insinuating that Chomsky benefitted financially by publishing a book shortly after the 9/11 attacks and therefore approves of them?

Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk is a Middle East news correspondant for The Independent. 6 I haven't read anything of his and find myself unable to either approve of or discredit him. Why Tri deems it necessary to draw our attention to his beating by Afghan refugees as proof of his incompetent "insight" into the region and culture" escapes me altogether. Seems to me that any one of us might happen to be in the wrong dark lit alley at the wrong time.


I think Chomsky's 2 year old statement does him credit. He expresses his condolences for the sufferings of people worldwide and encourages us to understand why they happened and continue to happen. I think Tri is far off track.

(1) "On the Bombings" -
(2) "New York Settles on a Number That Defines Tragedy: 2,749 Dead in Trade Center Attack" -
(3) "CIA World Factbook: Sudan" -
(4) The world map as some percieve it -
(5) "United States Terrorism in the Sudan" -
(6) "News" -

Sources not cited:
"US policy on Sudan is inept and patrisan" -
Plotting a communist revolution - (6 years old)
"The Clinton View of Iraq-al Qaeda Ties" -

Writeup does not mean reply. I apologize. I have neither the time nor desire to bother systematically addressing the above (first writeup) "examination" of this: "Noam Chomsky on the September 11 attacks" point by point, but I will take the time to look at one of its assertions.

Quoting Chomsky: "It is likely to prove to be a crushing blow to Palestinians and other poor and oppressed people" (referring to the events on 11 September). The user then writes:

Whoops! That didn't happen. Data from B'tselem and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society show that, aside from a spike around April 2002, the number of Israeli and Palestinian deaths remained relatively constant from September 2000 to January 2004.

This would be remarkable if it were true. Since the writer chooses to give the "sources" for this conclusion, it is a rather simple task to check them for veracity. Accurately presenting information should be of paramount importance when one is leveling charges of "errors, distortions, and outright fabrications" (even if it is, in this example, only regarding a prediction that Chomsky makes—not something subject to a charge of lying or one of the other accusations) to the one making the claims. Unfortunately for the writer, the assertion is simply not true as the sources show. (For the sake of argument, we'll forget that Chomsky only said that it could "prove to be a crushing blow" not that it would necessarily up the number of deaths—because that would know: a "rhetorical trick.")

Starting with the B'Tselem site, let's have a look at the statistics, year by year, 2001 to 2003 (rather than looking at an incomplete year—2000—I'll just use full years). In its figures for Palestinian deaths in the Occupied Territories (including East Jerusalem) by the Israeli Defense Forces, it gives 454 dead. If one breaks 2001 into "pre-September" and "September through December" (months one through eight and the final four months), it breaks down into 209 and 245, respectively. Thus showing a greater rate of deaths in the last four months than the eight preceding ones. Fine, but that's just four months—what does 2002 show? Total deaths (same criteria) are 990, nearly twice as many. What about the admitted "spike around April"? Well, the "spike" was actually March and April, with 238 and 247 deaths, respectively. A serious spike for sure, but consider this: if one completely eliminates the deaths from those two months (and nearly 500 dead human beings is not something to take lightly), the number is still over 500. Which is a definite rise from the previous year. In 2003, the number did drop to 573, far better than 2002 but still over 100 more deaths than 2001.

As for Palestinian civilians killed within the Green Line, 2001 saw the deaths of nine, seven of those happening September through December. In 2002 it more than tripled to 29 (though still a comparatively low number when considering the Occupied Territories). As in other cases, it dropped in 2003—in fact just under half of 2001 (four deaths).

Israeli civilian deaths in the Occupied Territories (including East Jerusalem) were significantly less and showed less of a rise. In 2001, it was 65 (January-August: 42, September-December 23). The following year was 88. And the "spike"? March was the highest level with 17 dead but April only had four—higher than three months and tied with a fourth. June and July, with a total of 13 and 15, beat both of the spike months. The year still came out slightly ahead of 2001. There was a definite spike in IDF deaths (a separate category) between February and April with 65 dead (the three-month total still lower than the Palestinian deaths for February alone: 75 deaths). There was a significant drop in 2003 with only 25 deaths.

Israeli civilian deaths within the Green Line were higher, but still show the trend that killings rose post-September 2001. In 2001, 86 deaths were recorded with 38 occurring in the last four months of the year. The number slightly more than doubled in 2002 to 183. The spike month for those deaths was March which had 65 deaths. Even without the spike, over 100 Israelis died that year, 32 more than 2001. In 2003, the number dropped to 104—still higher than 2001. While this is all interesting, instructive, and terribly tragic, of course, the claim zeroes in on the Palestinians: "The September 11 attacks and our responses to them do not seem to have caused an increase in Palestinian deaths."

Since it's clear that B'Tselem does not support the contention that the "number of Israeli and Palestinian deaths remained relatively constant," perhaps a glance at the second source will contradict the results. We can take a look at what the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (The Red Crescent Society is the Muslim version of the Red Cross). Things fare no better for the allegation according to the statistics. In 2001 (numbers are for total daily deaths in the West Bank and Gaza), 577 are listed, 280 of which happened between September and December. The next year the figure almost doubles to 1068. The spike months (March and April) are fairly close figures, 234 and 245, respectively. Eliminating them still leaves 589 deaths—closer (after ignoring nearly 600 deaths) but slightly higher than the previous year. The next year totaled 664 deaths, almost 100 more than 2001 and over half of the previous year's total even with the two spike months.

Going a step further, a glance at the data offered by the Middle East Policy Council (from a link at the Red Crescent site) shows the same trends. Much more detailed than the others, its data were collected from the above sites as well as the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For the Israeli side, it shows 179 dead in 2001, 71 during the last four months. For 2002, 420 dead, 247 without the two-month spike (68 more than the previous year). In 2003, 183 were recorded as having died, again higher (though only by a few) than 2001. On the Palestinian side, 2001 saw 532 dead, 261 between September and December (almost half). The next year saw 1080 Palestinians die in the conflict, over twice as many as the previous year. Even without the spike, 589 died. Again higher than all of 2001. The next year, 654 died—over 120 more than 2001.

In nearly every category, it seems clear that deaths for both Israelis and Palestinians went up and not just because of the "spike around April 2002" (March and April—the MEPC site shows 77 more Israelis died in March than April, Palestinians were about even). It seems that the actual "point" is that it is demonstrably true (using the sources that are claimed to show they "remained relatively constant") that Palestinian and Israeli deaths increased after 11 September, even if one wishes to argue about the causal link between the event/response and the violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories. If one wishes to attack someone for alleged "errors, distortions, and outright fabrications," one should avoid those self same things. "Whoops," indeed.


A further oddity about the writeup is that the text differs from Chomsky's written statement of 12 September 2001 ( A couple minor textural things and a strange combining of sentences that were originally separated by paragraph breaks. The most interesting of the (again minor—yet curious) differences is that Chomsky writes about "the foolishness of ideas about 'missile defense'", while the above has it changed to "the foolishness of the project of 'missile defense.'" Both versions are easliy found on the web. What that means I cannot say but it certainly is odd.

Unfortunately continuing....

Actually there was a good reason to leave out 2000 that has nothing to do with the suggestion that I'm trying to hide something (it was left unnoted for the sake of brevity—so much for that). The second Intifada began on 29 September 2000 (which is why the data only includes the last few days of September—beware of people who leave out context). An eruption which in the first few days the IDF fired an estimated "700,000 bullets and other projectiles" in the West Bank and "around 300,000 in Gaza" (Hirst). This would necessarily skew the numbers because of a direct precipitating event, which isn't useful for comparison purposes.

Most of the deaths occurred in October and November (using B'Tselem's statistics) with 100 and 109, respectively. By December, it dropped to a bit less than half (48). It dropped by more than half again in January (18) and only got within three of the December figure once (May) until September 2001. If one wishes to leave out the "spike around April 2002," then the one in late 2000 should be out as well (for better reasons).

If one looks at the graph ( and notes the number of (Palestinian) points above the line indicating 50 deaths, one can see that for the year before 11 September and the year after (leaving out the four "spike" months) one gets two between September 2000 through August 2001 and five between September 2001 through August 2002. Even stronger is the fact that between September 2002 and August 2003 there are ten points above the line. It went up each year.

If there isn't another metric for "oppression" to bring up, then it seems pointless to bring it up at all other than as an apparent smear against the original article (the "whoops" comment is more than a little telling, in and of itself). As you write: "Since we can't even agree about what these data show, I don't really think it would be useful to use something more vague." If other things would be "more vague" and since these numbers do not show what is claimed (or are arguably inconclusive), it should have been excluded from the piece rather than asserted as a fact that proves something.

Of course there is some fluctuation but there is also a very clear escalation for the year following 11 September—something that is claimed did not happen ("the number of Israeli and Palestinian deaths remained relatively constant from September 2000 to January 2004"). And if there are all these "substantial fluctuations," it seems odd how these deaths have "remained relatively constant" or that this was used as a valid criticism of anything—even a prediction which, if wrong, would still not constitute the smug charge of "errors, distortions, and outright fabrications" the piece purports to list.

Further, I did not "[assert] that September 11 had anything to do with any increase or decrease" which a simple reading of what I did write shows: "...even if one wishes to argue about the causal link between the event/response and the violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories." My point was to show that the figures from the sources cited do not back up the claim in the "critique." And they still don't.

Additional source:
The Gun and the Olive Branch 2003 edition David Hirst

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