Riz Kahn Interview with Noam Chomsky (Aljazeera English) April 26, 2007
(the callers' names are not included)
Riz Kahn: In a full of commentators and thinkers, few people are as respected as our guest today. Though he dismisses being voted the world’s No. 1 intellectual and plays down having his book endorsed at UN General Assembly by a Venezuelan President Hugo Chaves to a great applause, Noam Chomsky continues to be a highly quoted intellectual force. The professor of linguistics at Boston’s prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, now approaching 80, first made a name for himself with his remarkable work on the theory of grammar in 1950’s but later became known for his political activism particularly for his persistently anti-war stance. And don’t forget, we’ll take your calls on the show, the numbers are at the bottom of your screen. The New York Times described him as arguably the most important intellectual alive. We’re pleased to have him with us. Honor to have you with us, Professor Chomsky.
Chomsky: Very glad to be with you.
Riz: Sir, I know you have no problem in telling as it is, in being very direct. Let me first get your impression on the expression “War on Terror.”
Chomsky: Well, first of all, it’s worth remembering that the “War on Terror” so called, was re-declared in 2001, not declared. It was declared 20 years earlier when President Reagan came into office and announcing he and his associates that the prime focus of US foreign policy would be state-directed international terrorism. International terrorism generally which, as they are described as the plague of the modern age, return to barbarism in our times and so on. And in reaction to it they launched what turned out to be a horrendous terrorist war which destroyed much of Central America and spread to much of the rest of the world. So the war was re-declared in 2001 and it’s not a war on terror. In fact, it’s been plain from the actions that were taken that the goal of reducing terror is not a high priority. In fact, some of the most significant actions have, as anticipated, increased the threat of terror and quite substantially, in fact. (Riz: So let me ask, )So take a look at..(Riz: Sorry. Go ahead, sir.)
Sorry. If you look at the leading international affairs journal in the United States, “Foreign Affairs,” the main journal, one of the lead stories on current issue is about how much the invasion of Iraq has strengthened al Qaeda. A study that just came out by two leading terrorism experts using mostly government data concluded that what they called “the Iraq effect,” the effect of Iraq on terror, has been to increase terror seven fold. That’s quite an increase. And there are other examples.
Riz: What would you have said it would be a more appropriate response to the attacks on September 11? You wrote about 9-11 in your book “9-11”, it’s called “9-11.” I wonder what you think would be the best and the most appropriate response for the US following to those attacks then.
Chomsky: Those are criminal actions, serious criminal actions. And when criminal actions take place, what you do is investigate to find out who is responsible. When you have good evidence to who is responsible, you apprehend them. If it’s an international matter as this was, international security forces, probably the police would be best, could be used to apprehend them and bring them to justice and try them. That’s one aspect.
Another, if you’re serious about it, is to try to ask what the goal and purpose of the terror was and where it’s coming from. What you regularly discover, it’s been discussed over and over again by specialists on terror, what you find is that the terrorists see themselves as a kind of vanguard who are trying to mobilize others on the basis of real grievances. They are trying to show that the grievances are felt and they’re real. They want to try to get people to join their cause by dramatic acts like terror. If you want to stop terror, what you do is pay attention to the grievances and see if they are legitimate, if they are legitimate, then deal with them. That will reduce the likelihood of mobilize of – the terrorists can infect to mobilize the forces, the groups that they’re aiming at. In the case of September 11, I think by now there’s pretty good evidence to that could have been done. The major studies of the Jihadi movements like Fawaz Gerges’ excellent books, others too, have shown that 9-11-style terror, al Qaeda terror was quite unpopular. In fact, it elicited a bitter critique right inside the Jihadi movement. OK, that gave an opportunity to use both of means of criminal investigations, yes, and apprehension, but also to address the grievances, exploit the differences that developed and separate the terrorist groups from their reservoir of support that they are hoping to mobilize.
Riz: Professor, one thing, you live in the United States as you call it your home, and yet you also call it a failed state. You believe it’s a failed state. Now I wonder why.
Chomsky: Actually, that’s not quite true. I said that it’s beginning to take on some of the characteristics of failed states. And it is, I’ve gone through the reasons, I can repeat them. And that’s all the more reason for me to be concerned about it. In fact I live here and it’s my country, sure, you’re particularly interested in the place you care about and can’t care about anything more than your own country.
Riz: Now I’m interested now in your recent book “Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy” which you co-authored with Gilbert Achcar. You both support the idea that the major deterrent to democracy especially in place like the Middle East is that the United States is actually opposed to it, which sort of contradicts the US statements that come out of the government that say, we are trying to promote democracy around the world.
Chomsky: Well, first of all you should time those statements about promoting democracy carefully. Of course there’s always talk about promoting democracy. Everybody always talks about that, but it’s a boilerplate, didn’t mean anything.
When the invasion of Iraq was being planned and sort of sold to the country and the Congress, it was on the bases of what President Bush repeatedly called “a single question”: Will Saddam Hussein terminate his programs of developing Weapons of Mass Destruction? That was the question. That was the basis on which Congress approved to use of force. That was actually even the official internal motivation: Weapons of Mass Destruction, Saddam’s ties to the terror. Couple of months after the invasion, the single question was answered definitively the wrong way. We know the answer.
After that, months after that, the President announced what he called a “freedom agenda.” It was November 2003, to a great fanfare. The “freedom agenda” is that the real goals were to bring democracy to Iraq and to the Middle East, to the world. Nobody can take this seriously of course, and interestingly, in Iraq they didn’t take it seriously. Shortly after the President’s November declarations became headlines, a lot of excitement, a Gallop Poll was released that had been taken in Baghdad: One percent of the population felt the United States invaded to bring democracy. 5 percent felt that the United States invaded to help Iraqis. Most of the rest concluded the obvious, we all know, but we're not allowed to say. Furthermore…
Riz: Sorry, sir, a quick question, based on what you just said. I want to get you its e-mail that came in from Mauritania. I just picked it up what you were talking about that. ** asks, “Don’t you think that the US policy in Iraq and Afghanistan is only triggering more hatred in the Arab and Islamic world? What would you suggest to limit those effects?”
Chomsky: It’s not just I think, it is definite. Studies are coming out, another one just came out a few days ago, from major polling institutions which are showing exactly what the questioner points out. Yes, fear and hatred of the United States is growing. In fact it’s not just in the Islamic world but even in Europe, which is the region most sympathetic to the United States. The effect of George Bush’s policies, particularly the invasion of Iraq has been to raise the United States to the most feared country in the world. What should be done to alleviate this? First of all, to terminate the actions that are causing it and then to deal with the real issues. It would be a great thing if the United States were to support democracy. But it doesn’t and we know that. It didn’t do it before 9-11 and it doesn’t do it now.
If you want maybe the most dramatic example, is Palestine. I mean there were elections in Palestine in January 2006, free elections, carefully monitored, everybody agreed that they were free. And the population voted the wrong way, not the way the US wanted. How did the US react? (Right.) The US, with Europe trailing behind immediately moved to punish the population severely, for voting the wrong way. How can you look at that and say they are trying to promote democracy?
Riz: We got a call just now from London, he’s on the line, if he might ask a question, go ahead.
Caller: I’d just like to ask. Why is it now the Democratic law(?) they passed the bill, Bush and his hawks, you know his colleagues are stuck to the same old policy that the war must continue, the killing must continue. I think it is time that enough British, American, and civilians ( inaudible ) each other -----thousands of Iraqis having been killed. I think American people should come out and speak and we must bring it to the end now, I think.
Riz: OK, let’s get Professor Chomsky to answer this, perhaps I can ask him in this way sir. What is it that stops the American people having some kind of voice, if he is correct, if the people are against the killing that’s going on? Why is it that view of the people are not translated into actions in terms of policies?
Chomsky: Well, now we’re back to the matter of failed states. Not just on this issue, but on a whole range of crucial issues, the public opinion is pretty strongly opposed to government policy. In fact on many issues, important ones, both political parties are well to the right of the general population. That’s true on domestic issues, too it has been pretty well documented, I have written a lot about it and so have others. That’s a failure of the functioning of the American democratic system. I mean it’s a very free country, a freest country in the world. It has formal democratic institutions but for a variety of reasons, they are not functioning in a way in which it makes it responsible to the public. And the public knows it. That’s one of the reasons there’s so much disillusions with political system.
Why doesn't the public do something about it? Well you know that’s a function of atomization of people of difficult economic circumstances, not difficult by the world’s standards, but difficult by the standards that they rightly expect and see. And breakdown of the major organizations. Unions for example used to be a major force for democratization but they’ve been harshly repressed and by now barely exist. Illegal labor practices are used to destroy them and so on. There’s all this Society which is opposed to policy on major issues like this one but hasn’t found the organizational forms, hasn’t developed organizational forms to press for a real voice on foreign policy, or domestic policy for that matter.
Riz: Professor, you know you had, you mentioned the Israeli Palestine situations a moment ago. I want to get to an e-mail that came from *** in the United States, who says, “You’re Jewish. If Israel is destroyed, what part will you have played in it and will you give yourself a pat on the back when it is?”
Chomsky: I have felt for many years and I have written incidentally that the people who call themselves the supporters of Israel are in reality the supporters of Israel’s moral degeneration and probably ultimate destruction. I mean Israel can have security. In fact that’s been true for over 30 years. It has chosen instead expansion at the cost of security. I can go though the reasons if you..(Riz: Probably we’re short on time, a couple of callers are waiting) OK, but that means that I agree with my Israeli friends who think the policies that they are taking are extremely, first of all wrong, but also self-destructive, and if they do pursue security and peace instead of expansion and oppression, their prospects are very much improved.
Riz: *** is on the line from London, what would you like to ask Professor Chomsky?
Caller: I have two questions to ask you. The first one is, basically the UK government and the US government had this term “war on terror.” A lot of people have equated the term “war on terror” to a war on Islam. But this is being denied by George Bush and Mr. Blair. If there was to be a war on Islam, what would it be like and what would one be? So, if someone was to implement a war on Islam, what would it be and difference between that and this? And my second question is that I read a lot of your articles and I would like to be Muslim, invite you to Islam. I just say feel free to read as many books as possible.
Riz: We have got less than a minute now for Professor Chomsky to ask. Apart from your offer to convert to Islam, you have a question about what would a war against Islam be like if war was to take place, very briefly, sir.
Chomsky: War on Islam would be a third world war that might bring species to an end. But the United States is not engaged in the war against Islam. George Bush is correct. Its, for example, the oldest, the most valued ally of the United States in the region is Saudi Arabia because it is where the most oil is. It happens to be the most extremist Islamic fundamentalist state. In the 1980s during the first so-called war on terror, the United States government was fighting a war, to a large extent, against the Catholic Church who were sponsoring liberation theology.