.Outspoken intellectual Noam Chomsky spoke to Jon Snow ahead of his Amnesty International lecture as part of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen.s. In a wide-ranging interview, he discussed Northern Ireland, terrorism, Israel and the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, South America, nuclear weapons, climate change, healthcare reform and human rights
The Amnesty International Lecture returns to the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen.s on October 30 with one of the world.s sharpest commentators on international affairs and the struggle for human rights and dignity.
A philosopher, linguist, author and political activist, Noam Chomsky was named the world.s leading public intellectual in 2005 in an international poll.
In the 1950s he developed the theory of .generative grammar., which revolutionised the field of linguistics. He has since become one of the foremost critics of US foreign policy, writing numerous groundbreaking books including the best-selling Manufacturing Consent, Hegemony or Survival and Failed States.
Hope and Prospects is the theme of Noam Chomsky.s Amnesty International annual lecture at the Belfast Festival at Queen.s on October 30. The lecture will be followed by a question-and-answer session chaired by William Crawley.
Here are edited extracts from his recent interview with Channel 4.s Jon Snow:
The lesson is that terrorism has causes ? unless the causes are addressed; you.re not facing the problem. Now a lot of it is criminal activity, and criminal activity should be punished in the legal system fairly and honestly. But unless you address the grievances, you are more or less in the position of a doctor who.s injecting a patient with poison and then asking what.s the best way to deal with the symptoms.
That doesn.t make any sense . first stop administering the poison. There were real grievances in Northern Ireland and Britain had a substantial responsibility for them. When Britain finally stopped responding to terror with more violence, and responded to terror by addressing the grievances, there was substantial amelioration.
The response to September 11
After 9/11 there was overwhelming sympathy for the United States, including inside the jihadi movement. There were fatwas coming out?condemning Osama bin Laden. How did the US respond? By alienating the people who were sympathising. By invading Afghanistan and Iraq and energising the support for terror.
That.s injecting the patient with poison. Now they.re surprised there.s an increase in terror. The response to 9/11 . as historian Michael Howard pointed out almost straight away . should have been: it.s criminal, let.s try to identify the culprits, bring them to justice and give them fair trials.
The Bush administration refused. It.s possible that they might have been able to extradite al-Qaida and bin Laden. In fact the Taliban made ambiguous offers of extradition if the US provided evidence, which of course any country would do. The Bush administration rejected that attempt, and [said] we.re going to bomb you because you.re not handing him over to us. Well that.s a major crime that welded the jihadi movement back together; the invasion of Iraq completed the task of reconstructing a massive worldwide terrorist movement.
Non-violent resistance in Iraq
As late as November 2007 the official US position as stated by Bush was that any Status of Forces Agreement would have to permit an indefinite US military presence, including of course huge military bases all over, and a privileged role for US investors.
A couple of months later, Bush was compelled to back down on all of that and, at least on paper, accept withdrawal. Well, these are tremendous victories for non-violent resistance. The US could kill insurgents, but they couldn.t deal with hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating in the streets.
The US approach to Iran
If someone was watching this from Mars, they.d collapse in ridicule. The United States is telling Iran to stop its aggressive militarism? I mean we occupy two countries on their border, US spending on arms is approximately equal to the rest of the world combined, we.re threatening them with attack and violation of the UN Charter and on and on. Iran hasn.t invaded anyone for, probably, centuries, except for two Arab islands that the Shah conquered with the support of the United States.
Israel.s security problems
Israel.s invasion of Gaza in January hadn.t the slightest pretext. They claim they had to defend themselves against rockets and that.s accepted by human rights groups and fairly generally, but it.s perfect nonsense. You don.t have a right to use force in self-defence unless you.ve exhausted peaceful means. They could have accepted a ceasefire for the first time ever.
When they partially accepted one for a few months in 2008 there were no Hamas rockets. They do not have a security problem, except for what they are creating, so as long as they choose expansion over security, they.re going to have a security problem.
Barack Obama.s burden of expectations
If Barack Obama fails to live up to expectations, there are two possibilities. Kennedy also generated enormous enthusiasm, and he quickly disappointed the expectations. He had a good propaganda apparatus, but if you look at what he did, he was maybe one of the most dangerous presidents of the 20th century.
But the energy that was generated then turned into something quite constructive: the activism of the 1960s. Kennedy certainly did not support the civil rights movement, but it was inspired by the rhetoric and it went on and ultimately he had to sign on to it. That.s one possibility.
The other possibility is cynicism. The constructive choice is going to have to be based on a realistic understanding of what is happening, not the illusions based on marketing.
The US democratic deficit
The irrelevance of popular opinion in the US is quite dramatic. Take the leading domestic issue right now, which is healthcare; it.s a catastrophe. The debate that.s going on is in fact surreal in many ways, not just Sarah Palin and the death panels, but there was a front-page story in the New York Times, reporting that the Obama administration had made a secret deal with the pharmaceutical industry in which it promised not to allow the government to use its purchasing power to negotiate drug prices, as is done in every other country and as, for example, the Pentagon can do for buying paper clips.
But it.s legally barred in the United States and that.s the major reason why drug prices are twice as high as in most of the world. About 85% of the population think we should negotiate drug prices . but they.re not even mentioned, in fact I don.t think you can even find a report of the polls.
Progress in South America
It.s commonly said that one of the faults of the Bush administration was that they didn.t pay attention to Latin America. That.s probably one of the greatest boons to Latin America. If the United States would stop paying attention to them, the way it does pay attention to them, they would at least have a little window for maybe moving forward.
The US supports democracy if and only if it conforms to strategic and economic interests. In fact, what.s been happening in South America is quite impressive.
For the first time in hundreds of years, South America is beginning at least to face some of its huge problems. In fact, in many ways, it.s the most exciting region of the world.
The lack of action on climate change
The climate catastrophe will mostly harm the poorer countries. It.ll be pretty awful for everyone . Boston may go under water for example . but the rich countries have ways of dealing with it. The poor countries don.t.
The rich countries have to make a choice: are we going to choose a future in which our grandchildren can survive, or are we going to choose short-term profit for the corporate sector? So far, overwhelmingly, it.s the latter.
The state of human rights
I.ve always been more or less an optimist, which means starting from a very low level of expectation. I think if you look at the trajectory over a longer period, including the recent period, there is a general improvement [in human rights], not only in the Third World but even in the rich countries.
Take say the last US election. The Democratic Party fielded two candidates, a woman and an African-American, inconceivable 30 years ago, even 20 years ago. Intellectuals don.t like to talk about it, but it.s the result of the activism of the 1960s.
Noam Chomsky.s new book, Hope and Prospects, will be published by HamishHamilton on October 29
======= FINANCIAL TIMES =============
Gideon Rachman, the FT.s chief foreign affairs columnist, spurs debate with his blogs on topics such as US foreign policy, the European Union and the Middle East
Read the following blog-entry by Gideon Rachman!
This guy works for the FT?? He should be fired!
Does the FT tolerate such school-boy argumentation?
How many other articles in the FT are influenced by
Rachman?? I think I'll stop reading FT. I just cannot
stand the thought of being deceived by such a cheap
Chomsky banned in Guantanamo
October 14, 2009 1:05pm
An interesting little item here, on the banning of the works of Noam Chomsky from the prison library at Guantanamo Bay. One has to wonder about the mentality of the Pentagon lawyer, who was trying to obtain a copy of Chomsky for one of the detainees he is representing. Maybe his job at Guantanamo has led him to entertain all sorts of subversive thoughts?
Chomsky predictably interpets the ban on his work as further evidence that the US is slipping towards totalitarianism. But I see it another way. Obama has said that he is banning the use of torture on prisoners at Guantanamo. Subjecting them to the works of Noam Chomsky is clearly incompatible with the torture ban.
HIS READER'S COMMENTS are kind and seem embedded, too.
1. >>Gideon-- It is good to sense some enthusiasm and new energy on your side. Chomsky is torture even for me. Sadly, I must move along now and get some work done!
Posted by: wcm | October 14 1:52pm
2. I leaned a lot about reading effectively from Chomsky. He was once a rabbinical scholar who in turn learned from that ancient tradition how to asses texts based on evidence and fact and the close analysis of what is being said. It is the method on which he invites criticism of his own writing, by no means infallible. The way to effectively destroy Chomsky's arguments (and those of Norman Finkelstein) is to disprove his facts as misstated and misbegotten. Yet Chomsky's critics, as their only resort one imagines, limit themselves to personal attcks, emotional defenses and, as in the last sentence above, dismissive flippancy.
Posted by: Alfred di Genis | October 14 1:55pm
3. "The last sentence above" refers to Gideon's.
Posted by: Alfred di Genis | October 14 2:00pm
4. Chomsky a rabbinical scholar? Will have to check that one out. As far as I know hails from a secular background.
BTW, do Brits as well as Americans pronounce his name as in 'chopsticks'? Always sounds ridiculous to my ears. In fact, the ch should be pronounced as in German 'ich', except stronger: like the Kh in Khamene'i...
Posted by: RCS | October 14 6:51pm
5. At one point in his youth, Chomsky decided to pursue studies that would have led to becoming a rabbi, but he eventually changed his mind. It is not difficult to find in Chomsky.s work the precision, depth, encompassing analysis and moral conviction that are characteristic of Judaic scholarship.
Posted by: Alfred di Genis | October 14 8:51pm
6. Chomsky in the documentary Manufacturing Consent describes the Financial Times as "the only newspaper that tells the truth" and elsewhere -"because there's probably less chance of their constituency getting out of hand".
He also recommends reading Adam Smith rather than just worshipping him. Sound advice.
Posted by: cmyk | October 14 10:15pm
7. I've found his social writting fascinating but his linguistic work way above my attention span
Censorship would be for him a normal occurence and a demonstration of his beliefs
Chomsky probably doesn't care, he 's been censored by bigger fry
during an interview he stated that on principle he would sign any petition put to him but found the politics interfering with his greatest interrest, language
Posted by: jeannick | October 14 10:16pm
8. Apart from being mildly amusing, your final paragraph leads me to re-consider why I read this blog on a daily basis. Typically I do so because your writing comes across as that of an educated and, critically, 'thoughtful' journalist. By that I mean someone who is not fearful of ideas and is embracing of all modes of thought. You, like I, may not approve of many of the Hollywood-style aggrandizements that Chomsky is often so fond of. However, we are also talking about one of the most important contributors to linguistic theory in the 20th century. Second, we are talking about a scholar who has been quoted more than anyone anyone else over a period greater than three decades. Why the scorn?
Posted by: AnOpenMind | October 15 12:00am
9. I agree with jeannick regarding the difficulty of reading Prof. Chomsky's work on linguistics and the value of his works on politics and foreign affairs. Mr. Rachman's sarcasm escapes me. That Prof. Chomsky's books might be banned in the Guantanamo prison is bizarre, but the whole enterprise of the prison on Guantanamo is quite bizarre from any perspective.
Interesting datum regarding Prof. Chomsky's linguistic work: in the Wikipedia blurb on Prof. Chomsky one of the luminaries of computer science, Donald Knuth, is cited as having brought one of Chomsky's early and highly influential books on language, Syntactic Structures, with him on his honeymoon in 1961.
The Wikipedia blurb also mentions that Chomsky's father was a noted Hebrew scholar, although apparently on the Hebrew language itself rather than on the Talmud, i.e. not a rabbinical scholar. Regarding the origin of the last name or its pronunciation, not clear. ....... is some sort of geographical region in Siberia, but beyond that I do not know whether it has a meaning. Where's Vadim?
Posted by: Wendell Murray | October 15 12:12am
10. ****** mightier than the sword and this is further proof of it.
P (mimicking Panchan Chandra of Brussels' postings about water being wet!)
Posted by: P | October 15 3:07am
11. Come on, Gideon. There could be much worse torture than reading Chomsky. How about having to watch Fox news? Chomsky is, very simply, one of the greatest living Americans, someone who is willing to tell the truth about the total corporate domination of this country that everybody knows but no one is willing to say publicly. He is an American hero.
No wonder that his books are banned in Guantánamo. In the early days of the Patriot Act and the rest of the hysteria caused by George W. Bush's "War on Terror", when his press secretary, Ari Fleischer, was warning Americans to watch what they do and watch what they say, there were probably a lot of people in the US who were afraid to read Chomsky's books.
Posted by: algasema | October 15 3:31am
12. WOW! P E N, (followed by is with a space in between) was considered by your robot police as an offensive word! It must be mightier than I had suspected!
Posted by: P | October 15 6:44am
13. Sorry to disagree with mine host, but dissing Noam Chomsky is a bridge too far.
The "torture" of reading Chomsky is the torture of reading the truth. Like the torture an ugly man experience when he shaves... staring into the mirror. Chomsky is the bane of the pharisees.
Chomsky, Chomsky, rah, rah, rah. Chomsky, Chomsky sis boom bah!
There, I feel much better now.
Posted by: David Seaton | October 15 7:07am
14. We can safely assume that it was not Chomsky's linguistic work that was banned from Guantanamo. Would that it were.
Posted by: Alfred di Genis | October 15 7:55am
15. I've come across Chomsky at the university, where semantics was at the time a hot issue and Chomsky featured prominently. He is not for nothing emeritus at MIT, and anyone who reaches any level whatever at MIT is almost guaranteed to be at the top of their field. Chomsky certainly is.
Let's not forget that the USA according to Chomsky is the greatest nation on earth. Despite all his criticism he believes that. Chomsky also believes in anarchism, which he defines as the absence of a central authority, in many ways his anarchist society is a concrete description of Marx' workers paradise.
He's not unlike Milton Friedman as well in the consequent application of libertarianism.
His criticism of contemporary society is to be viewed against that background, stuff is this bad because we haven't yet reached a true libertarian democracy. And I hope he is right, that around the corner we can discover a global libertarian society without centralized authorities. I think it's unlikely, but it would be nice.
His criticism is solely directed at the US. His knowledge of other areas on the planet is always expressed in contrast to US foreign policy; Russia's behaviour in Chechnya, China in Tibet and Xinjiang, Sri Lanka in the Tamil North, it is almost as if he believes Russia, China, Sri Lanka the Congolese and others simply act brutally and he uses the unexplained almost natural random brutality as a contrast to the motivated and directed brutality of the US for which he never fails to find a corporatist reason. At every juncture he tries to turn the debate towards how the US fouled it up or how the US would be responsible either in action or inaction. While his concern for suffering is most genuine his abuse of it in his moral indignation against his own nation seems insincere.
His criticism is understandable from his viewing the US as the greatest nation, perhaps he believes he can change the US to a degree that he cannot change Russia or China, which is why criticism of the latter is pointless. Perhaps like many progressive idealists he believes in the ultimate historically predetermined victory of libertarianism, so that it doesn't matter that he allows nonprogressives to use his rethoric in their battle against Chomsy's own values, because they cannot win.
But it is a long stretch, I am a progressive myself but I don't believe that global freedom and equality is historically inevitable. Hence however justified his criticism often is to me its often far too self defeating.
Like Niels Bohr he's a brilliant scientist but politically astoundingly naieve.
Posted by: Felix Drost | October 15 9:02am
16. It is so easy to insult from a comfortable office in London. The very humane values underpinning the writings of Professor Chomsky would be worth their weight in platinum were they adopted by the inmates at Guantanamo.. as they would if done so by at least one of the wits at the FT.
Posted by: Shapiro | October 15 9:10am
17. Chomsky's criticism of Israel's policies and actions are also explained, accurately or not, as that country's doing the bidding and serving the interests of a powerful America. To me, it is Chomsky's methodology that is most of value, but Felix's observations are astute.
Posted by: Alfred di Genis | October 15 9:35am
18. Chomsky's vision of society bears some congruity with the structure of the kibbutz as it developed.
Posted by: Alfred di Genis | October 15 10:11am
19. You should be ashamed of yourself for writing this.
Posted by: Gopal Balakrishnan | October 15 10:29am
20. What I value most about Chomsky is his relentless documentation. Reading him is totally essential to have any idea of what has really been going on.
His underlying politics seems to be mostly to expose hypocrisy. And of course the USA is probably the most hypocritical nation in the history of our planet.
As to his anarchism:Anarchism either of the left or of the right is almost by definition a non-starter.
If nothing else you can count on the Chinese to keep the central state alive and well.
The only anarchy that exists or ever has existed is today's multinational corporations as described in Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine", which is an amazing work for one so young and a total "must read" for anyone who is serious about understanding the workings of our world.
I think Naomi Klein has a more interesting analysis than Chomsky's and probably when she reaches Chomsky's age, she'll be more important than he is now.
Having said that Chomsky, even with his "dog wagging tail" analysis of the relations between Israel and the USA, is the foremost living public intellectual in the English language.
Posted by: David Seaton | October 15 10:30am
21. The Shock Doctrine is well recommended. My understanding is that Naomi Klein (An American-Canadian married to the son of the former leader of Ontario's "socialist" New Democratic Party) is an admirer of Chomsky, and her work shows not a little of his influence. Chomsky's influence is obvious in the work of many younger writers. David Seaton and I are in agreement that most valuable in Chomsky's work is what I call "methodology" and he "documentation".
Could Gopal Barakrishnan please elaborate on his most enigmatic comment.
Posted by: Alfred di Genis | October 15 11:23am
22. What I like about Naomi Klein is that she is not afraid to "connect the dots", in some ways she reminds me of a young Marx, whereas Chomsky uses much more of the rabbinical pilpul methodology that Alfred paints the: "How many genocides fit on the head of a pin?". thing
What Chomsky doesn't have is the next step... we understand the world... OK, how do we "change it"? That is where I think Klein may end up being more important.
Posted by: David Seaton | October 15 11:37am
23. Oh NOOOO !
Posted by: jnyren | October 15 12:20pm
24. P: The program that parses commentary likely uses something called regular expressions to determine what should or should not be printed. Regular expressions use incredibly concise patterns that can be difficult to get right, i.e. to accommodate all variations on what is supposed to be excluded.
I skimmed the Naomi Klein book and read a few parts in detail. Her hypothesis that methods of "shock" to any system are used to "correct" deficiencies - although well-intentioned - is not convincing. She blanket-condemns Milton Friedman for example as a progenitor of economic shock methods.
I am not sure whether that is accurate for one. There are other economists whose recommendations include gross shock to the economy and have had concrete implementations, such as in Russia a decade or more ago, Second, Prof. Friedman's economic theorizing is considered to be a valuable contribution to the canon of conventional economic theory. His recommendations in the political and policy realm were he had no more expertise than anyone else led to inhumane implementations of policy in the USA or elsewhere.
In any case Prof. Chomsky'w work is invariably scholarly to the extent that I am familiar with it. Ms. Klein's appears to be classic journalese. Nothing wrong with that, but the hypothesis in the Shock Doctrine simply does not fit the data.
I agree, good commentary from Happy Taskmaster. Does drost mean taskmaster in Dutch? I looked it up in a dictionary. No obvious cognate to me in either German or English, but there may be one in both or either languages.
Posted by: Wendell Murray | October 15 3:36pm
25. Naomi Klein, of course, is a journalist.
Posted by: Alfred di Genis | October 15 6:00pm
26. Karl Marx was also a journalist.
Posted by: David Seaton | October 15 9:54pm
reminds me of bugs bunny cartoons
Posted by: Reza | October 15 10:13pm
28. number 13, i mean..
Posted by: Reza | October 15 10:14pm
29. " Karl Marx was also a journalist "
So was Mussolini ,
There sems to be the habitual confusion on Anarchism ,
the most successful Anarchist comunities are made up of increadibly conservative members ,
like the Amish, with very strong personnal ethics and rather narrowly focussed on their own patch
and kin, in an agrarian setting pretty much in autarky
That's the only stable way to run a society without police, judges and laws ,
Posted by: jeannick | October 16 5:30am
30. " Karl Marx was also a journalist " So was Mussolini ,
Mussolini wore funny clothes, so does Elton John. Karl Marx had a beard, so did Abraham Lincoln. Ice cream is cold, so is hooker's heart.
What I was saying is that for a political thinker-activist like Naomi Klein to be a journalist is natural. As an activist she is concerned with day to day reality. Reality is cuisine du marché
Check this for example:
Obama isn't helping. At least the world argued with Bush
For all the global love-in, the new president has led rich nations to neglect principled action and row back from climate deals
Of all the explanations for Barack Obama's Nobel peace prize, the one that rang truest came from Nicolas Sarkozy. "It sets the seal on America's return to the heart of all the world's peoples." In other words, this was Europe's way of saying to America, "We love you again", like those weird renewal-of-vows ceremonies couples have after a rough patch.
Now Europe and the US are officially reunited, it seems appropriate to consider whether this is necessarily a good thing. The Nobel committee, which awarded the prize for Obama's embrace of "multilateral diplomacy", is evidently convinced that US engagement on the world stage is a triumph for peace and justice. I'm not so sure. After nine months in office, Obama has a clear track record as a global player. Again and again, US negotiators have chosen not to strengthen international laws and protocols but to weaken them, often leading other rich countries in a race to the bottom.
Let's start where the stakes are highest: climate change. During the Bush years, European politicians distinguished themselves from the US by expressing their unshakable commitment to the Kyoto protocol. So while the US increased its carbon emissions by 20% from 1990 levels, European Union countries reduced theirs by 2%. Not stellar, but clearly a case where the EU's break-up with America carried tangible benefits for the planet.
Flash forward to the high-stakes climate negotiations that have just wrapped up in Bangkok. The talks were supposed to lead to a deal in Copenhagen this December that significantly strengthens Kyoto. Instead, the developed countries formed a bloc calling for Kyoto to be replaced. Where Kyoto set clear and binding targets for emission reductions, the US plan would have each country decide how much to cut, then submit its plans to international monitoring . with nothing but wishful thinking to ensure this all keeps the planet's temperature below catastrophic levels. And where Kyoto put the burden of responsibility squarely on the rich countries that created the climate crisis, the new plan treats all countries the same.
These kinds of weak proposals were not altogether surprising coming from the US; what was shocking was the sudden unity of the rich world around the plan . including many countries that had previously sung the praises of Kyoto. And there were more betrayals: the EU, which had indicated it would spend between $19bn and $35bn a year to help developing countries adapt to climate change, came to Bangkok with a much lower offer, one more in line with the US pledge of . nothing. Oxfam's Antonio Hill summed up the talks like this: "When the starting gun fired, it became a race to the bottom, with rich countries weakening existing commitments under the international framework."
This isn't the first time a much-celebrated return to the negotiating table has resulted in overturned tables, with hard-won international laws and conventions scattered on the floor. The US played a similar role at the United Nations conference on racism in April. After extracting all sorts of deletions from the negotiating text . no references to Israel or the Palestinians, nothing on slavery reparations . the Obama administration decided to boycott anyway, pointing to the fact that the new text reaffirmed the document adopted in 2001 in Durban.
It was a flimsy excuse, but there was some kind of logic to it, since the US had never signed the 2001 agreement. What made no sense was the wave of copycat withdrawals from the rich world. Within 48 hours of the US announcement, Italy, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Poland had pulled out. Unlike the US, these governments had all signed the 2001 declaration, so they had no reason to object to a document that reaffirmed it.
It didn't matter. As with the climate change talks, lining up behind Obama . with his impeccable reputation . was an easy way to avoid burdensome obligations and look progressive at the same time: a service the US was never able to provide during the Bush years.
The US has had a similarly corrupting influence as a new member of the UN human rights council. Its first big test was Judge Richard Goldstone's courageous report on Israel's Gaza onslaught, which found that war crimes had been committed by both the Israeli army and Hamas. Rather than prove its commitment to international law, the US used its clout to smear the report as "deeply flawed" and to strong-arm the Palestinian Authority into withdrawing a supportive resolution. The PA, which faced a furious backlash at home for caving in to US pressure, may introduce a new version.
And then there are the G20 summits, Obama's highest profile multilateral engagements. At the April meeting in London, it seemed for a moment there might be some kind of co-ordinated attempt to rein in transnational financial speculators and tax dodgers. Sarkozy even pledged to walk out of the summit if it failed to produce serious regulatory commitments. But the Obama administration had no interest in genuine multilateralism, advocating instead that countries should come up with their own plans (or not) and hope for the best . much like its reckless climate-change plan. Sarkozy, needless to say, did not walk anywhere but to the photo session, to have his picture taken with Obama.
Of course, Obama has made some good moves on the world stage . like not siding with the Honduras coup government, or supporting a UN women's agency. But a clear pattern has emerged: in areas where other rich nations were teetering between principled action and negligence, US interventions have tilted them toward negligence. If this is the new era of multilateralism, it is no prize.
Naomi Klein is the award-winning author of the international bestseller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies
The Guardian, Friday 16 October 2009