Chomsky article from todays irish times (1 Viewer)

P. Littbarski

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Civilised voice of US dissent

Writer and academic Noam Chomsky has been a thorn in the side of US government foreign policy for over 40 years. Recently honoured by UCD, he discusses some of his controversial ideas with Johnny Ryan.

Noam Chomsky joined the ranks of Séamus Heaney, John Hume and Mick McCarthy last week when he was awarded Honorary Fellowship by the Literary and Historical Society at UCD. This newest Honorary Fellow is doubly famous: as America's most outspoken political dissenter, and as the professor of linguistics at Boston's MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) who redefined his discipline at the age of 29 with "generative grammar".

His acceptance speech, delivered in a dull monotone voice, was transmitted via satellite to UCD direct from MIT. Chomsky said that the current war on terror is merely a resumption of a 20-year-old political ploy. The "recycled Reaganites" who compose Bush's cabinet had promoted similar national hysteria in the Reagan and Bush Senior administrations.

Chomsky cited the recent congressional elections in which Bush raised the spectre of Iraq in October to convince voters (who had preferred Democratic economic and social policy in polls) to vote for the security conscious Republicans. He recalled with dry wit that the Reagan administration had whipped up national hysteria two decades previously by warning that "Nicaragua is only two days marching time from Texas."

Chomsky's recent book, 9-11, is a collection of his interviews with publications around the world immediately following September 11th, 2001. It reflects his earlier works on US policy, examining the grievances of America's attackers. Central to Chomsky's outlook is the need to trace the causes of terrorism that originate from within America.

Henry Kissinger, recently appointed by President Bush to head an 18-month inquiry into 9-11, once said that only undergraduates took the moralist Noam Chomsky seriously. In interview, I asked Chomsky how he responded to Kissinger, his antithesis. "Not at all, of course. Random insults tell us something about the person who issues them, but do not otherwise merit attention." He recalled that his own students could "hardly keep a straight face" when reading Kissinger's academic essays.

According to Chomsky, a long-term cause of 9-11 was America's dependence upon massive military expenditure and global strength. At the end of the second World War, the US was in a position to "organise most of the world in the interests of domestic power and privilege". After the war, American leaders "expected a return to the depression unless the government continued to intervene massively in the economy. Social spending would have the right economic impact, but with a downside: it has a redistributive effect and stimulates democratic participation. Military spending has none of these defects, and can be kept high as long as the population is frightened by one hobgoblin or another. These matters were discussed quite frankly in the business press in the 1940's."

The role of military expenditure and global prowess in American prosperity continues up to the present: "The famous 'new economy', for example, has relied critically on the dynamic state sector of the economy, mostly under military pretexts. And of course, what is euphemistically called 'stability' in the world also requires a very visible iron fist."

This "iron fist" has not been without its objectors - Mary Robinson among them. On December 17th next, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be the next recipient of the L&H Honorary Fellowship. Her decision not to stand for re-election has been attributed to US ire following her consistent condemnation of US policies. This, Chomsky suggests, was to be expected. "It is rare for the powerful to tolerate criticism. One is supposed to worship at the shrine, not raise embarrassing questions. Boutros-Ghali was treated the same way, for the same reasons. Same with the World Court, or anyone else who fails to see the light: the International Criminal Court, to take a recent example, in which Washington's demands are approaching the level of farce. Same with domestic critics, if they cannot simply be ignored".

Though an atheist, Chomsky has lauded the Catholic Church's defence of human rights in Latin America in the 1980's.

While the Church in the US may be suffering publicly now following revelations of sexual abuse, Chomsky maintains that that counts for little against the less known toll of the war that the Church fought in Latin America against the US government in the 1980s. Church-sanctioned paedophilia may lead to some prison sentences, but the Church's defence of human rights in opposition to US policies abroad incurred "torture, death squads, mass murder and destruction. Whatever the effect of the recent scandals may be, it will be slight in comparison to what has come before."

One of Chomsky's chief concerns is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. While highly critical of hard line Israeli policy (for which he is often dubbed a "self-hating Jew" by critics) he cites US unilateralism and disregard for international organisations as a principal impasse to peace. He recalls that as early as 1976, the UN Security Council mulled a resolution to resolve the conflict that was "supported by Europe, the Soviet bloc, the non-aligned countries, the Arab states and the PLO; virtually the entire world. The US vetoed the resolution. The reason is that it called for a peaceful settlement on the internationally recognised border, with a Palestinian state alongside Israel. When the US vetoes a resolution, it is doubly vetoed: it is vetoed from history as well." Israel too was to blame: "Israel refused an invitation to attend the session; its UN Ambassador, Chaim Herzog, denounced the resolution as an extremist initiative of the PLO (which is nonsense, but reflects the attitudes of the doves)."

Chomsky highlights the hypocrisy of US support for Israel. "Pre-Clinton, the US officially sustained its formal position calling for Israeli withdrawal to the internationally recognised border, but that was mostly hypocrisy, since Washington continued to provide the crucial military, economic and diplomatic support for the military occupation - which has been harsh and brutal - and for integration of the valuable land and most of the resources of the territories within Israel."

Meanwhile, Palestinians were to "live like dogs" as Israeli general and politician Moshe Dayan put it 30 years ago, with no opportunity for independent development or political rights. The hypocrisy ended with Clinton, who abandoned even the formal commitment to Israeli withdrawal.

"That continues to the present, with some changes. Camp David did represent a softening of the US-Israel position. At the time, Palestinians in the West Bank were divided into over 200 cantons, most of them tiny, and the Clinton-Barak proposals reduced the number to three, virtually separated from one another and from the centre of Palestinian cultural and commercial life in East Jerusalem; and of course Gaza."

CHOMSKY believes that Washington bears the most responsibility for the continued conflict between the Arabs and Israelis. "It's not surprising that Israel continues to pursue these policies, as long as the US provides the means and the support. The core of the problem has been in Washington, and remains there. At any point in the past 25 years, the US could have joined the international consensus it has been blocking and paved the way towards a meaningful political settlement. The longer the conflict goes on, the more that fear and bitterness escalate, the harder it becomes to move towards sensible resolution. Ireland has had some experience in such matters."

I asked Chomsky about his legacy: "As for my own role for the past 40 years, I have no illusions about it. Virtually all of it is in connection with popular organisations and activists who are doing the really important work, and whose names will not be known to history. As long as their engagement continues - forever, I expect - there will be plenty of people to join in the manner I have tried to do."

Much like Woody Allen - to whom he does not look dissimilar - Noam Chomsky is far better appreciated in Europe than in America. The L&H's decision to honour Chomsky, and the recent Michael Moore-mania that struck following the release of Bowling for Columbine, evoke some thoughts about the future of the American left. While Michael Moore shares many of Chomsky's views, he is an American prophet accepted by his own people. Moore is Chomsky without the footnote, but with the couch potato manner.

Moore, the angry slob, is the ideal inheritor of Chomsky's banner.
 

silo

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em...

is it just me, or is that article really sloppily written, going by the irish times' usual standards?
 

steve albino

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If it's you then we're both in the same boat. A man who has been described as "arguably the most important intellectual alive" has an heir who made "Canadian Bacon".
Sloppy Irish fucking bandwagon jumping head up their arse Times...
Pricks.
 

silo

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oh. you mean michael moore. yes, i thought that was a somewhat incongruous note to end on.
 

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