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2 Chomsky interviews

radged | 02.10.2003 20:14

2 interviews with Noam Chomsky posted today by ZNet. To get free ZNet updates by Chomsky, Pilger, Zinn, Herman, Monbiot, Roy and many, many others check:

Sabahattin Atas Interviews Noam Chomsky

1. In many of your writings and speech you describe Israel like a terrorist country. I read once you had lived for a while at kibbutzs in the "A Life Of A Dissent". What was the reason for such a preference? In addition to this how do you evaluate the legitimate (recognition) problem of Israel in terms of world public opinion exclusively Islamic countries?

I do not remember actually calling Israel a "terrorist country," though it certainly engages in actions of a kind that we call "terrorism" and "aggression," among other crimes, when perpetrated by official enemies.

It is important to bear in mind that the term "terrorism" is commonly used as a term of abuse, not accurate description. There are official definitions of "terrorism", for example, those of the US and British governments, which are quite similar. Bu they are not used, because they do not distinguish between good and bad varieties of terrorism. That distinction is determined by the agent of the crime, not its character. It is close to a historical universal that our terrorism against them is right and just (whoever we happen to be), while their terrorism against us is an outrage. As long as that practice is adopted, discussion of terrorism is not serious. It is no more than a form of propaganda and apologetics.

If we use the term in accord with its official definitions, then, uncontroversially, Israel (like the US, Britain, Turkey, and others) is a terrorist state by the standards we apply to official enemies. Scale and character of course varies from case to case, but none of it is attractive, to put it mildly.

I lived briefly in a kibbutz 50 years ago -- and, in fact, thought seriously about staying there. I was very much attracted by the style of life and the form of social organization, though not without serious reservations. I also had an intimate personal involvement, from early childhood, in the social movements of which the kibbutzim were a part. These movements were opposed to establishment of a Jewish state, but within the Zionist movement of the pre-State era.

On the matter of legitimacy and recognition, once the State of Israel was established in 1948, my feeling has been that it should have the rights of any state in the international system: no more, no less. That includes, specifically, the right to live in peace and security within its recognized international borders, understood to be the pre-June 1967 borders, with minor and mutual adjustments. These rights have been recognized by a very broad international consensus since the mid-1970s, including the major Arab states. The US and Israel, virtually alone, have opposed the international consensus since the mid-1970s, and still do. Since the mid-1970s the US has vetoed Security Council resolutions calling for a two-state settlement on the international border with full recognition of the rights of Israel and a new Palestinian state, has regularly voted against General Assembly resolutions to this effect (along with Israel, sometimes one or another dependency), and blocked other diplomatic efforts seeking to achieve this goal. The only US-Israel proposals, all informal, require that the Palestinian territories be broken up effectively into several cantons, virtually separated from one another and from some small part of Jerusalem, the center of Palestinian cultural and economic life. Something similar is projected, also without formal declaration, in the Gaza Strip. Jewish settlements and enormous infrastructure projects proceeded without a break right through the period of the Oslo "peace process," establishing these "facts on the ground" while talk continued, taking control of the scarce water resources and much of the valuable land. They still continue, at an accelerating pace. The US and Israel have demanded further that Palestinians not only recognize Israel's rights as a state in the international system, but that they also recognize Israel's abstract "right to exist," a concept that has no place in international law or diplomacy, and a right claimed by no one. In effect, the US and Israel are demanding that Palestinians not only recognize Israel in the normal fashion of interstate relations, but also formally accept the legitimacy of their expulsion from their own land. They cannot be expected to accept that, just as Mexico does not grant the US the "right to exist" on half of Mexico's territory, gained by conquest. We do not have sufficient archival evidence to be confident, but I suspect that this demand was contrived to bar the possibility of a political settlement in accord with the international consensus that the US and Israel have rejected for 30 years.

But to repeat, Israel and a new Palestinian state should be accorded the rights of all states in the international system, no more, no less. That option will soon be excluded, if the US and Israel continue to carry out the development projects in the occupied territories in such a way as to render the Palestinian region a "permanent neo-colonial dependency" -- the goal of the "peace process," according to Prime Minister Ehud Barak's chief negotiator. Many Israeli and Palestinian analysts are coming to regard those developments as irreversible, in which case an entirely new situation emerges.

2. What do you think about the road map USA wants to put in life among Israel and Palestine? For some it is only an attempt to propitiate (ateno for) the Arabs for the USA's Iraq occupation. How real can this claim be?

I have written about it elsewhere, can cannot repeat the details here. In brief, the "road map" of the Quartet (Europe, Russia, the UN, the US) requires Palestinians to terminate all forms of resistance to the Israeli military occupation, but is sufficiently vague in other respects so that the US-funded Israeli settlement and development programs in the occupied territories can proceed, guided only by President Bush's "vision," which remains unspecified. The nature of these programs suggests an outcome that resembles to the establishment of "homelands" for the black population by the apartheid regime of South Africa 40 years ago, a comparison often drawn in Israeli commentary. The US blocked the release of the "road map" for some time, finally releasing it, one may plausibly conjecture, as part of its efforts to reduce the enormous opposition to its invasion of Iraq by appearing to offer something to the Palestinians.

3. In your opinion, what are the plans of America for Iraq and the future of Middle East? How will the situation effect the Middle East if America is exposed to the same, which was in Vietnam, also in Iraq? May the Middle East get more confused or may a calmness take place?

The US presumably seeks to establish a powerful position right at the heart of the world's major reserves of energy, thereby strengthening its control over this "stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history," as the State Department described the Gulf region at the end of World War II. Formal democracy in Iraq and elsewhere would be acceptable, even preferable, if only for public relations purposes. But if history is any guide, it will be the kind of democracy that the US has tolerated within its own regional domains for a century. Here the US has sought to bring about democratic change but only if it is restricted to "limited, top-down forms of democratic change that did not risk upsetting the traditional structures of power with which the United States has long been allied," maintaining "the basic order of quite undemocratic societies"; I am quoting Thomas Carothers, a Latin America scholar and an official of the Reagan administration who worked in its "democracy enhancement" programs. The historical record amply supports that judgment, in the Middle East as well. The rich and instructive historical record will be disregarded only by those who have blind faith in powerful states. And of course the US is by no means alone in these practices.

There is little likelihood, I think, of the kind of resistance that the US faced in Vietnam, under very different circumstances and at a different historical moment. The long-term effects may be to stimulate terror, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and general turmoil, much as Western intelligence agencies and many analysts among the foreign policy elite have predicted. But human affairs are not predictable with any confidence: too much depends on will and choice.

4. According to the common opinion in the world is it the turn of Iran after Iraq, do you think it is turn of Iran?

Iraq was an appropriate target because it was completely defenseless, having been reduced to the edge of survival by a decade of murderous sanctions, primarily targeting the civilian population, with a toll of hundreds of thousands dead by conservative estimate, and leaving most of the country in ruins. This followed brutal and destructive wars and horrendous internal terror, most of it with the backing of the US and Britain, including those now running Washington, facts regularly suppressed. Iraq had also been virtually disarmed by rigorous inspections, and such limited defenses as it had were destroyed by regular US-UK bombing attacks. By the time of the invasion, Iraq was one of the weakest states of the region, with military expenditures about a third those of tiny Kuwait and far below the US allies in the region, let alone the US and its British client. It is astonishing that there has been any resistance at all. Iran is a different story. It is, I think, unlikely that the US will invade Iran, though it will presumably continue to try to isolate it and perhaps to undermine it from within.

5. There are some evidences that a Kurdish State will be established in the Northern Iraq with the pioneering of America and Israel. Do you agree with this ?

I think that is extremely unlikely. Israel can do very little without US authorization, and the US does not want to see a Kurdish state established, under current circumstances.

6. As you know the second memorandum which would let American troops pass through Turkey was rejected in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and Turkey didn't join the invasion of Iraq with America. Can this be the begining of the cold term relationships between America and Turkey as it is widely claimed?

Washington and US elites were infuriated that the Turkish government took the same position as 95% of the population rather than following orders. The influential Pentagon planner Paul Wolfowitz even went so far as to condemn the Turkish military for its weakness in permitting the government to conform to the will of the population. This was one element of an extraordinary demonstration of bitter of hatred and contempt for democracy, without any counterpart that I can recall. Attitudes towards democracy were also demonstrated with unusual clarity in the distinction that was drawn between "Old Europe" and "New Europe," the former bitterly condemned, the latter praised. The distinguishing criterion was sharp and clear: the governments of "Old Europe" took the same stand as the great majority of their populations, and were therefore reviled; the leaders of "New Europe" overrode even larger majorities (as in Spain and Italy) and took their orders from Crawford Texas, and were therefore hailed for their courage and grand qualities. Meanwhile media and intellectuals were proclaiming their deep commitment to democracy and intentions of establishing it throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. This has been a most remarkable performance. George Orwell would have observed it with astonishment. To anyone capable of thinking, the performance explains rather clearly what "democracy" means in the elite intellectual culture in the US (and the West generally): democracy is fine, as long as you do what we we say.

The lesson in democracy that Turkey taught to the US is deeply resented by US elites, and may elicit retaliation, but that alone is unlikely to lead to a significant cooling of relations. However, many other processes are underway. The worldwide US military basing system has always been oriented in large measure towards the Middle East oil-producing region, and in the last few years the US has been positioning military bases nearer to that region. European military bases are being shifted from Central Europe to the east, to former Russian satellites. The Afghan war provided the US with new military bases in Afghanistan and Central Asia. And if the US can consolidate its control over Iraq, it will be able to establish reliable military bases right at the heart of the oil producing region for the first time. Previously, the closest reliable base was in the island of Diego Garcia, a British possession from which the population was expelled, and not permitted to return, despite the orders of the British Courts, a situation that is not unfamiliar in Diyarbakir. Iraqi bases will lessen Washington's dependence on the Turkish basing system that has been a core feature of the US-Turkey military alliance. Furthermore, Turkey has independent reasons to improve relations with Iran -- in many ways a natural trading partner. These are steps that the US will strongly oppose, as long as Iran retains some measure of independence. There are many possible sources of tension.

7. In one of your interviews you had talked about a local media and you had added that " if I did not see this with my eyes I would never believe this." Do you think that the same local media movements belong to the public can be formed in other parts of the world? Or otherwise was that movement only special to Brazilia? Because as you know like -in the example of Port Alegro -Brazilia has an exceptional place on earth.

The popular media I observed were not in Porto Alegre, but in huge suburban slums outside Rio de Janeiro. And they were quite remarkable. If these achievements were possible under such conditions, they could be duplicated in many other places. What is required is energy, will, commitment. It is never easy. Every repressive society has its own barriers to freedom and justice. But what has been achieved in Brazil is impressive, just as the struggle for human and civil rights in Turkey is truly inspiring. In many respects I know of nothing like it elsewhere. Every place on earth can be truly exceptional in its own ways.

8. You have mentioned that in your second conversation in Diyarbakýr. "Once, on the one hand I was opposing the American State policies on the other hand I used to work at the projects which were financed by Pentagon in my University. So they used to pay my salary." If we evaluate the subject from this point; How must be the relationship between an intellectual and a University where is the one of the place in which the system renews itself. Because there is not 'a paradoxal democracy perspective' in the other most of the world countries and much time the intellectual may choose to hide his truths for his sake.

Intellectuals can choose to hide their beliefs and to serve power, or they can follow the model of prominent writers, artists, journalists, publishers, academics and others in Turkey and stand up courageously for freedom and justice. There are rewards for conformity and often punishment for honesty and decency, varying in ways that reflect the nature of the society. That is true for slaves, and for everyone else. Because many people throughout history have resisted these pressures, humanity has been able to move to a higher plane of existence -- slowly, painfully, with frequent regression, but over time with unmistakable progress. There are no general formulas I know of that can be simply applied. And there is no reason to believe that the process has come to an end, or, for that matter, that it ever will.

9. It is claimed that Turkey is successful about securalization, democratization and the process of the securalization, and it is believed to be a good model for the other Muslim countries. What do you think about this?

Turkey has been successful in some ways, and has seriously failed in others. I am in no position to hand out grades for good and bad behavior. It is for the people of Turkey to make their country a model that others may seek to follow, insofar as it is appropriate for them.

10. For the last, May I have a general evaluation of Your feelings, thoughts about Diyarbakýr and the time you Passed in Diyarbakýr?

Visiting Diyarbakir several times last year was a very moving experience. Though the visits were unfortunately very brief, I was able to meet quite a range of people, including human rights activists, students, political leaders, writers, families living in caves outside the city walls, many others, and to get at least a little sense of life in the semi-official capital of the Kurdish regions. I had a glimpse of another element of the same tragedy and heroism in the miserable slums of Istanbul where Kurdish refugees try to survive in tiny rooms in condemned buildings, and to create a life for themselves with the little they have, awaiting a chance to return to their destroyed villages in peace. The bravery of people who have suffered gravely, and their dedication to gain their rights and their freedom, is a remarkable tribute to what the human spirit can endure, and to achieve. To be able to share even a bare moment with them is a wonderful gift, which I will always cherish, along with others, among them a Kurdish dictionary with a touching inscription given to me by students at a public meeting, one of many acts of great courage and principle that I was privileged to witness. These are truly unforgettable experiences. I hope to be able to return in happier times, when the just demands of the Kurdish people are coming to be fully realized.

Estonian newspaper Eesti Ekspress
Argo Riistan Interviews Noam Chomsky

1. Considering all the circumstances, what is your opinion on the US plan to bring democracy and peace to Middle East, starting with Iraq?

The question is based on a presupposition: that the US plans to bring democracy and peace to the Middle East. The presupposition is partially correct. US planners surely do hope to bring peace, but so does everyone; even Hitler hoped to establish peace. The question always is: On what terms? The same is true of democracy; Stalin and his cohorts, even in internal discussion (now available in released archives), called for protecting "true democracy" from Western attack. The question always is: What kind of democracy? To answer this question for the Kremlin, we look at their record in the regions under their control. Similarly, in the US case, the rational way to proceed is to investigate the record of the past century, until today, in the regions that have been under US control.

And the answers are quite unambiguous. As the more honest advocates of "democracy projects" recognize, the US has sought to bring about democratic change, as long as it was "limited, top-down forms of democratic change that did not risk upsetting the traditional structures of power with which the United States has long been allied," maintaining "the basic order of quite undemocratic societies" (Thomas Carothers, Latin America scholar and official in the Reagan administration's "democracy enhancement" programs).

The historical record amply supports that judgment, in the Middle East as well. The conclusion is confirmed further by the display of brazen hatred for democracy in the past few months, which has no counterpart that I can recall. Attitudes towards democracy were demonstrated with unusual clarity in the distinction drawn between "Old Europe" and "New Europe," the former bitterly condemned, the latter praised. The distinguishing criterion was sharp and clear: the governments of "Old Europe" took the same stand as the great majority of their populations, and were therefore reviled; the leaders of "New Europe" overrode even larger majorities (as in Spain and Italy) and took their orders from Crawford Texas, and were therefore hailed for their courage and grand qualities.

Paul Wolfowitz, hailed as the "visionary" who seeks to bring democracy to the Middle East, denounced the Turkish military because they permitted the parliamentary government to follow the will of 95% of the population, instead of intervening by force to ensure that Turkey would "help Americans," and called on them to apologize for this shocking failure. It takes real discipline not to perceive what all of this means. Fortunately, the intellectual classes are well-disciplined, so it all passes in silence.

Like British and French rulers in their day in the sun, the US will be happy to establish formal democracy in Iraq and elsewhere, as long as proper discipline is maintained. And there are many ways to ensure that "democracy" will keep to its assigned path: by force, by economic strangulation under the neoliberal regimes designed this purpose, or in other ways.

History is of course not science. It is possible that some dramatic change will take place, for which not the slightest evidence exists -- apart from the noble rhetoric of leaders and the acclaim of their acolytes. But dramatic change can be expected only by those who prefer blind faith to rationality and the evidence of history.

2. A common opinion is that since the US is a dominating power it should continue it's current foreign policy and stay in the business of managing the affairs of other countries. Do you agree with that? How, in your opinion, should the US do that?

The opinion is a very strange one. By the same logic, one could have argued at one time that Stalin and Hitler should "stay in the business of managing the affairs" of the countries subject to their rule, and then ask "how should they do that"? For those who regard freedom, democracy, and elementary justice as ideals worth upholding, the question simply does not arise.

3. New countries, including Estonia, are about to join the NATO and EU. What kind of an impact do you expect this expansion to have on the future of these organizations?

That is a choice for the people of Estonia and other new members. US planners and elites have made it reasonably clear what they hope the impact will be. As the Western business press has explained with much joy, they expect that Eastern Europe will provide cheap and disciplined labor that will undermine the hated European social market system, enabling business leaders and governments to "hammer away at high wages and corporate taxes, short working hours, labor immobility, and luxurious social programs" and to impose the US-UK model of low wages and benefits, the longest working hours of the industrial world, and other such "market reforms" that are resisted by the "pampered" workers of the West.

In the political sphere, US planners hope that Eastern Europe will be more subordinate to Washington's will, and will serve as a "Trojan Horse" that will impede European moves towards an independent role in world affairs. That is a concern shared by Washington and Moscow during the Cold War years. For the US, it persists, and now extends to Northeast Asia as well. But the answer to the question is for the people of the "new countries" to provide.

4. There have been several serious diplomatic and political crashes between the governments of European countries and the US government. What can be done in order to improve the relationships between Europe and the US?

We have to begin by identify the basis for these clashes. The US leadership and intellectual classes (including elite media) are bitterly resentful that the governments of "Old Europe" -- that is, the industrial and financial heartland of Europe -- did not assist the US in pursuing its goals. Relations will improve, from this point of view, if Europe recognizes its responsibility to follow Washington's lead. "Old Europe" sees the matter differently. Its governments joined the vast majority of the population of Europe, and the rest of the world (insofar as evidence exists), in objecting to the Bush administration declaration in September 2002, in its National Security Strategy, that it intended to control the world indefinitely, by force if necessary; and in objecting to the exemplary action selected to establish that "new norm in international relations," the invasion of Iraq.

Like most of the rest of the world, Europeans also objected to the Bush administration's dismissal of international institutions and international law, and its undermining of treaties designed to reduce threats of destruction that are quite serious: the Kyoto Protocols, the Biological Weapons Convention against Germ Warfare, bans on militarization of space, crucial arms control agreements, and so on.

There are more long-standing concerns, for example, those expressed lucidly by Henry Kissinger 30 years ago when he addressed Europeans during the "Year of Europe," advising them that they must keep to "regional interests" within an "overall framework of order" managed by the United States. These are real differences, not to be wished away. They can be overcome, but only by dedicated commitment of people who care about the world that they are leaving to their grandchildren.

5. Do you have any predictions about the results of 2004 Presidential election in the United States?

The incumbents have great advantages, primarily overwhelming financial resources, thanks to the gifts they have showered on the wealthy and powerful. They also have the ability to conjure up threats to frighten the population, with the support of the loyal media. And other advantages as well. However, they face serious problems. Their domestic programs are highly unpopular. That is not surprising. The programs are designed to create what economists call a "fiscal train wreck," by vast increases in government spending (benefiting largely the wealthy, often under the pretext of "defense") and sharp tax cuts primarily for the very rich.

Vast unpayable bills, they assume, will enable them to "starve the beast," to borrow the rhetoric of their first tenure in power during the Reagan years; the present incumbents are largely drawn from the more reactionary jingoist sectors of the Reagan and Bush Senior administrations. Their phrase "starve the beast" refers to the openly-declared intention to undermine government services that benefit the general population: the limited health care programs that exist, social security, schools, etc.

But these policies are, naturally, opposed by the general population, just as they were during the Reagan years; Reagan ended up being the most unpopular living president, ranking alongside of Nixon. There is only one known way to hold political power under such circumstances: press the panic button. And at least in the short term, it often works, as many other unscrupulous leaders have understood throughout history. During the Reagan years, the population was regularly frightened by a series of concocted demons: Libyan hit-men wandering the streets of Washington, trying to assassinate the bold cowboy leader barricaded in the White House; an air base in Grenada that the Russians could use to bomb us (if they could find it on the map); the grave threat of the Nicaraguans only "two-days driving time" from Texas; black rapists in the streets; hispanic narcotraffickers; and on, and on. The same measures are adopted today.

The vast propaganda campaign initiated in September 2002 succeeded quickly in convincing Americans that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to their existence and that he was responsible for the 9-11 atrocities, beliefs held nowhere else in the world, even in Kuwait and Iran, brutally attacked by Saddam. How long such will work, no one can predict. There have always been strong and healthy currents of independence of thought and resentment of illegitimate authority among the general population, and they constantly reveal themselves in unanticipated ways. A great deal is uncertain -- meaning, subject to will and choice.

6. You and Susan Sontag were two intellectuals seriously attacked because of your statements after the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. Were you surprised? What do you think caused these furious reactions?

It is a familiar experience for me, or for anyone who does not reflexively line up in the service of power, not just in the United States but almost everywhere, and throughout history. Why should there be any surprise?


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