CULTURE

Chomsky takes on ‘power and terror’ issue

Although it is not a unified and systematic exposition of his thought, «Power and Terror: Post 9/11 Talks and Interviews» contains all the elements that have come to classify Noam Chomsky as an intellectual maverick who challenges conventional thinking. In America, that is. Once again, Chomsky offers an uncompromising critique of US arm-twisting and double standards in foreign policy – most crucially at a time when patriotism is the order of the day. Based on a series of public talks and conversations that the author gave in the United States during the spring of 2002, the book, which has just been published in Greek by Patakis (173 pages), offers a succinct, sometimes revealing, but mostly unprocessed discussion of power and terror. Fragmented as the content of the volume may be – mainly because of the nature of its material – there are certain recurrent themes that illustrate or enhance Chomsky’s worldview. Starting from the premise that all humans mostly share the same genetic characteristics, Chomsky argues that there must be some universal principles that are applicable to all human beings – most evidently the rule that one should apply to oneself the same standards that one demands of others. Again, Chomsky saves most of his wrath for the United States. He draws on the history of US or US-backed interventions around the globe, such as in Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, Sudan and Turkey, in order to expose Washington’s alleged hypocrisy and double standards. All these foreign interventions, he says, fall under the official US definition of terrorism. «That is, when Americans apply the term to enemies,» he explains. But for Chomsky, exercising violence against civilian populations is a form of terror regardless of whether the perpetrator is a band of Islamic extremists or the world’s superpower. Being one of the most famous exponents of leftist and structuralist critique, Chomsky places burgeoning anti-US sentiment and terrorist attacks in the context of Washington’s postwar interventionism in Latin America, Vietnam and the Middle East, as well as US hypocrisy on the Palestinian issue. In effect, he views the terrorist blitz of September 11 in the US as the inescapable nemesis against what he has described as «a leading terrorist state.» America’s reflex to clamp down on the so-called «axis of evil» only functions as an incubator for future extremists. If you want to get rid of mosquitoes, Chomsky says, you must first drain the swamp. That, he says, includes respecting the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and giving them their own state. Yet he sees little hope of a US-brokered settlement: «The United States is carrying out something called a ‘peace process.’ A peace process, by definition, means whatever the United States is doing. For the last 30 years, the peace process has been the United States undermining peace.» The author is a professor in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He has written prolifically and participated in many debates on international affairs, politics, linguistics and intellectual history. Despite his being viewed as an un-American pundit from Leftistan by conservative circles, Chomsky’s books (such as «9/11» and «Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media») tend to feature on best-seller lists. In the US, «Power and Terror» was launched along with a documentary by John Junkerman titled «Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in Our Times.» As in previous work, Chomsky remains optimistic that the world will become a better place. But given America’s unmatched power, he says, resistance can only come from within. The key to overcome the current impasse is public awareness. Only an informed public can break the crust of consent built up by the mainstream political, media and intellectual elite. He sees no need of speaking truth to power: «First of all, power already knows the truth. They don’t need to hear it from us. Secondly, it’s a waste of time. Furthermore, it’s the wrong audience. You have to speak truth to the people who will dismantle and overthrow and constrain power. Furthermore, I don’t like the phrase ‘speak truth to.’ We don’t know the truth. At least I don’t.»