Chomsky Interview: Same Terror, New Target

Ulhas Joglekar uvj at
Sun Sep 23 20:20:12 MDT 2001

The Times of India


Same Terror, New Target

Noam Chomsky, professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder
of modern linguistic science, has consistently been a vocal critic of
America's foreign policy.

In an interview aired recently on Radio B92, Belgrade, Chomsky spoke about
the recent attacks in the US and America's response to it. Excerpts:

Why do you think these attacks happened?

Osama bin Laden and his "Afghanis" turned against the US in 1990 when they
established permanent bases in Saudi Arabia. It was, from his point of view,
a counterpart to the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, but far more
significant because of Saudi Arabia's special status as the guardian of the
holiest of shrines.

Osama bin Laden is also bitterly opposed to the corrupt and repressive
regimes of the region, which he regards as un-Islamic, including the Saudi
Arabian regime, the most extreme Islamic fundamentalist regime in the world,
apart from the Taliban, and a close US ally since its origins.

Bin Laden despises the US for its support to these regimes. Like others in
the region, he is also outraged by long-standing US support for Israel's
brutal military occupation, now in its 35th year and the decade-long
US-British assault against the civilian population of Iraq, which has
devastated the society and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths while
strengthening Saddam Hussein -- who was a favoured friend and ally of the US
and Britain right through his worst atrocities, including the gassing of the

Among the great majority of people suffering deep poverty and oppression,
similar sentiments are far more bitter, and are the source of the fury and
despair that has led to suicide bombings. The US, and much of the West,
prefers a more comforting story.

The escalating cycle of violence is typically welcomed by the harshest and
most brutal elements on both sides, a fact evident enough from the recent
history of the Balkans, for example.

What consequences will this cycle of violence have on US inner policy?

US policy has already been officially announced. The world is being offered
a ``stark choice'': join us, or ``face the certain prospect of death and

Congress has authorised the use of force against any individuals or
countries the president determines to be involved in the attacks, a doctrine
that every supporter regards as ultra-criminal.

That is easily demonstrated. Simply ask how the same people would have
reacted if Nicaragua had adopted this doctrine after the US had rejected the
orders of the World Court to terminate its ``unlawful use of force'' against
Nicaragua and had vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on all states
to observe international law.

And that terrorist attack was far more severe and destructive even than this

Do you expect the US to profoundly change its policy towards the rest of the

The initial response was to call for intensifying the policies that led to
the fury and resentment that provides the background of support for the
terrorist attack, and to pursue more intensively the agenda of the most hard
line elements of the leadership: increased militarisation, domestic
regimentation, attack on social programmes. That is all to be expected.

Again, terror attacks, and the escalating cycle of violence they often
engender, tend to reinforce the authority and prestige of the most harsh and
repressive elements of a society. But there is nothing inevitable about
submission to this course.

After the first shock, came fear of what the US answer is going to be. Are
you afraid, too?

Every sane person should be afraid of the likely reaction -- the one that
has already been announced, the one that probably answers Bin Laden's

It is highly likely to escalate the cycle of violence, in the familiar way,
but in this case on a far greater scale. The US has already demanded that
Pakistan terminate the food and other supplies that are keeping at least
some of the starving and suffering people of Afghanistan alive.

If that demand is implemented, unknown number of people who have not the
remotest connection to terrorism will die, possibly millions.

The US has demanded that Pakistan kill possibly millions of people who are
themselves victims of the Taliban. This has nothing to do even with revenge.

It is at a far lower moral level even than that. The significance is
heightened by the fact that this is mentioned in passing, with no comment,
and probably will hardly be noticed.

I think we can be reasonably confident that if the American population had
the slightest idea of what is being done in their name, they would be
utterly appalled. It would be instructive to seek historical precedents.

If Pakistan does submit to US demands, it is not impossible that the
government will be overthrown by forces much like the Taliban who in this
case will have nuclear weapons.

That could have an effect throughout the region, including the oil producing
states. At this point we are considering the possibility of a war that may
destroy much of human society.

Even if Bin Laden is killed, it will make little difference. His voice will
be heard on cassettes that are distributed throughout the Islamic world, and
he is likely to be revered as a martyr, inspiring others.

It is worth bearing in mind that one suicide bombing -- a truck driven into
a US military base -- drove the world's major military force out of Lebanon
20 years ago.

Can the world be the same after September 11?

The horrendous terrorist attacks on Tuesday are something quite new in world
affairs, not in their scale and character, but in the target. For the US,
this is the first time since the War of 1812 that its national territory has
been under attack, even threat.

Its colonies have been attacked, but not the national territory itself.
During these years the US virtually exterminated the indigenous population,
conquered half of Mexico, intervened violently in the surrounding region,
conquered Hawaii and the Philippines (killing hundreds of thousands of
Filipinos), and in the past half century particularly, extended its resort
to force throughout much of the world.

The number of victims is colossal. For the first time, the guns have been
directed the other way.

This is a novel event in world history, not because of the scale of the
atrocity -- regrettably -- but because of the target. How the West chooses
to react is a matter of supreme importance.

If the rich and powerful choose to keep to their traditions of hundreds of
years and resort to extreme violence, they will contribute to the escalation
of a cycle of violence, with long-term consequences that could be awesome.
Of course, that is by no means inevitable.

An aroused public within the more free and democratic societies can direct
policies towards a much more humane and honourable course.

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