By Saad Sayeed
10/26/06 "Excalibur" -- -- Known in academic circles for his
contribution to the field of linguistics, MIT professor Noam
Chomsky is widely recognized as one of the most influential
political dissidents of our time. In this interview, Chomsky
talks about the roots of terrorism and the role of the
intellectual in society.
"The problem lies in the unwillingness to recognise that your
own terrorism is terrorism"
Excalibur (Ex): How important is an understanding of the role of
states such as the U.S. and the U.K. when examining the question
Chomsky (Ch): It depends on whether we want to be honest and
truthful or whether we want to just serve state power ( . . . )
We should look at all forms of terrorism.
I have been writing on terrorism for 25 years, ever since the
Reagan administration came in 1981 and declared that the leading
focus of its foreign policy was going to be a war on terror. A
war against state directed terrorism which they called the
plague of the modern world because of their barbarism and so on.
That was the centre of their foreign policy and ever since I
have been writing about terrorism.
But what I write causes extreme anger for the very simple reason
that I use the U.S. government's official definition of
terrorism from the official U.S. code of laws. If you use that
definition, it follows very quickly that the U.S. is the leading
terrorist state and a major sponsor of terrorism and since that
conclusion is unacceptable, it arouses furious anger. But the
problem lies in the unwillingness to recognize that your own
terrorism is terrorism. This is not just true of the United
States, it's true quite generally. Terrorism is something that
they do to us. In both cases, it's terrorism and we have to get
over that if we're serious about the question.
Ex: In 1979, Russia invades Afghanistan. The U.S. uses the Ziaul
Haq regime in Pakistan to fund the rise of militancy. This gives
Zia a green light to fund cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. Now
we allegedly have some of those elements setting off bombs in
Mumbai. Clearly, these groups are no longer controlled by any
Ch: The jihadi movements in their modern form go back before
Afghanistan. They were formed primarily in Egypt in the 1970s.
Those are the roots of the jihadi movement, the intellectual
roots and the activist roots and the terrorism too.
But when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, the Regan
administration saw it as an opportunity to pursue their Cold War
aims. So they did with the intense cooperation of Pakistan and
Saudi Arabia and others ( . . . ) so the Reagan administration
organized the most radical Islamic extremists it could find
anywhere in the world and brought them to Afghanistan to train
them, arm them.
Meanwhile, the U.S. supported Ziaul Haq as he was turning
Pakistan into a country full of madrassahs and fundamentalists.
The Reagan administration even ( . . . ) kept certifying to
Congress that Pakistan was not developing nuclear weapons, which
of course they were, so that U.S. aid to Pakistan could
continue. The end result of these U.S. programs was to seriously
harm Pakistan and also to create the international jihadi
movement, of which Osama bin Laden is a product. The jihadi
movement then spread ( . . . ) they may not like it much but
they created it. And now, as you say, it's in Kashmir.
Kashmir, though, is a much more complex story. There are plenty
of problems in Kashmir and they go way back, but the major
current conflicts come from the 1980s. In 1986, when India
blocked the election, it actually stole the election, and that
led to an uprising and terrorist violence and atrocities,
including atrocities committed by the Indian army.
Ex: The colonial legacy is generally dismissed by the media.
What role does this legacy play in the emergence of home-grown
terrorists in countries such as the U.S., the U.K. and Canada as
well as to the creation of terrorism as a whole? Ch: It's not
brought up in the West because it's inconvenient to think about
your own crimes. Just look at the major conflicts going on
around the world today, in Africa, the Middle East, in South
Asia, most of them are residues of colonial systems.
Colonial systems imposed and created artificial states that had
nothing to do with the needs and concerns and relations of the
populations involved. They were created in the interests of
colonial powers and as old fashioned colonialism turned into
modern neo-colonialism, a lot of these conflicts erupted into
violence and those are a lot of the atrocities happening in the
How can anyone say colonialism isn't relevant? Of course it is
and it's even more directly relevant.
Take the London bombing in 2005. Blair tried to pretend that it
had nothing to do with Britain's participation in the invasion
of Iraq. That's completely ridiculous. The British intelligence
and the reports of the people connected in the bombing, they
said that the British participation in the invasion and
resulting horrors in Iraq inflamed them and they wanted to do
something in reaction.
Ex: What is the role of the intellectual when dealing with
imperialism and are the intellectuals doing they job?
Ch: Unfortunately, intellectuals are doing their historic job.
The historic role of intellectuals if you look, unfortunately,
as far back as you go has been to support power systems and to
justify their atrocities. So the article you read in the
National Post for the production of vulgar Stalinist
connoisseurs, that's what intellectuals usually do as far back
as you go.
If you go back to the Bible, there's a category of people who
were called prophets, a translation of an obscure word, they
were intellectuals, they were what we would call dissident
intellectuals; criticising the evil king, giving geopolitical
analysis, calling for the moral treatment of orphans, decent
behaviour. They were dissident intellectuals. Were they treated
well? They were prisoned and driven into the dessert and so on,
they were the fringe. The people who were treated well were the
ones who centuries later, like in the gospel, were called false
prophets. So it goes through history. The actual role of the
intellectual has been supportive of power.
Should they do that? Of course not; they should be searching for
truth, they should be honest, they should be supporting freedom
and justice and there are some who do it. There is a fringe who
do it, but they're not treated well. They are performing the
task that intellectuals ought to perform.
Ex: And what keeps you motivated?
Ch: I'll just tell you a brief story. I was in Beirut a couple
of months ago giving talks at the American university in the
city. After a talk, people come up and they want to talk
privately or have books signed.
Here I was giving a talk in a downtown theatre, a large group of
people were around and a young woman came up to me, in her
mid-'20s, and just said this sentence: "I am Kinda" and
practically collapsed. You wouldn't know who Kinda is but that's
because we live in societies where the truth is kept hidden. I
knew who she was. She had a book of mine open to a page on which
I had quoted a letter of hers that she wrote when she was seven
It was right after the U.S. bombing of Libya, her family was
then living in Libya, and she wrote a letter which was found by
a journalist friend of mine who tried to get it published in the
United States but couldn't because no one would publish it. He
then gave it to me, I published it. The letter said something
"Dear Mr Reagan, I am seven years old. I want to know why you
killed my little sister and my friend and my rag doll. Is it
because we are Palestinians? Kinda". That's one of the most
moving letters I have ever seen and when she walked up to me and
said I am Kinda, and, like I say, actually fell over, not only
because of the event but because of what it means.
Here's the United States with no pretext at all, bombing another
country, killing and destroying, and nobody wants to know what a
little seven-year-old girl wrote about the atrocities. That's
the kind of thing that keeps me motivated and ought to keep
everybody motivated. And you can multiply that by 10,000. -This
interview previously appeared in the News of Pakistan.
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