Israel/Palestine. I mean, his position is shocking."
The interview took
place on Tuesday 8 March 2011
Posted March 23, 2013 -
Updated March 24, 2013
Video Highlights - 3
Minutes - Full Interview Below
Noam Chomsky and Jeremy Paxman's
Interview In Full
PAXMAN: Professor Chomsky, when you see all those thousands of
people demonstrating on the streets of Egypt or Libya, what do
CHOMSKY: Well, what's been happening in the Arab world, is quite
a spectacular uprising. I really can't think of anything quite
comparable. Incidentally, it's not the only one in the world.
So for example, there were 70,000 people in the streets of
Madison, Wisconsin a few days ago, and they're still there. A
lot of things are happening in the world.
PAXMAN: But specifically in North Africa, the Arab world, what
do you feel about what they're campaigning for?
CHOMSKY: Well, it's pretty clear about what they're campaigning
for. Libya is something of special case, but, Tunisia, Egypt
particularly, Yemen and so on. They're calling for substantial
regime change, an end to the Western-backed dictatorships –
PAXMAN: How does that make you feel?
CHOMSKY: I think it's wonderful. I mean, they have a lot of
problems, internal and external. Notice that it's been a
remarkable achievement so far, but the regimes is intact. I
mean there have been name changes, but no significant
socio-economic, political changes, although they may come.
PAXMAN: You talk about them demonstrating against regimes which
enjoyed the backing of the West. (Chomsky nods). Isn't it
characteristic of these demonstrations that the West has, by and
large, backed the demonstrators against the dictators?
CHOMSKY: Certainly not. In fact, what's happened is, following
a standard game plan, which has been used over and over: Marcos
in the Philippines, Duvalier in Haiti, Chun in South Korea,
Suharto in Indonesia. I mean, there comes a point when you
cannot support your favourite dictator any longer, and the same
thing happens every time. It's happening here too. Support
them as long as possible; when the judgement is it can't be done
any more, maybe the army's turned against them or whatever, come
out with ringing declarations about your love of democracy and
how you're on the side of the people, and then try to preserve
PAXMAN: Well, it's certainly not true in the case of Libya,
that, is it? I mean Libya has been the enemy of the West for
years and years and years.
CHOMSKY: That's one of the reasons I said Libya is a special
case. It's not quite like the others. What's going on in Libya
is really a civil war.
PAXMAN: You don't feel that the Western endorsement of the
demonstrators, for example in Cairo, you don't think that
proceeded from anything other than realpolitik? It wasn't –
CHOMSKY: First of all, it didn't happen. I mean the support was
at the very end. Tony Blair, for example, right in the middle
of the emonstrations – of course he's not the Government – he
came out with a great endorsement of Mubarak as a courageous man
and a good man and so on. Obama, by the time the demonstrations
were really overwhelming, he finally sent a mediator, Frank
Wisner to talk to Mubarak. The man he picked is a lobbyist for
Mubarak, who left Cairo saying he ought to stay. That was at
the peak of the demonstrations. Now when it became impossible
to maintain that position any longer, Obama sort of made some
mild moves, statements supporting the demonstrators: nothing
PAXMAN: What do you think Western governments should have done?
CHOMSKY: What should they have done? They should have pulled
away their support from the dictators a long time ago. They
should have done what the demonstrators have wanted them to do.
I mean there's a reason why in Egypt, according to Western/US
polls, about 90% of the population regard the United States as
their main enemy. There's a reason for that.
PAXMAN: So you think that the immediate response should have
been to withdraw support for the administration in Egypt, for
CHOMSKY: Well, not quite. I think that response should have
taken place a long time ago. Remember these demonstrations are
bursting out now, but things have been going on for a long
time. So, for example in Egypt, there have been very
significant, extensive labour struggles for years. The January
25th movement, you know, the uprisings, were led by a group
called the April 6 group. April 6, those were the tech-savvy
young people. April 6 is a significant day. That was the date
of a major strike and support action planned at the Mahalla
textile industries, that was broken up by force. That was a
couple of years ago.
PAXMAN [5:00]: Do you find it striking that what many of these
demonstrators appear to want is the sort of freedoms, Western
freedoms, that you have often said are rather illusory?
CHOMSKY: Well, they're as illusory if we let them be illusory.
In fact what's happening in Madison, Wisconsin is very relevant
in this respect. Right in the middle of one of the most
dramatic moments of the protest, was when Kamal Abbas, a well-knoen
labour leader in Egypt, sent a message to Madison, Wisconsin
saying the people, the workers of Egypt, support the workers of
Madison in their struggle. In Madison they're trying to
preserve elements of democracy that are under serious attack.
In Egypt they're trying to gain the freedoms that have been
denied them? The trajectories are crossing, but they're going
in opposite directions.
you think the West should go as far as arming the dissidents in
CHOMSKY: Libya is a special case. Libya is a civil war. Should
the West intervene militarily? That's very doubtful. I don't
There's a long way before that question even arises. First of
all, the people don't want it. Remember that the West is hated,
for good reasons. Take, say, Libya. Eastern Libya, which was
just pretty much liberated. That's the site of the first
post-World War One major genocide - Italy in that case - that we
may not remember; they do. And there's a long history since,
This current series of uprisings actually began in Western
Sahara last November. Western Sahara was supposed to undergo
decolonisation, it was a former Spanish colony, it was supposed
to be decolonised. Morocco invaded 30 years ago. Last November,
there was a nonviolent protest, a tent city, in Western Sahara.
It was broken up by Moroccan forces pretty violently. That was
serious enough that it went to the United Nations, which is
technically responsible. An investigation was blocked by France,
which is the main protector of Morocco. And in Tunisia, France
was the "bad guy" if you will. The West has an extremely ugly
We may not pay attention, but the people don't forget. For the
powerful, "history is bunk", but the victims don't have that
luxury. They remember it.
For example, they remember what we don't like to remember, that
back in the 1950s - 1958, in fact - President Eisenhower raised
with his staff the question why there is a campaign of hatred
against us in the Arab world? Not from the governments, which
are more or less supportive, but from the people. The National
Security Council, the highest planning body, came out with a
memorandum in 1958, saying there's a perception in the Arab
world that the United States supports harsh and brutal dictators
and blocks democracy and development, and we do it because we
want to maintain control of their energy supplies. And it went
on to say that the perception is more or less accurate, and,
furthermore, that's what we should be doing.
And it continues right to the present. So, we're the last ones
who ought to be intervening.
There are things happening that are much more constructive than
any possible military intervention. For example, there's a
meeting right now with Brazil, India and South Africa. They're
trying to see if they can implement some mediation. There's a
Reuters report I've seen, unconfirmed, that Gaddafi has offered
to leave the country, if proper circumstances can be
PAXMAN: That's sourced to al-Jazeera.
CHOMSKY: Al-Jazeera, which is one of the best news agencies in
PAXMAN: They're sourcing some source in the opposition. I
CHOMSKY: I'm sorry but that's been confirmed by people among the
rebels. You don't make fun of al-Jazeera. I mentioned that it's
an unconfirmed report, but it's worth pursuing.
There are many things that are worth pursuing. For example, the
Arab press, if you read it, including from London, is proposing
that countries which have some respect in the region become
involved, namely Egypt and Turkey. That would make a lot more
sense than countries that are hated... for good reasons.
PAXMAN: So what do we do, just do nothing?
CHOMSKY: First of all, we're not asked to do anything. Mostly,
we've been asked to stay away. Just read what is being said -
mostly: 'Stay away, you've got enough blood on your hands
The question of what to do is not up to us. We're not the only
ones in the world. So, say, Brazil, for example, is a respected
country, so is Turkey. If you look at the Arab world, ask
yourself which leader is most respected. There's an answer:
Erdogan [the Turkish Prime Minister]. Okay, that makes sense.
PAXMAN: But we have a responsibility, do we not, to behave
responsibly? You're saying that the responsible thing is to
simply not get involved.
CHOMSKY: There may come a time when it would make sense for the
West to become involved, despite its horrendous record of
atrocities and crimes in that region, going way back.
The question is: has that time come?
There are others who have a much better status, and may be able
to do things that would lead to some sort of reconciliation or
at least mediation. I mean, it's very possible that Libya is
going to break up into two states.
PAXMAN: We know, because we've seen what you have to say on the
subject, how you regard Bush and Blair's record in the Middle
East. Do you think Obama's no better?
CHOMSKY: In many ways he's worse. (PAXMAN: Why?) I started
writing about it before the election.
PAXMAN: Why is he worse?
CHOMSKY: Well, we'll go through the details. (PAXMAN: Please.)
In the case of Afghanistan,
he's sharply escalated the war. This is threatening a breakup
of Pakistan, which could be a catastrophe for the West. In
fact, there's quite an important article that just came out by
Anatol Lieven who knows Pakistan very well. His conclusion is
that British and American soldiers are dying in Afghanistan to
make life more dangerous for Britain and the United States,
namely because of impact of potential breakup of Pakistan which
has both a huge number of nuclear weapons, and an Islamic
movement supported by the West. And Obama is continuing to
carry out actions which are threatening this. Let's go to –
I've already talked about his attitude to Egypt, the usual one,
follow the usual game plan which I mentioned.
Let's take Israel/Palestine. I mean, his position is
shocking.. He's refused to do.... There was just a UN Security
Council resolution a few weeks ago, calling on an ending of
settlement expansion, and declaring the settlements illegal,
which is not even controversial. Well, Obama vetoed it, alone.
A General Assembly resolution a few weeks before was similar:
the United States, Israel and a couple of Pacific islands
opposed it, you know, and this is the record all the way
PAXMAN: You famously said that every American president since
the Second World War would fail in the judgement as applied at
Nuremberg, and therefore effectively should be hanged. Do the
CHOMSKY: I didn't say hanged, not everybody was hanged at
Nuremberg. I said if we believed in the Nuremberg principles,
every American president would be subject to them. What the
decision would be, we'd have to check. Note this is the
Nuremberg principles, not the trials.
PAXMAN: But Obama would fare no better were those principles
applied to him?
CHOMSKY: No, he's carrying out a major war in Afghanistan. He's
directly involved in aggressive and criminal actions carried out
by Israel for example. He's only been in office for two years,
so he hasn't had a chance to invade anyone yet, but his record
is quite consistent with what's happened before.
What about the methodology that's talked about in these popular
movements in the Arab world, where it is said that Western
technology, Facebook, Twitter, famously on the internet, and all
the rest of it, that has enabled people to express dissent and
thereby in the case of Egypt, to unseat one leader, you say, to
be replaced by another who may be equally congenial to the
CHOMSKY: No, I said, no I'm perfectly in favour of the
technology that was developed, actually a lot of it at my own
institution under Pentagon funding. Yeah, nothing wrong with
the technology. I use a computer. I use the internet.
PAXMAN: Do you not find that there is something in the way that
people behave, the behaviour that is enabled by this technology
that is itself rather affirming of the principles you believe
CHOMSKY: (shrugs) Technology is quite neutral. I mean, a hammer
doesn't care whether it's used to build a house or bash in the
head of a prisoner, and the same is true of technology.
PAXMAN: But the enablement of the dissemination of information,
the dissemination of shared belief – that's a good thing, isn't
CHOMSKY: Of course. That's why I said I think the internet's a
fine thing. I think the Pentagon did a great job in funding the
development of the internet for decades.
PAXMAN: Doesn't that reflect rather well on Western democracies?
CHOMSKY: Well, if you think the Pentagon is a great exponent of
Western democracy, yes. In fact the original intent of the
internet was in fact to facilitate communication.
The internet's an interesting case. It's basically mostly
funded by the Pentagon. In fact it was the ARPANET, the army
net was the first one, actually developed where I work. The
Pentagon then handed over to the National Science Foundation.
During that period, about 30 years, the internet was quite
free. It was commercialised, under methods not yet really
understood, in the mid-90s. Now since then, there have been
many significant efforts to try to constrain and control it.
And right now the question of internet freedom is a very live
issue in the United States and elsewhere. Will it be kept free
and open as it was when it was in the state system?
PAXMAN: But it has enabled these people to mobilise, and that's
been a good thing, hasn't it?
CHOMSKY: Sure. Yes, it's enabled them in Wisconsin too. In
fact, the– I'm involved in all kinds of activism all the time –
it always takes place with the internet. The internet also
gives access to lots of information that was otherwise
unavailable. I mean, the internet has a downside too. It could
be used for surveillance, it could be used for control, it could
be used for propaganda. There is a serious question about
whether the providers, there's not many of them, are now in a
position to use the internet to direct people to what they want,
not what the people want. That's a serious issue. It's getting
even more serious with new mergers, like Comcast and NBC. So
the internet in itself is in principle a fine development.
Nothing wrong with it. So, with trains let's say, I suppose the
telephone, I suppose the printing press. All of these are very
fine developments, in principle. They can be used for
liberatory ends, they can be used to control and coerce and
destroy. They're used for all of those ends.
Can I finish with a personal question? You're how old now –
PAXMAN. Why haven't you mellowed?
CHOMSKY: Because I look at the world. And there's too much,
there's things happening in the world which should lead anyone
to become indignant, outraged, active and simply engaged. I
mean, look, we're in a position right now where there are, among
the many threats we face which go on all the time, there are two
which literally threaten species survival. That's serious, and
they're both being escalated. One is the threat of nuclear war,
which is quite serious and escalating, and the second is the
threat of environmental disaster which is moving in extremely
Take a look at the new Congress, for example. Just about every
new Congressional representative who came in last November is a
climate denier. In fact, Congress has already moved to ban
funding for the most mild environmental efforts, and furthermore
unfortunately many of these people are true believers. So the
head of one of the Congressional subcommittees, a new
Republican, explained that global warming can't be a problem
because God promised Noah that there wouldn't be another flood.
Other are just supported by –
PAXMAN: But why do you care about stupid people?
CHOMSKY: Stupid people? These people have power, and they are
carrying out actions. They're carrying out the actions that are
de-funding possible efforts to do something about these crimes.
Furthermore, they're backed by major concentrations of power.
The major business lobbies, for example, have announced that
they are funding big propaganda campaigns to convince people
that this doesn't matter.
These are serious issues. And incidentally if you want to look
at stupid people, you find them all over the place. For
example, we happen to be in the middle of a huge financial
crisis – people have noticed. If you trace that back, a lot of
it comes from a fanatic religious belief in what's called the
“efficient market hypothesis”. Pure fanaticism dominated the
economics profession, dominated the Federal Reserve. The one
consequence was that when an $8 trillion housing bubble
developed, totally unrelated to any fundamentals, completely off
the 100-year history of housing prices, the profession and the
Fed, the central bank, said it's not necessary to pay attention,
because there are efficient markets. I mean, is that very
different from “God promised Noah”?
PAXMAN: That's great. Thank you very much.
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