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Lezing 13 Maart van Noam Chomsky in de Westerkerk in Amsterdam

Op zondag 13 maart 2011 gaf Noam Chomsky voor het eerst sinds jaren een grote publieke lezing houden in Nederland. Hij sprak de overvolle Westerkerk te Amsterdam toe met zijn lezing: “Contours of Global Order: Domination, Instability, and Xenophobia in a Changing World”.

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Verslag Novum/ Staande ovatie voor Noam Chomsky

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International Institute of Social History Leiden University Center for LinguisticsMoving Matters Uva

Full Text

(Tekst in het Nederlands)

Titel: Contours of Global Order: Domination, Stability, Security in a Changing World: the rise of Xenophobia in the West

When we settled on the title for this talk, few could have guessed how apt it would prove to be when the time came – how dramatically the world would be changing, and how far-reaching are the implications for domestic and world order.

The democracy uprising in the Arab world has been a spectacular display of courage, dedication, and commitment by popular forces – coinciding, fortuitously, with a remarkable uprising of tens of thousands in support of working people and democracy in Madison Wisconsin and other US cities. One telling event occurred on Feb. 20, when Kamal Abbas send a message from Tahrir Square to Wisconsin workers, saying “We Stand With You as You Stood With Us.” Abbas is a leader of the years of struggle of Egyptian workers for elementary rights. His message of solidarity evoked the traditional aspiration of the labor movements: solidarity among workers of the world, and populations generally.

However flawed their record, labor movements have regularly been in the forefront of popular struggles for basic rights and democracy. In Tahrir Square, the streets of Madison, and many other places the popular struggles underway reach directly to the prospects for authentic democracy: for sociopolitical systems in which people are free and equal participants in controlling the institutions in which they live and work.

Right now, the trajectories in Cairo and Madison are intersecting, but headed in opposite directions: in Cairo towards gaining elementary rights denied by the dictatorships, in Madison towards defending rights that had been won in long and hard struggles and are now under severe attack. Each is a microcosm of tendencies in global society, following varied courses. There are sure to be far-reaching consequences of what is taking place both in the decaying industrial heartland of the richest and most powerful country in human history, and in what President Eisenhower called “the most strategically important area in the world” – “a stupendous source of strategic power” and “probably the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment” in the words of the State Department in the 1940s, a prize that the US intended to keep for itself and its allies in the unfolding New World Order of that day.

Despite all the changes since, there is every reason to suppose that today’s policy-makers basically adhere to the judgment of the influential Roosevelt advisor A.A. Berle that control of the incomparable energy reserves of the Middle East would yield “substantial control of the world.” And correspondingly, that loss of control would threaten the project of global dominance that was clearly articulated during World War II, and that has been sustained in the face of major changes in world order since that day.

From the outset of the war 1939, Washington anticipated that it would end with the US in a position of overwhelming power. High-level State Department officials and foreign policy specialists met through the wartime years to lay out plans for the postwar world. They delineated a “Grand Area” that the US was to dominate, including the Western hemisphere, the Far East, and the former British empire, with its Middle East energy resources. As Russia began to grind down Nazi armies after Stalingrad, Grand Area goals extended to as much of Eurasia as possible, at least its economic core in Western Europe. Within the Grand Area the US would maintain “unquestioned power,” with “military and economic supremacy,” while ensuring the “limitation of any exercise of sovereignty” by states that might interfere with its global designs. The careful wartime plans were soon implemented.

It was always recognized that Europe might choose to follow an independent course. NATO was partially intended to counter this threat. As soon as the official pretext for NATO dissolved in 1989, NATO was expanded to the East in violation of verbal pledges to Gorbachev. It has since become a US-run intervention force, with far-ranging scope, spelled out by NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who informed a NATO conference that “NATO troops have to guard pipelines that transport oil and gas that is directed for the West,” and more generally to protect sea routes used by tankers and other “crucial infrastructure” of the energy system.

Grand Area doctrines clearly license military intervention at will. That conclusion was articulated clearly by the Clinton administration, which declared that the US has the right to use military force to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources,” and must maintain huge military forces “forward deployed” in Europe and Asia “in order to shape people’s opinions about us” and “to shape events that will affect our livelihood and our security.”

The same principles governed the invasion of Iraq. As US failure to impose its will in Iraq was becoming unmistakable, the actual goals of the invasion could no longer be concealed behind pretty rhetoric. In November 2007 the White House issued a Declaration of Principles demanding that US forces must remain indefinitely in Iraq and committing Iraq to privilege American investors. Two months later President Bush informed Congress that he would reject legislation that might limit the permanent stationing of US Armed Forces in Iraq or “United States control of the oil resources of Iraq” – demands that the US had to abandon shortly after in the face of Iraqi resistance.

In Tunisia and Egypt, the current popular uprising has won impressive victories, but as the Carnegie Endowment reported a few days ago, while names have changed, the regimes remain: “A change in ruling elites and system of governance is still a distant goal.” The report discusses internal barriers to democracy, but ignores the external ones, which as always are significant.

The US and its Western allies are sure to do whatever they can to prevent authentic democracy in the Arab world. To understand why, it is only necessary to look at the studies of Arab opinion conducted by US polling agencies. Though barely reported, they are certainly known to planners. They reveal that by overwhelming majorities, Arabs regard the US and Israel as the major threats they face: the US is so regarded by 90% of Egyptians, in the region generally over 3/4. Some regard Iran as a threat: 10%. Opposition to US policy is so strong that a majority believe that security would be improved if Iran had nuclear weapons – in Egypt 80%. Other figures are similar. If public opinion were to influence policy, the US not only would not control the region, but would be expelled from it, along with its allies, undermining fundamental principles of global dominance.

Support for democracy is the province of ideologists and propagandists. In the real world, elite dislike of democracy is the norm. The evidence is overwhelming that democracy is supported insofar as it contributes to social and economic objectives, a conclusion reluctantly conceded by the more serious scholarship.

Elite contempt for democracy was revealed dramatically in the reaction to the Wikileaks exposures. Those that received most attention, with euphoric commentary, were cables reporting that Arabs support the US stand on Iran. The reference was to the ruling dictators. The attitudes of the public were unmentioned. The guiding principle was articulated clearly by Carnegie Endowment Middle East specialist Marwan Muasher, formerly a high official of the Jordanian government: “there is nothing wrong, everything is under control.” In short, if the dictators support us, what else could matter?

The Muasher doctrine is rational and venerable. To mention just one case that is highly relevant today, in internal discussion in 1958, president Eisenhower expressed concern about “the campaign of hatred” against us in the Arab world, not by governments, but by the people. The National Security Council explained that there is a perception in the Arab world that the US supports dictatorships and blocks democracy and development, so as to ensure control over the resources of the region. Furthermore, the perception is basically accurate, the NSC concluded, and that is what we should be doing, relying on the Muasher doctrine. Pentagon studies conducted after 9/11 confirmed that the same holds today.

It is normal for the victors to consign history to the trash can, and for victims to take it seriously. Perhaps a few brief observations on this important matter may be useful. Today is not the first occasion when Egypt and the US are facing similar problems, and moving in opposite directions. That was also true in the early 19th century.

Economic historians have argued that Egypt was well-placed to undertake rapid economic development at the same time that the US was. Both had rich agriculture, including cotton, the fuel of the early industrial revolution – though unlike Egypt, the US had to develop cotton production and a work force by conquest, extermination, and slavery, with consequences that are evident right now in the reservations for the survivors and the prisons that have rapidly expanded since the Reagan years to house the superfluous population left by deindustrialization. One fundamental difference was that the US had gained independence and was therefore free to ignore the prescriptions of economic theory, delivered at the time by Adam Smith in terms rather like those preached to developing societies today. Smith urged the liberated colonies to produce primary products for export and to import superior British manufactures, and certainly not to attempt to monopolize crucial goods, particularly cotton. Any other path “would retard instead of accelerating the further increase in the value of their annual produce, and would obstruct instead of promoting the progress of their country towards real wealth and greatness,” Smith warned. Having gained their independence, the colonies were free to ignore his advice and to follow England’s course of independent state-guided development, with high tariffs to protect industry from British exports, first textiles, later steel and others, and to adopt numerous other devices to accelerate industrial development. The independent Republic also sought to gain a monopoly of cotton so as to “place all other nations at our feet,” particularly the British enemy, as the Jacksonian presidents announced when conquering Texas and half of Mexico.

For Egypt, a comparable course was barred by British power. Lord Palmerston declared that “no ideas of fairness [toward Egypt] ought to stand in the way of such great and paramount interests” of Britain as preserving its economic and political hegemony, expressing his “hate” for the “ignorant barbarian” Muhammed Ali who dared to seek an independent course, and deploying Britain's fleet and financial power to terminate Egypt's quest for independence and economic development.

After World War II, when the US displaced Britain as global hegemon, Washington adopted the same stand, making it clear that the US would provide no aid to Egypt unless it adhered to the standard rules for the weak – which the US continued to violate, imposing high tariffs to bar Egyptian cotton and causing a debilitating dollar shortage. The usual interpretation of market principles.

It is small wonder that the “campaign of hatred” against the US that concerned Eisenhower was based on the recognition that the US supports dictators and blocks democracy and development, as do its allies.

In Adam Smith’s defense, it should be added that he recognized what would happen if Britain followed the rules of sound economics – now called “neoliberalism.” He warned that if British manufacturers, merchants, and investors turned abroad, they might profit but England would suffer. But he felt that they would be guided by a home bias, so as if by an invisible hand England would be spared the ravages of economic rationality. The passage is hard to miss. It is the one occurrence of the famous phrase “invisible hand” in Wealth of Nations. The other leading founder of classical economics, David Ricardo, drew similar conclusions, hoping that home bias would lead men of property to “be satisfied with the low rate of profits in their own country, rather than seek a more advantageous employment for their wealth in foreign nations,” feelings that “I should be sorry to see weakened,” he added. Their predictions aside, the instincts of the classical economists were sound.

The democracy uprising in the Arab world is sometimes compared to Eastern Europe in 1989, but on dubious grounds. In 1989, the democracy uprising was tolerated by the Russians, and supported by western power in accord with standard doctrine: it plainly conformed to economic and strategic objectives, and was therefore a noble achievement, greatly honored, unlike the struggles at the same time “to defend the people’s fundamental human rights” in Central America, in the words of the assassinated Archbishop of El Salvador, one of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the military forces armed and trained by Washington. There was no Gorbachev in the West throughout these horrendous years, and there is none today. And Western power remains hostile to democracy in the Arab world for good reasons.

Grand Area doctrines continue to apply to contemporary crises and confrontations. In Western policy-making circles and political commentary the Iranian threat is considered to pose the greatest danger to world order and hence must be the primary focus of US foreign policy, with Europe trailing along politely. What exactly is the Iranian threat? An authoritative answer is provided by the Pentagon and US intelligence. Reporting on global security last year, they make it clear that the threat is not military. Iran’s military spending is “relatively low compared to the rest of the region,” they conclude. Its military doctrine is strictly “defensive, designed to slow an invasion and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities.” Iran has only “a limited capability to project force beyond its borders.” With regard to the nuclear option, “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.” All quotes.

The brutal clerical regime is doubtless a threat to its own people, though it hardly outranks US allies in that regard. But the threat lies elsewhere, and is ominous indeed. One element is Iran’s potential deterrent capacity, an illegitimate exercise of sovereignty that might interfere with US freedom of action in the region. It is glaringly obvious why Iran would seek a deterrent capacity; a look at the military bases and nuclear forces in the region suffices to explain. Seven years ago, Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld wrote that “The world has witnessed how the United States attacked Iraq for, as it turned out, no reason at all. Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy,” particularly when they are under constant threat of attack in violation of the UN Charter. Whether they are doing so remains an open question, but perhaps so.

But Iran’s threat goes beyond deterrence. It is also seeking to expand its influence in neighboring countries, the Pentagon and Intelligence emphasize, and in this way to “destabilize” the region, in the technical terms of foreign policy discourse. US invasion and military occupation of Iran’s neighbors is “stabilization.” Iran’s efforts to extend its influence to them is “destabilization,” hence plainly illegitimate. Such usage is routine. Thus the prominent foreign policy analyst James Chace was properly using the term “stability” in its technical sense when he explained that in order to achieve “stability” in Chile it was necessary to “destabilize” the country (by overthrowing the elected Allende government and installing the Pinochet dictatorship). Other concerns about Iran are equally interesting to explore, but perhaps this is enough to reveal the guiding principles and their status in imperial culture; as FDR’s planners emphasized at the dawn of the contemporary world system, the US cannot tolerate “any exercise of sovereignty” that interferes with its global designs.

The US and Europe are united in punishing Iran for its threat to stability, but it is useful to recall how isolated they are. The nonaligned countries have vigorously supported Iran’s right to enrich uranium. In the region, Arab public opinion even strongly favors Iranian nuclear weapons. The major regional power, Turkey, voted against the latest US-intiated sanctions motion in the Security Council, along with Brazil, the most admired country of the South. Their disobedience led to sharp censure, not for the first time: Turkey had been bitterly condemned in 2003 when the government followed the will of 95% of the population and refused to participate in the invasion of Iraq, thus demonstrating its weak grasp of democracy, western-style. After its Security Council misdeed last year, Turkey was warned by Obama’s top diplomat on European affairs, Philip Gordon, that it must “demonstrate its commitment to partnership with the West.” A scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations asked “How do we keep the Turks in their lane?” – following orders like good democrats. Brazil’s Lula was admonished in a New York Times headline that his effort with Turkey to provide a solution to the uranium enrichment issue outside of the framework of US power is a “Spot on Brazilian Leader’s Legacy.” In brief, do what we say, or else.

An interesting sidelight, effectively suppressed, is that the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal was approved in advance by Obama, presumably on the assumption that it would fail, providing an ideological weapon against Iran. When it succeeded, the approval turned to censure, and Washington rammed through a Security Council resolution so weak that China readily signed – and is now chastised for living up to the letter of the resolution but not Washington’s unilateral directives – in the current issue of Foreign Affairs for example.

While the US can tolerate Turkish disobedience, though with dismay, China is harder to ignore. The press warns that “China’s investors and traders are now filling a vacuum in Iran as businesses from many other nations, especially in Europe, pull out,” and in particular, is expanding its dominant role in Iran’s energy industries. Washington is reacting with a touch of desperation. The State Department warned China that it if it wants to be accepted in the international community – a technical term referring to the US and whoever happens to agree with it – than it must not “skirt and evade international responsibilities, [which] are clear": namely, follow US orders. China is unlikely to be impressed.

There is also much concern about the growing Chinese military threat. A recent Pentagon study warned that China’s military budget is approaching “one-fifth of what the Pentagon spent to operate and carry out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” a fraction of the US military budget of course. China’s expansion of military forces might “deny the ability of American warships to operate in international waters off its coast,” The New York Times added. Off the coast of China, that is; it has yet to be proposed that that the US should eliminate military forces that deny the Caribbean to Chinese warships. China’s lack of understanding of rules of international civility is illustrated further by its objections to plans for the advanced nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington to join naval exercises a few miles off China’s coast, with alleged capacity to strike Beijing. In contrast, the West understands that such US operations are all undertaken to defend stability and its own security. The liberal New Republic expresses its concern that “China sent ten warships through international waters just off the Japanese island of Okinawa.” That is indeed a provocation – unlike the fact, unmentioned, that Washington has converted the island into a major military base, in defiance of vehement protests by the people of Okinawa. That is not a provocation, on the standard principle that we own the world.

Deep-seated imperial doctrine aside, there is good reason for China’s neighbors to be concerned about its growing military and commercial power. And though Arab opinion supports an Iranian nuclear weapons program, we certainly should not do so. The foreign policy literature is full of proposals as to how to counter the threat. One obvious way is rarely discussed: work to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region. The issue arose (again) at the NPT conference at United Nations headquarters last May. Egypt, as chair of the 118 nations of the Non-Aligned Movement, called for negotiations on a Middle East NWFZ, as had been agreed by the West, including the US, at the 1995 review conference on the NPT. International support is so overwhelming that Obama formally agreed. It is a fine idea, Washington informed the conference, but not now. Furthermore, the US made clear Israel must be exempted: no proposal can call for Israel's nuclear program to be placed under the auspices of the IAEA or for release of information about “Israeli nuclear facilities and activities.” So much for this method of dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat.

While Grand Area doctrine still prevails, the capacity to implement it has declined. The peak of US power was after World War II, when the US had literally half the world’s wealth. But that naturally declined, as other industrial economies recovered from the devastation of the war and decolonization took its agonizing course. By the early 1970s, US share of global wealth had declined to about 25%, and the industrial world had become tripolar: North America, Europe, and East Asia, then Japan-based.

There was also a sharp change in the US economy in the 1970s, towards financialization and export of production. There is no time to go into the details, but a variety of factors converged to create a vicious cycle of radical concentration of wealth, primarily in the top fraction of 1% of the population – mostly CEOs, hedge fund managers, and the like. That leads to concentration of political power, hence state policies to increase economic concentration: fiscal policies, rules of corporate governance, deregulation, and much more. Meanwhile the costs of electoral campaigns skyrocketed, driving the parties into the pockets of concentrated capital, increasingly financial: the Republicans reflexively, the Democrats – by now what used to be moderate Republicans – not far behind. Elections have become a charade, run by the public relations industry. After his 2008 victory, Obama won an award from the industry for the best marketing campaign of the year. Executives were euphoric. In the business press they explained that they had been marketing candidates like other commodities since Reagan, but 2008 was their greatest achievement, and would change the style in corporate boardrooms. The 2012 election is expected to cost $2 billion, mostly corporate funding. Small wonder that Obama is selecting business leaders for top positions. The public is angry and frustrated, but as long as the Muasher principle prevails, that doesn’t matter.

While wealth and power have narrowly concentrated, for most of the population real incomes have stagnated and people have been getting by with increased work hours, debt, and asset inflation, regularly destroyed by the financial crises that began as the regulatory apparatus was dismantled from the 1980s.

None of this is problematic for the very wealthy, who benefit from a government insurance policy, called “too big to fail.” The banks and investment firms can make risky transactions, with rich rewards, and when the system inevitably crashes, they can run to the nanny state for a taxpayer bailout, clutching their copies of Hayek and Milton Friedman. That has been the regular process since the Reagan years, each crisis more extreme than the last -- for the public population, that is. Right now real unemployment is at Depression levels for much of the population, while Goldman Sachs, one of the main architects of the current crisis, is richer than ever. It has just quietly announced $17.5 billion in compensation for last year, with CEO Lloyd Blankfein receiving a $12.6 million bonus while his base salary more than triples.

It wouldn’t do to focus attention on such facts as these. Accordingly, propaganda must seek to blame others, in the past few months, public sector workers, their fat salaries, exorbitant pensions and so on: all fantasy, on the model of Reaganite imagery of black mothers being driven in their limousines to pick up welfare checks – and other models that need not be mentioned. We all must tighten our belts; almost all, that is.

Teachers are a particularly good target, as part of the deliberate effort to destroy the public education system, from kindergarten through the universities, by privatization – again, good for the wealthy, but a disaster for the population, as well as the long-term health of the economy, but that is one of the externalities that is put to the side insofar as market principles prevail.

Another fine target, always, is immigrants. That has been true throughout US history, even more so at times of economic crisis, exacerbated now by a sense that our country is being taken away from us: the white population will soon become a minority. One can understand the anger of aggrieved individuals, but the cruelty of the policy is shocking. Who are the immigrants targeted? In Eastern Massachusetts, where I live, many are Mayans fleeing genocide in the Guatemalan highlands carried out by Reagan’s favorite killers. Others are Mexican victims of Clinton’s NAFTA, one of those rare government agreements that managed to harm working people in all three of the participating countries. As NAFTA was rammed through Congress over popular objection in 1994, Clinton also initiated the militarization of the US-Mexican border, previously fairly open. It was understood that Mexican campesinos cannot compete with highly-subsidized US agribusiness, and that Mexican businesses would not survive competition with US multinationals, which must be granted “national treatment” under the mislabeled free trade agreements, a privilege granted only to corporate persons, not those of flesh and blood. Not surprisingly, these measures led to a flood of desperate refugees, and to rising anti-immigrant hysteria by the victims of state-corporate policies at home.

Much the same appears to be happening in Europe, where racism is probably more rampant than in the US. One can only watch with wonder as Italy complains about the flow of refugees from Libya, the scene of the first post-World War I genocide, in the now-liberated East, at the hands of Italy’s Fascist government. Or when France, which still today is the main protector of the brutal dictatorships in its former colonies, manages to overlook its hideous atrocities in Africa while Sarkozy warns grimly of the “flood of immigrants” and Marine Le Pen objects that he is doing nothing to prevent it. I need not mention Belgium, which may win the prize for what Adam Smith called “the savage injustice of the Europeans.”

The rise of neo-fascist parties in much of Europe would be a frightening phenomenon even if we were not to recall what happened on the continent in the recent past. Just imagine the reaction if Jews were being expelled from France to misery and oppression, and then witness the non-reaction when that is happening to Roma, also victims of the Holocaust and Europe’s most brutalized population. In Hungary, the neo-fascist party Jobbik gained 17% of the vote in national elections – perhaps unsurprising when ¾ of the population feels that they are worse off than under Communist rule. We might be relieved that in Austria the ultra-right Jőrg Haider won only 10% of the vote in 2008 – were it not for the fact that the new Freedom Party, outflanking him from the far right, won over 17%. It is chilling to recall that in 1928, the Nazis won less than 3% of the vote in Germany. In England the British National Party and the English Defence League, on the ultra-racist right, are major forces. What is happening in Holland you know all too well. In Germany, Thilo Sarrazin’s lament that immigrants are destroying Germany was a runaway best-seller, while Chancellor Angela Merkel, though condemning the book, declared that multiculturalism had “utterly failed”: the Turks imported to do the dirty work in Germany are failing to become blond and blue-eyed, true Aryans. Those with a sense of irony may recall that Benjamin Franklin, one of the leading figures of the Enlightenment, warned that the newly liberated colonies should be wary of allowing Germans to immigrate, because they are too swarthy; Swedes as well. Into the 20th century ludicrous myths of Anglo-Saxon purity were common in the US, including presidents and other leading figures. Racism in the literary culture has been a rank obscenity; far worse in practice, needless to say. It is much easier to eradicate polio than this horrifying plague, which regularly becomes more virulent in times of economic distress.

I have barely skimmed the surface of these critical issues, but do not want to end without mentioning another externality that is dismissed in market systems: the fate of the species. Systemic risk in the financial system can be remedied by the taxpayer, but no one will come to the rescue if the environment is destroyed. That it must be destroyed is close to an institutional imperative. Business leaders who are conducting propaganda campaigns to convince the population that anthropogenic global warming is a liberal hoax understand full well how grave is the threat. But they must maximize short-term profit and market share; if they don’t, someone else will. This vicious cycle could well turn out to be lethal. To see how grave the danger is, simply have a look at the new Congress in the US, propelled into power by business funding and propaganda. Almost all are climate deniers. They have already begun to cut funding for measures that might mitigate environmental catastrophe. Worse, some are true believers, for example the new head of a subcommittee on the environment who explained that global warming cannot be a problem because God promised Noah that there will not be another flood. If such things were happening in some small and remote country, we might laugh. Not when they are happening in the richest and most powerful country in the world. And before we laugh, we might also bear in mind that the current economic crisis is traceable in no small measure to the fanatic faith in such dogmas as the efficient market hypothesis, and in general to what Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, 15 years ago, called the “religion” that markets know best – which prevented the central bank and the economics profession from taking notice of an $8 trillion housing bubble that had no basis at all in economic fundamentals, and that devastated the economy when it burst.

All of this, and much more, can proceed as long as the Muashar doctrine prevails. As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, then the powerful can do as they please, and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome.


Marcel van der Linden: There have been over sixty post-it stickers on the white board, and we have tried to group them a little bit. So one little cluster of questions concerns the current developments in the Arab world. So I will read you a few questions and then we will ask one person who wrote a post-it to ask the question also.

Q1: What would be the West’s ideal reaction to what’s happening in Lybia?

Q2: Do you expect a military invasion by the West in Lybia?

Q3: What are your thoughts on the no-fly zone in Lybia?

Q4: And then we have a question by Abulkasim, student:

Abulkasim: The questions concerns Libya as well. Considering the previous invasions which have left countries devastated, the infrastructure destroyed and thousands dead, on the one hand, and considering on the other hand the imminent threat the Libyan civilian population is facing at this moment, what is your position on intervention in Libya?

Noam Chomsky: Let me apologize first for what this looks like [Chomsky was sitting in a church minister’s chair] (laughter, applause). I can’t help it (laughter). I’ll try not to be too pretentious (laughter). Well, of course Libya is different from everything else that is happening in the Arab world in dramatic ways. Gadhafi is undoubtedly a gangster. Something is happening in the Netherlands right now which bears on that directly. I don’t know if it’s being reported. The Charles Taylor trial just finished in The Hague. The trial of the big major killer from Liberia and so on. The International Court tried it. There are some omissions in the trial, striking omissions. One of them is Muhammar Gadhafi. The prosecutors, there are two prosecutors; one of them is a US professor of Law, another one is a distinguished British barrister. Both of them wanted bring into the trial, wanted to try Gadhafi. Because he was, according to them, they have evidence that he was providing financing, military support, and so on, for the huge atrocities in Sierra Leone that Taylor is being tried for. But the US and Britain blocked it. They didn’t want Gadhafi prosecuted. Ok, that tells you something. You can tell me how much that is reported in the Dutch press. It’s rather critical. I’ll make my guesses. But this is typical of what has been going on. He was ok, as long he was not bothering us, doing what we wanted. It’s been up and back for a while, Libya was kind of a punching bag for the West, and Gadhafi started following orders, everything was fine. We’re not gonna try him for the massive crimes he committed. Tony Blair went to visit him. London School of Economics was receiving big grants from him. Everything was fine.

Now there’s a problem. It’s a little bit different from the usual problem. The usual problem, what happened in the rest of the Arab world, it’s mostly following a game plan that goes on all the time. I mean, over and over it happens that you can’t support your favorite dictator. Maybe the army turns against him, or the business world turns against. And then there’s a standard procedure. Support your favorite dictator as long as possible. When he’s unsustainable, send him away somewhere. Sometimes send him away on a US air force plane to exile in France with half the country’s treasure, as happened in Haiti. But anyway, get rid of him, and then try to restore the old regime, as much as you can. It happened with Marcos in the Philippines, with Duvalier in Haiti, with Suharto in Indonesia, always the same. And that’s what’s been happening in Tunisia and Egypt. The energy producers is a different story. Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, and Bahrain, as we said, you just got to keep the lid on, too much is at stake. Libya is kind of an outlier. What’s happening in Libya is pretty atrocious. I mean, as you said, the population is suffering severely. There is a way to stop it which is not being proposed, and in fact it shouldn’t be proposed, but it’s interesting and worth thinking about. A way to stop it would be to call off the rebellion. Call off the rebellion and the massacres will stop. I mean, pretty horrible situation, but it was that way before, and it didn’t bother the West. Now what that tells you is that the issue for the West is not the humanitarian issue, it’s the rebellion. To say that we need a no-fly zone, which may be right, is to say we have to support the rebellion. It’s not we got to stop the atrocities, it’s, we decide to support the rebellion. Maybe we do maybe we don’t, but that’s the issue that’s at stake. Because you can stop the atrocities, just by ending the rebellion. So that’s fundamentally the issue.

Well, so the real question is: should the West support the rebellion. Actually, you know, the West comes to that region with a heavy burden. I mentioned the popular attitudes, the West is hated. For very good reasons. France, England, the United States, Italy; very obvious reasons why they are hated. So the question is: should the West impose? And if the West intervenes in some other way – military force I think is out, nobody is calling for it. But even with the no-fly zone one of the consequences is probably going to be to increase the hatred. If you notice, African states are saying essentially nothing. The Arab League yesterday finally came across with a statement saying there should be a no-fly zone. But there are a lot of things to keep in mind when you try to make a decision about this. A lot is at stake. In fact, one question that’s obvious is why should the West with its long history of destruction and violence and repression and support for dictators, including support for Gadhafi; why should those Western powers be the ones to support the rebellion, which is the issue. Why not, for example, the one country that is actually respected in the region, Turkey? Turkey is the one country that has some respect. A lot of respect, in fact. It’s a NATO power, got a huge air force. If Qatar can destroy the Iranian air force in a couple of minutes, I presume Turkey with its advances equipment and big army can establish a no-fly zone. Why aren’t they proposing it? Why isn’t anyone calling on them? Well, they have reservations about interfering in a civil war, and supporting a rebellion. Maybe they are right, maybe they are wrong, but why not them? The West is not the only place that has the military capacity to keep Libyan jets on the ground. Probably Qatar can do it. If they are calling for a no-fly zone why don’t they do it? Why doesn’t Egypt do it? They got a big military force. I think those are all questions to consider. In the end, should you agree on a no-fly zone or not. Well, it’s a delicate decision. But until these questions are at least considered seriously I don’t think we’re in a position to draw a conclusion about that.

Marcel van der Linden: Another cluster of questions concerns Israel and Palestine.

Q1: Do you still see possibilities for a two-state solution after the Palestine Papers and another use of veto by the US? [Chomsky immediately answered, so the other questions on IP were not asked]

Noam Chomsky: Well, the last phrase is the crucial one. There won’t be a two-state solution as long as the US blocks it. That’s what it means to rule the world. For the last 35 years the US has blocked the two-state solution, almost unilaterally. The first proposal in the Security Council of the United Nations, the first proposal for a two state settlement – I wouldn’t call it a solution because I don’t think it’s really a solution – but a two state settlement pretty much in terms of the existing international consensus, it came in January 1967, it was proposed by the major Arab states, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, the so-called “confrontation states”. They proposed a broader resolution to the Security Council, calling for a two-state settlement on the international border, on which everyone agreed on. And then they brought in the wording of UN [Security Council Resolution] 242, which everyone formally accepts as the major diplomatic document. So a two-state settlement with guarantees for secure and recognized borders, guarantees for the peace and security of every state in the region; Israel and the new Palestinian state. That was the jist of it. The United States vetoed it. Happened again in 1980. It goes on like that, I won’t go through the record. But when things shifted to the General Assembly where there is no veto, there’s almost annual votes with somewhat similar content. And the vote usually is something like 170 – 3, the United States, Israel and maybe a Pacific Island or something like that. That just goes on constantly, and it continues. The latest veto last month, was slightly different from the others, in that it had two components, if you read the resolution. One of them called for an end to settlement expansion. Well, theoretically that’s Washington’s position. And it doesn’t really mean much, because the issue is not the expansion of the settlements, it’s their existence. The second term was to declare the settlements illegal. Well, that they are illegal is not even in question; it’s not controversial. The International Court of Justice ruled on it. The Security Council has repeatedly declared them illegal, usually with the US and Britain abstaining, but at least it went through. The Israeli government recognized them as illegal, back in late 1967. They said, “yes, it’s illegal, we’re gonna do it anyway”. Their illegality is not in question, so this resolution is completely uncontroversial. But the US vetoed it, anyway, and has been doing so steadily. Well, what does that tell you? Who supports a two-state solution? Well, in principle everybody; the Non-Aligned countries completely, Europe, at least in principle, they say they support it – what they actually do is another story. The Arab League supports it. The Organization of Islamic States, includes Iran, they support it. In fact there’s no objection, except for the United States and Israel. Now if there were negotiations, if there were serious negotiations going on, they would be run by some neutral party, if you can imagine one. And on one side would be the US and Israel and on the other side would be the world. If that’s not the way negotiations are set up, they are not serious. So in fact nothing that’s happening is even beginning to be serious. And unless that is broken, either the US changes its position, or the world – let’s say Europe is willing to recognize that these negotiations are obviously a total farce. The United States cannot be presented as the neutral party. It’s the party which has blocked this settlement for 35 years and continues to do so. You can ask why, or what might change the policy, but that’s kind of like the basic ground rules for some serious discussion on the topic.

Well, if the United States changes its position then a two-state settlement is quite feasible. In fact, it came pretty close, one time, when the US did briefly change its position. In January 2001, that’s Clinton’s last term in office, he recognized that the failed 2000 negotiations, the Dayton negotiations, uh, the Camp David negotiations were that the US-Israeli position was completely unacceptable to any Palestinian. So he presented what he called his parameters, kind of vague, but more forthcoming. Then made a speech saying that both sides accepted the parameters and that both sides had reservations. Well, they met in January 2001, Israel and the Palestinians, high level top people, they met in Taba, Egypt. And they apparently resolved almost all the difficulties. In fact, in their last press conference both sides said that if they had a few more days they would resolve everything. Well, the negotiations were called off; Israel called them off prematurely, so it didn’t go anywhere. Then there were informal negotiations that went on and came out with some proposals, the so-called Geneva accords, issued in Geneva in December 2003. Detailed proposals for a two-state settlement, I mean, you can like them or not, but at least they were a basis for proceeding. They were formally welcomed by Europe; the Europeans sent delegates to welcome the declaration, accepted by most of the world, and Israel rejected them, the US dismissed them. Ok, is it feasible, yeah, there is one barrier. And if that barrier changes it’s quite feasible.

There’s a lot of analogies drawn between Israel and South Africa, most of them pretty dubious in my opinion, we can talk about that, but there’s one analogy that isn’t discussed much, maybe at all, that I think is very real. Around 1960 the white nationalist in South Africa recognized that they are becoming international pariahs. The Foreign Minister called in the American ambassador – this is declassified documents, so we have the documents – called in the American ambassador, and said we’re becoming an international pariah, everyone is voting against us in the United Nations. But you and I know that there’s only one vote in the United Nations; yours. And as long as you support us it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks. Well, you look at what happened later, he was right. The US continued to support South Africa, the UN passed an arms embargo in 1977, and by the 1980s Congress was passing sanctions. Washington continued to support the South African regime, and they did it on grounds of the “War on Terror”, literally. The War on Terror was not declared by George W, Bush in 2001, it was re-declared. It was declared by Ronald Reagan, explicitly when he came into office in 1981. He said the focus of US foreign policy was gonna be the plague of international terrorism, and so on. And in the context of the War on Terror, the Reagan administration justified its support for Apartheid. The reason was that in 1988, as late as 1988, the African National Congress was designated by Washington as one of the more notorious terrorist groups in the world. So therefore in defense against terror we had to support Apartheid. And in fact, if you go back to that period, say the late 80s, they looked triumphant. The ANC had been militarily contained, Apartheid was pretty stable, they were being supported by the US, Britain, passively others, and looked impregnable. Well, a couple of years later, about two years later – I should say, Mandela was just taken off the terrorist list two years ago. For the first time he could now come to the United States without special dispensation. Around 1989, 1990, the US shifted its position. Mandela was let out of Robben Island, brought to Halfway House to be kind of civilized. By 1994 it had fallen apart. That’s what matters. And the same thing happened in other cases.

Take, say, Indonesia, a striking case. Indonesia, as you must know, invaded East-Timor in 1975. A murderous invasion, one as close to genocide as anything in the modern era, supported by the United States, by Britain, the Netherlands, France. Everyone wanted to participate in the genocide because Indonesia is a rich country; you can make a lot of money out of it. 1999 the atrocities escalated, and the US and Britain – and probably the Netherlands – were completely supporting them. In mid-September 1999 Clinton came under considerable pressure, domestically and internationally – the pressure is interesting – but anyway, he came under pressure and he made a short statement, essentially telling the Indonesian generals, the game’s over. A week later they were gone. That’s what power is.

Can that happen in Israel – Palestine? Sure.

Marcel van der Linden: There were many more questions on Israel and Palestine, but I think, for the spread of topics, we take another one now. We have here questions on South Asia.

Q1: Pakistan is considered to be the most dangerous place in the world. To resolve the situation, does the US need to get involved in resolving the Kashmir issue with India?

There is a second question. By a Burmese scholar, [inaudible name], where is [name]?

Q2: Considering the rise of China not just in Asia, but in the global political order, do you think the democratic movements in Asia are less likely to be supported by the West because of China’s position.

[Chomsky can’t hear the question. In the end the woman comes to Chomsky to ask the question close to his ear.]

Noam Chomsky: [repeats the question] Well, you know, it’s hard to reduce anything below zero. So technically no. Power centers are not going to support democracy, if democracy means anything. They might support formal democracy, but not the kind of democracy in which the population actually participates. For reasons that are so obvious that they ought to be taught in elementary school. Why should people in power want anyone to interfere with them? That’s what it comes down to. You can put it in polysyllabic terms and call it a political science theory if you like, but it’s really quite simple. If you have power, you don’t want anyone to interfere. So you’re opposed to democracy. And the evidence that that’s the way it works is just totally overwhelming. Sometimes you have to accede to it because of popular pressure. It’s impossible to keep people down. [inaudible ….] and they win rights, so you do get a degree of formal democracy functioning. But as long as power centers can prevent it, domestically or internationally, they are gonna do so. The same is gonna be true at the smallest social level you can imagine. Take say a patriarchal family. The guy who’se running it isn’t gonna want democracy. Why allow people to interfere? And that goes all the way up to international relations. That’s what you have, what I was describing in the Middle East, and it’s gonna be true here.

The role of China may lead, conceivably, I don’t see any particular reason why, to less support for small steps of reform and formal democracy and so on. But it can’t change the opposition to significant democracy, because that doesn’t exist in the first place. So it’s a question of adjustment. There’s a lot to say about China’s role in the region, quite a lot. I mentioned a couple of things while I was talking, but there’s a lot more. Like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is a significant system. It’s based in China obviously. It includes China, Russia, the central Asian states, India and Pakistan is an observer, I think India is an observer, Iran is an observer. It’s primarily an energy system. There’s plenty of energy resources in that whole system. The United States wanted to be an observer but was blocked, they refused. It’s regarded by planners as a potential counterpart to NATO. You know, another global system that’s gonna try to expand its global influence and power. And there’s plenty of juggling about who’s gonna have more control where. The Middle East is a very significant region as always. So right now more than half of Middle East oil is going to China. The US doesn’t like it, but is not really trying to block it, for complicated reasons. They don’t want China to exploit Iran’s oil, because that would interfere with the policy of isolating Iran, and ultimately destroying it. So the kind of quid pro quo is they get Saudi Arabia to say we’ll give you as much oil as you need. The idea is maybe that’ll cut back China’s investment in Iran. The Chinese don’t pay much attention, they do what they feel like. They are a big irritant to the United States. Their position is, look, we’ve been here for 3000 years, paying no attention to the barbarians, we’re gonna continue. So they just dismiss the protest, and so on. It’s pretty tough to take. That’s why the State Department reacts with desperation, like in the case I mentioned. So they are gonna continue doing what they like, and they are expanding their influence, mostly commercial, but it could be larger.

In the case of Pakistan, both China and the United States (and Britain) all support the Pakistani government, with different motives. China has been one of their major supporters. And going to the Pakistan case: I think it’s right to call Pakistan the most dangerous country in the world. First of all, it’s held together with scotch tape. It was patched together by the British, from separate groups that don’t have anything to do with each other. Much of Pakistan, Baluchistan, Sindh, what they think of as Pakistan is Punjab, that’s Pakistan. And the Punjabis think the same thing: they are Pakistan. They are a little more than half the population, got most of the wealth, most of the army, pretty much run the government. Other regions are extremely unhappy; there is in fact guerilla wars going on in Beluchistan and elsewhere. It’s a patch war.

Two things are particularly dangerous in Pakistan. One is the nuclear weapon system, which is the most rapidly growing in the world and is huge. The other is radical islamization; it’s not a majority, but it is significant and getting larger. You may have noticed, I’m sure you did, that when a couple of weeks ago there was an assassination of a leading Pakistani figure; Salmad Tasseer, who criticized the blasphemy law, and he was assassinated, and there were huge demonstrations, supporting the assassins, and included in the demonstrations were the reformist elements, the young lawyers who were in the forefront of overthrowing the Musharraf dictatorship. They were demonstrating in support of the assassin. Ok, that tells you something. These are significant elements in the society, undergoing radical islamization. There’s a big nuclear weapons’ system.

Both of these tendencies, I should say, are part of Ronald Reagan’s legacy to the world. In the 1980s Pakistan was ruled by the most vicious of a series of horrible dictators, Zia-ul-Haq, and he was developing nuclear weapons. And he was carrying out a program of radical islamization, spreading Madrassa schools where you teach the Koran and nothing else, Jihad, and so on, funded by Saudi Arabia, which is the center of radical Islamism in the world, and also the center of Jihadi funding. These two countries, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the most radical islamist countries in the world, and the centers of Jihad, are longtime allies of Britain and the United States. Britain and the US have been supporting radical Islam for 50 years, and still are doing it. In the 1980s, when this was going on, the Reagan administration pretended it didn’t know that Pakistan was developing nuclear weapons – which of course they did. Britain the same. And they supported the radical islamization.

Ok, these two tendencies continue, it’s extended – I think the question mentioned India. Two years ago the United States entered into a deal with India, which effectively supports their nuclear weapons program – it doesn’t say that, but if you look at the way it works, it supports civilian nuclear energy, which just allows India to transfer technology and resources to nuclear weapons. And that’s exactly what they are doing. Obama has been quite outspoken in defending the Indian nuclear weapons’ program. In fact, the Security Council about a year ago passed a resolution calling on all states to join the Non Proliferation Treaty. Obama backed it, but immediately informed two countries, Israel and India, that it didn’t apply to them. So, go ahead. When India develops nuclear weapons, Pakistan does so reflexively. They’ve got a pretty crazy strategic doctrine, but it is their strategic doctrine, that they have to somehow balance India. Well, they can’t possibly do it; India is much richer, bigger, and so on. So the way they do it is by terrorism and by nuclear weapons. One of the main terrorist organizations in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Toiba, run by the Pakistani intelligence – theoretically they were banned, but they are still functioning. There was an incident in Pakistan a couple of weeks ago when an American – pretended to be a diplomat, turns out he is a CIA agent – Raymond Davis, killed, he’s a trained killer, got out of his car, murdered two people who were standing there, who were following him. According to Pakistani they were ISI, intelligence agents. Anyway, there’s total fury in Pakistan about this – they don’t like the fact that CIA agents are all over the place. They don’t like the fact that the drone attacks – Pakistanis are very anti-American. They don’t like the drone attacks in Pakistan. The Pakistani army, which is the one stable institution, along with intelligence, is angry that the US is trying to compel to attack the tribal areas, which they don’t want to do. Even the British didn’t attack them. And then comes the Raymond Davis assassination, which, according to them at least, killed two high intelligence agents, just blatant murder.

All these things are going on. What it’s doing is angering Pakistanis, of course, but also the only more or less stable institutions that are holding this patchwork together. You’ve got a massive nuclear weapons program, you have radical Islamic programs. Just think it through: the chances that radical islamists will get a hold of fissile materials is increasing, sharply. And it’s not a joke – that means there could be a nuclear bomb off in London or New York. Well, Washington knows this. In fact, take a look at Wikileaks again. Some of the more interesting cables had to do with this. The US ambassador to Pakistan who supports US policies, thinks they are ok, nevertheless was warning Washington of just this. That the wars in Afghanistan and the war, the spillover to Pakistan, threatens the further radicalization and further destabilization of Pakistan, which could lead as far as, kind of like the ultimate horror, a Jihadi nuclear weapon. Foreign policy analysts are saying the same thing. If you’ve got internet access, take a look at a conservative foreign policy journal in the US, right wing, pretty good, it’s called National Interest. They’ve got an article in the last issue, by a very reputable Pakistan specialist, Anatol Lieven, who goes through this. And his kind of punch line is that American and British soldiers are dying in Afghanistan to make the world more dangerous for Britain and the United States. It’s a real danger, so, yes, those things are all happening. You can ask why, but they are happening, and they are understood. And the concern over it is quite proper.

Marcel van der Linden: We have still some 15 minutes, so I think we can hope for two questions (soft laughter).

Noam Chomsky: I’m talking long since I don’t like those bottom questions, so I don’t have to deal with them (laughing).

Marcel van der Linden: I have here a question by the Anarchist Anonymous … would anyone of them want to … (laugther). The question is:

Q1: Are you an anarchist? If so, wouldn’t it be more interesting to look at the uprisings in the Middle East with an anarchist approach, instead of simply reproducing the media stories, for instance, calling it “Democracy Uprisings”. And to speak about what the people want and do, instead of the governments?

Noam Chomsky: Anarchism is a pretty broad term, it can mean all sorts of things. I call myself an anarchist in the sense in which I understand anarchism. I’ve written about it. It’s a major strain in the tradition, it’s not everybody’s interpretation. As far as I’m concerned, anarchism is just a tendency in human life and history which seeks to, which investigates structures of authority and domination, and demands that they justify themselves. That is, it doesn’t regard them as self-justifying. And that goes, going back to what I said before, it goes from families to international society. So anytime there’s a structure of justification and domination it has a burden of proof. It has to show that it’s legitimate. If it can’t show that it’s legitimate, it should be dismantled. And that’s kind of a permanent tendency in history, and it will go on forever. As long as history goes on. So I think that’s the core concept of anarchism, and in that sense, yes, I think everybody should be an anarchist. (Applause.)

I should say I think sometimes justifications are possible. Like for example, if I’m walking down the street with my three year old granddaughter, and she runs out into the street and I grab her hand and pull her back. That’s a structure of authority, but I think it’s justifiable. But the point is, every one of them has to be justifiable. And usually they can’t justify themselves, and then you get popular movements and make some progress in the world.

Going back to the uprisings in the Arab world, you have to describe them in terms of what’s happening. Not in terms of what we wish was happening. And what’s happening I think is important. They call themselves “Democracy Uprisings”, I’m happy to use their self-description. They are trying to achieve formal democracy. As I mentioned; the regimes haven’t changed. But what they are trying to do is a good idea. So take Egypt; Egypt has already improved. There’s a free press, the press is quite free. That’s a big step forward over the state controlled press. Some of the worst repressive structures have been dismantled, like the security services, the torturers, and so on. All that’s good. The regime hasn’t changed. The socio-economic power remains about where it was. But it’s being challenged, and coming to an anarchist perspective – I don’t have enough time to talk about it – but I mentioned that the workers’ movement in Egypt has a long history of protest. It didn’t just come out of nowhere. And what they are doing; there isn’t much news about it – you know, reporters don’t look. But what appears to be happening in major industrial installations, like, say, this Mahalla textile plant that I mentioned. The source of the April 6th movement. It seems that the workers are taking over the factories. And running them themselves. Ok, that’s a real revolution. And committed anarchist should cheer. And that’s things we should be talking about. But we can’t pretend that they are beyond what they are. You know, we can see signs of them, we can’t do much to encourage them. We should be happy about it, I think, and regard it as kind of like a model for other things that can be done, like here. But that’s happening.

As far as Anarchist Anonymous are concerned, it’s a terrific group. I’m sure what they’ve done. For example, when the US government tried to shut down Wikileaks, and particular corporations, like Amazon, Google, and I forget what others, banned them, Anarchist Anonymous attacked those corporations and shut them down. That’s great, I like that (giggling, audience laughing).

Marcel van der Linden: And now we come to the million dollar issue.

Q1: [inaudible name] asks, how do we as the left counter right wing populism?

Q2: Why do left wing parties and organizations have so much trouble finding answers against right wing populist parties and thoughts, etc. What can we do to unite and find real solutions?

Q3: How can left wing movements in south-east Europe, where Communism has left a negative mark, gain more support from the people? Can the support be gained outside politics?

The final question, by Hans van Dijk, maybe he can ask the question?

Q4, Hans van Dijk: Yes, my question was, in your analysis, what can the people in the Netherlands do against the right wing populist movement and against xenophobia, which is so dominant as a movement in the public sphere in our country at this moment?

Noam Chomsky: Well, actually, I think this collection of questions is among the simpler ones. We live in very free countries. We’re not living in Egypt. You’re not gonna be send to a prison and tortured in Holland or the United States and so on. A lot of opportunities, a lot of freedom has been won, recently. I mean take, say, even things like the right to vote, minimal freedom. In the United States women didn’t have the right to vote until the 1920s. Actually the same year as they got the right to vote in Afghanistan. It took a long struggle. And women’s rights beyond that took a big step forward in the last 20 or 30 years. Quite a big step forward, but still, women had … But the rights were to a large extent won. I mean, take my own experience, personal. When I started teaching where I’m now teaching, at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], in 1955, you walked down the halls, it was white males, well dressed, disciplined, obedient. If you walk down the halls now, half women, a third minorities, informal dress, informal relations, much more participation, a lot more activism. It was a very quiescent period. And that’s kind of like a microcosm of things that were happening all over the world.

Well, how did it happen? There was certainly plenty of opposition to it. It happened because people became organized and active, and got involved in education, activism was appropriate to circumstances, there is no particular formula. And it finally had a big success. And there are a lot of other cases like that, it’s not the only case.

Take, say, the United States. When it was founded it was the freest country in the world, the most democratic, but it was a country of formal democracy for white propertied males. Not black. Not women. Not without property. Well, that’s no longer true. There’s plenty of discrimination, and so on, but that’s not true. Ok, a lot of freedom has been won.

In Wisconsin there’s a major effort to take away freedoms that had been won. But they had been won, through popular struggle and activism.

Racism is endemic in the United States. It goes back to slavery, and every immigrant group that came in was subject to racism. About a 100 years ago in Boston, where I live, you had signs at restaurants, saying “no dogs or Irish”. Irish were treated pretty much like African Americans. Well, it’s not true anymore. Kind of run the political system, all sorts of things. Every wave of immigrants was slowly assimilated. One of the major forces that did this, I should say, is the labor movement. There was bitter anti-immigrant racism in the workers’ movement, because, the usual line, “they are taking away our jobs”, and so on. But every time there was a major strike or a major union building operation, the racism disappeared, dramatically. Well, that’s what you can do. If you have constructive goals, that people can participate in, and you carry out the kind of education that has led to an understanding that practices that were normal in the past are absolutely intolerable, when that comes along, you overcome xenophobia, you get answers to problems, and so on. There’s no formula for that. You can’t say here’s the magic pill you should take. It depends on particular circumstances. It requires commitment, dedication, keep at it. And it works. Our societies are a lot better than they used to be. That’s why. The gains did not come from gifts from above; they were fought for, all the way. And that’s still the case, and that’s gonna continue to be the case. So, you know, I don’t think there are any simple answers. The only ones that are there are answers that all of us know; it’s just from what’s happened, even in our own personal experience, more going back. Same answers.

Over Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky Wereldbekende linguïst en activist. Tussen 1980 en 1992 was hij de meest geciteerde levende persoon. Verkozen tot belangrijkste intellectueel ter wereld.

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