Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Noam Chomsky: To Deal with ISIS, U.S. Should Own Up to Chaos of Iraq War & Other Radicalizing Acts
We air the second part of our two-day interview with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. Chomsky is institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught for more than 50 years. As Iraq launches an offensive to retake Tikrit and Congress prepares to debate an expansive war powers resolution for U.S. strikes, Chomsky discusses how he thinks the U.S. should respond to the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, part two of our discussion with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’s taught for more than half a century. On Monday on Democracy Now!, Aaron Maté and I interviewed him about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on Iran to Congress. Today, in part two, we look at blowback from the U.S. drone program, the legacy of slavery in the United States, the leaks of Edward Snowden, U.S. meddling in Venezuela and the thawing of U.S.-Cuba relations. We began by asking Professor Chomsky how the U.S. should respond to the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s very hard to think of anything serious that can be done. I mean, it should be settled diplomatically and peacefully to the extent that that’s possible. It’s not inconceivable. I mean, there are—ISIS, it’s a horrible manifestation of hideous actions. It’s a real danger to anyone nearby. But so are other forces. And we should be getting together with Iran, which has a huge stake in the matter and is the main force involved, and with the Iraqi government, which is calling for and applauding Iranian support and trying to work out with them some arrangement which will satisfy the legitimate demands of the Sunni population, which is what ISIS is protecting and defending and gaining their support from.
They’re not coming out of nowhere. I mean, they are—one of the effects, the main effects, of the U.S. invasion of Iraq—there are many horrible effects, but one of them was to incite sectarian conflicts, that had not been there before. If you take a look at Baghdad before the invasion, Sunni and Shia lived intermingled—same neighborhoods, they intermarried. Sometimes they say that they didn’t even know if their neighbor was a Sunni or a Shia. It was like knowing what Protestant sect your neighbor belongs to. There was pretty close—it wasn’t—I’m not claiming it was—it wasn’t utopia. There were conflicts. But there was no serious conflict, so much so that Iraqis at the time predicted there would never be a conflict. Well, within a couple of years, it had turned into a violent, brutal conflict. You look at Baghdad today; it’s segregated. What’s left of the Sunni communities is isolated. The people can’t talk to their neighbors. There’s war going on all over. The ISIS is murderous and brutal. The same is true of the Shia militias, which confront it. And this is now spread all over the region. There’s now a major Sunni-Shia conflict rending the region apart, tearing it to shreds.
Now, this cannot be dealt with by bombs. This is much more serious than that. It’s got to be dealt with by steps towards recovering, remedying the massive damage that was initiated by the sledgehammer smashing Iraq and has now spread. And that does require diplomatic, peaceful means dealing with people who are pretty ugly—and we’re not very pretty, either, for that matter. But this just has to be done. Exactly what steps should be taken – it’s hard to say. There are people whose lives are at stake, like the Assyrian Christians, the Yazidi and so on. Apparently, the fighting that protected the—we don’t know a lot, but it looks as though the ground fighting that protected the Yazidi, largely, was carried out by PKK, the Turkish guerrilla group that’s fighting for the Kurds in Turkey but based in northern Iraq. And they’re on the U.S. terrorist list. We can’t hope to have a strategy that deals with ISIS while opposing and attacking the group that’s fighting them, just as it doesn’t make sense to try to have a strategy that excludes Iran, the major state that’s supporting Iraq in its battle with ISIS.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the fact that so many of those who are joining ISIS now—and a lot has been made of the young people, young women and young men, who are going into Syria through Turkey. I mean, Turkey is a U.S. ally. There is a border there. They freely go back and forth.
NOAM CHOMSKY: That’s right. And it’s not just young people. One thing that’s pretty striking is that it includes people with—educated people, doctors, professionals and others. Whatever we—we may not like it, but ISIS is—the idea of the Islamic caliphate does have an appeal to large sectors of a brutalized global population, which is under severe attack everywhere, has been for a long time. And something has appeared which has an appeal to them. And that can’t be overlooked if we want to deal with the issue. We have to ask what’s the nature of the appeal, why is it there, how can we accommodate it and lead to some, if not at least amelioration of the murderous conflict, then maybe some kind of settlement. You can’t ignore these factors if you want to deal with the issue.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about more information that’s come out on the British man who is known as “Jihadi John,” who appears in the Islamic State beheading videos. Mohammed Emwazi has been identified as that man by British security. They say he’s a 26-year-old born in Kuwait who moved to the U.K. as a child and studied computer science at the University of Westminster. The British group CAGE said he faced at least four years of harassment, detention, deportations, threats and attempts to recruit him by British security agencies, which prevented him from leading a normal life. Emwazi approached CAGE in 2009 after he was detained and interrogated by the British intelligence agency MI5 on what he called a safari vacation in Tanzania. In 2010, after Emwazi was barred from returning to Kuwait, he wrote, quote, “I had a job waiting for me and marriage to get started. But know [sic] I feel like a prisoner, only not in a cage, in London.” In 2013, a week after he was barred from Kuwait for a third time, Emwazi left home and ended up in Syria. At a news conference, CAGE research director Asim Qureshi spoke about his recollections of Emwazi and compared his case to another British man, Michael Adebolajo, who hacked a soldier to death in London in 2013.
ASIM QURESHI: Sorry, it’s quite hard, because, you know, he’s such a—I’m really sorry, but he was such a beautiful young man, really. You know, it’s hard to imagine the trajectory, but it’s not a trajectory that’s unfamiliar with us, for us. We’ve seen Michael Adebolajo, once again, somebody that I met, you know, who came to me for help, looking to change his situation within the system. When are we going to finally learn that when we treat people as if they’re outsiders, they will inevitably feel like outsiders, and they will look for belonging elsewhere?
AMY GOODMAN: That’s CAGE research director Asim Qureshi. Your response to this, Noam Chomsky?
NOAM CHOMSKY: He’s right! If you—the same if you take a look at those who perpetrated the crimes on Charlie Hebdo. They also have a history of oppression, violence. They come from Algerian background. The horrible French participation in the murderous war in the ’90s in Algeria is their immediate background. They live under—in these harshly repressed areas. And there’s much more than that. So, you mentioned that information is coming out about so-called Jihadi John. You read the British press; other information is coming out, which we don’t pay much attention to. For example, The Guardian had an article a couple of weeks ago about a Yemeni boy, I think who was about 14 or so, who was murdered in a drone strike. And shortly before, they had interviewed him about his history. His parents and family went through them, were murdered in drone strikes. He watched them burn to death. We get upset about beheadings. They get upset about seeing their father burn to death in a drone strike. He said they live in a situation of constant terror, not knowing when the person 10 feet away from you is suddenly going to be blown away. That’s their lives. People like those who live in the slums around Paris or, in this case, a relatively privileged man under harsh, pretty harsh repression in England, they also know about that. We may choose not to know about it, but they know. When we talk about beheadings, they know that in the U.S.-backed Israeli attack on Gaza, at the points where the attack was most fierce, like the Shejaiya neighborhood, people weren’t just beheaded. Their bodies were torn to shreds. People came later trying to put the pieces of the bodies together to find out who they were, you know. These things happen, too. And they have an impact—all of this has an impact, along with what was just described. And if we seriously want to deal with the question, we can’t ignore that. That’s part of the background of people who are reacting this way.
AARON MATÉ: You spoke before about how the U.S. invasion set off the Sunni-Shia conflict in Iraq, and out of that came ISIS. I wonder if you see a parallel in Libya, where the U.S. and NATO had a mandate to stop a potential massacre in Benghazi, but then went much further than a no-fly zone and helped topple Gaddafi. And now, four years later, we have ISIS in Libya, and they’re beheading Coptic Christians, Egypt now bombing. And with the U.S. debating this expansive war measure, Libya could be next on the U.S. target list.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, that’s a very important analogy. What happened is, as you say, there was a claim that there might be a massacre in Benghazi, and in response to that, there was a U.N. resolution, which had several elements. One, a call for a ceasefire and negotiations, which apparently Gaddafi accepted. Another was a no-fly zone, OK, to stop attacks on Benghazi. The three traditional imperial powers—Britain, France and the United States—immediately violated the resolution. No diplomacy, no ceasefire. They immediately became the air force of the rebel forces. And, in fact, the war itself had plenty of brutality—violent militias, attacks on Africans living in Libya, all sorts of things. The end result is just to tear Libya to shreds. By now, it’s torn between two major warring militias, many other small ones. It’s gotten to the point where they can’t even export their main export, oil. It’s just a disaster, total disaster. That’s what happens when you strike vulnerable systems, as I said, with a sledgehammer. All kind of horrible things can happen.
In the case of Iraq, it’s worth recalling that there had been an almost decade of sanctions, which were brutally destructive. We know about—we can, if we like, know about the sanctions. People prefer not to, but we can find out. There was a sort of humanitarian component of the sanctions, so-called. It was the oil-for-peace program, instituted when the reports of the sanctions were so horrendous—you know, hundreds of thousand of children dying and so on—that it was necessary for the U.S. and Britain to institute some humanitarian part. That was directed by prominent, respected international diplomats, Denis Halliday, who resigned, and Hans von Sponeck. Both Halliday and von Sponeck resigned because they called the humanitarian aspect genocidal. That’s their description. And von Sponeck published a detailed, important book on it called, I think, A Different Kind of War, or something like that, which I’ve never seen a review of or even a mention of it in the United States, which detailed, in great detail, exactly how these sanctions were devastating the civilian society, supporting Saddam, because the people had to simply huddle under the umbrella of power for survival, probably—they didn’t say this, but I’ll add it—probably saving Saddam from the fate of other dictators who the U.S. had supported and were overthrown by popular uprisings. And there’s a long list of them—Somoza, Marcos, Mobutu, Duvalier—you know, even Ceaușescu, U.S. was supporting. They were overthrown from within. Saddam wasn’t, because the civil society that might have carried that out was devastated. He had a pretty efficient rationing system people were living on for survival, but it severely harmed the civilian society. Then comes the war, you know, massive war, plenty of destruction, destruction of antiquities. There’s now, you know, properly, denunciation of ISIS for destroying antiquities. The U.S. invasion did the same thing. Millions of refugees, a horrible blow against the society.
These things have terrible consequences. Actually, there’s an interesting interview with Graham Fuller. He’s one of the leading Middle East analysts, long background in CIA, U.S. intelligence. In the interview, he says something like, “The U.S. created ISIS.” He hastens to add that he’s not joining with the conspiracy theories that are floating around the Middle East about how the U.S. is supporting ISIS. Of course, it’s not. But what he says is, the U.S. created ISIS in the sense that we established the background from which ISIS developed as a terrible offshoot. And we can’t overlook that.
AMY GOODMAN: MIT professor Noam Chomsky. When we come back from break, he talks about Cuba, U.S. relations with Venezuela, Edward Snowden, U.S. drones, the legacy of slavery, and a new chapter in Noam’s own life. Stay with us.
Tensions are growing between the United States and Venezuela as the government of President Nicolás Maduro grapples with an economic crisis and a right-wing opposition calling for his removal from office. Venezuela has announced the arrest of an unspecified number of Americans on charges of espionage, new restrictions on the number of U.S. diplomats allowed in Venezuela, and rule changes that will subject Americans to the same visa requirements Venezuelans face in the United States. Maduro has also unveiled a list of American politicians barred from entering Venezuela in response to U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan officials last year. Maduro has repeatedly accused right-wing opponents of fomenting a coup with U.S. support. The White House has denied the charges, but said last week it is considering “tools” to “steer the Venezuelan government in the direction … they should be headed.” Weighing in on Venezuela, Noam Chomsky says the United States should be working with the Maduro government, not trying to undermine it.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of Latin America, overall, I wanted to turn to the latest that’s happening in Venezuela and with U.S.-Venezuelan relations. Venezuela has announced the arrest of an unspecified number of Americans on charges of espionage, at least some of whom have reportedly been released and left the country. Speaking at a rally, the Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, said the suspects were trying to stoke anti-government political sentiment.
PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO: [translated] We’ve detected activity, and we have captured some U.S. citizens in undercover activities, in hidden activities, espionage, trying to win over people in towns along the Venezuelan coast, trying to win over people in some neighborhoods. In Táchira, we captured a pilot of a U.S. plane of Latin origin with all sorts of documentation.
AMY GOODMAN: President Maduro also announced new restrictions on the number of U.S. diplomats allowed in Venezuela and rule changes that will subject Americans to the same visa requirements Venezuelans face in the United States. President Maduro has also unveiled a list of American politicians barred from entering Venezuela in response to U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan officials last year. Maduro has repeatedly accused right-wing opponents of fomenting a coup with U.S. support. Now, the White House has denied the charges, but said last week it’s considering tools to, quote, “steer the Venezuelan government in the direction they should be headed,” unquote. Professor Noam Chomsky, your response? What’s happening?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, one kind of question we should immediately ask ourselves is brought up by your observation that Venezuela is planning to impose on U.S. citizens the same restrictions that the United States imposes on Venezuelans. Why do we impose those restrictions? Suppose, say, that Iran was sending people to the United States to foment opposition to the government and call for change in the regime. How would we react to that? Unimaginable! But we consider it our right to do that elsewhere. Incidentally, this is not a justification of Venezuelan actions. The fact that we do it doesn’t make it justified. If others do it, no, it’s not justified. Venezuela has severe internal problems. There’s no doubt about that.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of Maduro and how he compares to President Chávez?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, Maduro—Chávez had a charisma and popular support and appeal that Maduro doesn’t have. But there is a—there are difficult economic circumstances to face within Venezuela. The economy is in difficult shape. During the Chávez years, there were progress in many areas, but there was no success in moving Venezuela away from a strictly oil-based economy. There was very little in the way of diversification of the economy, a development of agriculture, development of industry and so on. And that’s a pretty weak reed for an economy to rest on. It’s not a successful development program. And that’s now showing up. There were inflation problems. They were never able to deal with the problem of internal violence. It’s not the most violent country in the hemisphere, but it’s pretty bad. And these are serious internal problems that are undoubtedly being exacerbated, to some extent by U.S. involvement. By rights, we should be trying to support Venezuela to overcome its internal problems, not trying to light fires that will make them worse.
AMY GOODMAN: How could the U.S. do that?
NOAM CHOMSKY: We could, for example, eliminate those restrictions that you’re talking about. We could be providing economic and technical assistance that could be used to overcome internal difficulties. These are things that could be done. Instead what we’re doing is maintaining a position of extreme hostility. This is not—there’s plenty of problems internally, and our actions are purposely making them worse. It’s not by accident. We want—the U.S. government wants to make them worse, because it wants the regime overthrown. Chávez’s own estimate—whether it’s accurate or not, I can’t judge, but what he’s—his position is that the United States was willing to tolerate his government, up to the point when he began to play a significant role in OPEC and convinced the OPEC countries, the oil-producing countries, to lower production in order to raise prices. And the U.S. was strongly opposed to that. And what he says is, that’s when the U.S. government turned against him. In fact, the U.S. backed, openly backed, the 2002 coup, which briefly overthrew the government, and has continued subversive activities. That’s his judgment.
AMY GOODMAN: MIT professor Noam Chomsky. Coming up, he talks about Edward Snowden, drone warfare, the legacy of slavery in the United States and Noam’s new love. All that and more, coming up.
The United States and Cuba have held a second round of talks as part of the effort to restore full diplomatic ties for the first time in more than half a century. The two sides could reopen embassies in Havana and Washington in time for a regional meeting next month. World-renowned political analyst and linguist Noam Chomsky welcomes President Obama’s decision to begin normalizing relations with Cuba, but cautions that after more than half a century of U.S. meddling in the island nation, it’s the minimum step he could take.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: As we continue our conversation with Noam Chomsky, we turn now to Latin America. Democracy Now!’s Aaron Maté sat down with Noam Chomsky yesterday on Democracy Now!, the MIT professor emeritus. We asked him to talk about the thawing of U.S.-Cuba relations and U.S. meddling in Cuba.
NOAM CHOMSKY: The U.S. has been at war with Cuba since late 1959. Cuba was—had been, essentially, a colony of the United States, a virtual colony. In January 1959, the Castro guerrilla forces took over. By late that year, around October, U.S. planes were already bombing Cuba from Florida. In, I think it was, March 1960, there was a formal decision internally to overthrow the government. John F. Kennedy came in shortly after, got the Bay of Pigs. After the Bay of Pigs, there was almost hysteria in Washington about how to punish the Cubans for this. Kennedy made some incredible speeches about how, you know, the future of the world is at stake in dealing with Cuba and so on. The U.S. launched a major terrorist war against Cuba. We kind of downplay it, and what you can get reported is CIA attempts, you know, to kill Castro—bad enough—but that was a very minor part of it. Major terrorist war is part of the background for the missile crisis, which almost led to a terminal nuclear war. Right after the crisis, the terrorist war picked up again.
Meanwhile, the sanctions have been very harsh sanctions against Cuba, right from the Eisenhower regime, picked up, extended by Kennedy, extended further under Clinton, who actually outflanked Bush from the right on extending the sanctions. The world has been totally opposed to this. The votes at the General Assembly—you can’t do it at the Security Council because the U.S. vetoes everything, but at the General Assembly, the votes are just overwhelming. I think the last one was 182 to two, you know, U.S. and Israel, and sometimes they pick up Papua or something like that. This has been going on year after year. The U.S. is utterly isolated, not just on this issue, many others.
Finally, notice that Obama didn’t end the sanctions. In fact, he didn’t even end the restrictions, many of the restrictions on travel and so on. They made a mild gesture towards moving towards normalization of relations. That’s presented here—the way it’s presented here is, we have to test Cuba to see if our long—as Obama put it, our efforts to improve the situation in Cuba have failed, right? Big efforts to improve the situation—terrorism, sanctions! The sanctions are really incredible. So, if, say, Sweden was sending medical equipment somewhere, which had Cuban nickel in it, that had to be banned, you know, things like that.
AMY GOODMAN: And terrorism, you mean?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Terrorism just—it went on into the ’90s. The worst part was under Kennedy, then picked up again in the late ’70s and so on. Major terrorists are provided refuge in Florida. The late Bosch is one, Orlando Bosch. Posada is another. You remember there was something called the Bush Doctrine, Bush II: A country that harbors terrorists is the same as the terrorists themselves. That’s for others, not for us. We harbor them and also support their activities.
But we have to test Cuba to see if they’re making successful gestures, now that our old policy of bringing freedom and democracy didn’t work, so we have to try a new policy. I mean, the irony of this is almost indescribable. The fact that these words can be said is shocking. It’s a sign of, again, a failure to reach a minimal level of civilized awareness and behavior. But the steps—I mean, it’s good that there are small steps being taken. It’s interesting to see what the Cuban intellectual community—there is a dissident intellectual community in Cuba—how they’ve been reacting to it. Actually, there’s an interesting article about it by my daughter, Avi Chomsky, who’s a Cuba specialist. But we don’t look at that. We don’t hear what they’re saying.
AMY GOODMAN: What are they saying?
NOAM CHOMSKY: What they’re saying is approximately what I was just saying: You know, it’s a good step that the U.S. is beginning to move, but they’ve got to begin to face up to the reality of what’s been happening, which is that the U.S. has been attacking Cuba. And the reason for—the primary reason, probably, for Obama’s slight moves are that the U.S. was becoming completely isolated in the hemisphere. It’s not just that the world is opposed, the hemisphere is opposed. And that’s a remarkable development.
World-renowned political dissident, linguist and author Noam Chomsky discusses why National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden should be welcomed back to the United States as a hero and why those who authorized the government surveillance he exposed should be on trial, not him. Chomsky also argues that while mass surveillance has been ineffective in stopping terrorism, programs like the global U.S. drone war have helped spread it to areas all around the world.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re spending the hour with MIT professor, author and activist Noam Chomsky. We sat down with him Monday. I asked him about the significance of the leaks by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and whether he should be allowed to return to the United States without facing any charges.
AMY GOODMAN: I was talking to a friend who was saying, you know, when you talk about Edward Snowden, what about the issues of terrorism and having to spy on those who might want to hurt others?
NOAM CHOMSKY: If they want to—first of all, it’s—we can raise this question, but it’s academic, because they are not preventing terrorism. You’ll recall, when the Snowden revelations came out, the immediate reaction from the government, the highest level—Keith Alexander, others—was that these NSA programs had stopped, I think they said, 54 or so acts of terror. Gradually, when the press started asking questions, it was whittled down to about 12. Finally, it came down to one. And that act of terror was a man who had sent, I think, $8,500 to Somalia. That’s the yield of this massive program.
Tabacco: Chomsky, like others before him, invokes the Futility of our own TERRORISM to REFUTE our own Terrorism! Chomsky is a Pragmatist!
Tabacco invokes America’s own “Stated Principles” to REFUTE our own Terrorism! I affirm that even if USA’s TERRORISM had led to Saddam Hussein’s Demise, Osama bin Laden’s Demise, the Demise of ISIS, al Qaeda & the Taliban, Americans would still be HYPOCRITES! Tabacco is an Idealist!
How DARE Hypocrites PREACH to the REST OF HUMANITY about Fair Play, Laws & DEMOCRACY! If what WE do is Democracy, then Democracy is an UTTERLY FAILED SYSTEM! And EACH & EVERY AMERICAN should feel Shame, Regret & Damned!
And it is not intended to stop terrorism. It’s intended to control the population. That’s quite different. You have to be very cautious in accepting claims by power systems. They have no reason to tell you the truth. And you have to look and ask, “Well, what is the truth?” And this system is not a system for protecting terrorism.
Actually, you can say the same about the drone assassination program. That’s a global assassination program, far and away the worst act of terror in the world. It’s also a terror-generating program. And they know it, from high places. You can find quotation after quotation where they know it. Take this one case that I mentioned before, this child who was murdered in a drone strike after having watched his family burn to death by drone strikes.
AMY GOODMAN: In Yemen!
NOAM CHOMSKY: What’s the effect of this on people? Well, it’s to create terror. The close analyses have shown that that’s exactly what happens. There’s a very important book by Akbar Ahmed, who’s an important anthropologist, who is a Pakistani, who studies tribal systems and worked in the North-West territories and so on, and it’s called The Thistle and the Drone. And he goes through, in some detail, the effect on tribal societies of simply murdering—from their point of view, just murdering people at random. The drone attacks, remember, are aimed at people who are suspected of maybe someday wanting to harm us. I mean, suppose, say, that Iran was killing people in the United States and Israel who they thought would—might someday want to harm them. They could find plenty of people. Would we consider that legitimate? It’s again, we have the right to carry out mass murder of suspects who we think might harm us someday. How does the world look at this? How do the people look at this in this village where this child was who said that they’re terrorized by constant drone strikes all over North-West Pakistan? That’s true. Now it’s over most of the world. The U.S. war—so-called war against terror has been a smashing success. There was a small group up in the tribal areas of mostly Pakistan and Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, and we have succeeded in spreading it over the whole world. Now they’re all everywhere—you know, West Africa, Southeast Asia—simply generating more and more terror. And I think it’s—you know, it’s not that the U.S. is trying to generate terror. It’s simply that it doesn’t care.
Noam Chomsky weighs in on the Black Lives Matter movement across the United States, calling it a response to the unresolved consequences of slavery and racism dating back hundreds of years. “[Slavery] is a large part of the basis for our wealth and privilege,” Chomsky says. “Is there a slave museum in the United States? The first one is just being established now with a private donor. This is the core of our history along with the extermination and expulsion of the native population. But it’s not part of our consciousness.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you have in the United States a movement around accountability, overall. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Selma Bloody Sunday, March 7th, when John Lewis, now a congressman, and scores of others had their heads beaten in by Alabama state troopers. It’s 50 years later, and you have the Black Lives Matter movement. You have these stories repeatedly around the country of police officers killing young people and not-so-young people of color. What do you make of this movement? And do you see the anti-austerity movement in Europe, the accountability movement in the United States, the movement around climate change—do you see these coalescing in any way?
NOAM CHOMSKY: They should. But in actual fact, the degree of coalescence is not high. We should remember that—take Selma. If you listen to the rhetoric on Martin Luther King Day, it’s instructive. It typically ends with the “I Have a Dream” speech and the voting rights. And Martin Luther King didn’t stop there. He went on to condemning the war in Vietnam and to raising class issues. He began to raise class issues and turn to the North. At that point, he fell out of favor and disappeared. He was trying to—he was assassinated when he was trying to organize a poor people’s movement, and he was supporting a sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis. There was supposed to be a march to Washington to establish a poor people’s movement, appeal to Congress to do something about class issues. Well, the march actually took place after his death, led by his widow, ended up in Washington. They set up a tent city, a resurrection city. This was the most liberal Congress in history probably, tolerated it briefly, then sent in the police in the middle of the night and drove them out of town. And that’s disappeared from the rhetoric on Martin Luther King Day. So it’s OK to condemn a racist sheriff in Alabama, but not us, please. Don’t touch our privilege and power. And that’s a large part of the background.
These issues are very real. There’s more issues here. Racism is a very serious problem in the United States. Take a look at the scholarly work on it, say, George Fredrickson’s study of the white supremacy, comparative study. He concludes, I think plausibly, that the white supremacy in the United States was even more extreme and savage than in South Africa. Just think of our own history. You know, our economy, our wealth, our privilege relies very heavily on a century of horrifying slave labor camps. The cotton—cotton production was not just the fuel of the Industrial Revolution, it was the basis for the financial system, the merchant system, commerce, England, as well. These were bitter, brutal slave labor camps. There’s a recent study by Edward Baptist, which comes out with some startling information. It’s called—actually, the title is startling, something like The Half was Never Told [The Half Has Never Been Told], which is more or less true, was never told. But, for example, he shows, pretty convincingly, that in the slave labor camps—the “plantations,” we call them, politely—the productivity increased more rapidly than in industry, with no technological advance, just the bullwhip. Just by driving people harder and harder to the point of survival, they were able to increase productivity and profit. And it’s not just the—he also points out that the word “torture” is not used in discussion of this period. He introduces it should be used. I mean, these are camps that could have impressed the Nazis. And it is a large part of the basis for our wealth and privilege. Is there a slave museum in the United States? Actually, the first one is just being established now by private—some private donor. I mean, this is the core of our history, along with the extermination or expulsion of the native population, but it’s not part of our consciousness.
Tabacco: See now, that didn’t take long!
In this holiday special, we broadcast the words of world-renowned political dissident Noam Chomsky, who recently spoke in the hall of the U.N. General Assembly at an event sponsored by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. “The pattern that was set in January 1976 continues to the present,” said Chomsky, Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Israel rejects a settlement of these terms and for many years has been devoting extensive resources to ensuring it will not be implemented with the unremitting and decisive support of the United States — military, economic, diplomatic and ideological.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend the hour with Professor Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. He’s Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’s taught for more than half a century. In October, more than 800 people packed the hall of the U.N. General Assembly to see Noam Chomsky—ambassadors and the public alike from around the world. The event was hosted by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. Professor Chomsky gave a major address, and I followed with a public interview. First, the speech.
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s a pleasure to be here to be able to talk with you and discuss with you afterwards.
Many of the world’s problems are so intractable that it’s hard to think of ways even to take steps towards mitigating them. The Israel-Palestine conflict is not one of these. On the contrary, the general outlines of a diplomatic solution have been clear for at least 40 years. Not the end of the road—nothing ever is—but a significant step forward. And the obstacles to a resolution are also quite clear.
The basic outlines were presented here in a resolution brought to the U.N. Security Council in January 1976. It called for a two-state settlement on the internationally recognized border—and now I’m quoting—”with guarantees for the rights of both states to exist in peace and security within secure and recognized borders.” The resolution was brought by the three major Arab states: Egypt, Jordan, Syria—sometimes called the “confrontation states.” Israel refused to attend the session. The resolution was vetoed by the United States. A U.S. veto typically is a double veto: The veto, the resolution is not implemented, and the event is vetoed from history, so you have to look hard to find the record, but it is there. That has set the pattern that has continued since. The most recent U.S. veto was in February 2011—that’s President Obama—when his administration vetoed a resolution calling for implementation of official U.S. policy opposition to expansion of settlements. And it’s worth bearing in mind that expansion of settlements is not really the issue; it’s the settlements, unquestionably illegal, along with the infrastructure projects supporting them.
For a long time, there has been an overwhelming international consensus in support of a settlement along these general lines. The pattern that was set in January 1976 continues to the present. Israel rejects a settlement of these terms and for many years has been devoting extensive resources to ensuring that it will not be implemented, with the unremitting and decisive support of the United States—military, economic, diplomatic and indeed ideological—by establishing how the conflict is viewed and interpreted in the United States and within its broad sphere of influence.
There’s no time here to review the record, but its general character is revealed by a look at what has happened in Gaza in the past decade, carrying forward a long history of earlier crimes. Last August, August 26th, a ceasefire was reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And the question on all our minds is: What are the prospects for the future? Well, one reasonable way to try to answer that question is to look at the record. And here, too, there is a definite pattern: A ceasefire is reached; Israel disregards it and continues its steady assault on Gaza, including continued siege, intermittent acts of violence, more settlement and development projects, often violence in the West Bank; Hamas observes the ceasefire, as Israel officially recognizes, until some Israeli escalation elicits a Hamas response, which leads to another exercise of “mowing the lawn,” in Israeli parlance, each episode more fierce and destructive than the last.
The first of the series was the Agreement on Movement and Access in November 2005. I’ll give a close paraphrase of it. It called for a crossing between Gaza and Egypt at Rafah for the export of goods and the transit of people, continuous operation of crossings between Israel and Gaza for the import and export of goods and the transit of people, reduction of obstacles to movement within the West Bank, bus and truck convoys between the West Bank and Gaza, the building of a seaport in Gaza, the reopening of the airport in Gaza that Israel had recently destroyed. These are essentially the terms of successive ceasefires, including the one just reached a few weeks ago.
The timing of the November 2005 agreement is significant. This was the moment of Israel’s disengagement, as it’s called, from Gaza—the removal of several thousand Israeli settlers from Gaza. Now, this is depicted as a noble effort to seek peace and development, but the reality is rather different. The reality was described, very quickly, by the Israeli official who was in charge of negotiating and implementing the ceasefire, Dov Weissglas, close confidant of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. As he explained to the Israeli press, the goal of the disengagement—I’m quoting him—was “the freezing of the peace process,” so as to “prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state” and to ensure that diplomacy “has been removed indefinitely from our agenda.”
The reality on the ground is described by Israel’s leading specialists on the occupation—a historian, respected historian Idith Zertal, Israel’s leading diplomatic correspondent Akiva Eldar, wrote the major book, the standard work on the settlement project, called Lords of the Land, referring to the settlers. What they say about the disengagement is this: They say, “the ruined territory”—and by then, it was ruined, largely part of the reason for the removal of the settlers—”the ruined territory was not released for even a single day from Israel’s military grip, or from the price of the occupation that the inhabitants pay every day. After the disengagement, Israel left behind scorched earth, devastated services, and people with neither a present nor a future. The settlements were destroyed in an ungenerous move by an unenlightened occupier, which in fact continues to control the territory and to kill and harass its inhabitants by means of its formidable military might.” Now, that’s an accurate description from the most respected Israeli source.
The Oslo Accords, 20 years ago, established that Gaza and the West Bank are an indivisible territorial unity, whose integrity cannot be broken up. For 20 years, the United States and Israel have been dedicated to separate Gaza and the West Bank in violation of the accords that they had accepted. And a look at the map explains why. Gaza offers the only access to the outside world of Palestine. If Gaza is separated from the West Bank, whatever autonomy might ultimately be granted in the West Bank would be imprisoned—Israel on one side, a hostile Jordan, ally of Israel, on the other side, and in addition, one of Israel’s slow and steady U.S.-backed policies is to take over the Jordan Valley, about a third of the West Bank, much of the arable land, which would essentially imprison the rest even more tightly, if Gaza is separated from the West Bank. Now, that’s the major geostrategic reason for the Israeli insistence, with U.S. backing, on separating the two in violation of the Oslo agreements and the series of ceasefires that have been reached since November 2005.
Well, the November 2005 agreement lasted for a few weeks. In January 2006, a very important event took place: the first full, free election in the Arab world, carefully monitored, recognized to be free and fair. It had one flaw. It came out the wrong way: Hamas won the Parliament, control of the Parliament. The U.S. and Israel didn’t want that. You may recall, at that period, the slogan on everyone’s lips was “democracy promotion.” The highest U.S. commitment in the world was democracy promotion. Here was a good test. Democracy: Election came out the wrong way; the U.S. instantly decided, along with Israel, to punish the Palestinians for the crime of voting the wrong way; a harsh siege was instituted, other punishments; violence increased; the United States immediately began to organize a military coup to overthrow the unacceptable government. That’s quite familiar practice, I won’t go through the record. The European Union, to its shame and discredit, went along with this. There was an immediate Israeli escalation. That was the end of the November agreement, followed by major Israeli onslaughts.
In 2007, a year later, Hamas committed even a greater crime than winning a fair election: It preempted the planned military coup and took over Gaza. That’s described in the West, in the United States, most of the West, as Hamas’s taking over Gaza by force—which is not false, but something is omitted. The force was preempting a planned military coup to overthrow the elected government. Now, that was a serious crime. It’s bad enough to vote the wrong way in a free election, but to preempt a U.S.-planned military coup is far more serious. The attack on Gaza increased substantially at that point, major Israeli onslaughts. Finally, in January 2008, another ceasefire was reached. Terms were pretty much the same as those that I quoted. Israel publicly rejected the ceasefire, said that it would not abide by it. Hamas observed the ceasefire, as Israel officially recognizes, despite Israel’s refusal to do so.
Now, that continued until November 4th, 2008. On November 4th, which was the day of the U.S. election, Israeli forces invaded Gaza, killed half a dozen Hamas militants. That led to Qassam rockets attacking Israel, huge Israeli response, lots of killings—all Palestinians, as usual. By the end of December, couple of weeks later, Hamas offered to renew the ceasefire. The Israeli Cabinet considered it and rejected it. This was a dovish Cabinet, led by Ehud Olmert—rejected it and decided to launch the next major military operation.
That was Cast Lead, which was a horrible operation, so much so that it caused a very substantial international reaction, investigations by a United Nations commission, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch. In the middle of the assault—the assault, incidentally, was carefully timed to end immediately before President Obama’s inauguration. He had already been elected, but he wasn’t inaugurated yet, so when he was asked to comment on the ongoing atrocities, he responded by saying that he couldn’t do so, the United States has only one president, and he wasn’t president yet. He was talking about lots of other things, but not this. The attack was timed to end immediately before the inauguration, so he therefore could respond to the questions by saying, “Well, now is not the time to look at the past, let’s look forward to the future.” Diplomats know very well that that’s a standard slogan for those who are engaged in serious crime: “Let’s forget about the past, let’s look forward to a glorious future.” Well, that was right in the middle of the assault.
The Security Council did pass a resolution—unanimously, U.S. abstaining—calling for an immediate ceasefire with the usual terms. That was January 8th, 2009. It was never observed, and it broke down completely with the next major episode of “mowing the lawn” in November 2012. Now, you can get a good sense of what was going on by looking at the casualty figures for the year 2012. Seventy-nine people were killed, 78 of them Palestinians—the usual story.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, speaking in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly in an event hosted by the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. We’ll return to his speech and our conversation in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. In October, MIT professor Noam Chomsky spoke in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly. He talked about the aftermath of the November 2012 Israeli assault on Gaza.
NOAM CHOMSKY: After the November assault, there was a ceasefire reached with the usual terms. I’ll describe what happened next by quoting a leading specialist, Nathan Thrall. He’s a leading Middle East analyst for the International Crisis Group. As he writes, Israel recognized that Hamas was observing the terms of the ceasefire, and “therefore saw little incentive” in doing the same. The military attacks on Gaza increased, along with more stringent restrictions on imports. Exports were blocked. Exit permits were blocked.
That continued until April 2014, when Palestinians committed another crime: Gaza-based Hamas and West Bank-based Palestinian Authority signed a unity agreement. Israel was infuriated—infuriated even more when the world mostly supported it. Even the United States gave weak, but actual, support. Several reasons for the Israeli reaction. One is that unity between Gaza and the West Bank, between the two movements, would threaten the long-standing policies of separating the two, for the reasons that I mentioned. Another reason was that a unity government undermines one of the pretexts for Israel’s refusal to participate in negotiations seriously—namely, how can we negotiate with an entity that is internally divided? Well, if they’re unified, that pretext disappears. Israel was infuriated. It launched major assaults on the Palestinians in the West Bank, primarily targeting Hamas. Hundreds of people arrested, mostly Hamas members. Also Gaza, also killings.
There was a pretext, of course. There always is! The pretext was that three teenagers, Israeli teenagers, in the settlements had been brutally murdered, captured and murdered. Israel claimed officially that they thought that they were alive, so therefore launched a long, several weeks’ assault on the West Bank, alleging that they were trying to find them alive. Meanwhile, the arrests, attacks and so on. It turns out that they knew immediately that they had been killed. Now, they also knew immediately that it was very unlikely that Hamas was involved. The government said they had certain knowledge that Hamas had done it, but their own leading specialists, like [Shlomi Eldar], had pointed out right away that the assault—which was a brutal crime—was very likely committed by members of a breakaway clan, the Qawasmeh clan in Hebron, which was not given a green light by Hamas and had been a thorn in their sides. And that, apparently, is true, if you look at the later arrests and punishments. Anyway, that was a pretext for this assault, killings in Gaza, too. That finally elicited a Hamas response. Then came Operation Protective Edge, the one, which was just completed, and more brutal and destructive even the ones that preceded it.
The pattern is very clear! And so far, at least, it appears to be continuing. The latest ceasefire was reached on August 26th. It was followed at once by Israel’s greatest land grab in 30 years, almost a thousand acres in the Gush Etzion area near what’s called Jerusalem, Greater Jerusalem, about five times the size of anything that Jerusalem ever was, taken over by Israel, annexed in violation of Security Council orders. The U.S. State Department informed the Israeli Embassy that Israeli—I’m quoting it now—”Israeli activity in Gush Etzion undermines American efforts to protect Israel at the United Nations,” and urged that Israel shouldn’t provide ammunition for “those at the [United Nations] who would interpret [Israel’s] position as hardening.” Actually, that warning was given 47 years ago, in September 1967, at the time of Israel’s first colonization, illegal colonization, of Gush Etzion. Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg recently reminded us of this. Little has changed since, in the last 47 years, apart from the scale of the crimes, which continue, without a break, with constant U.S. support.
Well, as for the prospects, there is a conventional picture. It’s repeated constantly on all sides—Israel, Palestine, independent commentators, diplomats. The picture that’s presented is that there are two alternatives: either the two-state settlement, which represents an overwhelming international consensus, virtually everyone, and if that fails, there will have to be one state—Israel will take over the West Bank, the Palestinians will hand over the keys, as it’s sometimes said. Palestinians often have favored that. They say then they will be able to carry out a civil rights struggle, maybe modeled on the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, fight for civil rights within the whole one state controlled by Israel. Now, Israelis criticize that on the grounds of what is called “the demographic problem,” the fact that there will be too many non-Jews in a Jewish state—in fact, pretty soon a majority. Those are the alternatives that are presented, overwhelmingly, hardly an exception.
My own opinion, which I’ve written about repeatedly—without convincing many people, apparently, but I’ll try to convince you—is that this is a total illusion. Those are not the two alternatives. There are two alternatives, but they’re different ones. One alternative is the international consensus on a two-state settlement, basically the terms of January 1976. By now, it’s virtually everyone—the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic States, includes Iran, Europe, Latin America—informally, at least, about everyone. That’s one option. The other option, the realistic one, is that Israel will continue doing exactly what it is doing right now, before our eyes, visible, with U.S. support, which is also visible. And what’s happening is not a secret. You can open the newspapers and read it.
Israel is taking over what they call Jerusalem, as I mentioned, a huge area, maybe five times the area of historic Jerusalem, Greater Jerusalem, big area in the West Bank, includes many Arab villages being dispossessed, destroyed, bringing settlers in. All of this is doubly illegal. All the settlements are illegal, as determined by the Security Council, advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice. But the Jerusalem settlements are doubly illegal, because they’re also in violation of explicit Security Council orders going back to 1968, with the U.S. actually voting for them at that time, barring any change in the status of Jerusalem. But it continues. That’s Greater Jerusalem. There are then corridors extending to the east. One major corridor extending from Jerusalem almost to Jericho, virtually bisecting the West Bank, includes the Israeli town of Ma’ale Adumim, which was built largely during the Clinton administration, Clinton years, with the obvious purpose of bisecting the West Bank—still a little contested territory, but that’s the goal. There’s another corridor further to the north including the town of Ariel, partially bisecting what remains. Another one further to the north including the town of Kedumim. If you look at the map, these essentially break up the West Bank into pretty much cantons. It looks, from a map, as though a large territory is left, but that’s misleading. Most of that is uninhabitable desert. And that’s separate from what I mentioned before, the slow, steady takeover of the Jordan Valley to the east—again, about a third of the arable land, the country.
Israel has no official policy of taking it over, but they’re pursuing the policy in the way that has been carried out now for a hundred years, literally—small steps so nobody notices, or at least people pretend not to notice, establish a military zone. The Palestinians who live there have to be displaced because it’s a military zone, no settlement allowed, and pretty soon there’s a military settlement, Nahal settlement, and another, then, sooner or later, it becomes an actual settlement. Meanwhile, dig wells, dispossess the population, set up green zones—a large variety of techniques which have, by now, reduced the Arab population from about 300,000 in 1967 to roughly 60,000 today. As I mentioned, that essentially imprisons what’s left.
I don’t think Israel has any intention of taking over the Palestinian population concentrations, which are left out of this, these plans. There are analogies often made to South Africa, but they’re quite misleading. South Africa relied on its black population. That was 85 percent of the population. It was its workforce. And they had to sustain them, just like slave-owners have to maintain their capital. They tried to sustain the population. They even tried to gain international support for the bantustans. Israel has no such attitude toward the Palestinians. They don’t want to have anything to do with them. If they leave, that’s fine. If they die, that’s fine. In standard neocolonial pattern, Israel is establishing—permitting the establishment of a center for Palestinian elites in Ramallah, where you have nice restaurants and theaters and so on. Every Third World country under the colonial system had something like that.
Now, that’s the picture that’s emerging. It’s taking shape before our eyes. It has so far worked very well. If it continues, Israel will not face a demographic problem. When these regions are integrated slowly into Israel, actually, the proportion of Jews in Greater Israel will increase. There are very few Palestinians there. Those who are there are being dispossessed, kicked out. That’s what’s taking shape before our eyes. I think that’s the realistic alternative to a two-state settlement. And there’s every reason to expect it to continue as long as the United States supports it.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Noam Chomsky, speaking in October in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly in an event hosted by the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. After Chomsky spoke, I interviewed him in front of an audience of 800 at the U.N. We’ll play highlights of that conversation after this break.
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