Interviewing Chomsky - by Radio B92, Belgrade


Why do you think these attacks happened?To answer the question we must first identify the perpetrators ofthe crimes. It is generally assumed, plausibly, that their origin isthe Middle East region, and that the attacks probably trace back tothe Osama Bin Laden network, a widespread and complex organization,doubtless inspired by Bin Laden but not necessarily acting under hiscontrol. Let us assume that this is true. Then to answer yourquestion a sensible person would try to ascertain Bin Laden's views,and the sentiments of the large reservoir of supporters he hasthroughout the region. About all of this, we have a great deal ofinformation. Bin Laden has been interviewed extensively over theyears by highly reliable Middle East specialists, notably the mosteminent correspondent in the region, Robert Fisk (LondonIndependent), who has intimate knowledge of the entire region anddirect experience over decades.

A Saudi Arabian millionaire, BinLaden became a militant Islamic leader in the war to drive theRussians out of Afghanistan. He was one of the many religiousfundamentalist extremists recruited, armed, and financed by the CIAand their allies in Pakistani intelligence to cause maximal harm tothe Russians -- quite possibly delaying their withdrawal, manyanalysts suspect -- though whether he personally happened to havedirect contact with the CIA is unclear, and not particularlyimportant. Not surprisingly, the CIA preferred the most fanatic andcruel fighters they could mobilize. The end result was to "destroy amoderate regime and create a fanatical one, from groups recklesslyfinanced by the Americans" (_London Times_ correspondent SimonJenkins, also a specialist on the region). These "Afghanis" as theyare called (many, like Bin Laden, not from Afghanistan) carried outterror operations across the border in Russia, but they terminatedthese after Russia withdrew.

Their war was not against Russia, whichthey despise, but against the Russian occupation and Russia's crimesagainst Muslims.The "Afghanis" did not terminate their activities, however. Theyjoined Bosnian Muslim forces in the Balkan Wars; the US did notobject, just as it tolerated Iranian support for them, for complexreasons that we need not pursue here, apart from noting that concernfor the grim fate of the Bosnians was not prominent among them.

The"Afghanis" are also fighting the Russians in Chechnya, and, quitepossibly, are involved in carrying out terrorist attacks in Moscowand elsewhere in Russian territory. Bin Laden and his "Afghanis"turned against the US in 1990 when they established permanent basesin Saudi Arabia -- from his point of view, a counterpart to theRussian occupation of Afghanistan, but far more significant becauseof Saudi Arabia's special status as the guardian of the holiestshrines.Bin Laden is also bitterly opposed to the corrupt and repressiveregimes of the region, which he regards as "un-Islamic," includingthe Saudi Arabian regime, the most extreme Islamic fundamentalistregime in the world, apart from the Taliban, and a close US allysince its origins.

Bin Laden despises the US for its support ofthese regimes. Like others in the region, he is also outraged bylong-standing US support for Israel's brutal military occupation,now in its 35th year: Washington's decisive diplomatic, military,and economic intervention in support of the killings, the harsh anddestructive siege over many years, the daily humiliation to whichPalestinians are subjected, the expanding settlements designed tobreak the occupied territories into Bantustan-like cantons and takecontrol of the resources, the gross violation of the GenevaConventions, and other actions that are recognized as crimesthroughout most of the world, apart from the US, which has primeresponsibility for them. And like others, he contrasts Washington'sdedicated support for these crimes with the decade-long US-Britishassault against the civilian population of Iraq, which hasdevastated the society and caused hundreds of thousands of deathswhile strengthening Saddam Hussein -- who was a favored friend andally of the US and Britain right through his worst atrocities,including the gassing of the Kurds, as people of the region alsoremember well, even if Westerners prefer to forget the facts. Thesesentiments are very widely shared.

The _Wall Street Journal_ (Sept.14) published a survey of opinions of wealthy and privileged Muslimsin the Gulf region (bankers, professionals, businessmen with closelinks to the U.S.). They expressed much the same views: resentmentof the U.S. policies of supporting Israeli crimes and blocking theinternational consensus on a diplomatic settlement for many yearswhile devastating Iraqi civilian society, supporting harsh andrepressive anti-democratic regimes throughout the region, andimposing barriers against economic development by "propping upoppressive regimes." Among the great majority of people sufferingdeep poverty and oppression, similar sentiments are far more bitter,and are the source of the fury and despair that has led to suicidebombings, as commonly understood by those who are interested in thefacts.The U.S., and much of the West, prefers a more comforting story.

Toquote the lead analysis in the _New York Times_ (Sept. 16), theperpetrators acted out of "hatred for the values cherished in theWest as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious pluralism anduniversal suffrage." U.S. actions are irrelevant, and therefore neednot even be mentioned (Serge Schmemann). This is a convenientpicture, and the general stance is not unfamiliar in intellectualhistory; in fact, it is close to the norm. It happens to becompletely at variance with everything we know, but has all themerits of self-adulation and uncritical support for power.It is also widely recognized that Bin Laden and others like him arepraying for "a great assault on Muslim states," which will cause"fanatics to flock to his cause" (Jenkins, and many others.). Thattoo is familiar.

The escalating cycle of violence is typicallywelcomed by the harshest and most brutal elements on both sides, afact evident enough from the recent history of the Balkans, to citeonly one of many cases.What consequences will they have on US inner policy and to theAmerican self reception?US policy has already been officially announced. The world is beingoffered a "stark choice": join us, or "face the certain prospect ofdeath and destruction." Congress has authorized the use of forceagainst any individuals or countries the President determines to beinvolved in the attacks, a doctrine that every supporter regards asultra-criminal. That is easily demonstrated. Simply ask how the samepeople would have reacted if Nicaragua had adopted this doctrineafter the U.S. had rejected the orders of the World Court toterminate its "unlawful use of force" against Nicaragua and hadvetoed a Security Council resolution calling on all states toobserve international law. And that terrorist attack was far moresevere and destructive even than this atrocity.As for how these matters are perceived here, that is far morecomplex.

One should bear in mind that the media and the intellectualelites generally have their particular agendas. Furthermore, theanswer to this question is, in significant measure, a matter ofdecision: as in many other cases, with sufficient dedication andenergy, efforts to stimulate fanaticism, blind hatred, andsubmission to authority can be reversed. We all know that very well.Do you expect U.S. to profoundly change their policy to the rest ofthe world?The initial response was to call for intensifying the policies thatled to the fury and resentment that provides the background ofsupport for the terrorist attack, and to pursue more intensively theagenda of the most hard line elements of the leadership: increasedmilitarization, domestic regimentation, attack on social programs.

That is all to be expected. Again, terror attacks, and theescalating cycle of violence they often engender, tend to reinforcethe authority and prestige of the most harsh and repressive elementsof a society. But there is nothing inevitable about submission tothis course.After the first shock, came fear of what the U.S. answer is going tobe. Are you afraid, too?Every sane person should be afraid of the likely reaction -- the onethat has already been announced, the one that probably answers BinLaden's prayers. It is highly likely to escalate the cycle ofviolence, in the familiar way, but in this case on a far greaterscale.The U.S. has already demanded that Pakistan terminate the food andother supplies that are keeping at least some of the starving andsuffering people of Afghanistan alive. If that demand isimplemented, unknown numbers of people who have not the remotestconnection to terrorism will die, possibly millions. Let me repeat:the U.S. has demanded that Pakistan kill possibly millions of peoplewho are themselves victims of the Taliban.

This has nothing to do even with revenge. It is at a far lower moral level even than that.The significance is heightened by the fact that this is mentioned inpassing, with no comment, and probably will hardly be noticed. Wecan learn a great deal about the moral level of the reigningintellectual culture of the West by observing the reaction to thisdemand. I think we can be reasonably confident that if the Americanpopulation had the slightest idea of what is being done in theirname, they would be utterly appalled. It would be instructive toseek historical precedents.If Pakistan does not agree to this and other U.S. demands, it maycome under direct attack as well -- with unknown consequences.

IfPakistan does submit to U.S. demands, it is not impossible that thegovernment will be overthrown by forces much like the Taliban -- whoin this case will have nuclear weapons. That could have an effectthroughout the region, including the oil producing states. At thispoint we are considering the possibility of a war that may destroymuch of human society.Even without pursuing such possibilities, the likelihood is that anattack on Afghans will have pretty much the effect that mostanalysts expect: it will enlist great numbers of others to supportof Bin Laden, as he hopes. Even if he is killed, it will make littledifference. His voice will be heard on cassettes that aredistributed throughout the Islamic world, and he is likely to berevered as a martyr, inspiring others. It is worth bearing in mindthat one suicide bombing -- a truck driven into a U.S. military base-- drove the world's major military force out of Lebanon 20 yearsago. The opportunities for such attacks are endless.

And suicideattacks are very hard to prevent."The world will never be the same after 11.09.01". Do you think so?The horrendous terrorist attacks on Tuesday are something quite newin world affairs, not in their scale and character, but in thetarget. For the US, this is the first time since the War of 1812that its national territory has been under attack, even threat. It'scolonies have been attacked, but not the national territory itself.During these years the US virtually exterminated the indigenouspopulation, conquered half of Mexico, intervened violently in thesurrounding region, conquered Hawaii and the Philippines (killinghundreds of thousands of Filipinos), and in the past half centuryparticularly, extended its resort to force throughout much of theworld. The number of victims is colossal.

For the first time, theguns have been directed the other way. The same is true, even moredramatically, of Europe. Europe has suffered murderous destruction,but from internal wars, meanwhile conquering much of the world withextreme brutality. It has not been under attack by its victimsoutside, with rare exceptions (the IRA in England, for example). Itis therefore natural that NATO should rally to the support of theUS; hundreds of years of imperial violence have an enormous impacton the intellectual and moral culture.It is correct to say that this is a novel event in world history,not because of the scale of the atrocity -- regrettably -- butbecause of the target. How the West chooses to react is a matter ofsupreme importance. If the rich and powerful choose to keep to theirtraditions of hundreds of years and resort to extreme violence, theywill contribute to the escalation of a cycle of violence, in afamiliar dynamic, with long-term consequences that could be awesome.Of course, that is by no means inevitable. An aroused public withinthe more free and democratic societies can direct policies towards amuch more humane and honorable course.