Noam Chomsky: Interviewed by Radio B92, Belgrade


“This has nothing to do even with revenge. It is at a far lower moral level even than that.”

Noam Chomsky was interviewed this week by Radio B92, Belgrade. This is what he said

Q: Why do you think these attacks happened?

To answer the question we must first identify the perpetrators of the crimes. It is generally assumed, plausibly, that their origin is the Middle East region, and that the attacks probably trace back to the Osama Bin Laden network, a widespread and complex organization, doubtless inspired by Bin Laden but not  necessarily acting under his control. Let us assume that this  is true. Then to answer your question a sensible person would  try to ascertain Bin Laden's views, and the sentiments of the  large reservoir of supporters he has throughout the region. About all of this, we have a great deal of information. Bin  Laden has been interviewed extensively over the years by  highly reliable Middle East specialists, notably the most eminent correspondent in the region, Robert Fisk (London Independent), who has intimate knowledge of the entire  region and direct experience over decades. A Saudi Arabian millionaire, Bin Laden became a militant Islamic leader in  the war to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan. He was one  of the many religious fundamentalist extremists recruited,  armed, and financed by the CIA and their allies in Pakistani  intelligence to cause maximal harm to the Russians – quite  possibly delaying their withdrawal, many analysts suspect --  though whether he personally happened to have direct contact  with the CIA is unclear, and not particularly important. Not  surprisingly, the CIA preferred the most fanatic and cruel  fighters they could mobilize. The end result was to "destroy  a moderate regime and create a fanatical one, from groups  recklessly financed by the Americans" (_London Times correspondent Simon Jenkins, also a specialist on the region).


These "Afghanis" as they are called (many, like Bin Laden,  not from Afghanistan) carried out terror operations across  the border in Russia, but they terminated these after  Russia withdrew. Their war was not against Russia, which they despise, but against the Russian occupation and Russia's crimes against Muslims.

The "Afghanis" did not terminate their activities, however. They joined Bosnian Muslim forces in the Balkan Wars; the US did not object, just as it tolerated Iranian support for  them, for complex reasons that we need not pursue here,  apart from noting that concern for the grim fate of the  Bosnians was not prominent among them. The "Afghanis" are  also fighting the Russians in Chechnya, and, quite possibly,  are involved in carrying out terrorist attacks in Moscow  and elsewhere in Russian territory. Bin Laden and his  "Afghanis" turned against the US in 1990 when they  established permanent bases in Saudi Arabia -- from his  point of view, a counterpart to the Russian occupation of  Afghanistan, but far more significant because of Saudi  Arabia's special status as the guardian of the holiest  shrines.

Bin Laden is also bitterly opposed to the corrupt and  repressive regimes of the region, which he regards as "un- Islamic," including the Saudi Arabian regime, the most  extreme Islamic fundamentalist regime in the world, apart  from the Taliban, and a close US ally since its origins.  Bin Laden despises the US for its support of these regimes.  Like others in the region, he is also outraged by long-  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 and destructive siege over many years,  the daily humiliation to which Palestinians are subjected,  the expanding settlements designed to break the occupied territories into Bantustan-like cantons and take control  of the resources, the gross violation of the Geneva  Conventions, and other actions that are recognized as  crimes throughout most of the world, apart from the US,  which has prime responsibility for them. And like others,  he contrasts Washington's dedicated support for these  crimes with the decade-long US-British assault against  the civilian population of Iraq, which has devastated  the society and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths  while strengthening Saddam Hussein -- who was a favored

 friend and ally of the US and Britain right through his  worst atrocities, including the gassing of the Kurds,  as people of the region also remember well, even if  Westerners prefer to forget the facts. These sentiments  are very widely shared. The Wall Street Journal (Sept.  14) published a survey of opinions of wealthy and  privileged Muslims in the Gulf region (bankers,  professionals, businessmen with close links to the U.S.).

They expressed much the same views: resentment of the  U.S. policies of supporting Israeli crimes and blocking  the international consensus on a diplomatic settlement for many years while devastating Iraqi civilian society,  supporting harsh and repressive anti-democratic regimes  throughout the region, and imposing barriers against  economic development by "propping up oppressive regimes."


Among the great majority of people suffering deep poverty  and oppression, similar sentiments are far more bitter,  and are the source of the fury and despair that has led  to suicide bombings, as commonly understood by those  who are interested in the facts.

 The U.S., and much of the West, prefers a more comforting  story. To quote the lead analysis in the New York Times  (Sept. 16), the perpetrators acted out of "hatred for the  values cherished in the West as freedom, tolerance,  prosperity, religious pluralism and universal suffrage."  U.S. actions are irrelevant, and therefore need not even be  mentioned (Serge Schmemann). This is a convenient picture,  and the general stance is not unfamiliar in intellectual  history; in fact, it is close to the norm. It happens to be  completely at variance with everything we know, but has all  the merits of self-adulation and uncritical support for power.

 It is also widely recognized that Bin Laden and others like  him are praying for "a great assault on Muslim states," which will cause "fanatics to flock to his cause" (Jenkins, and many  others.). That too is familiar. The escalating cycle of violence  is typically welcomed by the harshest and most brutal elements  on both sides, a fact evident enough from the recent history of  the Balkans, to cite only one of many cases.

 Q: What consequences will they have on US inner policy and to  the American self perception?

 US policy has already been officially announced. The world is  being offered a "stark choice": join us, or "face the certain  prospect of death and destruction." Congress has authorized the

 use of force against any individuals or countries the President  determines to be involved in the attacks, a doctrine that every  supporter regards as ultra-criminal. That is easily demonstrated.

 Simply ask how the same people would have reacted if Nicaragua  had adopted this doctrine after the U.S. had rejected the orders of the World Court to terminate its "unlawful use of force"

 against Nicaragua and had vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe international law. And that  terrorist attack was far more severe and destructive even than this atrocity.

As for how these matters are perceived here, that is far more complex. One should bear in mind that the media and the intellectual elites generally have their particular agendas.

Furthermore, the answer to this question is, in significant  measure, a matter of decision: as in many other cases, with sufficient dedication and energy, efforts to stimulate fanaticism, blind hatred, and submission to authority can be reversed. We all know that very well.

 Q: Do you expect U.S. to profoundly change their policy to the  rest of the world?

 The initial response was to call for intensifying the policies that  led to the fury and resentment that provides the background of  support for the terrorist attack, and to pursue more intensively

the agenda of the most hard line elements of the leadership:  increased militarization, domestic regimentation, attack on social  programs. That is all to be expected. Again, terror attacks, and

the escalating cycle of violence they often engender, tend to  reinforce the authority and prestige of the most harsh and repressive elements of a society. But there is nothing inevitable

about submission to this course.

 Q: After the first shock, came fear of what the U.S. answer is  going to be. Are you afraid, too?

 Every sane person should be afraid of the likely reaction --  the one that has already been announced, the one that probably answers Bin Laden's prayers. It is highly likely to escalate  the cycle of violence, in the familiar way, but in this case  on a far greater scale.

 The U.S. has already demanded that Pakistan terminate the food  and other supplies that are keeping at least some of the  starving and suffering people of Afghanistan alive. If that demand is implemented, unknown numbers of people who have not  the remotest connection to terrorism will die, possibly millions. Let me repeat: the U.S. has demanded that Pakistan kill possibly  millions of people who 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 in passing, with no comment, and  probably will hardly be noticed. We can learn a great deal about  the moral level of the reigning intellectual culture of the West  by observing the reaction to this demand. I think we can be  reasonably confident that if the American population had the  slightest idea of what is being done in their name, they would  be utterly appalled. It would be instructive to seek historical  precedents.

 If Pakistan does not agree to this and other U.S. demands, it  may come under direct attack as well -- with unknown consequences.  If Pakistan does submit to U.S. demands, it is not impossible that  the government will be overthrown by forces much like the Taliban  -- who in this case will have nuclear weapons. That could have an  effect throughout the region, including the oil producing states.  At this point we are considering the possibility of a war that

may destroy much of human society.

 Even without pursuing such possibilities, the likelihood is that  an attack on Afghans will have pretty much the effect that most  analysts expect: it will enlist great numbers of others to support

of Bin Laden, as he hopes. Even if he is killed, it will make  little difference. His voice will be heard on cassettes that are  distributed throughout the Islamic world, and he is likely to be revered as a martyr, inspiring others. It is worth bearing in  mind that one suicide bombing -- a truck driven into a U.S.  military base -- drove the world's major military force out of  Lebanon 20 years ago. The opportunities for such attacks are endless. And suicide attacks are very hard to prevent.

 Q: "The world will never be the same after 11.09.01". Do you think so?

 The horrendous terrorist attacks on Tuesday are something quite  new in world affairs, not in their scale and character, but in  the target. For the US, this is the first time since the War of  1812 that its national territory has been under attack, even  threat. Its colonies have been attacked, but not the national  territory itself. During these years the US virtually exterminated the indigenous population, conquered half of Mexico, intervened  violently in the surrounding region, conquered Hawaii and the  Philippines (killing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos), and in  the past half century particularly, extended its resort to force  throughout much of the world. The number of victims is colossal.  For the first time, the guns have been directed the other way. The same is true, even more dramatically, of Europe. Europe has  suffered murderous  destruction, but from internal wars, meanwhile  conquering much of the world with extreme brutality. It has not  been under attack by its victims outside, with rare exceptions  (the IRA in England, for example). It is therefore natural that  NATO should rally to the support of the US; hundreds of years  of imperial violence have an enormous impact on 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 – but  because of the target. How the West chooses to react is a matter  of supreme importance. If the rich and powerful choose to keep to  their traditions of hundreds of years and resort to extreme violence,  they will contribute to the escalation of a cycle of violence, in a  familiar dynamic, with long-term consequences that could be awesome.  Of course, that is by no means inevitable. An aroused public within  the more free and democratic societies can direct policies towards  a much more humane and honorable course.