Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Happy Birthday, Noam

Seventy-six and still going. I've had my differences with him, a few quite strong, but I will defend him against scurrilous attacks.

"Fateful Triangle" was my first Chomsky read -- a heavy one, given that at the time I was baby-stepping into Middle Eastern politics, not a nice place, as I'm sure many of you know.

Me & the courageous Allan Nairn filled in for Noam at a Palestinian academic conference in Virginia way back when. Had to follow the great Edward Said. Not easy, but I think my lasso tricks helped to break the ice.

The measure of Noam's ongoing effectiveness is the amount of slime that's still thrown at him. I won't link to his more delirious critics, but you can find them easily enough on the Web. Contrast their attacks with his analysis and judge for yourself.

He's also helped to raise awareness on a number of issues, from East Timor to the corporate stranglehold on the planet, and has inspired & worked with several generations of political and media activists.

I leave you with this transcript from a rare appearance on American TV -- a recent outing on Bill Maher's "Real Time."

MAHER: Okay. Earlier today, I spoke with Professor Noam Chomsky, who teaches linguistics and philosophy at MIT. His latest book is Hegemony or Survival. I told him earlier, I have never had a guy requested more of me in 12 years of doing two shows. I swear to God, every kid wants Noam Chomsky. And we got him today. Please welcome Professor Noam Chomsky. [applause] [cheers]

So, Professor, I’m not kidding. Over the last 12 years, on three different networks, people – especially young kids – request you. When I first did it, I didn’t even know who you were. All right, let me ask you this. It seems to me that the most religious people are also, at least in this country, the most super-patriotic. Isn’t there an inherent conflict there? I mean, if you’re truly religious and you believe in God – I mean, Jesus is not an American, I assume—[laughter]

NOAM CHOMSKY [via satellite]: Just the favorite philosopher of America.

MAHER: Isn’t it impossible to be truly Christian and also to love one country, even if it’s your own, more than every other country?

CHOMSKY: Depends how you understand your religion? Religions have taught all sorts of things in the past, from the most horrible to the most elevated. So you pick and choose.

MAHER: Yeah, but Christ doesn’t say, “Love your country.” He doesn’t say, “American life is more important than other life.” And I would imagine that that’s what a lot of people who call themselves Christian in this country believe. [applause]

CHOMSKY: Well, if they do, there are plenty of things – there are plenty of things that you can read in the Gospels that are certainly not believed by George Bush and his associates. Are they helping the poor? [applause]

MAHER: Right.

CHOMSKY: I mean, did they hear – did they read the description in the Gospels of the hypocrite, the person who refuses to apply to himself the same standards he applies to others? [applause] We can go on and on.

MAHER: Well, I could, but I don’t want to go to Gitmo. [laughter] We’re about to blow the unholy hell out of Fallujah. Do you think it’s too late? Aren’t we just – Iraq – isn’t is just something that’s going to get more infected the more we pick at it?

CHOMSKY: The invasion of Iraq was simply a war crime, straight out war crime. [applause] [cheers] If we are not – if we don’t want to be hypocrites in the sense condemned in the Bible, we’ll apply to ourselves the judgment of the Nuremberg Tribunal, for example, which said that aggression, invasion is the supreme international crime, which includes within it all subsequent crimes, including all of those that are taking place now. So when the invade Fallujah, as I suppose they will, after having driven out most of the population, probably smash the place up, it will add to the enormous casualty lists which may be in the range of 100,000 by now, maybe more, maybe less. And there’s more to come.

MAHER: Why do you think we did Iraq? I mean, what is the bottom line reason? I assume that you don’t think that the reasons given were the real reasons.

CHOMSKY: I think that the polls taken in Baghdad explain it very well. They seem to understand. The United States invaded Iraq to gain control of one of the major sources of the world’s energy, right in the heart of the world’s energy producing regions, to create, if they can, a dependent client state, to have permanent military bases, and to gain what’s called “critical leverage” – I’m quoting Zbigniew Brzezinski – to gain critical leverage over rivals, the European and Asian economies. If you hold the – it’s been understood since the Second World War, that if you have your hand on that spigot, the source of the –world – main source of the world’s energy – you have what early planners called “veto power” over others.

Those are all very – Iraq is also the last part of the world where there are vast, untapped, easily accessible energy resources. And you can be sure that they want the profits from that to go primarily to U.S.-based multi-nationals and back to the U.S. Treasury, and so on. Not to rivals. There are plenty of reasons for invading Iraq. [applause]

MAHER: Now, President Bush always says the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. And I haven’t agreed with that. I think the people who were in his rape rooms are better off without Saddam Hussein. [applause] That’s a far cry from the whole world. During the Cold War, we selfishly backed any tyrant that was on our side, that would have stopped what we thought was the greater ill of communism. Why don’t we have that same selfish doctrine with this man? Because certainly we know – somewhere in government people must know – that Saddam Hussein would never have allowed a power rival, even if it was a terrorist organization, in Iraq. He actually would have been a bulwark for us.

CHOMSKY: In fact, the U.S. support for – remember, the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein. And that means the people now in office or their immediate mentors, supported him in ways that had absolutely nothing to with Cold War or with the war with Iran. The support went on after the war with Iran was over, went off after the Berlin Wall fell. In fact, it even went on after the first Gulf War, when the first Bush Administration authorized Saddam to crush a Shiite uprising which probably would have overthrown him.

It’s certainly true that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein, and also without the people who supported him through his worst atrocities, and are now telling us about them. [applause]

The fact of the matter is that if it hadn’t been for the sanctions which devastated the society and killed hundreds of thousands of people, it’s very likely that the Iraqis themselves would have sent Saddam Hussein to the same fate as other brutal monsters also supported by the people now in Washington, like Ceausescu in Romania or Suharto in Indonesia, or Marcos and a whole string of others. Quite a rogues’ gallery. And probably Saddam would have gone the same way.

MAHER: Professor, I wish I had all night to talk to you. I hope you do this again. Please keep thinking outside the box. I know it’s lonely there, but stay the course. Thank you. Professor Chomsky, ladies and gentlemen.

CHOMSKY: Thank you. [applause] [cheers]