Znet — Noam Chomsky visits Lebanon

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Ya Libnan – Lebanon
May 9 2006
Noam Chomsky visits Lebanon
Beirut, Lebanon – Noam Chomsky, one of world’s most important
intellectuals, is currently visiting Lebanon. He came to Beirut from
Cyprus where he delivered several lectures at the University of
Cyprus and received an honorary doctorate.
Chomsky is an internationally esteemed academic, scholar and activist
with a unique passion for the Middle East. His illustrious
bibliography contains volumes on the very subject.
The legendary Chomsky has been one of the harshest critics of United
States foreign policy, and his latest book Failed States is no
exception. He is scheduled to lecture Tuesday about “The Great Soul
of Power” at the American University of Beirut and will also give a
speech on linguistics on Wednesday.
Chomsky, will also speak at al Madina Theater and at the Lebanese
Cultural Council in the South, located in the town of Nabatiyeh.
Excited about his first trip to Lebanon, Noam Chomsky is looking to
learn as much about the country as possible by “riding around in taxi
cabs” to get a different view from the one that “President George
Bush has from Texas.”
“Lebanon has many facets. I am here today for the first time to learn
what I can during my short visit,” Chomsky said in an interview with
An Nahar newspaper.
Born in Philadelphia in 1928, Chomsky spent his undergraduate and
graduate years at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a
PhD in Linguistics in 1955. He was a Junior Fellow of the Harvard
University Society of Fellows and joined the staff of MIT (the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in 1955; in 1961 he was
appointed Full Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and
Linguistics, where he has worked ever since.
In a recent interview by Lebanese-Armenian Khatchig Mouradian,
Chomsky discussed Lebanese political affairs. Following is an excerpt
from the interview:
Khatchig Mouradian – In an article entitled “Domestic
Constituencies,” you say: “It is always enlightening to seek out what
is omitted in propaganda campaigns.” Can you expand on what is
omitted in the US propaganda campaign on Lebanon and Syria after the
assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in February 2005?
Noam Chomsky – The only thing being discussed is that there was an
assassination and Syria was involved in it. How come Syria is in
Lebanon in the first place? Why did the US welcome Syria in Lebanon
in 1976? Why did George Bush I support Syrian presence and domination
and influence in Lebanon in 1991 as part of his campaign against
Iraq? Why did the US support the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982?
Why did the US support Israel’s 22 year occupation of parts of
Lebanon, an occupation in violation of Security Council resolutions?
All these topics, and many others, are missing from the discussion.
In fact, the general principle is that anything that places US
actions in a questionable light is omitted, with very rare
exceptions. So if you blame something on an enemy, then you can
discuss it, and Syria, right now is the official enemy. That doesn’t
necessarily mean that the charges against Syria are wrong. It just
means that everything else is omitted.
K.M. – When speaking about regimes in the Middle East, you often
quote the expressions `Arab façade’ and `local cop on the beat.’ What
is the role of Lebanon in the area?
N.C. – The phrase `Arab façade’ comes from the British Foreign
secretary Lord Curzon after WWI. At the time, when the British were
planning the organization of the Middle East, their idea was that
there should be Arab façades which are apparent governments, behind
which they would rule[2]. The expression `local cop on the beat’
comes from the Nixon administration. It was their conception of how
the Middle East should be run. There should be a peripheral region of
gendarme states (Turkey, Iran under the Shah, Israel joined after the
`67 war, Pakistan was there for a while). These states were to be the
local cops on the beat while the US would be the police headquarters.
The place of Lebanon was critical. It was primarily of concern
because of the transition of oil and also because it was a financial
center. The US was concerned in keeping it under control to ensure
that the entire Middle East energy system remains controlled.
Incidentally, for the same reasons, the US has regarded Greece as
part of the Near East. Greece was actually in the Near East section
of the State Department until 1974, because its main role in US
planning was to be part of the system by which the Middle East oil
gets transported to the west. The same is true with Italy. However,
Lebanon had a much more crucial role in this respect, because it is
right in the center of the Middle East. The aforementioned, as well
as the support for Israel’s action- Israel being a local cop on the
beat- were the motivating factors behind Eisenhower’s dispatch of
military forces to Lebanon in 1958.
K.M. – And what does the US administration expect from Lebanon today?
N.C. – The role of Lebanon is to be an obedient, passive state which
regains its status as a financial center but accommodates to the
major US policies, which do include control of the energy resources.
The question of Syria is a separate one. Yes, Lebanon is expected to
play a role for putting pressure on Syria. However, the problem for
the US is that Syria is not a subordinate state. There are a lot of
serious criticisms you can make about Syria, but the internal
problems of that country are of no special concern to the US, which
supports much more brutal governments. The problem with Syria is that
it simply does not subordinate itself to the US program in the Middle
East. Syria and Iran are the two countries in the region that have
not accepted US economic arrangements. And the policies against such
countries are similar. Take the bombing of Serbia in 1999, for
example. Why was Serbia an enemy? Certainly it wasn’t because of the
atrocities it was carrying out. We know that the bombing was carried
out with the expectation that it would lead to a sharp escalation in
atrocities. We know the answer from the highest level of the Clinton
administration, and the answer was that Serbia was not adopting the
proper social and economic reforms. In fact, it was the one corner of
Europe which was still rejecting the socioeconomic arrangements that
the US wanted to dictate for the world. The problem with Syria and
Iran is more or less the same. Why is the US planning or threatening
war against Iran? Is it because Iran has been aggressive? On the
contrary, Iran was the target of US backed aggression. Is Iran
threatening anybody? No. Is Iran more brutal and less democratic than
the rest of the Arab world? It’s a joke. The problem is that Iran is
not subordinating.
K.M. – In this context, why is Europe increasingly being supportive
of US policies in the Middle East?
N.C. – If you look back over the past decades, a major concern of US
policy -and it’s very clear in internal planning – is that Europe might
strike an independent course. During the cold war period, US was
afraid Europe might follow what they called `a third way,’ and many
mechanisms were used to inhibit any intention on the part of Europe
to follow an independent course. That goes right back to the final
days of World War II and its immediate aftermath, when US and Britain
intervened, in some cases quite violently, to suppress the
anti-fascist resistance and restore tradition structures, including
fascist-Nazi collaborators. Germany was reconstructed pretty much the
same way. The unwillingness to accept a unified neutral Germany in
the 1950s was predicated on the same thinking. We don’t know if that
would have been possible, but Stalin did offer a unified Germany
which would have democratic elections which he was sure to lose, but
on condition that it would not be part of a hostile military
alliance. However, the US was not willing to tolerate a unified
Germany. The establishment of NATO is in large part an effort to
ensure European discipline and the current attempts to expand NATO
are further planning of the same sort.
European elites have been, by and large, pretty satisfied with this
arrangement. They’re not very different from the dominant forces in
the US. They are somewhat different, but closely interrelated. There
are mutual investments and business relations. The elite sectors of
Europe don’t particularly object to the US policies. You can see this
very strikingly in the case of Iran. The US has sought to isolate and
strangle Iran for years. It had embargos and sanctions, and it has
repeatedly threatened Europe to eliminate investments in Iran. The
main European corporations have pretty much agreed to that. China, on
the other hand, did not. China can’t be intimidated, that’s why the
US government is frightened of China. But Europe backs off and pretty
much follows US will. The same is true on the Israel-Palestine front.
The US strongly supports Israeli takeover of the valuable parts of
the occupied territories and pretty much the elimination of the
possibility of any viable Palestinian state. On paper, the Europeans
disagree with that and they do join the international consensus on a
two-state settlement, but they don’t do anything about it. They’re
not willing to stand against the US. When the US government decided
to punish the Palestinians for electing the wrong party in the last
elections, Europe went along, not totally, but pretty much. By and
large, European elites do not see it in their interest to confront
the US. They’d rather integrate with it. The problem the US is having
with China, and Asia more generally, is that they don’t automatically
accept US orders.
K.M. – They don’t fall in line…
N.C. – Yes, they won’t fall in line, and, especially in the case of
China, they just won’t be intimidated. That’s why, if you read the
latest National Security Strategy, China is identified as the major
long range threat to the US. This is not because China is going to
invade or attack anyone. In fact, of all the major nuclear powers,
they’re the one that is the least aggressive, but they simple refuse
to be intimidated, not just in their policies regarding the Middle
East, but also in Latin America. While the US is trying to isolate
and undermine Venezuela, China proceeds to invest in and to import
from Venezuela without regard to what the US says.
The international order is in a way rather like the mafia. The
godfather has to ensure that there is discipline.
Europe quietly pursues its own economic interests as long as they
don’t fall in direct conflict with the US. Even in the case of Iran,
although major European corporations did pull out of country, and
Europe did back down on its bargain with Tehran on uranium
enrichment, nevertheless, Europe does maintain economic relations
with Iran. For years, the US has also tried to prevent Europe from
investing in Cuba and Europe pretty much kept away, but not entirely.
The US has a mixed attitude towards European investment and resource
extraction in Latin America. For one thing, the US and European
corporate systems are very much interlinked. The US relies on
European support in many parts of the world. For Europe to invest in
Latin America and import its resources is by no means as threatening
to US domination as when China does.
K.M. – In one of his recent speeches, Hasan Nasrallah, the
secretary-general of Hizbullah, spoke of solidarity with the
resistance movement in the occupied territories and with `our brother
Chavez.’ Let us speak about the common link that brings people on
different sides of the Atlantic, and of different ideological
background, together.
N.C. – The common thing that brings them together is that they do not
subordinate themselves to US power. Hizbullah knows perfectly well
that they’re not going to get help from Venezuela, but the fact that
they are both following a course independently of US power and, in
fact, in defiance to US orders, links them together.
The US has been trying, unsuccessfully, to topple the Cuban
government for more than 45 years now and it remains. The rise of
Chavez to power was very frightening to US elites. He has an enormous
popular support. The level of support for the elected government in
Venezuela has risen very sharply and it is now at the highest in
Latin America. And Chavez is following an independent course. He’s
doing a lot of things that the US doesn’t like a bit. For example,
Argentina, which was driven to total ruin by following IMF orders,
has slowly been reconstructing itself by rejecting IMF rules, and has
wanted to pay off its debt to rid itself of the IMF. Chavez helped
them, and he bought a substantial part of the Argentine debt. To rid
oneself from the IMF means to rid oneself from one of the two
modalities of control employed by the US: violence and economic
force. Yesterday, Bolivia nationalized its gas reserves; the US is
only (only??) opposed to that. And Bolivia was able to do that partly
because of Venezuelan support.
If countries move in a direction of independent nationalism, that is
regarded as unacceptable. Why did the US want to destroy Nasser? Was
it because he was more violent and tyrannical than other leaders? The
problem was that it was an independent secular nationalism. That just
can’t be accepted.
K.M. – You talked about the Chavez government’s popularity at home.
The polls show that the same is not true about the Bush
Administration and its policies, both at home and abroad. Despite the
discontent on a wide range of issues, little has changed in terms of
US policy. How do you explain that?
N.C. – In a book that just came out, I talk about this at some
length. The US has a growing and by now enormous democratic deficit
at home; there’s an enormous divide between public opinion and public
policy on a whole range of issues, from the health system to Iraq.
The Bush administration has a very narrow grip on power- remember in
the last election Bush got about 31 percent of the electorate, Kerry
got 29 percent. A few changes in the votes in Ohio and it could have
gone the other way- they’re using that narrow grip desperately to try
to institutionalize very radical and far reaching changes in the US.
They can get away with it because there’s no opposition party. If
there were an opposition party, it would have totally overwhelmed the
Bush administration. Every week, the Bush administration does
something to shoot itself in the foot, whether it’s Hurricane
Katrina, corruption scandals, or other issues, but the formal
opposition party can’t make any gains. One of the most interesting
things about US politics in the past years is that while support for
the Bush administration, which was always very thin, has declined
very sharply because of one catastrophe after the other, support for
the Democrats hasn’t increased. It is increasing only as a reaction
to the lack of support to the Republicans. This is because the
Democrats are not presenting an alternative.
K.M. – You mentioned your recent book, Failed States. In the
Afterword of that book, you say, `No one familiar with history should
be surprised that the growing democratic deficit at home is
accompanied by declaration of messianic missions to bring democracy
to a suffering world.’ How much are these `messianic missions’
helping the Bush Administration?
N.C. – They’re helping the administration among the educated classes.
I discuss this in some length in the book. The messianic missions
came along right after the failure to discover weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq. The invasion was only on the ground that Iraq
was just about to attack the US with nuclear weapons. Well, after a
few months, they discovered that there were no weapons of mass
destruction, so they had to find a new pretext for invading and that
became the messianic mission. The intellectual classes, in Europe as
well, and even in the Arab world, picked this up: the leader said it
therefore we have to believe it.
Among the general population, however, I don’t think these messianic
missions have much influence, except indirectly. This whole rhetoric
is a weak effort, and in fact by now it’s pretty desperate.
K.M. – My final question is about Turkey, one of the local cops on
the beat. I was quite disturbed by the recent developments in the
Southeast of the country. You have been to Turkey a number of times,
and you have also visited the Kurdish regions. What is your take on
the current status of freedoms in Turkey?
N.C. – As you most probably know, the leading Human Rights Watch
investigator in Turkey, who is an extremely fine person, Jonathan
Sugden, was just expelled from the country because he was
investigating human rights violations in the Southeastern zone.
In 2002, the situation in Turkey and especially the Kurdish zone was
pretty bad, but in the next few years it improved and now it’s
regressing again. Let me just give you a personal example. I was
there in 2002 to participate in the trial of a publisher who was
being tried for publishing some remarks of mine about Turkey. Now he
is again on trial for a different book.
There are many reasons for the regression. The military is exerting a
much heavier hand; the reforms that were slowly taking place are
reduced. My own feeling is that one of the reasons for these
developments is the hostility of Europe towards allowing Turkey into
the EU. There’s a pretty strong element of racism in that, which
Turks are not unaware of.
Sources: Ya Libnan, Naharnet, Znet