Interviewing Chomsky Radio B92, Belgrade
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.
What consequences will they have on US inner policy and to the American
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
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.
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.
"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. It's 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.