September 11th, 2001 Previous - Next


Chatting with Chomsky

Noam Chomsky, the most radical voice in the US against US foreign policy, answers questions on an internet chatroom following September 11th.

The United States has been devastating the civilian society of Iraq while strengtheing Saddam Hussein, and it's been supporting a very harsh military occupation that is now in its 35th year in Israel, over the Palestinians. Will Femia: Welcome Professor Chomsky.

Question from Chip Berlet: I agree with you that aggressive militarism is not the answer to this mess, but the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's networks seem to me to be totalitarian and apocalyptic clerical fascist movements. Isn't this a moment the left needs to just say it is against terrorism, and that groups like the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's networks are not liberation stuggles but reactionary or fascistic movements that we oppose?

Noam Chomsky: As far as I'm aware, that's what the left has been saying for 20 years. I know I have, ever since these groups were organized by the CIA, Pakistani and Egyptian intelligence and other U.S. allies. They were organized, recruited, trained, and armed to fight a holy war against the Russians, which they did. But they also started right away carrying out terrorist acts. 20 years ago they assassinated the president of Egypt and they've been carrying out terror ever since. The groups that the CIA organized were drawn from extremist radical Islamic groups and they have been pursuing their own agenda. They did what the CIA wanted them to, but they have been pursuing their own agenda. There is no doubt that from the start they were murderous terrorist organizations. I don't know if the word fascist is exactly correct, they don't have that kind of ideology. But they' re extremely dangerous and have been for 20 years. It is quite obvious. That 's been the position, as far as I'm aware, of any serious person on the left as far back as I can remember.

Question from Geraldine Fincannon: We are a nation which would advance the destiny of all lives and share the wealth existing in our country with all its inhabitants and those of the world. Isn't this the real bone of contention between our country and the radical Moslems who send terrorists to do horrible deeds in our country?

Noam Chomsky: It has nothing to do with money. They have been very clear about what they want. Bin Laden himself has had many interviews with western journalists, many of them are broadcast in just the last week. Two long ones were broadcast by the BBC. What he and the others have been saying for 20 years is consistent, and it's also consistent with their actions, so we should take it seriously. They say their main targets are the corrupt brutal regimes of the Middle East, which from their point of view are not properly Islamic and they want to defend Muslim rights against infidels anywhere in the world. So they've been fighting in Chechnya, Bosnia, North Africa, Kashmir, the Philippines, all over. Apart from the Islamic fanaticism, what they say has considerable resonance in the region, including very pro-American wealthy sectors.

They turned against the United States when the United States established permanent military bases in Saudi Arabia about 10 years ago. They regard that very much like the Russian occupation of Afghanistan they fought against. The Wall Street Journal has been doing a particularly good job in surveying those opinions beginning September 14. When they condemn the United States for it's anti-democratic stands for supporting brutal regimes and corrupt regimes, they are saying what people in the streets think and there's a reason for it. The same is true when they condemn U.S. policies towards Iraq and Israel.

They know, even if we choose not to, that the United States has been devastating the civilian society of Iraq while strengtheing Saddam Hussein, and it's been supporting a very harsh military occupation that is now in its 35th year in Israel, over the Palestinians. The U.S. has been pretty much alone in the world in imposing that very cruel domination with economic and military and diplomatic assistance. That's quite well known there and even the most pro-American wealthy Muslim businessmen bankers have the same feelings others do. When Bin Laden talks about these things there is a resonance. They may hate him. Most of them do hate him because they overwhelmingly oppose his terrorist violence and his Islamic fanaticism, but a good part of the message does reflect what people believe and with justification.
If somebody robs my house and I think it was someone in the neighborhood across the river, I don't go out and kill everyone in that neighborhood. That's not the way you proceed. The way you proceed is through lawful means. Will Femia: Why does the American propaganda machine fall overseas?

Noam Chomsky: Of course they should stop producing outrageous lies and fabrications. These are terrible governments. There are good reasons people in the region hate and despise them and are angry at the U.S. for the support that it gives them. And yes, they should, of course, move towards open media and discussion the way most of the population wants. There is now finally one pretty free television channel in the regions based in the Gulf Emerit Al-Jazeera. That has been pretty free and open and everyone in the Arab speaking world listens to it, but it's unique. Unfortunately it's the policies that are the problem and there's no amount of propaganda that can overcome that.

As to why the U.S. propaganda system falls over there, the reason is that they can see with their own eyes what the facts are. When you produce false propaganda to people who can see that it's false, it does not succeed. Just the way that we never believed Soviet propaganda. It was so obviously ridiculous that you just laughed at it. Unfortunately it's the policies that are the problem and there's no amount of propaganda that can overcome that.

Question from Craig Bryant: What is the "real reason" for our continued support of Israel?? And what would be the result if we discontinued that support??

Noam Chomsky: Personally I don't think and have never thought that we should discontinue support of Israel. I am very critical of their policy towards Israel but that's in part because I think it's very harmful to the people of Israel. It happens to support the government, but it's harmful to the people in my opinion. What we should do, I think, is join what has been a very broad international consensus for about 25 years now, which calls for a two state settlement on the internationally recognized border (that means pre-June 1967) in recognizing the rights and guaranteeing the security of all states in the region including Israel and a Palestinian state. That has been the overwhelming position of the entire world for 25 years. In fact, the resolution to that effect was vetoed by the United States at the Security Council 25 years ago and Washington has been blocking similar initiatives ever since, still is. I don't think that is moral or wise.

Meanwhile the U.S. has provided the means for Israel to continue its settlements in the territories under military occupation, and many serious abuses, all of which are in violation of international law and conventions, particularly the Geneva conventions of 1949. Again, there is a near universal international consensus on that. In fact, Israel is usually the only country that votes against. The United States usually abstains because it doesn't want to take a position so dramatically opposed to central elements on international law. But it's still providing a means for that to continue. Unfortunately, most of this is not reported here, or if it is, it' is reported very inaccurately. But surely people who see it with their own eyes know all about it. And around most of the world it's pretty well understood. We do not help ourselves by hiding our heads in the sand. There is a rich, uncontroversial documentary record on this and we should pay attention to it. What the U.S. ought to do is join the international consensus instead of blocking. Now, by now, that's much harder than say, 10 years ago.

Question from John Schindele: Would the U.S. moving to a more even-handed support of Palestine and Israel (both politically and fiscally) have a positive effect on the region's stability? Is it even possible now without giving the appearance of the U.S. bowing to terrorism.

Noam Chomsky: Yes, it would almost certainly have a positive effect on the region's stability and political and social and economic health. It has nothing to do with bowing to terrorism. Remember that most of the people in the region and many others throughout the world perceive the United States as a supporter of terrorism because they regard the military occupation and it's actions as terrorism. So it wouldn't be bowing to terrorism to withdraw from what most people see as support for terrorism. We should do what is right and what is right includes what's right for us and crucially, what is right for the people of the region. It has been no help to the people of Israel for the United States to support the settlement programs in territories under military occupation which have stirred up enormous anger and resentment and have very much punished the domestic population of Palestine. That is no help to anyone.

Now they are in a serious difficulty because it's going to be difficult now to extricate themselves from these illegal settlements and integration programs that we have been supporting, but it just has to be done. There are many illusions here about this. For example the Camp David proposals of last year were almost universally described here as magnanimous and generous, but they weren't perceived that way anywhere else. If you take a look at a map you can see why. It's rather striking that maps were not published here. You can find them in Israel and in other places, but not here. And if you look at the maps, you can see why this was regarded as a completely unacceptable proposal.

Will Femia: Would a change in U.S. policy in the Middle East repair relations? Or are the grudges set?

Noam Chomsky: The longer it goes on, the harder it is to repair. So, 10 years ago it would have been a lot easier than it is today. One year ago would have been a lot easier. And the longer the United States and Israel continue with these policies, the harder it's going to get. No, it would not repair all the problems by any means, it would just be a beginning. There are many others such as those I was quoting from the wealthy Muslims reported in the Wall Street Journal. They're also deeply angry about what the United States is doing to the civilian society of Iraq while strengthening Sadam Hussein. They are well aware, even if we prefer to forget it, that the United States supported Hussein, right through his worst atrocities, including the gassing of the Kurds. They know that and constantly say it. They are strongly opposed to U.S. support for the governments of the region, most of which are very ugly regimes, brutal, corrupt, torturers, very unpleasant regimes and they rely extensively on U.S. support.

Question from Mike Petty: Is it possible that the attack on the World Trade Center was meant to provoke the U.S. into military action for the purpose of uniting the Muslim nations against the west?

Noam Chomsky: It's very possible. We should remember that this is the second attack on the World Trade Center. The first one was in 1993. They didn't succeed in blowing it up but they were trying to. Whether that was actually the intention of the terrorists who carried it out, we don't know. They're dead and didn't leave any messages. But it is the thinking of the groups from which they presumably come, the terrorists networks of radical Islamists that the CIA certainly knows all about since they helped organize them and nurture them for a long time.Most specialists on the region, and in fact, foreign leaders, NATO leaders, have been telling Washington as loudly as they can that if the U.S. carries out a large military attack which very visibly kills a lot of innocent Afghans, that will be an answer to Bin Laden's prayers. It will be like virtually a recruitment procedure for new people to join his horrendous cause. And if he's killed, even more so, he then becomes a martyr. That's just what the terrorists want. They would react the same way many people here reacted to the bombing of the World Trade Center. They want revenge. If we want to be serious about it, we have to choose a course of action which will not escalate the cycle of violence and play into the hands of the terrorist groups.

Twenty years ago the United States launched a war against Nicaragua. That was a terrible war. Tens thousands of people died.

Question from Arthur Buonamia: What can we as citizens do to influence a foreign policy change that is humane, and just.

Question from John-Boston: Given recent major media portrayals of "pacifists" or "peaceniks" advocating we "do nothing," would you correct the record by outlining ethical actions, like UN justice and humane foreign policy?

Noam Chomsky: On the first question, we should bear in mind that we are extremely privileged. We live in a very free, very democratic society. Unlike many other places in the world, we can act and speak in all sorts of ways without fear of state punishment and retribution. That leaves all kinds of avenues open to us, from meetings with neighbors or in a church or whatever organization you're in to publication to organization to demonstrations to political action to there's just every means available. It can be effective. It has been in the past and it can be now. There is no shortage of means. If there's a shortage, it's of willingness to use them. They're available.

On the second point, I don't know exactly what the media means by pacifists. There are a small number of people, people who I very much respect and who I've known for year, who are true pacifists. They don't believe in violence. Yes there are such people. I don't happen to agree with them and never have, but I respect the position.

However, what's called the peace movement has never taken that view. I know very few people who were not in favor of fighting the war against Hitler if they'd been alive or in retrospect. What the serious peace movement has been asking for is pretty much what the Pope just asked for, openly. He said, and he's right, it was a terrible crime and when there is a crime, those who are responsible should be held accountable and brought to justice, but without harming great numbers of innocent people. If somebody robs my house and I think it was someone in the neighborhood across the river, I don't go out and kill everyone in that neighborhood. That's not the way you proceed. The way you proceed is through lawful means. And they're available, and there are plenty of precedents for them. The United States should, if it can, and that's not going to be easy, present a credible case against whoever was responsible for these atrocities. That is not going to be easy, which is probably why they haven't done it, but that has to be done as a preliminary. And then there are measures that can be taken through international institutions.

Question from Stephanie Daniels: Are the international courts a real option for the US now?

Noam Chomsky: Not without evidence of course. Even NATO countries say they can't proceed without evidence. And nobody really knows if it happens to be Bin Laden. But yes, the courts are certainly available. Now, the international criminal court, unfortunately, we cannot approach because the U.S. has refused to recognize its jurisdiction. But there is the world court, and if the U.S. wanted, it could set up a special court the same way that it was done for Yugoslavia. There is also the UN Security Council which can initiate forceful actions if it is presented with serious reasons.

We should remember that there are real precedents for this. The most obvious, because It is supported by a World Court decision and UN Security Council resolution, the highest authorities. Twenty years ago the United States launched a war against Nicaragua. That was a terrible war. Tens of thousands of people died. The country was practically destroyed. Nicaragua did not respond by setting off bombs in Washington. They went to the World Court with a case, the World Court ruled in their favor and ordered the United States to stop its "unlawful use of force" (that means international terrorism) and pay substantial reparations. Well, the United States responded by dismissing the court with contempt and immediately escalated the attack. At that point Nicaragua went to the UN Security council which voted a resolution calling on all states to obey international law. They didn't mention anyone, but everyone knew they meant the United States. Well, the United States vetoed it. Nicaragua then went to the General Assembly which, two years in a row, passed a similar resolution with only the United States and Israel opposed. El Salvador in one year. But of course, the United States is a very powerful country. If it opposes lawful means, they can't be pursued. So Nicaragua could do nothing. On the other hand, if the U.S. pursued those means no one would stop it. In fact, everyone would support it.

Will Femia: How does the international anti-terrorism coalition fit the "new Internationalism" theme? And will it last?

Noam Chomsky: We should look very carefully at this anti-terrorism coalition and who is joining it and why. Russia is happily joining the international coalition because it is delighted to have U.S. support for the horrendous atrocities it is carrying out in its war against Chechnya. It describes that as an anti-terrorist war. In fact it is a murderous terrorist war itself. They'd love to have the United States support it. China is very happy to join because it wants U.S. support for its wars in western China against Muslim groups who, in fact, were part of the coalition in Afghanistan 20 years ago and are now fighting for their rights In China, and China wants to suppress them brutally and would love to have the United States supporting that.

Indonesia is very happy to join because it wants continued U.S. support in crushing internal uprisings as in for example Aceh, as it has been doing very brutally for many years. Unfortunately they already have U.S. support, but they would like to have much more support. Algeria, which is one of the most murderous states in the world, would love to have U.S. support for it's torture and massacres of people in Algeria. And if you look around the world, those who are happily joining the coalition are doing it for reasons that should send shivers up your spine. There's a lot of applause for the coalition, but it will disappear very quickly if you look at the reasons why countries are joining. If that's the new internationalism, we should not want to be part of it, we should be strongly opposed to it.

This is an edited transcript of Noam Chomsky's October 2nd appearance in the MSNBC chatroom hosted by Will Femia.

Vedic Predictions

by Pearl Finn

What disturbing times we are in, the recent events in New York are a symbol of the radical shake-up we have to endure as a result of the opposition inside ourselves to do with materialism versus spiritual values. As Mars and the Moon connected with the Rahu/Ketu Axis across Gemini and Sagittarius on September 11th, these were the questions that we were frightened into asking and will continue to be challenged on during the coming months. When the karmic axis gets activated the outcome is always devastating and unpredictable.

Significant Astrological dates

October 19th: Mars, the Warrior, moves to Capricorn where he gets exalted and is fighting fit. The huge increase in accidents, rows and violence has been due to an impetuous Mars in a strong position wanting immediate change without taking the needs of others into consideration. Patience and self-restraint are our best remedy during this time. Fasting on Tuesday, the day ruled by Mars, helps to calm his energy.

November 2nd: Jupiter goes retrograde and as he represents goodness and wealth, the resources that sustain us become scarce. This is not a good time to be introducing a new currency and the powers that be obviously did not consider (con=with sider =stars) the planetary indications when they selected the time.

June 2001 to June 2002: Since Jupiter moved to Gemini in June 2001, he has been having a hard time and finds it difficult to do what he likes which is to protect, sustain and support the highest good. He is in bad company in the sign of his enemy and so is very unhappy and unable to provide the wisdom and guidance we need. This situation is likely to continue until Jupiter moves to Cancer in June 2002.

Since June 2000: Saturn in Taurus since June 2000 has been teaching us, sometimes very severely, that you only get what you deserve or what you have earned. He continues to bring restrictions and disappointment as the Karmic debts related to misuse of the Earth's resources have to be repaid. We must learn the need for patience, clean up our diet, face our old fears, clear our debts and see the value of rules, discipline and tradition.

Pearl Finn is contactable at or telephone 091-565846, Pearls of Wisdom, Quay Street, Galway.

by Wendell Berry

Thoughts in the Presence of Fear

Wendell Berry, tireless campaigner against global economics and for local self-sufficiency, reflects on September 11th in the light of his own concerns.

The time will soon come when we will not be able to remember the horrors of September 11 without remembering also the unquestioning technological and economic optimism that ended on that day.

This optimism rested on the proposition that we were living in a "new world order" and a "new economy" that would "grow" on and on, bringing a prosperity of which every new increment would be "unprecedented".

The dominant politicians, corporate officers, and investors who believed this proposition did not acknowledge that the prosperity was limited to a tiny percent of the world's people, and to an ever smaller number of people even in the United States; that it was founded upon the oppressive labor of poor people all over the world; and that its ecological costs increasingly threatened all life, including the lives of the supposedly prosperous.

The "developed" nations had given to the "free market" the status of a god, and were sacrificing to it their farmers, farmlands, and communities, their forests, wetlands, and prairies, their ecosystems and watersheds. They had accepted universal pollution and global warming as normal costs of doing business.

There was, as a consequence, a growing worldwide effort on behalf of economic decentralization, economic justice, and ecological responsibility. We must recognize that the events of September 11 make this effort more necessary than ever. We citizens of the industrial countries must continue the labor of self-criticism and self-correction. We must recognize our mistakes.

The paramount doctrine of the economic and technological euphoria of recent decades has been that everything depends on innovation. It was understood as desirable, and even necessary, that we should go on and on from one technological innovation to the next, which would cause the economy to "grow" and make everything better and better. This of course implied at every point a hatred of the past, of all things inherited and free. All things superceded in our progress of innovations, whatever their value might have been, were discounted as of no value at all.

We did not anticipate anything like what has now happened. We did not foresee that all our sequence of innovations might be at once be overridden by a greater one: the invention of a new kind of war that would turn our previous innovations against us, discovering and exploiting the debits and the dangers that we had ignored. We never considered the possibility that we might be trapped in the webwork of communication and transport that was supposed to make us free.

Nor did we foresee that the weaponry and the war science that we marketed and taught to the world would become available, not just to recognized national governments, which possess so uncannily the power to legitimate large-scale violence, but also to "rogue nations", dissident or fanatical groups and individuals-whose violence, though never worse than that of nations, is judged by the nations to be illegitimate.

We had accepted uncritically the belief that technology is only good; that it cannot serve evil as well as good; that it cannot serve our enemies as well as ourselves; that it cannot be used to destroy what is good, including our homelands and our lives.

We had accepted too the corollary belief that an economy (either as a money economy or as a life-support system) that is global in extent, technologically complex, and centralized is invulnerable to terrorism, sabotage, or war, and that it is protectable by "national defense".

We now have a clear, inescapable choice that we must make. We can continue to promote a global economic system of unlimited "free trade" among corporations, held together by long and highly vulnerable lines of communication and supply, but now recognizing that such a system will have to be protected by a hugely expensive police force that will be worldwide, whether maintained by one nation or several or all, and that such a police force will be effective precisely to the extent that it oversways the freedom and privacy of the citizens of every nation.

The "developed" nations had given to the "free market" the status of a god, and were sacrificing to it their farmers, farmlands, and communities, their forests, wetlands, and prairies, their ecosystems and watersheds. Or we can promote a decentralized world economy which would have the aim of assuring to every nation and region a local self-sufficiency in life-supporting goods. This would not eliminate international trade, but it would tend toward a trade in surpluses after local needs had been met.

One of the gravest dangers to us now, second only to further terrorist attacks against our people, is that we will attempt to go on as before with the corporate program of global "free trade", whatever the cost in freedom and civil rights, without self-questioning or self-criticism or public debate.

This is why the substitution of rhetoric for thought, always a temptation in a national crisis, must be resisted by officials and citizens alike. It is hard for ordinary citizens to know what is actually happening in Washington in a time of such great trouble; for all we know, serious and difficult thought may be taking place there. But the talk that we are hearing from politicians, bureaucrats, and commentators has so far tended to reduce the complex problems now facing us to issues of unity, security, normality, and retaliation.

National self-righteousness, like personal self-righteousness, is a mistake. It is misleading. It is a sign of weakness. Any war that we may make now against terrorism will come as a new installment in a history of war in which we have fully participated. We are not innocent of making war against civilian populations. The modern doctrine of such warfare was set forth and enacted by General William Tecumseh Sherman, who held that a civilian population could be declared guilty and rightly subjected to military punishment. We have never repudiated that doctrine.

It is a mistake also - as events since September 11 have shown - to suppose that a government can promote and participate in a global economy and at the same time act exclusively in its own interest by abrogating its international treaties and standing apart from international cooperation on moral issues.

And surely, in our country, under our Constitution, it is a fundamental error to suppose that any crisis or emergency can justify any form of political oppression. Since September 11, far too many public voices have presumed to "speak for us" in saying that Americans will gladly accept a reduction of freedom in exchange for greater "security". Some would maybe. But some others would accept a reduction in security (and in global trade) far more willingly than they would accept any abridgement of our Constitutional rights.

In a time such as this, when we have been seriously and most cruelly hurt by those who hate us, and when we must consider ourselves to be gravely threatened by those same people, it is hard to speak of the ways of peace and to remember that Christ enjoined us to love our enemies, but this is no less necessary for being difficult.

Even now we dare not forget that since the attack of Pearl Harbor - to which the present attack has been often and not usefully compared - we humans have suffered an almost uninterrupted sequence of wars, none of which has brought peace or made us more peaceable.

The aim and result of war necessarily is not peace but victory, and any victory won by violence necessarily justifies the violence that won it and leads to further violence. If we are serious about innovation, must we not conclude that we need something new to replace our perpetual "war to end war"?

What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness. We have, for example, several national military academies, but not one peace academy. We have ignored the teachings and the examples of Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other peaceable leaders. And here we have an inescapable duty to notice also that war is profitable, whereas the means of peaceableness, being cheap or free, make no money.

The key to peaceableness is continuous practice. It is wrong to suppose that we can exploit and impoverish the poorer countries, while arming them and instructing them in the newest means of war, and then reasonably expect them to be peaceable.

We must not again allow public emotion or the public media to caricature our enemies. If our enemies are now to be some nations of Islam, then we should undertake to know those enemies. Our schools should begin to teach the histories, cultures, arts, and language of the Islamic nations. And our leaders should have the humility and the wisdom to ask the reasons some of those people have for hating us.

Starting with the economies of food and farming, we should promote at home, and encourage abroad, the ideal of local self-sufficiency. We should recognise that this is the surest, the safest, and the cheapest way for the world to live. We should not countenance the loss or destruction of any local capacity to produce necessary goods.

We should reconsider and renew and extend our efforts to protect the natural foundations of the human economy: soil, water, and air. We should protect every intact ecosystem and watershed that we have left, and begin restoration of those that have been damaged.

The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, neither by job-training nor by industry-subsidised research. It's proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible. This cannot be done by gathering or "accessing" what we now call "information" -which is to say facts without context and therefore without priority. A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important that other things; it means putting first things first.

The first thing we must begin to teach our children ( and learn ourselves) is that we cannot spend and consume endlessly. An economy based on waste is inherently and hopelessly violent, and war is its inevitable by-product. We need a peaceable economy.

This article originally appeared on, the website of Orion and Orion Afield magazine, under the feature heading "Thoughts on America". The list of contributing writers continues to grow.

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