Things you'll never hear
Interview with Noam Chomsky
June 14, 2000
Ramin Jahanbegloo's interview with Noam Chomsky, one of America's
most provocative intellectuals who is professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. Jahanbegloo is associate professor of political
science at the University of Toronto. The interview was conducted in April.
RJ: You have a very multifaceted career as a linguist and university
lecturer. But it is probably as a critic of politics, government and media
that you are most well known. And your interest in politics is not limited
to the borders of North America; you are also interest in what is going
on in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. Today we are going to talk
about the Middle East and I want to know more about how you got interested
in the Middle East and more specifically in Iranian affairs. Does this
interest in the Middle East have to do with your Jewish background or are
there more reasons for this?
NC: I grew up in a small immigrant Jewish community in the United States
which was very involved in the revival of Hebrew, with things that were
happening in Palestine and that as a child, back in the 1930s was beginning
to integrate with my general political interests toward political radicalism
and there were all sorts of connections that grew out of that. When I got
to college I studied Arabic and got to read it reasonably well having Hebrew.
Then more generally I lived in Israel for a while and just became more
and more engaged in Middle East affairs generally but it is just one of
several areas as I told you this morning I was talking on Brazilian radio.
RJ: Did you follow up your interest in the Middle East more in the
60s and 70s in relation to the Palestinian problem?
NC: No, it was a continuation of earlier interests. Back in the 1940s
I was more involved in that than in anything else.
RJ: Have you ever been to Iran?
RJ: Are you interested to go to Iran?
NC: Yes, I have invitations I just haven't been able to make it. I have
an extremely intense schedule. I'm usually planned two years ahead, it
is hard to work things out.
RJ: When you think of a country like Iran, since you have never visited,
what are your perceptions of Iran today?
NC: Well, I have been interested in Iran since the early 1950s when
the United States and Britain overthrew the conservative-nationalist government
and restored the Shah. I have been following Iran throughout that whole
period. I was involved with Iranian dissidents, Iranian students in the
period of protest against the Shah and of course I have paid a lot of attention
since the overthrow of the Shah when the Islamic regime took over. Most
of what I look at is from the point of view of U.S. policy. So I have been
interested in the role of Iran under the Shah as part of a system of control
of Middle East oil and later as a partial antagonist. I read and follow
what's happening. My picture now is pretty conventional. There is clearly
now a significant reform.
RJ: I'm sure you follow the news on Iran on a daily basis. How would
you assess Khatami's election and the reform process in Iran?
NC: Well I think it is an encouraging sign of a very badly needed opening
up of society. It's a mixed story, for example if Iran opens up in such
a way as to subordinate itself to the general neo-liberal order I think
it will be very harmful for many people in Iran, probably the majority.
So opening up is a mixed [blessing]. It depends on how it is done. On the
cultural and ideological level it is certainly highly beneficial to eliminate
constraints, to allow freedom of expression, to eliminate religious and
other controls and to allow people to live their lives the way they want
to. On the other hand there is also the question of how you become part
of an international economic order, and there are many questions that arise.
What is called opening in the United States means opening the society to
private, concentrated capital. That is not the same thing as making society
more free and open.
RJ: Do you see any similarities between the Iranian revolution and
the American revolution or not at all? The puritan side of the .
NC: The United States happens to be an extremely fundamentalist country.
It is probably more fundamentalist than Iran. If you did a comparative
analysis of extremist religious belief, I wouldn't at all be surprised
if the United States would be beyond Iran. For example, about 40-50 percent
of the population believes that the world is created 6000 years ago. I
don't know if that is true in Iran. I doubt it. Maybe 80-90 percent of
the population believes in miracles and most think that they've seen them.
Maybe 70 percent think they witnessed them. So yes this is an extremely
fundamentalist country. The origins were complex. There was a strong fundamentalist
puritan element; on the other hand there was also a strong secular Enlightenment-based
element, that is where Jefferson and Madison come from. So it's a mixture.
In fact the elite elements at the time of the revolution were mostly what
are called deists, which is basically non-believers. On the other hand
the fundamentalist puritan strain was very strong. The puritans who settled
here described themselves as the children of Israel who are coming to the
promised land to eliminate the Malikites (?) and that continues right to
the present, so it's a strange country. It's not within the spectrum of
industrial societies on matters like this. You don't find these properties
in other industrial societies.
RJ: You talked about U.S.-Iran diplomatic relations which have been
at their lowest level for the past 20 years. Yet during the past month,
as you read, U.S. foreign policy toward Iran seems to have undergone a
reversal. Throughout much of the 80s, Israel and its American supporters
were agitating for a military confrontation with Iran. How do you explain
Madeleine Albright's diplomatic overture toward Iran? What has changed?
NC: Israel has had an ambivalent policy, so yes there are elements in
Israel and it's [American] supporters who have been calling for a military
confrontation. On the other hand Israel has been improving its relations
with Iran. Its trade relations are very small but they are improving. Iran
has never been officially regarded by Israel as a terrorist state they
have to attack. So it is mixed. In the case of the United States I think
what is happening is the usual situation. Business interests within the
United States have not been in favor of the sanctions, the blockade. There
is a standard process that takes place when the United States government
imposes sanctions, blockage, embargo, terrorist attacks and so on. For
a while most of the world observes them, because the world is afraid of
the United States, so you don't step on the toes of the United States.
After a while it begins to erode at the borders. After sometime, American
business doesn't like the fact that it's being cut out of markets and resources
and opportunities and you find it influences government policy and government
policy shifts. This is very standard.
So in the case of Vietnam, for example, as long as the world was observing
the extremely harsh U.S. sanctions designed to punish Vietnam for daring
to stand up to the master, as long as that went on, not a big problem.
By the time Japan and Europe started violating the sanctions, American
business didn't like it and all of a sudden the government discovered that
Vietnam is improving so that we can enter into relations with them. We
see the same happening with regards to Cuba right now and Iran is the same
story. Other competitors, other oil corporations or other international
competitors in Japan and Europe are simply not observing the U.S. embargo
any longer and American business is not happy about that. American oil
companies have long wanted to enter Iran to exploit its fairly rich resources,
not on the level of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, but still it's substantial and
it has other resources, it's a big market and a potentially rich country.
So government policy is beginning to shift under these influences. But
it's a very conflicted story. I mean the question of the [Central Asian
oil] pipeline, for example, is very much alive. I'm sure that American
oil companies would prefer to have the pipeline to go through Iran because
it's cheaper and simpler and so on. But the government is still insisting
as its general strategic planning that it go through, ultimately, the friendly
state of Turkey.
It's rather interesting, you may have seen the lead story on the front
page of the New York Times on Sunday, the lead story by Judith Miller,
supposedly a Middle East specialist, on the latest state department report
on terrorism, and it's interesting the way they treated Iran, Syria and
Turkey. Iran is a terrorist state. Syria is a terrorist state, they say,
but could stop being a terrorist state if it begins to support the U.S.
Middle East peace process. Turkey was praised, they went out of their way
to praise Turkey, for its positive experiences in overcoming terror. That's
pretty remarkable because Turkey has one of the worst records in the world
of state terrorism against the Kurds. In fact right at this moment the
government is carrying out military operations in northern Iraq in a U.S.
no-fly-zone. So [terrorism is] permitted by the United States against Kurds.
It's carrying out military operations around Tujali, in southeastern Turkey,
which is one of the areas most devastated by attacks. Throughout the 1990s
it carried out massive ethnic-cleansing and atrocities, all with huge support
from the United States. In fact in the year of 1997 alone, US arms transfers
to Turkey were higher than in the entire period from 1950 up to the beginning
of the counter-insurgency operation in the mid-80s. Take one of the leading
terrorist states, where its state terrorism is highly dependent on U.S.
arms, about 80% of the arms are from the United States, and to pick that
out for its positive experiences in opposing terrorism, that takes a lot
of confidence in the intellectual classes that they will subordinate themselves
to anything. No matter how outrageous, they will accept it, the media and
the intellectual classes in general.
On the other hand Iran is a terrorist state because it has not subordinated
itself to U.S. interests. It's kind of interesting to see why Iran is regarded
as a terrorist state. It's called a terrorist state because it is supporting
Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah is described as a terrorist organization.
Now why is Hezbollah a terrorist organization? Hezbollah, whatever you
think of it, is fighting against a foreign military occupation of country
that was ordered to leave by the [United Nations] Security Council 22 years
ago. Now that's not terrorism. In fact there happens to be one major United
Nation's resolution on this issue which incidentally has yet to be reported
in the United States except on the margins, I've reported it.This is in
December 1987, right at the peak of concern about terrorism in the Middle
East. The U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution condemning terrorism
in all its forms, the plague of the modern world.and so on and so forth.
It was passed 153 to 2. There was only one abstention - Honduras. The two
were the United States and Israel, as usual. Why did the United States
and Israel oppose a strong resolution condemning terrorism? Well the reason
is that there is one paragraph in it which said that "nothing in this
resolution shall prejudice the rights of people to struggle against racist
and colonial regimes and foreign military occupation" and to gain
support from others in that struggle. Of course the U.S. is opposed to
that. It doesn't think that people have the right to struggle against foreign
military occupation and racist and colonial regimes, as Hezbollah is doing
in Lebanon, certainly not get support. So, the U.S. voted against [the
resolution] and it still hasn't been reported. If there is an international
community outside of the United States, this is a pretty strong statement
of its position. So the question arises why is Hezbollah a terrorist organization
and why is Iran a terrorist state for supporting it? These questions cannot
arise in U.S. discussion. I'm sure you've never seen the question raised
in the media or in journals and so on because it is just taken for granted
that if the U.S. supports terrorism it's fine, if it supports military
occupation it's defensive, no matter what the facts.
RJ: Why have the Iranians been losing the war of words for the past
NC: With the United States?
NC: They don't enter the war of words. There is nothing reported about
the Iranian position. In fact even what I just said - this is virtually
100 percent of the United Nations - that hasn't entered the discussion.
It's possible for the lead story in The New York Times to talk about
Turkey's positive experiences in combating terrorism because U.S.-backed
terrorism in Turkey is barely reported. I mean some of the worst ethnic
cleaning and atrocities in the 1990s, far worst than anything attributed
to Milosevic in Kosovo up to the NATO bombing, that's barely reported,
perhaps a few words, here and there.
RJ: Don't you find it strange that Madeleine Albright comes and makes
apologies to Iran and a week after that you have a feature in The New
York Times saying they suddenly found documents on the coup in 1953
NC: First of all, Madeleine Albright made a very weak apology. It's
clearly a reaction to the fact that U.S. oil companies and other business
interests are not happy with the policy. So it's kind of weak step, a response
to Khatami's gestures. The documents that The New York Times published
are actually not very interesting. There was almost nothing in them. Everything
there has been known for years. In fact the only interesting part of that,
I thought, was a side column, by the journalist himself. There was one
column in that section where he described how the media created the CIA-British
coup and the headline says something like "CIA tried to manipulate
media but failed." And the story is about how the media did not submit
to the CIA manipulation but they gave, he said, "an objective and
factual account." Then he describes the "objective and factual
account" which is straight out U.S. government propaganda and all
lies as the rest of the material indicates. It's an interesting point that
it was not necessary to manipulate the media because they were happy to
manipulate themselves. Without subordinating themselves to government power
they produced the same lies anyway and now they are calling it "objective
and factual," even though they can see that it is lies.
In fact the reaction at the time, if you look, is quite interesting.
After the coup they knew what had happened. They pretended that they didn't
but it was pretty clear what had happened. The New York Times ran
an editorial in which it said the overthrow of the Mossadegh government
"will be an object lesson to governments that go berserk with hysterical
nationalis" meaning they go berserk by trying to control their own
resources. This will be an object lesson of what will happen to them. That's
the way it was understood - teaching a lesson to any country that is trying
to control it's own resources. That was praised in The New York Times.
Then came the - I don't have to describe to you what the Shah's regime
was like - very ugly, one of the worst torturers and killers. Almost nothing
was reported. I mean almost nothing was reported - I mean Amnesty International
- year after year picked out Iran as one of the worst criminal states in
the world for its treatment of its population - virtually nothing. The
only discussion of this began in 1979. Then there was some talk on this.
There is a pretty good book on this by Farhang and Dorman, which just reviews
the coverage and it's pretty shocking. The fact that they came out now
with documentary material is good because it's nice to have material but
when you read the reports they basically tell you nothing that you didn't
RJ: As you said, if we are going to have relations it is due to the
globalization process, but for many people inside and outside Iran, globalization
means American culture and domination. In globalization we have the assumption
that because the world is unipolar, there is no more room for a dialogue
among cultures, what do you think are the effects of globalization on a
traditional country like Iran?
NC: I think we first of all should distinguish between the cultural
forms of globalization, which is not of great significance to the United
States, from economic globalization which is something quite different.
So at the cultural level the integration of international societies has
been double-edged. Take Europe where there has been a large degree of unification
in the European Union. Well that has lead to a more homogenous culture
on the other hand it has lead to a lot of regionalization. So regional
cultures are becoming revitalized all over a good part of Europe: Wales,
Catalonia, parts of Germany, partly in reaction to the uniformity that
has been imposed. So I think things are going in both direction. For example,
take languages. A lot of languages in Europe, which are called dialects
are simply disappearing. On the other hand a lot of them are being revived.
I think that this is true world wide.
Much more significant for power interests are the economic forms of
globalization and here we have to be cautious. Globalization is a code
word. There are many ways in which the international economy can be integrated.
So if you go back to the 1960s, 1970s when the non-aligned countries were
coming together and becoming a significant force. They called for a new
international economic order - globalization in other words - but one that
would respond to the needs of the overwhelming majority of the people of
the world. In fact UNCTA (United Nations Countries on Trade and Development)
was formed in 1964 to respond to these interests, it's the U.N.'s major
economic analysis policy agency and it made proposals for an international
economic order that would indeed respond to the needs of countries that
were trying to develop the poorer majority of the world and so on. That
was shot down instantly. That was not even discussed it was so ridiculous
and UNCTA was marginalized with functions that barely exist. Look at the
U.S. press they don't even know it exists. And the reason is that it was
responding to the needs of maybe 80% of the world's population which is
what the non-aligned countries are.
A different form of globalization was instituted at just that time catering
to different interests, namely those of highly concentrated private power.
That's called globalization but it's no more globalization than the alternative
would have been or others that one can think of. It is a specific form
of international global integration driven by corporate power, backed by
a small number of powerful states that happened to be linked by the major
economic concentrations. Now that particular form of globalization since
the 1970s has had harmful effects on the world economy. There is no question
of this. If you look at say growth rates in the 1950s and 1960s there were
considerably higher than they have been since. This is not a big secret.
I mean the United States had a Bretton Woods commission that was headed
by Paul Faulker [sp?], Federal Reserve Chairman, you can't get more respectable
than that, in 1995, they were studying these affects, they estimated that
for the industrial countries growth rates had dropped by about half since
the onset of what is called globalization/financial liberalization, the
breaking down of the Bretton Woods system in the 70s. UNCTA just came out
with it's trade and development report for 1999, dealing with the poorer
countries, what is called the developing countries, they came out with
basically the same estimate. The poorer countries growth rates in the 1990s
had declined, they were about half of what they were in the 1970s. And
the same is true of other macro-economic measures - productivity growth,
capital investment and so on.
Furthermore, even within the rich countries you see the same thing.
Take the United States. There is a lot of talk about the fairy tale economy
but it's just not true. I mean the economy right now is finally beginning
to approximate what it was through the 1950s and 60s and that's very fragile
because it's based on extremely heavy debt and huge trade deficits and
stock market bubbles, nobody knows how long they will last. Furthermore,
in the last 20 years most of the population has been left out. So average
wages in the United States are about what they were twenty years ago. That's
unprecedented over a long period. If you look at social indicators, things
like hunger, illiteracy, mortality rates, those kinds of measures, they
have actually declined since the mid-70s, they more or less went along
with gross domestic product, as the economy grew, social indicators improved.
Since the mid 70s social indicators have been declining, while the economy
continues to grow though not as fast, and now they are about the level
of the 1960s, and in the poorer countries it was much worse. This is a
particular form of globalization. The reason it is so highly praised is
that for certain sectors of the population they've become extremely wealthy...
Well who are the people who write the articles and describe what they hear
from their friends in elegant restaurants? For them it's a very good economy,
not for most of the rest, even in the rich countries, like the United States
and certainly not in the poorer countries. That's a form of global integration.
It's had other interesting affects. So, for example, right now there
is a lot of hysteria about the drug war. One of the reasons for the drug
war -- there is a lot of things one might say about this -- but we might
ask ourselves why do peasants in the Andean region produce cocoa? A large
part of the reason is the international economic order that has been constructed.
So one of the first proposals of UNCTA, as part of the new international
economic order that the non-aligned countries were pressing, was efforts
to stabilize commodity prices. That's very important. Poorer countries
are primary producers of commodities. If these commodities oscillate widely
in price then poor peasants just can't survive. I mean agri-business can
survive if prices go up and down but a peasant can't tell his children
don't bother eating next year maybe we will have food the following year,
they can't do that. Every rich country does stabilize commodity prices.
So the U.S. had huge subsidies to agro-business to keep prices for agricultural
commodities more or less stable. The European Union does the same, even
more. But when the poor countries tried to do it that was shut down right
away. The U.S. and other rich countries would not permit a program to stabilize
commodity prices. Well one of the affects of that is to drive peasants
to produce commodities that have a stable market. What's that? If you are
a peasant in Bolivia that's drugs.
Furthermore, then came the neo-liberal reform, which compelled countries
to open their borders to imports of highly subsidized agro-business production
in the United States and Europe. Well, obviously local agriculture is not
going to able to survive that. So peasants are driven away from production
from the local economy and they are told by the World Bank and the IMF
to become what is called "rational peasants" -- meaning produce
for agro-export and try to maximize profit. Okay, there is a way to do
that. One way, in fact, is to grow cocoa and poppy and that's one way to
make you a rational peasant... Well having learned their lessons from American
economists and IMF economists the peasants are rewarded. Namely they are
attacked by U.S. military helicopter gunships, chemical and biological
warfare to destroy their crops and that's what's called the drug war. You
might ask yourself, I mean there is a lot of discussion about the drug
war [but] to what extent are these issues discussed? Not at all.
In fact, there is another obvious question which is never raised - it
shows how deeply indoctrinated the industrial societies are - I mean what
right does the United States have to carry out chemical and biological
warfare and military attacks in the Andean countries? I mean, for example,
does China have the right to carry out chemical and biological warfare
in North Carolina? North Carolina produces lethal substances that are much
more dangerous than cocoa or heroine. They make tobacco. The Supreme Court
just described it as the worst health hazard in the United States. In the
United States alone death from tobacco is about 25 times higher than all
drugs. Countries of Asia, and much of the rest of the world, are not only
compelled to accept U.S. lethal drugs they are compelled to accept advertising
for them. I mean the Colombian cartel are not permitted to advertise on
U.S. television, telling children how much fun it is to smoke cocaine,
well you have to do that in Asia, if you don't you get hit by U.S. trade
sanctions. So here is the United States, forcing lethal substances on the
rest of the world, forcing them to accept advertising aimed at vulnerable
populations. Do they have the right to come and carry out experimental
biological and chemical warfare program in North Carolina or to send helicopter
gunships to kill farmers in North Carolina. Why not? What gives the United
States that right and not other countries? That question just can't be
RJ: Is there is place in today's world, since we are talking about
globalization and the new world order, for a dialogue of civilizations?
NC: You have to first open up the societies enough so that they are
willing to have internal dialogue. That's clearly a problem in Iran and
it's being struggled over but it is a huge problem right here. I mean this
is a very free society in the sense that the government has very little
power to coerce. So government can't stop me from saying what I'm saying.
If I want to write it in some small journal I can do it, they can't put
me in jail, it's not like Iran in that respect. On the other hand the actual
level of dialogue here is extremely narrow. For example the kind of things
I've been mentioning are completely obvious. I have no trouble talking
about these things to school children, they understand them because it's
obvious. It's not a deep point or a deep philosophical issue. These are
elementary facts. They are never discussed. The doctrinal system is so
narrow that these questions simply cannot arise. Until countries, the freer
countries open up enough so they are willing to face elementary reality
you cannot have a dialogue across countries.
Let me give you another example. The non-aligned countries account for
about 80 percent of the population of the world, so it's not trivial. They
just had a high level meeting in Columbia, Cartehena. There was not a word
about it in the U.S. press. I did a database search and it didn't mention
it. They came out with interesting declarations, you can read them. I read
them in the Egyptian press, for example. They came out with a very strong
condemnation of so-called humanitarian intervention which they described
as just a revival of traditional imperial devices for using force to control
other countries under the pretext of humanitarianism. That is a pretty
big issue in the United States. Everyone is talking about humanitarian
intervention on the left, the right, The Nation magazine, a sort
of left magazine, just had a big discussion of it. How come we don't hear
about the discussion of the countries representing about 80 percent of
the world's population have to say about it? That was true right through
1999. When I wrote a book about what is going on there I quoted the press
in India, Israel, Latin America and so on. It's never mentioned here. It
is perhaps occasionally but how can you have dialogue if you are not willing
to listen to the majority of the people in the world. Among the powerful
you don't have to have dialogue. You say what you want. The kings and princes
don't have to have a dialogue with the peasants. It doesn't make sense
to talk about serious dialogue across cultures if you cannot even have
it within the culture.
RJ: How can the non-aligned countries get strong again like they
use to be in the 50s with Nehru, Nasser?
NC: You could have non-alignment as long as you had two superpowers.
If there are two gangsters ruling the world there is a little space for
people to play one off against the other. As soon as one of the gangsters
disappears and there is only one left, non-alignment disappears too. So
in the 1990s, what little concern there had been for the so-called South,
virtually disappeared. In 1990, around then, the South Commission I mean
these are not radical groups, people the like the minister of development
of Indonesia etc. It was headed by [Julius] Neyere of Tanzania and was
a very representative group of Southern governments, and most of them are
very ugly governments. I don't like them but that's what they are; they
are the governments of the non-aligned countries. They came out with a
proposal for a new world order which would again, as in the 1960s, would
respond to the interests of the South. It wasn't obscure. It was published
by Oxford University Press. I didn't see a word about it. I read about
it but I didn't see a word about it in general discussion. They then came
out with another book - I had a chapter in it, in fact - again published
by Western presses you can't overlook again nothing. I mean who cares about
the interests of the South?
You see it in foreign aid. Foreign aid was always very... I mean what
is called aid is always export promotion so it's tied aid. But whatever
it was it has mostly disappeared. The United States now has barely any
aid program. It's the smallest among the industrial countries and if you
look at it's composition, most of it goes to a rich country, namely Israel.
Another large piece goes to Egypt but only because it's supporting Israel.
Take away that and there is almost nothing left except military aid that
goes to countries like Turkey and Columbia who have to carry out massive
violence against their own citizens. But other kinds of aid have virtually
disappeared because who cares about the South? There is no space for non-alignment.
It's typical that the Colombian non-aligned meetings are not even mentioned.
About a year ago, it must have been 1999, at that time there was a lot
of concern about somehow fixing the global financial architecture. There
had been major economic collapses and rich countries were worried because
rich people were getting hurt, it wasn't just poor people who don't matter.
But rich people were getting harmed so there was great concern about the
global financial architecture and a lot of discussion in the press. The
G-15, which is the fifteen largest of the poorer countries, not small countries,
this is India, China, Indonesia, major countries. They had a meeting about
the global financial architecture, it was not hard to find, it was in Jamaica
right next door, not a word in The New York Times. They had proposals
to try to change the global financial architecture to stop the devastating
effects on their countries which were very evident at the time, the East
Asian crisis, the Brazilian crisis and so on. It was not mentioned in the
national press, it happened to be mentioned in some of the small papers
here and there that nobody knows about because that's only the population
most of the world, what do we care about them? Like I said the king doesn't
bother asking.the only time the king worries about the peasants is when
the peasants are making an uproar. Then you have to worry about them. But
as long as they are more or less quiet and you can control them by force,
who cares what they think.
RJ: What are the challenges that you think are ahead for the whole
world in the 21st century with all these processes of globalization?
NC: Very serious ones. For one thing what is called "globalization",
is misleading in its particular form of integration. By now the protest
against it is very widespread in the rich countries. They have taken the
form of big demonstrations in Seattle, Washington and London. In other
words, the peasants are making noise and the king is taking notice. As
a matter of fact the World Bank has already publicly taken a position that
it had made bad mistakes in the past, which is true, and claims to go in
a different direction. But that is a response to the protests. They just
have to respond. But that is only one problem. Another problem which is
discussed right now at the moment is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Well, the nuclear powers, not just the United States, but all the nuclear
powers have not accepted completely the Non-Proliferation Treaty. That
Treaty requires good efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons. In fact the
opposite is happening. The danger of nuclear weapon is higher than it has
been for a long time. If the U.S. institutes its missile defenses, according
to most experts, that will increase the threat of the nuclear war. The
South Asian nuclear development is related to many sources. But one of
them is just "fear", and that again is recognized by the strategic
analysts. If China builds up its nuclear forces in response to a theater
missile defense, India will too. Then Iran will and Israel will too.
In fact in southeast Turkey, just where the purges against the Kurds
are going on, these are also the regions where there are huge American
air bases. It is the center of surveillance for the Middle East. The Israeli
and American planes fly these region. They are probably equipped with nuclear
bombs. Actually Iran was part of the system until 1979. And until 1979
the U.S. system for controlling the Middle East was based on Iran, Israel,
Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Saudi Arabia because of the oil and
the others because they acted as local gendarmes. Actually the hostility
to Iran is because it pulled out of the system and when it is willing to
pull back into the system it will become a non-terrorist State again.
But the danger of a nuclear war is quite severe and if it happens it
will take us to our end. The danger of environmental catastrophe is also
very severe. For example right now huge draughts are menacing parts of
the world. Nobody knows exactly the reason, but the ecological catastrophes
must not be left out. They are quite serious matters. Nobody knows the
effects of these catastrophes. We have had Bhopal and Chernobyl. In the
last few years the world had its warmest years. It looks very serious.
A sudden change might lead to a massive effect. These ecological catastrophes
are directly related to globalization. Part of the transfer of power to
private corporations means that we don't pay attention to certain things,
so we underestimate the environmental crisis or the risk of financial meltdown.
You know there is now a religion which claims that trade is the supreme
value. Trade is not a supreme value. It is okay for some people, it is
not okay for some other people. It is an instrumental value like the human
rights. But it has been raised at a supreme value. Many of the effects
of trade are just not measured. Like one of the effects of trade is to
spread disease. Another effect of trade is pollution. Trade causes massive
pollution. In economics literature these are called "negative externalities".
But they are put aside, because they are supposed to be small. But they
are not small. If the trade has the effect of driving Bolivian peasants
to cultivate Coca, so that is a "negative externality". As you
see the trade has a huge effects on the world, but they are not considered
because what the driving force behind globalization is -- it is just the
concentration of private power.
RJ: How can one reconcile the universal and the particular? How can
one defend his/her own cultural identity and struggle at the same time
for universal principles?
NC: I think the principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
are not perfect. They can be improved. But I think they are reasonably
good expression of principles that people around the world accept. In fact
the Universal Declaration was put together from many different cultures
who were not Western imperialists but there were inputs from all over the
places and it represented a kind of consensus about the minimal standards
of human rights. Now, of course many countries don't accept the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. They may sign it, and everybody signed it
, but it doesn't mean that they accept it. The Universal Declaration includes
the socio-economic rights, rights to development, to job and to health
and so on. The United States flatly rejects it. Actually in the UN Human
Rights meetings the U.S. vetoed the resolutions calling for a right to
development, which merely restates several articles of the Universal Declaration.
In 1990 the U.S. vetoed it as preposterous. Other countries don't accept
other parts of the Universal Declaration and they don't practice it even
if they sign it in principle.
If you look at the principles themselves they are reasonable principles.
I think they express the consensus that most reasonable people would agree
to. Now you might come from an old culture and still be opposed to torture.
Then other questions arise, like religious questions. For example, I don't
think that teaching the theory of evolution is only illegitimate in Iran,
it is also illegitimate in Kansas. You know the Kansas Board of Education
also bans the teaching of the theory of evolution. If people like to believe
that Darwin was not right, it is their right, but if they want to impose
it to others, it is no more their right even if they have the majority.
Another question is the schooling. Should there be a public schooling system
or should public support religious schools? This is a debate in the United
States. I am personally influenced by 18th century Enlightenment. I don't
think that the public should support religious training. So if you want
to have religious groups that is fine but not with public expense. Take
also the example of abortion. Well, that is a serious issue and there is
a conflict of values like in many moral issues. There is a right of a woman
to have control of her body and there is the right of the fetus to life
as the Catholics believe. So issues like that are not like torture on which
everybody agrees. These issues like abortion are treated as theological
issues, but I think in the United States it is mostly a show. I mean if
people in the Congress, who are against the abortion, want their daughters
to have abortion, they can have it. It's part of a technique to control
the rest of the world.
One of the ways by which the U.S. cuts funds to the United Nations is
by saying that they don't accept the U.N. to work on the family planning.
This is a total hypocrisy. Take for example the Elian Gonzalez's case.
It is an interesting aspect that is not discussed. Right in the middle
of this Elian Gonzalez case, the Miami police broke into a house of an
Arab family, took a two year child away from his mother and sent him to
Jordan, because there was a custody battle since the father is Jordanian-American.
The U.S. court decided that the custody should be decided in Jordan. Well
as you know women's rights are badly treated in Jordan. But there was no
discussion about this in the American media. This one fact shows you the
total hypocrisy about the whole problem of Elian Gonzalez. A lot of this
pretense about rights is a very ugly use of rights to attack others. That
was the sense of the Cartagena Declaration of the Non-Aligned countries.
What they effectively said was that the Western countries should not pretend
to waive the banner of the human rights when your are carrying old fashion
imperial intervention. And to a very large extent this is what has happened.
So the U.S. is happy to bomb Yugoslavia , but it is not happy to bomb an
allied country of the NATO like Turkey which commits a lot of atrocities
against the Kurds.
RJ: Don't you think one of the ways to fight against this hypocrisy
and injustice is to have a dialogue among the intellectuals of different
countries and not just wait for our governments to establish the diplomatic
NC: I agree, because I am personally involved in a constant dialogue
with people all over the world who are opposed to their own governments
and in fact we all work together. How do I keep up with the Middle East
or South East Asia or other places like this? Well, the way it works is
that there are people who are pretty much like me in other countries like
Israel or Australia and so on. They have the same interests. We are all
dissidents, meaning that we are cut out of the main stream. We don't have
resources, we have to work on our own and so forth. So we have to cooperate
with one another. I mean if I want to find out what is going on in India
or the Middle East, I have very smart people working for me. They are much
smarter than the people working for the CIA. These are the dissidents in
their own countries. And I do things for them and we interchange and are
in a constant dialogue over issues which concern us. These are not only
intellectuals. They could be doctors or workers. I learn more talking to
them than to the intellectuals. In fact that is what Seattle is. Seattle
is a meeting place of people from very diverse backgrounds. Students, steel
workers, environmental activists and so on. That is a real dialogue. A
dialogue does not have to be necessarily between governments. It is between
people and the people who make constructive changes are mostly opposed
to their own governments.
RJ: Thank you Professor Chomsky for giving your time.