Monday, January 02, 2006

Chomsky interview: acclaims Iraq as a victory for non-violence: "The victory of the non-violent resistance in Iraq, which compelled the occupying forces to allow elections, that's a major victory. That's one of the major triumphs of non-violent resistance that I know of. It wasn't the insurgents that did it - the US doesn't care about violence, they have more violence. What it can't control is non-violence and the non-violent movements in Iraq, partially with Sistani as a kind of figurehead, but it's much broader than that, it compelled the occupying forces to allow elections and some limited, very limited degree of sovereignty. And yet we should be trying to help them in these endeavours."

In this interview Chomsky also replies again to the allegations over the Pol Pot affair:

"Does the Professor harbour any feelings of guilt for acting as an apologist for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge during the period of the genocide in Cambodia. Or is mass murder by leftwing extremists still acceptable?"

"Noam Chomsky: I would ask the listener whether he harbours any guilt for having supported Hitler and the Holocaust and insisting the Jews be sent to extermination camps. It has the same answer. Since it never happened, I obviously can't have any guilt for it. He's just repeating propaganda he heard. If you ask him, you'll discover that he never read one word I wrote. Try it. What I wrote was, and I don't have any apologies for it because it was accurate, I took the position that Pol Pot was a brutal monster, from the beginning was carrying out hideous atrocities, but the West, for propaganda purposes, was creating and inventing immense fabrications for its own political goals and not out of interest for the people of Cambodia. And my colleague and I with whom I wrote all this stuff simply ran through the list of fanatic lies that were being told and we took the most credible sources, which happened to be US intelligence, who knew more than anyone else. And we said US intelligence is probably accurate. In retrospect, that turns out to be correct, US intelligence was probably accurate. I think we were the only ones who quoted it. The fabrications were fabrications and should be eliminated. In fact, we also discussed, and I noticed nobody ever talks about this, we discussed fabrications against the US. For example a standard claim in the major works was that the US bombings had killed 600,000 people in 1973. We looked at the data and decided it was probably 200,000. So we said let's tell the truth about it. It's a crime, but it's not like anything you said. It's interesting that nobody ever objects to that. When we criticize fabrications about US crimes, that's fine, when we criticize and in fact expose much worse fabrications about some official enemy, that's horrible, it becomes apologetics. We should learn something about ourselves. If you're interested in the truth, which you ought to be, tell the truth about yourself and tell the truth about others. These fabrications had an obvious political purpose. Incidentally, we continually criticize the Khmer Rouge after the Vietnamese invasion. After the Vietnamese invasion, which finally threw them out thankfully, the US and Britain immediately turned to support Pol Pot. Well, we criticized that, too, we said, no, you shouldn't be supporting this monster. So yes, our position was consistent throughout. There's been a huge literature trying to show that there was something wrong in what we said. To my knowledge, nobody's even found a comma that's misplaced. And therefore what you have is immense gossip. My guess is that the person who just wrote this in has never seen anything we wrote, but has heard a lot of gossip about it."

The Pol Pot support, along with the neo-Nazi Holocaust denying position, hatred of Isael and Jews, denial of Srebrenica massacre and accusations of American Holocaust against Sudan are smears against Chomsky that are repeated over and over and over again, so much so that even many 'liberals' get taken in by them, as can sometimes be seen on dailykos.

Chomsky also in this interview makes a point which he stresses over and again: "No rational person pays the slightest attention to declarations of benign intent on the part of leaders, no matter who they are. And the reason is they're completely predictable, including the worst monsters, Stalin, Hitler the rest. Always full of benign intent. Yes that's their task. Therefore, since they're predictable, we disregard them, they carry no information. What we do is, look at the facts. That's true if they're Bush or Blair or Stalin or anyone else. That's the beginning of rationality."

As an example of what Chomsky means by this, one could consider the liner notes of the new DVD edition of the Concert for Bangladesh:

"Promising to end dictatorship and introduce democracy, General Agha Muhammed Yahya came to power [over both East and West Pakistan] in 1969. The General appeared to make good on his pledge when free elections, the first in Pakistan's history, were held towards the end of the following year.

"The outcome of the voting, however, came as a blow to the West Pakistan leadership. The Awami People's League of Bangladesh had won an overwhelming victory, capturing a majority of Pakistan's legislative seats. It appeared the Awami party had been mandated to create Pakistan's first democratic government.

"But the regime in the West refused to allow the transfer of power to East Pakistan. In March 1971, the order was issued to eliminate opposition to West Pakistan's dominance.

"To this day, no one knows how many were killed in the conflict that followed. Estimates range from several hundred thousand to three million.

"The fleeing refugees who had survived the violence in their homeland were now threatened by starvation, lack of sanitation, cholera and other deadly illnesses. Combined with these perils was a season of natural disaster in the form of destructive floods. Predictably, most of the victims succumbing to the hardship were children."

General Khan may have been a well-intentioned man, happy to advocate and even support democracy (provided it agrees with the needs of power). But of course, one must consider the reality on the ground. And truly, so with all leaders. No one should get a free pass, but that is practically the definition of corporate news reporting ('stenography') of modern 'democratic' leadership. A better model for genuine journalism is the phrase 'to monitor the sources of power.' And not merely monitor them, but critically dissect and analyse, passing over statements which are correct, but highlighting and exposing that for which there is a lack of evidence or reasonable support.

Incidentally, the performance by Bob Dylan in the Bangladesh concert is regarded by some as one of his best. So let's not pass up the opportunity to retell a Chomsky anecdote about Dylan :-)

"Just the other day I was sitting in a radio studio waiting for a satellite arrangement abroad to be set up. The engineers were putting together interviews with Bob Dylan from about 1966-7 or so (judging by the references), and I was listening (I'd never heard him talk before -- if you can call that talking). He sounded as though he was so drugged he was barely coherent, but the message got through clearly enough through the haze. He said over and over that he'd been through all of this protest thing, realized it was nonsense, and that the only thing that was important was to live his own life happily and freely, not to "mess around with other people's lives" by working for civil and human rights, ending war and poverty, etc. He was asked what he thought about the Berkeley "free speech movement" and said that he didn't understand it. He said something like: "I have free speech, I can do what I want, so it has nothing to do with me. Period." If the capitalist PR machine wanted to invent someone for their purposes, they couldn't have made a better choice."

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