Published on Monday, March 18, 2002 in the San Francisco Chronicle
Chomsky to Speak in Bay Area
MIT Linguist Critiques U.S. Foreign Policy
by Jonathan Curiel
When Noam Chomsky takes the stage today at the University of San
Francisco to give a speech titled "Human Rights: Global Change and Continuity,
" he'll be greeted by an audience that sees him as the antidote to U.S.
leaders who back the military campaign in Afghanistan and want to expand the
war on terrorism to Iraq and other countries.
"By the U.S. definition, those are textbook illustrations of international terrorism, which is the use of force or violence to attain political ends (and) the targeting of civilians through intimidation and fear," Chomsky said in a weekend phone interview from his Massachusetts home, before flying to the Bay Area to make a weeklong series of talks.
Since Sept. 11, Chomsky has been deluged with requests to speak at universities, fund-raisers and public forums. He published a best-selling book, "9-11," which explains -- in a series of interviews with journalists -- his view that the United States is "a leading terrorist state" that circumvents international law and wrongfully supports murderous conditions around the world, whether it's in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Nicaragua or Indonesia.
"Right now, the United States is asking Turkey to become the international military force in Afghanistan," said Chomsky. "Well, what's Turkey? In the 1990s, funded almost completely by the Clinton administration, atrocities increased (in Kurdish areas of Turkey) -- to the point that (up to 3 million) refugees were driven out and maybe 50,000 people were killed and thousands of villages were destroyed. That's U.S. terrorism in the 1990s. I'm not talking about ancient history. And now Turkey is being asked to supervise the 'war on terrorism?' If some Martian observer were looking at this, he'd crack up in ridicule."
Critics say Chomsky is reflexively anti-American, and publications as varied as the New Republic and the Weekly Standard have derided his post-Sept. 11 comments, especially remarks Chomsky made last November in Pakistan's capital, when he reportedly told an audience, "The coalition forces are making plans to further destroy the hunger-stricken country (of Afghanistan). The consequences of their crimes will never be known and they are quite confident about that."
Under the title of "Paging Jane Fonda," the New Republic wrote that Chomsky "appeared in Islamabad to peddle his by now banal theories of American malfeasance" and that, "At the end of his speech, the audience of 1,500 gave Chomsky a standing ovation. He'd doubtless receive a similarly warm reception in Kandahar."
Chomsky dismisses his critics as "commissars," saying he takes their put- downs "for granted. It's been done throughout history. How were dissidents treated in the Soviet Union? Let's look at the First World War. The first thing that happened as the war opened was that 93 leading German intellectuals issued a proclamation requesting that intellectuals all over the world support Germany's noble war effort. On the Anglo-American side, exactly the same thing happened. There were a couple of dissidents, like (author and philosopher) Bertrand Russell and (Socialist presidential candidate) Eugene Debs in the United States -- and, yes, they ended up in jail."
His speech in Islamabad, Chomsky points out, was arranged by Pakistan's Eqbal Ahmad Foundation, "and Eqbal Ahmad was the leading opponent of religious fundamentalism and nuclear armament in Pakistan. He was also the leading proponent of democracy. That's who I was speaking for -- for the group of people who are radically opposed to Islamic fundamentalism. The liberal press (in the United States) presented it as if I was somehow giving a pro-Taliban speech."
Tomorrow and Wednesday, Chomsky will give speeches on linguistics at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. Then he'll talk Thursday night at the Berkeley Community Theatre in a benefit for the Middle East Children's Alliance, and Friday night at the Hyatt Hotel in Palo Alto in a sold-out discussion sponsored by the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center. Chomsky's Thursday night speech is titled "Middle East Peace in a 9-11 World," and his Friday night speech is titled "Peering Into the Abyss of the Future." All of his talks, including today's, will touch on Afghanistan and a war against terrorism that he says is morally unfair and misdirected.
Since Sept. 11, Chomsky says, his speeches have been more heavily attended than ever, and his views have been disseminated more than ever.
"It's not just me, incidentally," Chomsky said. "It's everybody. There's probably been more openness and dissent now than at any time in modern history. "
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle