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Columbia Spectator

Chomsky Speaks on US Imperialism

Noam Chomsky delivered the Edward W. Said Memorial Lecture to a packed crowd on Thursday.

Claire Luchette

Students had to be turned away from Thursday’s event featuring the famed linguist Noam Chomsky, as the room filled up to three times its capacity. Chomsky gave the Edward Said lecture. (Jawad Bhatti / Staff photographer)

According to Noam Chomsky, all U.S. leaders are schizophrenic.

Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, came to Columbia on Thursday to discuss
hypocrisy and "schizophrenia" in American foreign policy from the early
settlers to George W. Bush.

Chomsky, often considered one of the fathers of modern linguistics,
is also well known for his controversial criticism of the United
States' actions in international politics.

At the fifth annual Edward W. Said Memorial Lecture hosted by the
Heyman Center for the Humanities, Chomsky began his speech on "The
Unipolar Moment and the Culture of Imperialism" by applauding Said for
calling attention to America's culture of imperialism. Said, a cultural
critic and literary scholar who taught at Columbia for about three
decades, died in 2003.

Though America just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of
the Berlin Wall, Chomsky said the commemoration ignored a glaring human
rights violation that occurred only one week after the wall fell. On
November 16, 1989, a U.S.-armed Atlacatl battalion assassinated six
leading Latin American Jesuit priests, he explained.

Chomsky contrasted America's self-congratulation of the Berlin Wall
destruction with the resounding silence that surrounds the
assassination of these priests.

He said that this was just one example of the many stains on
America's foreign policy record. Chomsky criticized the U.S. for its
role in the continuing conflicts in the Middle East. Alluding to the
wall dividing Israel and Gaza, he stressed the need to "dismantle the
massive wall ... now snaking through Palestinian territory in violation
of international law."

Discussing the United States as an international player, he said,
"To this day, the U.S. is reverentially admired as a city on a hill."
Chomsky characterized this as an imperialist policy, "a conception that
we are carrying out God's will in mysterious ways."

He argued that the U.S. sacrifices democratic principles for its own
self-interest, and tends to "focus a laser light on the crimes of
enemies, but crucially we make sure to never look at ourselves."

Democracy, he said, is "supported if it defends the strategic and economic objectives of the United States."

Akeel Bilgrami, director of the Heyman Center for the Humanities,
said in an e-mail prior to the event that they were honored to have
Chomsky return for a fourth visit. "He is one of the greatest figures
of public conscience of the last century," Bilgrami said, adding that,
in linguistics and philosophy, Chomsky "single-handedly generated a
revolution in the subject."

Bilgrami noted that the Heyman Center's choice of speakers does not
necessarily reflect its political views. He said, "To some extent, the
choice of speakers and interests over the years have reflected the
progressive, humanistic, politically radical possibilities in the study
of the humanities but it has never been a political platform" and
explained that any sort of agenda would "cancel out other voices and
points of view."

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