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Forum Post: A Conversation with Noam Chomsky

Posted 7 years ago on Feb. 27, 2013, 3:36 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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A Conversation with Noam Chomsky

Wednesday, 27 February 2013 10:43 By Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, Spare Change | Interview


On January 8, Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, Spare Change News' editor-in-chief, sat down with one of the world’s leading public intellectuals, Prof. Noam Chomsky, in his office at MIT. They had a wide-ranging and free-flowing conversation about the most pressing issues facing our democracy. They covered topics ranging from liberation theology in Latin America, to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., to the Middle East conflict. This is an excerpt from their rich dialogue.

Noam Chomsky: … And you know what, MLK day, that’s supposed to be venerating MLK, and virtually everything ends with his iconic “I have a dream” speech in 1963. But he didn’t stop there. He went on to try to combat racism in the North, class oppression, housing, and he just gets smashed. In fact, that’s when his reputation among white liberals started going down. Nobody talks about what was happening when he was assassinated. After all, he was supporting the sanitation workers’ strike. More significantly, he was on his way to Washington to organize a poor people’s campaign. They went, set up the tents, and there he was, smashed up by the cops and driven out of Washington—under the most liberal Congress in American history. But that’s out of history, including his last “I Have a Dream” speech. The evening he was assassinated he gave a very eloquent speech. And remember the sort of Moses imagery and “you can see the promised land,” and “when we get there.” But that whole period is out of history, as is the Northern racism. Take, say, Boston. Take things like busing. I mean, busing was designed by a liberal judge named Robert, a Harvard trustee—nice guy—but he designed it so as to virtually create race riots in Boston and exclude the suburbs. The suburbs are white, Boston is black. But the black kids were sent into the Irish neighborhoods and vice versa. And what are you going to do? It’s going to cause race riots. I don’t know if they couldn’t figure it out, or if they were cynical, or what, but that happened all over the country.

Rev. Osagyefo Sekou: The kind of historic consensus around King has been that he shifts around ’68 to a more radical politic.

NC: It was earlier than that.

OS: That’s right, but as early as 1949, he writes: “My thinking is more socialistic than capitalistic.” That is predicated on being a child in the Depression. And he says there, seeing those lines made me this way. And throughout his writing there is an exchange between him and Coretta in 1952. She sends him Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. And so they’re discussing in these love letters this strange, interesting intertwining between his theology—which is an old Christology and a highly anti-fundamentalist theology as it relates to the physical resurrection of Jesus—and between his democratic socialist politics and his theology. Because I think King is tapping into a kind of prophetic tradition. Historically, America has always had a democratic socialist strain, like Michael Harrington.

NC: That’s even true with John Paul. I mean, his New Year’s Day speech—he was a pretty conservative guy—but his New Year’s Day addresses could not be reported in the United States because they were too radical. He was criticizing Communism, that’s OK, but he was criticizing capitalism and materialism, that’s not OK. So just take a look at the record. So yeah, there’s a strain there all the way through. But as far as King is concerned, it became visible in 1965. His public actions grew in Chicago—openly speaking against the urban programs in Chicago. That’s when he lost favor with the Northern liberals. It became about class issues and also about racism in the North.

OS: What is your prognosis on the second term of Obama?

NC: It will be the same as the first. I never had any trust in him, I didn’t see any reason to. Actually I had read about him before the 2008 primaries, just using his webpage. And I thought it was purely opportunistic. I had to write about the Middle East part, that was the context, and I wanted to see what he was going to say. I thought it was pretty shocking. He has a lot about the Middle East on his webpage—he was advertising himself for the election. And of course, it’s all full of love for Israel and so on, and maybe a sentence or two on the Palestinians, saying something like, “Palestinians, maybe they’re human beings” or something like that. It was right after the war in Lebanon. A horror story. And he advertises very proudly that when he was a Senator, he co-sponsored a resolution during the war, calling on the executive not to do anything to impede Israel’s attack and to punish anyone like Syria or Iran who’s helping resist the Israeli attack. It’s right in the middle of a major atrocity.

OS: I lectured in Lebanon in 2009 in a coffee house, which served as an aid station during the war with Israel in 2006.

NC: So you were in Beirut?

OS: Yes, in Beirut. And it’s quite powerful to kind of get a sense of—what’s been interesting to me, also as I’ve kind of moved around the world, is the way that “third world people” who’ve been in liberation struggles deploy the language and the rhetoric of the African American freedom struggle.

NC: Why is that?

OS: Everywhere I’ve been—I was in Mexico City, with some Latin Americans. I covered the London riots, and I was in Paris during the 2005 riots. And among Palestinians, they say we are “sand niggers.” We want you to understand who we are in the world. And so it’s been really interesting how in our particular delegation, we did lots of freedom songs, and many of these activists who didn’t speak English or couldn’t fully comprehend what was going on—they would weep. It’s been really interesting to me what happens both visually if not linguistically to people in terms of how they read this freedom struggle and the struggle these people call African in America.

NC: But they read it sympathetically.

OS: Yeah, no question. And it was the same thing when I was in Palestine. The African Americans on the delegation—particularly, there’s a woman, Carolyn McKinstry, who was friends with the four little girls who were killed in the Birmingham church bombing in 1963—she and others, when we walk, we walk. Oh we knew this. Like there was something visceral about the experience. Like we know about the police and the bodies and the disciplining of knowledge. We know this life. We would go into West Jerusalem, then we go into East Jerusalem. Like we go into Harlem, and then you come down into the West Side. And we go, “Oh we know this.” I’m a Southerner, I’m from Arkansas, so we talk about wheelhouse. The wheelhouse has to do with naming arbitrary violence, legislative oppression, hypersexualized stereotypes. Hegemony seems like it’s limited in its imagination. That’s why it goes after the artists and the intellectuals first. Across the board, whether it be left-wing hegemony, vis-à-vis the worst of those in the Communist movement, or right-wing hegemony—Fascism or George Herbert Walker going after Robert Mapplethorpe. I’d like to hear more from you about this: what are the tools of hegemony that cut across space and time? Like, because it seems like they’re limited. I mean, they got guns, and lots of them.

NC: There’s force, but then there’s also demeaning the other. I’ve also been struck—I was in Gaza recently, but almost anywhere, the thing that people talk about is dignity—taking away our dignity. Not just destroying this or that, but I want to live a dignified life. And you hear that all over the world. I mean, that’s exactly what happened in the Arab Spring. To go back to the first—the guy who committed suicide—what he said is, you’re going to take away my work, you’re taking away my dignity as a human being. And that concept of human dignity is very important to the oppressed, and the oppressors understand it. What’s called torture is often just humiliation. The thing is designed to be humiliated. Or when, say, Israeli troops go into a village, they just want to insult the people, humiliate them. Make them feel worthless—make sure they don’t raise their heads, to use the phrase. I remember Thomas Friedman was on Charlie Rose’s show a few years ago and he said, “Well, in Baghdad and Basra, they ought to be knocking down doors and going in and telling the people you need to understand we don’t want to be bothered.” That was to humiliate them. Aside from the idiocy, it’s about what these guys do with non-Lebanese people. It’s just the same old brackets. You just want to humiliate them. That’s what we ought to do, that’s our job. Then maybe you’ll understand that you gotta leave us alone. I happened to be in Israel in 1988 during the first intifada, when Friedman was the New York Times reporter, and he got a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in Israel. I was reading about it in the Hebrew press, and they couldn’t stand it and they were mocking him. One question he was asked was, “How do you think we ought to treat people in the West Bank?” And he speaks as this great expert—he knows everything about the Middle East—well you want to do it the same way you’re controlling Southern Lebanon. Southern Lebanon was run by a terrorist army, carrying out vicious attacks against the local population, with Israeli troops making sure that everything worked fine. Treat them like that. But then he said, but you ought to give Ahmed a seat on the bus because then he will lessen his demands. Now that’s like some Southern racist saying: “Look, don’t beat him up too much, give Sambo a seat on the bus, then maybe he’ll shut up.” That’s from Friedman. The racism is so profound and the recognition—the kind of deep recognition that you have to humiliate. It’s not about to killing or torture. It’s to humiliate. So they feel degraded. And both the oppressed understand and the oppressors understand. It’s constant.

OS: So they can’t say, “I am a man.”

— transcribed by Jennifer Lee & Samuel Needham

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.



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[-] 1 points by HCabret (-327) 7 years ago

"He went on to try to combat racism in the North, class oppression, housing, and he just gets smashed."

Was MLKJr. a communist?

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 7 years ago

Former Insiders Criticize Iran Policy as US Hegemony

Wednesday, 27 February 2013 11:52 By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service | Report


Washington - "Going to Tehran" arguably represents the most important work on the subject of U.S.-Iran relations to be published thus far.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett tackle not only U.S. policy toward Iran but the broader context of Middle East policy with a systematic analytical perspective informed by personal experience, as well as very extensive documentation.

More importantly, however, their exposé required a degree of courage that may be unparalleled in the writing of former U.S. national security officials about issues on which they worked. They have chosen not just to criticise U.S. policy toward Iran but to analyse that policy as a problem of U.S. hegemony.

Their national security state credentials are impeccable. They both served at different times as senior coordinators dealing with Iran on the National Security Council Staff, and Hillary Mann Leverett was one of the few U.S. officials who have been authorised to negotiate with Iranian officials.

Both wrote memoranda in 2003 urging the George W. Bush administration to take the Iranian “roadmap” proposal for bilateral negotiations seriously but found policymakers either uninterested or powerless to influence the decision. Hillary Mann Leverett even has a connection with the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), having interned with that lobby group as a youth.

After leaving the U.S. government in disagreement with U.S. policy toward Iran, the Leveretts did not follow the normal pattern of settling into the jobs where they would support the broad outlines of the U.S. role in world politics in return for comfortable incomes and continued access to power.

Instead, they have chosen to take a firm stand in opposition to U.S. policy toward Iran, criticising the policy of the Barack Obama administration as far more aggressive than is generally recognised. They went even farther, however, contesting the consensus view in Washington among policy wonks, news media and Iran human rights activists that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election in June 2009 was fraudulent.

The Leveretts’ uncompromising posture toward the policymaking system and those outside the government who support U.S. policy has made them extremely unpopular in Washington foreign policy elite circles. After talking to some of their antagonists, The New Republic even passed on the rumor that the Leveretts had become shills for oil companies and others who wanted to do business with Iran.

The problem for the establishment, however, is that they turned out to be immune to the blandishments that normally keep former officials either safely supportive or quiet on national security issues that call for heated debate.

In "Going to Tehran", the Leveretts elaborate on the contrarian analysis they have been making on their blog (formerly “The Race for Iran” and now “Going to Tehran”) They take to task those supporting U.S. systematic pressures on Iran for substituting wishful thinking that most Iranians long for secular democracy, and offer a hard analysis of the history of the Iranian revolution.

In an analysis of the roots of the legitimacy of the Islamic regime, they point to evidence that the single most important factor that swept the Khomeini movement into power in 1979 was “the Shah’s indifference to the religious sensibilities of Iranians". That point, which conflicts with just about everything that has appeared in the mass media on Iran for decades, certainly has far-reaching analytical significance.

The Leveretts’ 56-page review of the evidence regarding the legitimacy of the 2009 election emphasises polls done by U.S.-based Terror Free Tomorrow and World Public Opinon and Canadian-based Globe Scan and 10 surveys by the University of Tehran. All of the polls were consistent with one another and with official election data on both a wide margin of victory by Ahmadinejad and turnout rates.

The Leveretts also point out that the leading opposition candidate, Hossein Mir Mousavi, did not produce “a single one of his 40,676 observers to claim that the count at his or her station had been incorrect, and none came forward independently".

"Going to Tehran" has chapters analysing Iran’s “Grand Strategy” and on the role of negotiating with the United States that debunk much of which passes for expert opinion in Washington's think tank world. They view Iran’s nuclear programme as aimed at achieving the same status as Japan, Canada and other “threshold nuclear states” which have the capability to become nuclear powers but forego that option.

The Leveretts also point out that it is a status that is not forbidden by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty – much to the chagrin of the United States and its anti-Iran allies.

In a later chapter, they allude briefly to what is surely the best-kept secret about the Iranian nuclear programme and Iranian foreign policy: the Iranian leadership’s calculation that the enrichment programme is the only incentive the United States has to reach a strategic accommodation with Tehran. That one fact helps to explain most of the twists and turns in Iran’s nuclear programme and its nuclear diplomacy over the past decade.

One of the propaganda themes most popular inside the Washington beltway is that the Islamic regime in Iran cannot negotiate seriously with the United States because the survival of the regime depends on hostility toward the United States.

The Leveretts debunk that notion by detailing a series of episodes beginning with President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s effort to improve relations in 1991 and again in 1995 and Iran’s offer to cooperate against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and, more generally after 9/11, about which Hillary Mann Leverett had personal experience.

Finally, they provide the most detailed analysis available on the 2003 Iranian proposal for a “roadmap” for negotiations with the United States, which the Bush administration gave the back of its hand.

The central message of "Going to Tehran" is that the United States has been unwilling to let go of the demand for Iran’s subordination to dominant U.S. power in the region. The Leveretts identify the decisive turning point in the U.S. “quest for dominance in the Middle East” as the collapse of the Soviet Union, which they say “liberated the United States from balance of power constraints”.

They cite the recollection of senior advisers to Secretary of State James Baker that the George H. W. Bush administration considered engagement with Iran as part of a post-Gulf War strategy but decided in the aftermath of the Soviet adversary’s disappearance that “it didn’t need to”.

Subsequent U.S. policy in the region, including what former national security adviser Bent Scowcroft called “the nutty idea” of “dual containment” of Iraq and Iran, they argue, has flowed from the new incentive for Washington to maintain and enhance its dominance in the Middle East.

The authors offer a succinct analysis of the Clinton administration’s regional and Iran policies as precursors to Bush’s Iraq War and Iran regime change policy. Their account suggests that the role of Republican neoconservatives in those policies should not be exaggerated, and that more fundamental political-institutional interests were already pushing the U.S. national security state in that direction before 2001.

They analyse the Bush administration’s flirtation with regime change and the Obama administration’s less-than-half-hearted diplomatic engagement with Iran as both motivated by a refusal to budge from a stance of maintaining the status quo of U.S.-Israeli hegemony.

Consistent with but going beyond the Leveretts’ analysis is the Bush conviction that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq had shaken the Iranians, and that there was no need to make the slightest concession to the regime. The Obama administration has apparently fallen into the same conceptual trap, believing that the United States and its allies have Iran by the throat because of its “crippling sanctions”.

Thanks to the Leveretts, opponents of U.S. policies of domination and intervention in the Middle East have a new and rich source of analysis to argue against those policies more effectively.

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