B 92: Why do you think these attacks happened?
CHOMSKY: To answer the question we must
first identify the perpetrators of the crimes. It is generally
assumed, plausibly, that their origin is the Middle East region, and
that the attacks probably trace back to the Osama Bin Laden network,
a widespread and complex organization, doubtless inspired by Bin
Laden but not necessarily acting under his control. Let us
assume that this is true. Then to answer your question a
sensible person would try to ascertain Bin Laden's views, and the
sentiments of the large reservoir of supporters he has throughout
the region. About all of this, we have a great deal of
information. Bin Laden has been interviewed extensively over
the years by highly reliable Middle East specialists, notably the
most eminent correspondent in the region, Robert Fisk (London
"Independent"), who has intimate knowledge of the entire
region and direct experience over decades.
A Saudi Arabian millionaire, Bin Laden became a
militant Islamic leader in the war to drive the Russians out of
Afghanistan. He was one of the many religious fundamentalist
extremists recruited, armed, and financed by the CIA and their
allies in Pakistani intelligence to cause maximal harm to the
Russians - quite possibly delaying their withdrawal, many analysts
suspect - though whether he personally happened to have direct
contact with the CIA is unclear, and not particularly important.
Not surprisingly, the CIA preferred the most fanatic and cruel
fighters they could mobilize. The end result was to
"destroy a moderate regime and create a fanatical one, from
groups recklessly financed by the Americans" ( "London
Times" correspondent Simon Jenkins, also a specialist on the
These "Afghanis" as they are called
(many, like Bin Laden, not from Afghanistan) carried out terror
operations across the border in Russia, but they terminated these
after Russia withdrew. Their war was not against Russia, which
they despise, but against the Russian occupation and Russia's crimes
The "Afghanis" did not terminate their
activities, however. They joined Bosnian Muslim forces in the
Balkan Wars; the US did not object, just as it tolerated Iranian
support for them, for complex reasons that we need not pursue here,
apart from noting that concern for the grim fate of the Bosnians was
not prominent among them. The "Afghanis" are also fighting
the Russians in Chechnya, and, quite possibly, are involved in
carrying out terrorist attacks in Moscow and elsewhere in Russian
Bin Laden and his "Afghanis" turned
against the US in 1990 when they established permanent bases in
Saudi Arabia - from his point of view, a counterpart to the Russian
occupation of Afghanistan, but far more significant because of Saudi
Arabia's special status as the guardian of the holiest shrines.
Bin Laden is also bitterly opposed to the corrupt
and repressive regimes of the region, which he regards as
"un-Islamic," including the Saudi Arabian regime, the most
extreme Islamic fundamentalist regime in the world, apart from the
Taliban, and a close US ally since its origins. Bin Laden
despises the US for its support of these regimes.
Like others in the region, he is also outraged by
long-standing US support for Israel's brutal military occupation,
now in its 35th year: Washington's decisive diplomatic, military,
and economic intervention in support of the killings, the harsh and
destructive siege over many years, the daily humiliation to which
Palestinians are subjected, the expanding settlements designed to
break the occupied territories into Bantustan-like cantons and take
control of the resources, the gross violation of the Geneva
Conventions, and other actions that are recognized as crimes
throughout most of the world, apart from the US, which has prime
responsibility for them. And like others, he contrasts
Washington's dedicated support for these crimes with the decade-long
US-British assault against the civilian population of Iraq, which
has devastated the society and caused hundreds of thousands of
deaths while strengthening Saddam Hussein - who was a favored friend
and ally of the US and Britain right through his worst atrocities,
including the gassing of the Kurds, as people of the region also
remember well, even if Westerners prefer to forget the facts.
These sentiments are very widely shared. The "Wall Street
Journal" (Sept. 14) published a survey of opinions of wealthy
and privileged Muslims in the Gulf region (bankers, professionals,
businessmen with close links to the US). They expressed much
the same views: resentment of the US policies of supporting Israeli
crimes and blocking the international consensus on a diplomatic
settlement for many years while devastating Iraqi civilian society,
supporting harsh and repressive anti-democratic regimes throughout
the region, and imposing barriers against economic development by
"propping up oppressive regimes." Among the great majority
of people suffering deep poverty and oppression, similar sentiments
are far more bitter, and are the source of the fury and despair that
has led to suicide bombings, as commonly understood by those who are
interested in the facts.
The US, and much of the West, prefers a more
comforting story. To quote the lead analysis in the "New
York Times" (Sept. 16), the perpetrators acted out of
"hatred for the values cherished in the West as freedom,
tolerance, prosperity, religious pluralism and universal
suffrage." US actions are irrelevant, and therefore need not
even be mentioned (Serge Schmemann). This is a convenient
picture, and the general stance is not unfamiliar in intellectual
history; in fact, it is close to the norm. It happens to be
completely at variance with everything we know, but has all the
merits of self-adulation and uncritical support for power.
It is also widely recognized that Bin Laden and
others like him are praying for "a great assault on Muslim
states," which cause "fanatics to flock to his cause"
(Jenkins, and many others.). That too is familiar. The
escalating cycle of violence is typically welcomed by the harshest
and most brutal elements on both sides, a fact evident enough from
the recent history of the Balkans, to cite only one of many cases.
B 92: What consequences will those attacks
have on US inner policy and to the American self reception?
CHOMSKY: US policy has already been
officially announced. The world is being offered a "stark
choice": join us, or "face the certain prospect of death
and destruction." Congress has authorized the use of force
against any individuals or countries the President determines to be
involved in the attacks, a doctrine that every supporter regards as
ultra-criminal. That is easily demonstrated. Simply ask
how the same people would have reacted if Nicaragua had adopted this
doctrine after the US had rejected the orders of the World Court to
terminate its "unlawful use of force" against Nicaragua
and had vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on all states
to observe international law. And that terrorist attack was
far more severe and destructive even than this atrocity.
As for how these matters are perceived here, that
is far more complex. One should bear in mind that the media
and the intellectual elites generally have their particular agendas.
Furthermore, the answer to this question is, in significant measure,
a matter of decision: as in many other cases, with sufficient
dedication and energy, efforts to stimulate fanaticism, blind
hatred, and submission to authority can be reversed. We all
know that very well.
B 92: Do you expect US to profoundly
change their policy to the rest of the world?
CHOMSKY: The initial response was to call
for intensifying the policies that led to the fury and resentment
that provides the background of support for the terrorist attack,
and to pursue more intensively the agenda of the most hard line
elements of the leadership: increased militarization, domestic
regimentation, attack on social programs. That is all to be
expected. Again, terror attacks, and the escalating cycle of
violence they often engender, tend to reinforce the authority and
prestige of the most harsh and repressive elements of a society.
But there is nothing inevitable about submission to this course.
B 92: After the first shock, came fear of
what US answer is going to be. Are you afraid, too?
CHOMSKY: Every sane person should be
afraid of the likely reaction - the one that has already been
announced, the one that probably answers Bin Laden's prayers.
It is highly likely to escalate the cycle of violence, in the
familiar way, but in this case on a far greater scale.
The US has already demanded that Pakistan
terminate the food and other supplies that are keeping at least some
of the starving and suffering people of Afghanistan alive. If
that demand is implemented, unknown numbers of people who have not
the remotest connection to terrorism will die, possibly millions.
Let me repeat: the US has demanded that Pakistan kill possibly
millions of people who are themselves victims of the Taliban.
This has nothing to do even with revenge. It is at a far lower
moral level even than that. The significance is heightened by
the fact that this is mentioned in passing, with no comment, and
probably will hardly be noticed. We can learn a great deal
about the moral level of the reigning intellectual culture of the
West by observing the reaction to this demand. I think we can
be reasonably confident that if the American population had the
slightest idea of what is being done in their name, they would be
utterly appalled. It would be instructive to seek historical
If Pakistan does not agree to this and other US
demands, it may come under direct attack as well - with unknown
consequences. If Pakistan does submit to US demands, it is not
impossible that the government will be overthrown by forces much
like the Taliban - who in this case will have nuclear weapons.
That could have an effect throughout the region, including the oil
producing states. At this point we are considering the
possibility of a war that may destroy much of human society.
Even without pursuing such possibilities, the
likelihood is that an attack on Afghans will have pretty much the
effect that most analysts expect: it will enlist great numbers of
others to support of Bin Laden, as he hopes. Even if he is
killed, it will make little difference. His voice will be
heard on cassettes that are distributed throughout the Islamic
world, and he is likely to be revered as a martyr, inspiring others.
It is worth bearing in mind that one suicide bombing - a truck
driven into a US military base - drove the world's major military
force out of Lebanon 20 years ago. The opportunities for such
attacks are endless. And suicide attacks are very hard to
B 92: "The world will never be the
same after 11.09.01". Do you think so?
CHOMSKY: The horrendous terrorist attacks
on Tuesday are something quite new in world affairs, not in their
scale and character, but in the target. For the US, this is
the first time since the War of 1812 that its national territory has
been under attack, even threat. It's colonies have been
attacked, but not the national territory itself. During these
years the US virtually exterminated the indigenous population,
conquered half of Mexico, intervened violently in the surrounding
region, conquered Hawaii and the Philippines (killing hundreds of
thousands of Filipinos), and in the past half century particularly,
extended its resort to force throughout much of the world. The
number of victims is colossal. For the first time, the guns
have been directed the other way. The same is true, even more
dramatically, of Europe. Europe has suffered murderous
destruction, but from internal wars, meanwhile conquering much of
the world with extreme brutality. It has not been under attack
by its victims outside, with rare exceptions (the IRA in England,
for example). It is therefore natural that NATO should rally
to the support of the US; hundreds of years of imperial violence
have an enormous impact on the intellectual and moral culture.
It is correct to say that this is a novel event
in world history, not because of the scale of the atrocity -
regrettably - but because of the target. How the West chooses
to react is a matter of supreme importance. If the rich and
powerful choose to keep to their traditions of hundreds of years and
resort to extreme violence, they will contribute to the escalation
of a cycle of violence, in a familiar dynamic, with long-term
consequences that could be awesome. Of course, that is by no
means inevitable. An aroused public within the more free and
democratic societies can direct policies towards a much more humane
and honorable course.
Thank you for conducting this interview and
putting it out on the web. Hope it spreads everywhere. The situation
with information in the US is terrible right now, with almost no
voices of dissent to Bush's infantile politics coming through, it is
KA, New York City. 24.09
It's reassuring to see some of our American
neighbours can still see the forest through the trees. When leaders
and public opinion managers around the globe call for cool heads,
views like those expressed by Mr. Chomsky may very well be that for
which they are hoping. In a slight departure from the more
mainstream analysis now favoured in the US, Noam Chomsky merely
presented a historical and factual context closer to the concerns
voiced by the media, the political class and the general public in
most of the countries who have already officially sided with the US.
Because God is not a soldier, neither side has a divine right to
obliterate the other. Because of ambiguous actions in the past, the
situation has festered and, while the battle lines may be drawn, the
present situation is not as clear cut as many would like to believe.
While so many stand ready for war, I just hope someone, somewhere,
is actively preparing for peace.
Zbip de Montréal, 24.09
Again Mr..Chomsky has delivered a valuable
interview, i appreciate his honesty. I know Mr.. Chomsky has had to
deal with extremely harsh & if not shear arrogant criticism for
his opinions but i would just like to say keep up the good work as
there a millions of people out there who need to know the truth
& are currently blinded by spin & propaganda generated from
Mr. Hussain London. 24.09
I enjoyed reading the views of Mr. Chomsky, who I
have respected and admired for many years. As usual, his views are
beyond the mainstream, and coldly analytical. His voice of reason
will not be heard here in the U.S. While I agree with his assessment
of the situation, I cannot follow his advice in this case. America
has been attacked in its homeland, innocents slaughtered by the
thousands. This is an act that cannot go unanswered. Failure to act
will signal weakness to any terrorist anywhere. I feel the American
public will want to include humanitarian aid and assistance to the
civilian populations affected by our impending action, and to temper
our rage with generosity and compassion.
Phyllis Kopiasz, 24.09
Yes...The Western civilization is ruling the
world, using intellectual, technological, cultural and moral
supremacy, hand by hand with the selective methods of force. Not a
perfect way, but, what is perfect in this world? Can you even
imagine what this planet would look like if ruled by Laden or some
similar. Let's find some culture better than Western, and then
discuss about supremacy! Until then, be realistic in considering the
facts. This Laden's bloody job is the challenge for the civilization
itself. And what alternative does he offer? Think of that!
Misa, Belgrade, 24.09
Thank you for this sane and timely piece. Sadly,
it is obvious from some of the comments here, though, that some
people don't want to face the facts. I know Americans are not well
served by their media, and now might not be the most comfortable
time for them to hear criticism. But criticism of American foreign
policy past and present is not the same as being an apologist for
bin Laden. Sooner or later the root causes of the terrorism which
had such terrible consequences in the US will have to be tackled,
but striking out at already oppressed Afghanis is only playing into
bin Laden's hands.
Stephen McKee, 24.09
Chomsky has spoken the simple and
non-controversial truth, well known to anyone who has bothered to do
the slightest research on the topic. It is therefore entirely
predictable that the response to his comments from the supporters of
the Bush Administration is mindless abuse, since no factual or
logical dispute is possible.
Michael E. Piston, 23.09
If only Mr Chomsky had more of a say in directing
US foreign policy. His comments highlight the fact that the most
dangerous details of history are sometimes those which many have
forgotten - for there will always be some who remember and they will
resent the fact that others have forgotten. In my opinion, rather
than striking in out in blind fury, the West should begin by seeking
a greater appreciation of what motivated these people to commit such
atrocious crimes against humanity.
Julian Smith, 23.09
Chomsky's assesment of the situation is not only
accurate, but is likely to be in agreement with the less publicized
viewpoint of the majority of the leadership in this country, even at
the highest levels. Despite this, the political pressure pressure to
placate the American public through violence and restore the bubble
of confidence that was burst by the horrendous attack on our country
is high and is being channeled towards war by the President, without
alternative. If we wanted to stop such terrorist attacks we might
get better results by considering withdrawing our forces from Saudia
Arabia, which are looked upon as occupation forces in the holy land,
supporting dictatorship. It is hard to believe that intelligent
Americans could buy into the rhetoric that the destruction of so
many lives on US soil was simply and abstractly 'an attack on
Freedom' when the very core democratic values which we cherish here
(life and freedom) have been so deliberately undermined for so many
other people by the efforts of our own government in its actions
abroad. In this as in all things, we reap what we sow.
Jacques Strapp (theSpleen.com), 22.09
What plausible humane and honorable course, if any, did Mr. Chomsky?
Some folks out here in America are listening and reading.....with an
Noam Chomsky is a sick and demented individual whose life is worth
less than any single individual who died in the WTC attack. It's too
bad that B92 would even allow this cretin the opportunity to voice
his twisted views. B92 continues to change from the voice of freedom
to a the dull and useles sound of babble.
As long as the world politics abides to and follows the realist
paradigm, world would live in a chaos, an imperative component of
the paradigm. From my perspective, time has arrived to change how
the powerful states conduct foreign policy, including economy on a
Carla Berg, 21.09
If your goal was to muddy the water and support extremist causes
everywhere, you couldn't have chosen a better person to interview
Good to see this on line. I passed it along to my e-mail list and
hope others do the same. More importantly I hope here in America our
leadership keep clear heads and consider justice not terror and
revenge as the course of action to pursue.
Marc Swan, Cape Cod, 21.09