MIT Institute Professor and outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy, Noam Chomsky, discusses U.S.-Muslim relations and possible reasons for the tensions between the two. Professor Chomsky addressed the MSNBC.com chat audience through a typist over the phone from Boston. The following is an edited transcript of the audio of that phone call. Chat producer Will Femia moderates.
MSNBC-Will Femia: Ok. Welcome Professor Chomsky.
Question from Chip Berlet: I agree with you that aggressive militarism is not the answer to this mess, but the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s networks seem to me to be totalitarian and apocalyptic clerical fascist movements. Isn’t this a moment the left needs to just say it is against terrorism, and that groups like the Taliban and OsB’s networks are not liberation stuggles but reactionary or fascistic movements that we oppose?
Noam Chomsky: As far as I’m aware, that’s what the left has been saying for 20 years. I know I have ever since these groups were organized by the CIA, Pakistani and Egyptian intelligence and other U.S. allies. They were organized recruited, trained, and armed to fight a holy war against the Russians, which they did. But they also started right away carrying out terrorist acts. 20 years ago they assassinated the president of Egypt and they’ve been carrying out terror ever since. The groups that the CIA organized were drawn from extremist radical Islamic groups and they have been pursuing their own agenda. They did what the CIA wanted them to, but they have been pursuing their own agenda. There is no doubt that from the start they were murderous terrorist organizations. I don’t know if the word fascist is exactly correct, they don’t have that kind of ideology. But they’re extremely dangerous and have been for 20 years. It is quite obvious. That’s been the position, as far as I’m aware, of any serious person on the left as far back as I can remember.
Question from Geraldine Fincannon: We are a nation which would advance the destiny of all lives and share the wealth existing in our country with all its inhabitants and those of the world. Isn’t this the real bone of contention between our country and the radical Moslems who send terrorists to do horrible deeds in our country?
Noam Chomsky: It has nothing to do with money. They have been very clear about what they want. Bin Laden himself has had many interviews with western journalists, many of them are broadcast in just the last week. Two long ones were broadcast by the BBC. What he and the others have been saying for 20 years is consistent, and it’s also consistent with their actions so we should take it seriously. They say their main targets are the corrupt brutal regimes of the Middle East, which from their point of view are not properly Islamic and they want to defend Muslim rights against infidels anywhere in the world. So they’ve been fighting in Chechnya, Bosnia, North Africa, Kashmir, the Philippines, all over.
They turned against the United States when the United States established permanent military bases in Saudi Arabia about 10 years ago. They regard that very much like the Russian occupation of Afghanistan they fought against. Apart from the Islamic fanaticism, what they say has considerable resonance in the region, including very pro-American wealthy sectors. The Wall Street Journal has been doing a particularly good job in surveying those opinions beginning September 14. When they condemn the United States for its anti-democratic stands for supporting brutal regimes and corrupt regimes, they are saying what people in the streets think and there’s a reason for it. The same is true when they condemn U.S. policies towards Iraq and Israel.
They know, even if we choose not to, that the United States has been devastating the civilian society of Iraq while strengthening Sadam Hussein, and it’s been supporting a very harsh military occupation that is now in its 35th year in Israel, over the Palestinians. The U.S. has been pretty much alone in the world in imposing that very cruel domination with economic and military and diplomatic assistance. That’s quite well known there and even the most pro-American wealthy Muslim businessmen bankers have the same feelings others do. When Bin Laden talks about these things there is a resonance. They may hate him. Most of them do hate him because they overwhelmingly oppose his terrorist violence and his Islamic fanaticism, but a good part of the message does reflect what people believe and with justification.