Interview of Noam Chomsky on Democracy Now, March 2nd & 3rd, 2015
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté. Our guest for the hour is MIT institute professor emeritus, Noam Chomsky, known around the world for his political writings.
We’re going to turn right now to the issue of Russia and Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Geneva to discuss the conflict in Ukraine. The meeting comes just days after Kerry publicly accused Russian officials of lying to his face about their military support for separatist rebels. Russia and Ukraine are also holding direct talks in Brussels to resolve a dispute over the delivery of Russian gas. The U.N. said today the death toll from the nearly year-old conflict has topped 6,000. A recent ceasefire continues to hold, over a shaky start.
Also in Russia, the murder this weekend on Friday night of the opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov. A former deputy prime minister turned dissident politician, Nemtsov was shot dead Friday night near Red Square. He was going to lead a major rally that was critical of Vladimir Putin on Sunday. It grew much larger after his death, with tens of thousands, perhaps 50,000 people, marching past the Kremlin carrying signs reading, “I am not afraid.”
Noam Chomsky, if you can comment on what’s happening in Russia and Ukraine?
NOAM CHOMSKY: What’s happening is quite ugly. And I think the criticisms are mostly accurate, but they’re kind of beside the point. There’s a background that we have to think about. It’s fashionable now in the United States and Britain to condemn Putin as some sort of a distorted mind. There’s an article in Psychology Today analyzing his brain, asking why he’s so arrogant. He’s been accused of having Asperger’s; an irritable, rat-faced man, as he’s described by Timothy Garton Ash and so on. This is all very reminiscent of the early 1950s, when I was a graduate student then. At that time, the U.S. had overwhelming power, and it was able to use the United Nations as a battering ram against its enemy, the Soviet Union, so Russia was, of course, vetoing lots of resolutions, condemning it. And leading anthropologists in the United States and England developed a—began to analyze why the Russians are so negative, what makes them say no at the United Nations all the time. And their proposal was that the Russians are negative because they raise their children in swaddling clothes, and that makes them negative. The three or four of us at Harvard who thought this ridiculous used to call it diaperology. That’s being re-enacted—a takeoff on Kremlinology. This is being re-enacted right now.
AARON MATÉ: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has arrived in Washington as part of his bid to stop a nuclear deal with Iran. Netanyahu will address the lobby group AIPAC today, followed by a controversial speech before Congress on Tuesday. The visit comes just as Iran and six world powers, including the U.S., are set to resume talks in a bid to meet a March 31st deadline. At the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Netanyahu’s trip won’t threaten the outcome.
PRESS SECRETARY JOSH EARNEST: I think the short answer to that is: I don’t think so. And the reason is simply that there is a real opportunity for us here. And the president is hopeful that we are going to have an opportunity to do what is clearly in the best interests of the United States and Israel, which is to resolve the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program at the negotiating table.
AARON MATÉ: The trip has sparked the worst public rift between the U.S. and Israel in over two decades. Dozens of Democrats could boycott Netanyahu’s address to Congress, which was arranged by House Speaker John Boehner without consulting the White House. The Obama administration will send two officials, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, to address the AIPAC summit today. This comes just days after Rice called Netanyahu’s visit, quote, “destructive.”
AMY GOODMAN: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also facing domestic criticism for his unconventional Washington visit, which comes just two weeks before an election in which he seeks a third term in Israel. On Sunday, a group representing nearly 200 of Israel’s top retired military and intelligence officials accused Netanyahu of assaulting the U.S.-Israel alliance.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: This is a bomb. This is a fuse. In the case of Iran’s nuclear plans to build a bomb, this bomb has to be filled with enough enriched uranium. And Iran has to go through three stages. By next spring, at most by next summer, at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks, before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb. A red line should be drawn right here, before—before Iran completes the second stage of nuclear enrichment necessary to make a bomb.
AARON MATÉ: And meanwhile, support for the occupation continues, so much so that during the Gaza assault the U.S. rearmed Israel.
NOAM CHOMSKY: It was kind of interesting how the U.S. rearmed Israel. The arms—it’s true that the Pentagon sent more arms to Israel. They were actually running out of arms in this vicious assault against a totally defenseless population. The arms were taken from arms that the U.S. stores in Israel; they’re pre-positioned in Israel for eventual use by U.S. forces. That’s one part of the U.S.-Israel strategic alliance. That’s one small part of it, is that Israel is regarded as essentially an offshore military base. So we store, pre-position arms there, and some of those arms were transferred to Israeli control so that they could complete—continue the massive destruction of Gaza, which is horrific and one of many indications of the nature of the alliance.
It’s a very close alliance, and deep enough—so, for example, one of the interesting leaks from WikiLeaks was a U.S. government study of—a Pentagon study of sites in the world that are of such high significance that we must protect them at all costs. One of them was right near Haifa. It was the Rafael military industries. It’s one of the main producers of drones and other high-tech military equipment. And the relation—and that’s one of the highest—strategic sites of highest importance. And, in fact, the relationship is so close that Rafael actually transferred its management offices to Washington, where the money is and the contacts are. It’s essentially an offshore military base, in many ways, also a major source for U.S. investment, high-tech investment. So, Intel, for example, is setting up its major new facility for next-generation chips in Israel. Warren Buffett just bought a big Israeli company. There are many very close relationships, and they’re not going to be affected by a personal conflict between Baker and Shamir or Obama and Netanyahu.
AMY GOODMAN: And the Obama administration has taken great pains, even as this division has taken place, to show its support for Israel. On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. has intervened on Israel’s behalf hundreds of times in the international arena.
SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Prime minister of Israel is welcome to speak in the United States, obviously, and we have a closer relationship with Israel right now in terms of security than at any time in history. I was reviewing the record the other day. We have intervened on Israel’s behalf in the last two years more than several hundred—a couple of hundred times in over 75 different fora in order to protect Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté. Noam Chomsky is our guest for the hour, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author of over a hundred books, MIT professor emeritus. Aaron?
AARON MATÉ: Yes. Noam, I wanted to ask you about ISIS. The big news is that Iraq is planning a major offensive to retake Mosul. It’s currently launching strikes to recapture Tikrit with U.S. support. My question is about the effectiveness of the U.S. strategy. To what extent is the U.S. constrained by its own policies in terms of the effectiveness of defeating ISIS, constrains in terms of its ties to Saudi Arabia and its refusal to engage with Iran and groups like Hezbollah, which have been effective in fighting ISIS?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Patrick Cockburn, who has done by far the best reporting on this, describes it as an Alice in Wonderland strategy. The U.S. wants to destroy ISIS, but it’s opposing every force that’s fighting ISIS. So, the main state that’s opposed to ISIS is Iran. They support the Iraqi government, the Shiite government. But Iran is, you know, on our enemies list. Probably the main ground forces fighting ISIS are the PKK and its allies, which are on the U.S. terrorist list. That’s both in Iraq and in Syria. Saudi Arabia, our major ally, along with Israel, is both traditionally, for a long time, the main funder of ISIS and similar groups—not necessarily the government; rich Saudis, other people in the emirates—not only the funder, but they’re the ideological source. Saudi Arabia is committed, is dominated by an extremist fundamentalist version of Islam: Wahhabi doctrine. And ISIS is an extremist offshoot of the Wahhabi doctrine. Saudi Arabia is a missionary state. It establishes schools, mosques, spreading its radical Islamic version. So, they’re our ally. Our enemies are those who are fighting ISIS. And it’s more complex.
ISIS is a monstrosity. There’s not much doubt about that. It didn’t come from nowhere. It’s one of the results of the U.S. hitting a very vulnerable society—Iraq—with a sledgehammer, which elicited sectarian conflicts that had not existed. They became very violent. The U.S. violence made it worse. We’re all familiar with the crimes. Out of this came lots of violent, murderous forces. ISIS is one. But the Shiite militias are not that different. They’re carrying out—they’re the kind of the—when they say the Iraqi army is attacking, it’s probably mostly the Shiite militias with the Iraqi army in the background. I mean, the way the Iraqi army collapsed is an astonishing military fact. This is an army of, I think, 350,000 people, heavily armed by the United States and trained by the United States for 10 years. A couple of thousand guerrillas showed up, and they all ran away. The generals ran away first. And the soldiers didn’t know to do. They ran away after them.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, part two of our discussion with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’s taught for more than half a century. On Monday on Democracy Now!, Aaron Maté and I interviewed him about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on Iran to Congress. Today, in part two, we look at blowback from the U.S. drone program, the legacy of slavery in the United States, the leaks of Edward Snowden, U.S. meddling in Venezuela and the thawing of U.S.-Cuba relations. We began by asking Professor Chomsky how the U.S. should respond to the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s very hard to think of anything serious that can be done. I mean, it should be settled diplomatically and peacefully to the extent that that’s possible. It’s not inconceivable. I mean, there are—ISIS, it’s a horrible manifestation of hideous actions. It’s a real danger to anyone nearby. But so are other forces. And we should be getting together with Iran, which has a huge stake in the matter and is the main force involved, and with the Iraqi government, which is calling for and applauding Iranian support and trying to work out with them some arrangement which will satisfy the legitimate demands of the Sunni population, which is what ISIS is protecting and defending and gaining their support from.
They’re not coming out of nowhere. I mean, they are—one of the effects, the main effects, of the U.S. invasion of Iraq—there are many horrible effects, but one of them was to incite sectarian conflicts, that had not been there before. If you take a look at Baghdad before the invasion, Sunni and Shia lived intermingled—same neighborhoods, they intermarried. Sometimes they say that they didn’t even know if their neighbor was a Sunni or a Shia. It was like knowing what Protestant sect your neighbor belongs to. There was pretty close—it wasn’t—I’m not claiming it was—it wasn’t utopia. There were conflicts. But there was no serious conflict, so much so that Iraqis at the time predicted there would never be a conflict. Well, within a couple of years, it had turned into a violent, brutal conflict. You look at Baghdad today, it’s segregated. What’s left of the Sunni communities are isolated. The people can’t talk to their neighbors. There’s war going on all over. The ISIS is murderous and brutal. The same is true of the Shia militias which confront it. And this is now spread all over the region. There’s now a major Sunni-Shia conflict rending the region apart, tearing it to shreds.
Now, this cannot be dealt with by bombs. This is much more serious than that. It’s got to be dealt with by steps towards recovering, remedying the massive damage that was initiated by the sledgehammer smashing Iraq and has now spread. And that does require diplomatic, peaceful means dealing with people who are pretty ugly—and we’re not very pretty, either, for that matter. But this just has to be done. Exactly what steps should be taken, it’s hard to say. There are people whose lives are at stake, like the Assyrian Christians, the Yazidi and so on. Apparently, the fighting that protected the—we don’t know a lot, but it looks as though the ground fighting that protected the Yazidi, largely, was carried out by PKK, the Turkish guerrilla group that’s fighting for the Kurds in Turkey but based in northern Iraq. And they’re on the U.S. terrorist list. We can’t hope to have a strategy that deals with ISIS while opposing and attacking the group that’s fighting them, just as it doesn’t make sense to try to have a strategy that excludes Iran, the major state that’s supporting Iraq in its battle with ISIS.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the fact that so many of those who are joining ISIS now—and a lot has been made of the young people, young women and young men, who are going into Syria through Turkey. I mean, Turkey is a U.S. ally. There is a border there. They freely go back and forth.
NOAM CHOMSKY: That’s right. And it’s not just young people. One thing that’s pretty striking is that it includes people with—educated people, doctors, professionals and others. Whatever we—we may not like it, but ISIS is—the idea of the Islamic caliphate does have an appeal to large sectors of a brutalized global population, which is under severe attack everywhere, has been for a long time. And something has appeared which has an appeal to them. And that can’t be overlooked if we want to deal with the issue. We have to ask what’s the nature of the appeal, why is it there, how can we accommodate it and lead to some, if not at least amelioration of the murderous conflict, then maybe some kind of settlement. You can’t ignore these factors if you want to deal with the issue.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about more information that’s come out on the British man who is known as “Jihadi John,” who appears in the Islamic State beheading videos. Mohammed Emwazi has been identified as that man by British security. They say he’s a 26-year-old born in Kuwait who moved to the U.K. as a child and studied computer science at the University of Westminster. The British group CAGE said he faced at least four years of harassment, detention, deportations, threats and attempts to recruit him by British security agencies, which prevented him from leading a normal life. Emwazi approached CAGE in 2009 after he was detained and interrogated by the British intelligence agency MI5 on what he called a safari vacation in Tanzania. In 2010, after Emwazi was barred from returning to Kuwait, he wrote, quote, “I had a job waiting for me and marriage to get started. But know [sic] I feel like a prisoner, only not in a cage, in London.” In 2013, a week after he was barred from Kuwait for a third time, Emwazi left home and ended up in Syria. At a news conference, CAGE research director Asim Qureshi spoke about his recollections of Emwazi and compared his case to another British man, Michael Adebolajo, who hacked a soldier to death in London in 2013.
ASIM QURESHI: Sorry, it’s quite hard, because, you know, he’s such a—I’m really sorry, but he was such a beautiful young man, really. You know, it’s hard to imagine the trajectory, but it’s not a trajectory that’s unfamiliar with us, for us. We’ve seen Michael Adebolajo, once again, somebody that I met, you know, who came to me for help, looking to change his situation within the system. When are we going to finally learn that when we treat people as if they’re outsiders, they will inevitably feel like outsiders, and they will look for belonging elsewhere?
AMY GOODMAN: That’s CAGE research director Asim Qureshi. Your response to this, Noam Chomsky?
NOAM CHOMSKY: He’s right. If you—the same if you take a look at those who perpetrated the crimes on Charlie Hebdo. They also have a history of oppression, violence. They come from Algerian background. The horrible French participation in the murderous war in the ’90s in Algeria is their immediate background. They live under—in these harshly repressed areas. And there’s much more than that. So, you mentioned that information is coming out about so-called Jihadi John. You read the British press, other information is coming out, which we don’t pay much attention to. For example, The Guardian had an article a couple of weeks ago about a Yemeni boy, I think who was about 14 or so, who was murdered in a drone strike. And shortly before, they had interviewed him about his history. His parents and family went through them, were murdered in drone strikes. He watched them burn to death. We get upset about beheadings. They get upset about seeing their father burn to death in a drone strike. He said they live in a situation of constant terror, not knowing when the person 10 feet away from you is suddenly going to be blown away. That’s their lives. People like those who live in the slums around Paris or, in this case, a relatively privileged man under harsh, pretty harsh repression in England, they also know about that. We may choose not to know about it, but they know. When we talk about beheadings, they know that in the U.S.-backed Israeli attack on Gaza, at the points where the attack was most fierce, like the Shejaiya neighborhood, people weren’t just beheaded. Their bodies were torn to shreds. People came later trying to put the pieces of the bodies together to find out who they were, you know. These things happen, too. And they have an impact—all of this has an impact, along with what was just described. And if we seriously want to deal with the question, we can’t ignore that. That’s part of the background of people who are reacting this way.
AARON MATÉ: You spoke before about how the U.S. invasion set off the Sunni-Shia conflict in Iraq, and out of that came ISIS. I wonder if you see a parallel in Libya, where the U.S. and NATO had a mandate to stop a potential massacre in Benghazi, but then went much further than a no-fly zone and helped topple Gaddafi. And now, four years later, we have ISIS in Libya, and they’re beheading Coptic Christians, Egypt now bombing. And with the U.S. debating this expansive war measure, Libya could be next on the U.S. target list.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, that’s a very important analogy. What happened is, as you say, there was a claim that there might be a massacre in Benghazi, and in response to that, there was a U.N. resolution, which had several elements. One, a call for a ceasefire and negotiations, which apparently Gaddafi accepted. Another was a no-fly zone, OK, to stop attacks on Benghazi. The three traditional imperial powers—Britain, France and the United States—immediately violated the resolution. No diplomacy, no ceasefire. They immediately became the air force of the rebel forces. And, in fact, the war itself had plenty of brutality—violent militias, attacks on Africans living in Libya, all sorts of things. The end result is just to tear Libya to shreds. By now, it’s torn between two major warring militias, many other small ones. It’s gotten to the point where they can’t even export their main export, oil. It’s just a disaster, total disaster. That’s what happens when you strike vulnerable systems, as I said, with a sledgehammer. All kind of horrible things can happen.
In the case of Iraq, it’s worth recalling that there had been an almost decade of sanctions, which were brutally destructive. We know about—we can, if we like, know about the sanctions. People prefer not to, but we can find out. There was a sort of humanitarian component of the sanctions, so-called. It was the oil-for-peace program, instituted when the reports of the sanctions were so horrendous—you know, hundreds of thousand of children dying and so on—that it was necessary for the U.S. and Britain to institute some humanitarian part. That was directed by prominent, respected international diplomats, Denis Halliday, who resigned, and Hans von Sponeck. Both Halliday and von Sponeck resigned because they called the humanitarian aspect genocidal. That’s their description. And von Sponeck published a detailed, important book on it called, I think, A Different Kind of War, or something like that, which I’ve never seen a review of or even a mention of it in the United States, which detailed, in great detail, exactly how these sanctions were devastating the civilian society, supporting Saddam, because the people had to simply huddle under the umbrella of power for survival, probably—they didn’t say this, but I’ll add it—probably saving Saddam from the fate of other dictators who the U.S. had supported and were overthrown by popular uprisings. And there’s a long list of them—Somoza, Marcos, Mobutu, Duvalier—you know, even Ceaușescu, U.S. was supporting. They were overthrown from within. Saddam wasn’t, because the civil society that might have carried that out was devastated. He had a pretty efficient rationing system people were living on for survival, but it severely harmed the civilian society. Then comes the war, you know, massive war, plenty of destruction, destruction of antiquities. There’s now, you know, properly, denunciation of ISIS for destroying antiquities. The U.S. invasion did the same thing. Millions of refugees, a horrible blow against the society.
These things have terrible consequences. Actually, there’s an interesting interview with Graham Fuller. He’s one of the leading Middle East analysts, long background in CIA, U.S. intelligence. In the interview, he says something like, “The U.S. created ISIS.” He hastens to add that he’s not joining with the conspiracy theories that are floating around the Middle East about how the U.S. is supporting ISIS. Of course, it’s not. But what he says is, the U.S. created ISIS in the sense that we established the background from which ISIS developed as a terrible offshoot. And we can’t overlook that.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re spending the hour with MIT professor, author and activist Noam Chomsky. We sat down with him Monday. I asked him about the significance of the leaks by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and whether he should be allowed to return to the United States without facing any charges.
NOAM CHOMSKY: He should be welcomed as a person who carried out the obligations of a citizen. He informed American citizens of what their government is doing to them. That’s exactly what a person who has real patriotism, not the flag-waving type, but real patriotism, would do. So he should be honored, not just allowed back. It’s the people in the government who should be on trial, not him.
AMY GOODMAN: I was talking to a friend who was saying, you know, when you talk about Edward Snowden, what about the issues of terrorism and having to spy on those who might want to hurt others?
NOAM CHOMSKY: If they want to—first of all, it’s—we can raise this question, but it’s academic, because they are not preventing terrorism. You’ll recall, when the Snowden revelations came out, the immediate reaction from the government, the highest level—Keith Alexander, others—was that these NSA programs had stopped, I think they said, 54 or so acts of terror. Gradually, when the press started asking questions, it was whittled down to about 12. Finally, it came down to one. And that act of terror was a man who had sent, I think, $8,500 to Somalia. That’s the yield of this massive program.
And it is not intended to stop terrorism. It’s intended to control the population. That’s quite different. You have to be very cautious in accepting claims by power systems. They have no reason to tell you the truth. And you have to look and ask, “Well, what is the truth?” And this system is not a system for protecting terrorism.
Actually, you can say the same about the drone assassination program. That’s a global assassination program, far and away the worst act of terror in the world. It’s also a terror-generating program. And they know it, from high places. You can find quotation after quotation where they know it. Take this one case that I mentioned before, this child who was murdered in a drone strike after having watched his family burn to death by drone strikes.
AMY GOODMAN: In Yemen.
NOAM CHOMSKY: What’s the effect of this on people? Well, it’s to create terror. The close analyses have shown that that’s exactly what happens. There’s a very important book by Akbar Ahmed, who’s an important anthropologist, who is a Pakistani, who studies tribal systems and worked in the North-West territories and so on, and it’s called The Thistle and the Drone. And he goes through, in some detail, the effect on tribal societies of simply murdering—from their point of view, just murdering people at random. The drone attacks, remember, are aimed at people who are suspected of maybe someday wanting to harm us. I mean, suppose, say, that Iran was killing people in the United States and Israel who they thought would—might someday want to harm them. They could find plenty of people. Would we consider that legitimate? It’s again, we have the right to carry out mass murder of suspects who we think might harm us someday. How does the world look at this? How do the people look at this in this village where this child was who said that they’re terrorized by constant drone strikes all over North-West Pakistan? That’s true. Now it’s over most of the world. The U.S. war—so-called war against terror has been a smashing success. There was a small group up in the tribal areas of mostly Pakistan and Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, and we have succeeded in spreading it over the whole world. Now they’re all everywhere—you know, West Africa, Southeast Asia—simply generating more and more terror. And I think it’s—you know, it’s not that the U.S. is trying to generate terror. It’s simply that it doesn’t care.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Syriza in Greece, a movement that started as a grassroots movement. Now they have taken power, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. And then you have Spain right now. We recently spoke to Pablo Iglesias, the secretary general of the group called Podemos, that was founded, what—an anti-austerity party that has rapidly gained popularity. A month after establishing itself last year, they won five seats in the European Parliament, and some polls show they could take the next election, which would mean that Pablo Iglesias, the 36-year-old political science professor and longtime activist, could possibly become the prime minister of Europe’s fifth-largest economy. He came here to New York for just about 72 hours, and I asked him to talk about what austerity measures have meant in Spain.
PABLO IGLESIAS: Austerity means that people is expulsed of their homes. Austerity means that the social services don’t work anymore. Austerity means that public schools have not the elements, the means to develop their activity. Austerity means that the countries have not sovereignty anymore, and we became a colony of the financial powers and a colony of Germany. Austerity probably means the end of democracy. I think if we don’t have democratic control of economy, we don’t have democracy. It’s impossible to separate economy and democracy, in my opinion.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Pablo Iglesias, the head of this new anti-austerity group in Spain called Podemos, which means in English “We can.” The significance of these movements?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s very significant. But notice the reaction. The reaction to Syriza was extremely savage. They made a little bit of progress in their negotiations, but not much. The Germans came down very hard on them.
AMY GOODMAN: You mean in dealing with the debt.
NOAM CHOMSKY: In the dealing with them, and sort of forced them to back off from almost all their proposals. What’s going on with the austerity is really class war. As an economic program, austerity, under recession, makes no sense. It just makes the situation worse. So the Greek debt, relative to GDP, has actually gone up during the period of—which is—well, the policies that are supposed to overcome the debt. In the case of Spain, the debt was not a public debt, it was private debt. It was the actions of the banks. And that means also the German banks. Remember, when a bank makes a dangerous, a risky borrowing, somebody is making a risky lending. And the policies that are designed by the troika, you know, are basically paying off the banks, the perpetrators, much like here. The population is suffering. But one of the things that’s happening is that the—you know, the social democratic policies, so-called welfare state, is being eroded. That’s class war. It’s not an economic policy that makes any sense as to end a serious recession. And there is a reaction to it—Greece, Spain and some in Ireland, growing elsewhere, France. But it’s a very dangerous situation, could lead to a right-wing response, very right-wing. The alternative to Syriza might be Golden Dawn, neo-Nazi party.
Noam Chomsky weighs in on the Black Lives Matter movement across the United States, calling it a response to the unresolved consequences of slavery and racism dating back hundreds of years. “[Slavery] is a large part of the basis for our wealth and privilege,” Chomsky says. “Is there a slave museum in the United States? The first one is just being established now with a private donor. This is the core of our history along with the extermination and expulsion of the native population. But it’s not part of our consciousness.”
AMY GOODMAN: And then you have in the United States a movement around accountability, overall. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Selma Bloody Sunday, March 7th, when John Lewis, now a congressman, and scores of others had their heads beaten in by Alabama state troopers. It’s 50 years later, and you have the Black Lives Matter movement. You have these stories repeatedly around the country of police officers killing young people and not-so-young people of color. What do you make of this movement? And do you see the anti-austerity movement in Europe, the accountability movement in the United States, the movement around climate change—do you see these coalescing in any way?
NOAM CHOMSKY: They should. But in actual fact, the degree of coalescence is not high. We should remember that—take Selma. If you listen to the rhetoric on Martin Luther King Day, it’s instructive. It typically ends with the “I Have a Dream” speech and the voting rights. And Martin Luther King didn’t stop there. He went on to condemning the war in Vietnam and to raising class issues. He began to raise class issues and turn to the North. At that point, he fell out of favor and disappeared. He was trying to—he was assassinated when he was trying to organize a poor people’s movement, and he was supporting a sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis. There was supposed to be a march to Washington to establish a poor people’s movement, appeal to Congress to do something about class issues. Well, the march actually took place after his death, led by his widow, ended up in Washington. They set up a tent city, a resurrection city. This was the most liberal Congress in history probably, tolerated it briefly, then sent in the police in the middle of the night and drove them out of town. And that’s disappeared from the rhetoric on Martin Luther King Day. So it’s OK to condemn a racist sheriff in Alabama, but not us, please. Don’t touch our privilege and power. And that’s a large part of the background.
These issues are very real. There’s more issues here. Racism is a very serious problem in the United States. Take a look at the scholarly work on it, say, George Fredrickson’s study of the white supremacy, comparative study. He concludes, I think plausibly, that the white supremacy in the United States was even more extreme and savage than in South Africa. Just think of our own history. You know, our economy, our wealth, our privilege relies very heavily on a century of horrifying slave labor camps. The cotton—cotton production was not just the fuel of the Industrial Revolution, it was the basis for the financial system, the merchant system, commerce, England, as well. These were bitter, brutal slave labor camps. There’s a recent study by Edward Baptist which comes out with some startling information. It’s called—actually, the title is startling, something like The Half was Never Told [The Half Has Never Been Told], which is more or less true, was never told. But, for example, he shows, pretty convincingly, that in the slave labor camps—the “plantations,” we call them, politely—the productivity increased more rapidly than in industry, with no technological advance, just the bullwhip. Just by driving people harder and harder to the point of survival, they were able to increase productivity and profit. And it’s not just the—he also points out that the word “torture” is not used in discussion of this period. He introduces it should be used. I mean, these are camps that could have impressed the Nazis. And it is a large part of the basis for our wealth and privilege. Is there a slave museum in the United States? Actually, the first one is just being established now by private—some private donor. I mean, this is the core of our history, along with the extermination or expulsion of the native population, but it’s not part of our consciousness.