the Disillusioned kid: January 2003
| Email | Home | Linkage | Profile |

Thursday, January 30, 2003

A profile of Noam Chomsky I wrote for Ceasefire, but which was ultimately unused...

Who the hell is he anyway?: Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is a name frequently bandied around in “leftist” circles, such as those involved in the production of Ceasefire. He is regarded as an inspiration by many and is even listed as one of the ten most cited writers in the humanities (beating out Hegel and Cicero and trailing only Marx, Lenin, Shakespeare, the Bible, Aristotle, Plato, and Freud) and is the only one still alive. But who exactly is he?

Noam Avram Chomsky was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 7, 1928. He began his education at Oak Lane Country Day School and Central High School, Philadelphia and attended the University of Pennsylvania where he studied linguistics, mathematics, and philosophy. In 1955, he received a Ph. D. from the University of Pennsylvania, however most of the research for this had been done at Harvard between 1951 and 1955. Since then he has taught at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he is Institute Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He married Carol Schatz in 1949 and the couple have two children.

Chomsky originally made his reputation in linguistics. He learned some of the historical principles of linguistics from his father, William, a Russian emigrant and Hebrew scholar. Indeed Chomsky did some of the early research for his Masters on the modern spoken Hebrew language. His achievements in the field include his work on generative grammar. Reportedly it was his interest in politics which steered him towards a graduate study in linguistics as a result of sympathy with the political views of Zelig Harris, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania.

It is his interest and efforts in politics for which Chomsky is best known. He identifies himself as a Libertarian Socialist (“Libertarian socialism is just anarchism - the socialist variety of anarchism,” he explains) and believes that his political tendencies are the result of “the radical Jewish community in New York.” He entered the political forum in 1965 when he began speaking out against the Vietnam War (remember the major anti-war protests came some years later) and has not left it since.

He has written prodigiously, penning books such as Fateful Triangle, Pirates and Emperors, American Power and the New Mandarins and Deterring Democracy and articles for the likes of the New Statesman, Z-Magazine and The Guardian, while continuing to publish linguistics works. He has also travelled extensively, visiting some of the countries which have been the targets of US interventionism. He visited the Occupied Territories during the first Intifada and, last year, appeared in court in Turkey to support Fatih Tas who was being tried under the country’s “anti-terrorism” laws for publishing one of Chomsky’s books.

The New York Times Book Review said, “Judged in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive.” However Chomsky is quick to point out that “the next sentence is: ‘Since that's the case, how can he write such terrible things about American foreign policy?’ And they never quote that part. But in fact if it wasn't for that second sentence I would begin to think that I'm doing something wrong.” This suggests a paradox; a man who is influential, well respected and widely read yet reviled by the guardians of elite culture. Of course, he wouldn’t want it any other way.
Unused article I wrote...

Iraqi Mothers’ Resistance

A recent protest by Iraqi mothers received only limited coverage within the corporate media and is also little known among anti-war activists. Indeed the only report of the incident that I am aware of was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Rajiv Chandrasekaran in Baghdad. The following relies heavily on this, though any inaccuracies are entirely my own.

The unsanctioned protest took place in late October and followed Saddam Hussein’s declaration on October 20th that he was granting amnesty to almost all the country’s prisoners. An event derided by many in the corporate media as a PR stunt (not without good reason, perhaps).

The mass pardon was unprecedented and according to Chandrasekaran, “sparked bedlam as inmates overpowered their guards and stormed out of their cells while anxious. relatives clambered over prison walls.”

The demonstration occurred on the following Tuesday and took place in front of the Information Ministry where foreign journalists have offices. Political observers were shocked by the event. “Something like this has never happened before,” said Wamid Nadhmi, who teaches political science at Baghdad University. “It's a very, very important and unusual event.”

Almost all the protesters were Shi’ite Muslims who were upset that their relatives had not returned home following the amnesty. Only brief interviews were possible before the police dispersed the protesters, but several participants told journalists that their relatives had been arrested on charges of participating in political opposition movements.

The ramifications of the demonstration are unclear. One diplomat claimed that it was an indication that Saddam's government, faced with the prospect of another US attack, was in the early stages of “losing control”. But another said, “It's not something that proves that the Shi'ites are rebelling again. As far as we know, Saddam is still firmly in control.”

Saddam’s regime is dominated by Sunni Muslims and has long been concerned about resistance among Shi’ites who constitute more than 55 per cent of the population, but wield very little political power. Thousands of Shi’ites, many of them deserting conscripts, rebelled against Saddam in the aftermath of the Gulf War as did many Kurds. However they received no support from the US. Indeed Ahmad Chalabi, now the leader of the Iraqi National Congress and apparent US ally, observed that the US was “waiting for Saddam to butcher the insurgents in the hope that he can be overthrown later by a suitable officer.”

The demonstration took place at about noon and attracted around 200 people. It was preceded by a banner-waving march along a busy street. The marchers were not openly critical of Saddam’s regime, but instead praised him. However several participants told foreign journalists that their real reason for attendance was to find out the whereabouts of their relatives. “Where is my son?” asked one distraught woman. “Where was he taken?”

About two hours after the demonstration was dispersed a small group returned to the Information Ministry. They also chanted slogans in support of Saddam before imploring ministry officials for information about their relatives. When more journalists turned up to cover the demonstration security personnel forced the group to continue walking down the street.

The question for those of us opposed to an attack on Iraq is how we respond to this and similar examples of resistance to Saddam’s regime. In my opinion, the assessment of social justice activist Zoltan Grossman presents a positive and realistic strategy: “This kind of Iraqi grassroots opposition, largely ignored by a Bush Administration hell-bent on a war, can be supported by the peace movement. In so doing, we can begin to build a bridge between our civilians and Iraqi civilians, against an escalation of the bombing and sanctions, as well as against the lack of self-determination inherent in both Saddam's brutal regime and the planned US military administration of Iraq and its oil fields.”

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Unused article I wrote during the height of the crisis on the Korean peninsula. Not sure I'm entirely sure of everything I wrote, it's a little reliant on a single article, and I think I underestimated North Korea's ability to inflict damage in the event of US agression. Nonetheless here it is for your perusal...

Inconsistency in the “Axis-of-Evil”

Iraq denies that it has a nuclear weapons programme and allows weapons inspectors to look for evidence to prove or disprove such claims (his lack of “active co-operation” notwithstanding), however the Bush Administration seem as set on war as ever. Meanwhile in North Korea, the regime of Kim Jong Il admits that they have a nuclear weapons programme and expels weapons inspectors, yet the US talks only of “tailored containment”. To many this contradiction seems inexplicable. The attractiveness of Iraq as a target for US intervention should be obvious; it sits on the second largest proven oil stocks in the world and lies in one of the planet’s most strategically important regions. The reasons behind the reluctance to go to war with North Korea seem less obvious, but the motives should not be mistaken for a sudden attack of principles.

It is generally agreed among mainstream commentators that the reasoning behind the US’s reluctance to use force against North Korea lies in the threat North Korean artillery poses to the thousands of US troops stationed near the border and the hundreds of thousands of civilians in the area (which includes Seoul, the South Korean capital). This threat is presumably very real, but hardly unique. According to a report given by the director of the CIA, George Tenet, to Congress, there is no evidence that Iraq has any immediate desire to attack the US or its allies. He argued, however, that a US attack, particularly one which threatened Saddam himself “could trigger the very things [Bush] has said he’s trying to prevent—the use of chemical or biological weapons”. If the First Gulf War is any kind of indication he might very well use whatever weapons he had against Israel. Were Israel to retaliate with weapons from its nuclear arsenal, the result for the region could be horrific. Clearly civilian deaths, even on “our side”, are not a major factor in planning.

The logistics of preparing for and fighting two simultaneous wars is likely to be a consideration. Donald Rumsfeld recently insisted that the US was more than capable of doing so. “We are capable of winning decisively in one and swiftly defeating in the case of the other,” he said. “Let there be no doubt about it"(23/12/02). This however may be little more than hollow rhetoric. The US enjoys unparalleled military might, but its forces are not all simply awaiting a war with Iraq and are also operating throughout the world, notably in Afghanistan, the Philippines and in Central Asia, all further fronts in the “War on Terror”. The ability of the US to wage two ‘full blown’ wars while maintaining its commitments elsewhere is unclear, though I find it hard to believe the idea would be popular among those in the Pentagon who seem notably less hawkish than some of their counterparts in the Whitehouse. While deployments elsewhere are likely to be a factor in US strategic planning, political factors hinted at in the mainstream media may impose subtler, but longer lasting restrictions on the spectrum of options available to the US in dealing with Pyongyang.

It appears to me that South Korea may actually be of greater concern to the US than its Northern neighbour. Consider a front-page report by Steven R. Weisman in the International Herald Tribune (2/1/03), “South Korea has become one of the Bush Administration's biggest foreign policy problems. Years of resentment over a variety of issues are boiling over in the form of anti-American demonstrations in Seoul.” These “issues” include “the presence of 37,000 American troops on their soil” and “an incident last June, when two 14-year-old girls were run over and killed by an American armoured vehicle north of Seoul.” The US is further troubled, Weisman reported, by “pronouncements by the outgoing and incoming presidents challenging American policies on dealing with North Korea's nuclear ambitions”. “A Korea specialist with ties to many members of Bush's foreign policy team” argued that “in some ways, the problem in South Korea has become harder to handle than that of North Korea. Our first priority is to get Roh [Moo Hyn, newly elected president] and Kim [Dae Jung, outgoing president] to stop saying that the United States approach will not work. If we don't do that, the divide will get worse.” A war of course would exacerbate that divide and drive a wedge between the US and its once highly reliable client in Seoul, hardly advancing the interests of the US. Recent reports suggest concerted efforts by both the US and North Korea to convince the people of South Korea to support them over this issue. The success or otherwise of these efforts may shape the course of events on the region for years to come.

Even if there is no war, those concerned about global justice should not ignore the situation in North Korea. “Tailored containment” may not sound as nasty as “pre-emptive strike”, but this does not necessarily mean that the results in practice will be greatly different. The powerful have long known that starving a country is often much easier, and generates far less resistance, than going to war with it – as the sanctions regime on Iraq demonstrates. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) listed the issue of food aid and the refugee problem in North Korea among their “Top 10” list of the most underreported news stories of 2002. Sanctions and further economic isolation of the country can only exacerbate these problems and are likely to hit its already suffering population hard, fuelling anger against the US and very possibly strengthening the regime, George Bush claims he “loathes”.

The only real hope for peace in the region is the resumption of peace talks between Pyongyang and Seoul, ended recently in light of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons declaration (and presumably US pressure). Unfortunately Bush’s record in this area does not bode well for the future. Shortly after coming to power he did his best to scupper negotiations. According to The Guardian reporting at the time he “said bluntly he did not trust North Korea and effectively pulled the plug on détente. Pyongyang now warns that it may be forced to resume building nukes and missiles. To which Mr Bush and his hawkish advisers smilingly reply: all the more reason to build NMD!” (12/3/01). While The Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese daily newspaper, argued that “the Bush administration was concerned that a peaceful atmosphere created by a peace declaration might lead to calls for an early withdrawal of US troops from South Korea” (13/3/01). Both seem entirely plausible explanations given the political priorities of the Bush Administration, but even if untrue, interference in the best hope for peace and reconciliation between the two neighbours does not reflect well on Bush and his cronies now so intent on involving themselves in the politics of the peninsula.

Side Projects

Carnival of Anarchy
The Peace Pipe
UK Watch Blog


Against the Current
Culture hits and gendered bits
Daniel Randall
In The Water
Mike Wood
On The Barricades
Pizarro's Sword
Space Cat Rocket Ship
Surveillant Assemblage
TashCamUK FotoPage
The Naked Lunch
The Peace Pipe
The World of the Dynamite Lady


Anarchoblogs Blog
Arte & Lingua
Barker in Valencia
Blood & Treasure
Bombs and Shields
Born at the Crest of the Empire
Chase me ladies...
Chicken Yoghurt
Craig Murray
Dead Men Left
Disreputable Lazy Aliens
Empire Notes
Friends of Al Jazeera
Global Guerillas
Guerillas in the Midst
I Blame the Patriachy
Informed Comment
Janine Booth
Lenin's Tomb
Life of Riley Blog
Media Watch Watch
Neil Shakespeare
NO2ID NewsBlog
One Hump or Two?
Otto's Random Thoughts
Pitch In For Uzbekistan
Run over by the truth
Solidarity With Iraqi Workers
Shut Up You Fat Whiner!
Sudan: Passion of the Present
Talk Politics
The Anthropik Network
The Daily (Maybe)
The Devil's Kitchen
The Disillusioned
The f-word
The Head Heeb
The Killing Train
The Revenge of Winston Smith
The Socialist Unity Blog
The Wicked Truth
Theory of Power
Things I Don't Have Time For
This (Fresh) Gringo
This Is My Truth
Thumping the Tub
Time The Dreaded Enemy
UK Watch Blog
UK Poli Blogs
Under The Same Sun
What Fresh Hell Is This?
Where is Raed? (RIP)
Who Are You to Accuse Me?
Words and Rocks
Z-Net Blog


Asbo Community Space
Eastside Climate Action
Faslane 365
No Borders
Nottingham Student Peace Movement
Refugee Forum
Stop the War
Sumac Centre
The Demo Project

Ivory Towers

Anarchist Studies Network
Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice
Postanarchism Clearinghouse


Anarchist FAQ
Chagos Discussion List
Chagos Support Forums
Electronic Intifada
Future of Iraq Portal
Index of Political Blogs
Indymedia UK
Iraq Occupation Focus
Refuser Solidarity Network
Socialist Unity Network
The New Standard
UK Chagos Support Association
UK Watch
Weekly Worker

The Progressive Blog Alliance

Register here to join the PBA.