Comment from Shifra Stern: With regard to the assertion that Prof. Chomsky "equated" the 9/11 attacks to the 1998 American bombing of a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant, here's some food for thought. For some reason the intellectual class just doesn't get it. Here's what happened for those of you who may not recall: On August 20, 1998, President Bill Clinton lobbed cruise missiles at the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan, which immediately killed a couple of people (can't remember the precise figure but it was low) and injured several. On the face of it, it seems idiotic to compare 9/ll to the bombing of Al-Shifa. But if you delve into the matter a bit, you'll draw totally different conclusions. As it turns out, Al-Shifa produced around 90 percent of Sudan's medicines, this in a desperately poor country. As a result of the bombing, a year after the attack, "without the lifesaving medicine [the destroyed facilities] produced, Sudan's death toll from the bombing has continued quietly to rise...Thus, tens of thousands of people -- many of them children -- have suffered and died from malaria...and other treatable diseases...The action taken by Washington on August 20, 1998 continues to deprive the people of Sudan of needed medicine. Millions must wonder how the International Court of Justice in the Hague will celebrate this anniversary" (Jonathan Belke, Boston Globe (Boston, Mass., USA), August 22, 1999). In addition, Germany's Ambassador to Sudan wrote that "It is difficult to assess how many people in this poor country died as a consequence of the destruction of the Al-Shifa factory, but several tens of thousands seem a reasonable guess" (Werner Daum, "Universalism and the West," Harvard International Review, Summer 2001; quoted in 9/ll, Noam Chomsky, pps. 47-48).
With regard to Scott's assertion that Prof. Chomsky characterized the U.S. war against the Taliban as "genocidal," I don't know whether he actually used that term. However, in the 9/16/01 edition of the New York Times, in an article titled: "AFTER THE ATTACKS: IN ISLAMABAD; Pakistan Antiterror Support Avoids Vow of Military Aid", John F. Burns wrote that "Washington has...demanded [from Pakistan] a cutoff of fuel supplies, ...and the elimination of truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan's civilian population." "Afghan specialists warn[ed] that the withdrawal of aid workers and severe reduction in food supplies left 'millions of Afghans...at grave risk of starvation.'" "By late September , the Food and Agricultural Organization had warned that more than 7 million people would face starvation if the threatened military action were undertaken, and after the bombing began, advised that the threat of 'human catastrophe' was 'grave'." (Pirates and Emperors, 2002 edition, Noam Chomsky). So, yes, implementing a policy that would kill millions can certainly be described as "genocidal."
Finally, the last paragraph truly humors me. Have you noticed that as a general rule whenever someone points out a truism that even a child can understand but which makes the intellectual and ruling elite uncomfortable, they always react by saying that it's too "simplistic"; the world is more "complex" than that, as if one has to be a rocket scientist or a graduate of a prestigious university to figure out how the real world functions.
New York Times
November 22, 2002
Overflowing With Opinions, Lacking in Minced Words
By A. O. SCOTT
"Power and Terror," John Junkerman's new documentary, consists of excerpts from several lectures given by Noam Chomsky last spring, interspersed with an interview in which Mr. Chomsky, the M.I.T. linguist and longtime critic of American foreign policy, reflects on the current state of the world. Apart from the intermittent soundtrack music — which sounds a bit like Japanese versions of obscure Neil Young songs — the film, which opens today in Manhattan, would not be out of place on C-Span, which occasionally broadcasts Mr. Chomsky's public appearances. For his admirers, it might serve as a footnote to "Manufacturing Consent," Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick's 1992 film, which is more comprehensive and more ambitious (and more than twice as long). That film explores Mr. Chomsky's linguistic theories as well as his views on politics and the media, and it gives his critics a few chances to speak up.
Mr. Junkerman, an American filmmaker who works in Japan, is clearly sympathetic to his subject. The opening credits unspool a string of testimonials to Mr. Chomsky's courage and integrity, and the packed campus lecture halls greet him with standing ovations. At the conclusion of his talks, a crowd generally gathers by the stage to pepper him with questions or pester him for autographs, and he graciously obliges. A sampling of audience opinion after one of the talks gathers praise for his "encyclopedic knowledge." "I agree with everything he said," one woman declares.
Most of the audience for "Power and Terror" will probably feel the same way. Mr. Chomsky is a figure who inspires intense devotion, and equally intense revulsion; he is an intellectual hero to some and, to others, the embodiment of reflexive left-wing anti-Americanism. This polarization has only increased as his book on the causes and consequences of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 has become a best seller. At the same time, though, as Mr. Chomsky acknowledges in the film, a searching and wide-ranging debate has unfolded about America's response to terrorism and, more broadly, about the history and future of its role in the world. Mr. Junkerman's film is best understood as a necessary, if partisan, text in that continuing argument.
The film does not delve into some of Mr. Chomsky's more controversial post-9/11 statements, like his equating of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with the 1998 American bombing of a Sudanese pharmaceuticals factory, or his characterization of the United States war against the Taliban as genocidal. It presents, instead, a more general outline of his critique of American power, which has been consistent since the early days of the Vietnam war.
His criticism seems to be motivated less by an ideological quarrel with the United States — a country whose ideals and virtues he admires and whose principles of free inquiry and expression have enabled him to speak and publish without fear of suppression — than by a contempt, rooted in the anarchist political tradition, for the operations of power. Although he opposes all kinds of violence, he is especially concerned with the violence of empires, whose hegemony enables them to escape moral reckoning and political accountability.
Even though Mr. Chomsky's arguments are presented with meticulous empirical detail (as well as with modesty, patience and occasional bursts of wit), there is an abstract, theoretical air about them. His moral clarity has its appeal, but it often seems to evade the complexities of the world as it is. It would be much easier if the world were neatly divided into imperial states and helpless, subject peoples (or, for that matter, into forces of freedom and axes of evil), but the categories have a way of getting tangled up — in the Balkans, in Asia and certainly in the Middle East — something that Mr. Chomsky, for all his intelligence and discipline, does not always grasp.
POWER AND TERROR
Noam Chomsky in Our Times
Directed by John Junkerman; director of photography, Koshiro Otsu; edited by Mr. Junkerman and Takeshi Hata; music by Kiyoshiro Imawano; produced by Tetsujiro Yamagami; released by First Run Features. At the Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, South Village. Running time: 74 minutes. This film is not rated.