Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chomping on Chomsky

It was four years ago that I first heard of a man called Noam Chomsky. It was while studying journalism at Rhodes University, when my mind was soaking up every bit of journalistic inspirations. Along came a video by a man called Noam Chomsky, a rather old man speaking about the conflict in the Middle East. That was in 2006 when Lebanon had just fallen into devastation yet again, so I was all ears. Turns out Prof Chomsky (who's actually a linguist) is a leading critic of US foreign policy, and especially outspoken about the Israeli-US tie. Very against-the-grain for an American born to Jewish parents.
Chomsky was the first person to put the Middle Eastern conflict into simple terms for me - he allowed me to see the bigger picture without getting stuck in the nitty gritty. The bigger picture for him, and I have to agree, is America - its 'mafia' hold on the world, as he calls it.
Last night I had the honour of being part of a Chomsky audience. Sitting eight rows from the stage at the UNESCO Palace in Beirut, I was once again given the opportunity to be thought-provoked by a 81-year-old genius.

Things I learned last night: If the US vetoes a resolution, it's automatically a double veto - erasing it from the history books, as if the resolution were never proposed. After giving us some insight into such things that we never get to hear about, he said, 'These are the basic facts. They're not controversial, but they're excluded from general conversation. This reveals the extraordinary power of an imperial ideology. Ideas are invisible if they don't accord with the needs of power.' Here he suggested reading the introduction to George Orwell's Animal Farm, something which was not published with the book until later editions.

One of my favourite parts from the talk was when Chomsky mentioned South Africa: 'Many analogies are made between Israel and Apartheid South Africa, but they're dubious.' He went on to say that white SA needed the black population, as they were the work force, and therefore whites had to take care of the Bantu stands. However, Israel does not have any use for Palestinians, making the treatment much worse than Apartheid. 'However, one analogy is correct,' he said. Speaking of the SA foreign minister in 1960, he had the following to say:

(dammit, the video won't upload!)

It seemed quite apt that he was addressing an audience in Lebanon on what was the 10th anniversary of the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon, known as Liberation Day. What struck me about the audience was that the majority were under the age of 30 - mostly students - and that most had heard about the talk through Facebook, as not even the daily English newspaper, the Daily Star, mentioned it in an article about a previous talk Chomsky gave in the south of Lebanon.
Questions posed to Prof Chomsky after his talk included his views on 'the right to return' (this being the Palestinians' right to return to their land in Israel). His answer: Palestinian children are growing up in cages in refugee camps in Lebanon. They can't get into outer society to get a job, so they don't see the point of getting an education because they can't do anything with it. For now, we need to deal with this reality, and we as ordinary citizens can start by being humane and integrating them into our societies.
Another question was 'why not place BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) policies against Israel?'. His answer: you need to think about the consequences - it's not just about feeling good about yourself for doing something like that now. Is the academic boycott of Tel Aviv University useful or harmful to Palestine? It's harmful. Why not then boycott Harvard, the Sorbonne etc?
Next question: is there any way that we can play on the vulnerabilities of the US? His answer: Yes. Just look at how much greater US public opinion has become. It was much greater during the war in Iraq than during the Vietnam War, forcing the US troops to pull out much sooner. Organising campaigns to raise awareness can go a log way to gaining public support for people like the Palestinians.
This is my little campaign. Hope it's made you think a little critically today. Thank you Noam Chomsky.

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